Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kumano Prologue

Jump back to rainy season June. Ishiyama-dera again. This time, it serves as the starting point for a walk to Uji. Our route would be the first of a three day traverse along the Yodogawa toward Osaka. Midway is the starting point of the Kumano Kodo, albeit it was traditionally done by boat. It was soon apparent that this wouldn't be the most beautiful of walks, a 25km trudge along asphalt. The beginning was pleasant enough, following the narrow tail of Lake Biwa, home to crew teams and oversized bridges. (Somewhere along the way, we rescued a bullfrog the size of a catcher's mitt. It had been trapped in the road and had dried out too much to move. Miki has written of this part of the adventure on her own blog.) We stopped in at a few shrines on the way and followed the water until it entered a canyon. It was beautiful to walk along the high cliffs, the color of the water changing with the weather. Less pleasant was that we were walking on a narrow, shoulder-less, sidewalk-less road busy with Sunday joyriders driving much too fast.

We eventually came across Tachigi Kannon Temple, which offered a respite from our worrying about traffic. A 15 minute climb up the stairs was the only true altitude gain that day. This temple's layout is a testament to the wonders of Esoteric Buddhism, with windy paths leading around the mountain, and long rambling buildings dark except for fire. We stayed up here a long awhile, decompressing. (Walking alongside speeding cars takes some toll on the nervous system.) Besides the two of us, there were about a dozen young women doing light cleaning and weeding. Oddly, they were all really beautiful. It was as we had come to the lair of some Bond villain, all dark and atmospheric and staffed by absolute babes. But rather than finding a bald, monocle wearing, cat stroking evil genius, we instead met with a kind old woman speaking in a thick dialect. And the only plot we stumbled across was her plan to serve us tea.

Back down on the road, the rain came on heavy. Thick sheets of atmospheric Kurosawa rain would drench you in minutes, despite wearing good gear. Unlike the brief squalls of this tropical summer, this rain stayed over and around us for the rest of the day. Miki and were both pretty miserable for about a half hour, then it became comical and ridiculous, and before long, I found myself having the best time I can't explain it, but the discomfort made us both giddy. So we walked on, above a rushing river stained brown with runoff, past the usual dregs of inaka--closed restaurants, decaying love hotels, and parking lots built... Just in case? Despite a few conversations about hitching out, we pushed on toward Uji, arriving just as the rain stopped.

On the turntable: Dizzy Gillespie, "Groovin' High"

On the nighttable: Sawako Ariyoshi, "The River Ki"

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