Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Whinging in the Rain

There is a three meter high fence below me, and beyond it is what I take to be a grove of young plum trees. Looking closer, I notice that the trees are instead steel stakes affixing some undefinable green material to the hillside in order to keep it in place. A recent slide has created the need for this cosmetic surgery. Near where the real trees began is a large white dog just sitting there obediently and looking at me. I whistle, but he turns and walks deliberately toward the forest. It seems as if he wants me to follow. But he's probably wild, and his overall look reminded me of the wolves in Mononokehime. Is this some kind of omen? I realize later that this is the death anniversary of Tenjin, and here I am at one of his shrines. Down at the shrine office below, I attempt to share my story with a woman working here, thinking she'll find it auspicious or intriguing. Instead, she seems to be humoring me. Whatever.

I walk on into the rain. There's a Jain temple down the hill, filled with the sound of devotional singing. I continue through Kitano, remembering the first time I came here. I'd been in Japan a mere month and saw nothing intriguing here. My American girlfriend at the time laughed and said that in six months, we'd think this the most beautiful place in the country.

I keep walking west and come to a large park that climbs up into the mountains. At the entrance is a sign warning that a woman and her dog had been attacked by a boar a few months ago. The fear seems to have done the trick. Under the trees is one of the best kid's play areas I've ever seen, with rope ladders and bridges leading everywhere. But it is abandoned, twigs and leaves strewn over everything. The only life I see in the park is a homeless guy huddled under two umbrellas, and some carp who aren't concerned by the rain. At the base of the park I see the first sign for the trail I'm walking, The Ribbon road that starts near Ashiya and stretches out west to the high Akashi bridge.

Following the road again, I notice that there are more bus stops than I've ever seen, spaced less than 5 minutes walk apart. I move on, growing tired. This is fast becoming yet another day spent on concrete, in the rain, with little to hold my attention but my own boredom. The trail isn't level but a constant zig zag up and down, up and down the slopes which mark where Kobe meets the hills. The calves weren't happy.

I'm trying to find a temple that is supposed be somewhere alongside this creek. I follow the water to where it leaves the hills. Doubling back, I ask a man in his 30s if he knows the place, and after some hemming and hawing, he goes inside to fetch his mother. She too looks at the map awhile, then tells me she doesn't know. I pass through an adjacent alley and within a minute find the temple a street over, less than a hundred meters from their home. How is it possible they don't know this is here, this massive collection of buildings rivalling the size of some of Kyoto's more modest temples. It baffles me how little people notice about what's around them. There a sign in front of the temple for a zazenkai. Naturally it's free. In my experience, only the temples of Kyoto charge for sitting, something they hadn't started doing until maybe 5 years ago. This is one of the reasons I have no interest whatsoever in doing Zen in Kyoto, which has withered into a tourist attraction. The best places I've done zen training have been in modest settings like this. There's a veggie plot in front of the temple, beside which the roof of an old weathered home is imploding inward. There is a quiet atmosphere of study here, made more palpable by the presence of Katsu Kaishu's training school around the corner.

I'm getting into a more wooded area now. Hirano Onsen, tempts me, but despite being really wet I go on. The trail up here is actually quite nice, above a small river dropping heavy with rain over a waterfall. The rain which has been coy up until now starts up again. The further west I look, the darker the shade of grey the clouds take. I start thinking of places I'd rather be, of things I rather be doing. A long shower, a hot cup of coffee, finish my Flashman book, watch a DVD. Plus I there's that article I've been working on. The air is incredibly wet in here, the entire valley rank and dank. What am I doing meandering through these suburbs with their small alleys and steps leading confusingly in random directions, all of them seemingly uphill?

But history keeps prodding me on. I come across a former encampment of the Heike warriors. Then my own present moment pushes back. With the chilly air and the slopes, it feels a little like a city hike in San Francisco, which wouldn't be bad but for the schizophrenic nature of the streets. I am sick of getting turned around and around, sick of being wet. I'd rather return another day, on a day with warmth and a view. I couldn't even see the hilltops just above me, let alone anything beyond the tall buildings below. The harbor view is supposed to be wonderful, but I get nothing. I begin to obsess on my need to see the water.

I pass below a busy highway and then have no idea at all where I am. The book I am using has lousy maps, with a mere tenuous connection to what I see in reality. I begin to joke that my incessant backtracking is a time filler rather than my being lost. If it weren't for the temples and shrines along this course I'd have no way to follow it. Here, the layout of where I stood doesn't coordinate to my map whatsoever. The city planners haven't helped much either, erecting a mere two trail markers over 10km or so. They call this the ribbon trail, and they certainly get a blue one for half-assed planning. I go in what I believe is the right direction, but eventually find a neighborhood map that shows me how far off I am. Nagata station looks to be a few minutes walk downhill. Bugger this, I'm going home...

On the turntable: "The End of Violence"

On the nighttable, "Paulo Cuello, "Eleven Minutes"


Rajesh. CTR said...

Hello sir,
I am a collector of Information on Hill temples worldwide. My blog

I found your blogpost : http://notesfromthenog.blogspot.com/2009/05/whinging-in-rain.html

In this post u have mentioned a hill temple in japan. Pls give me the below details about this temple and other temples u know

Name of the temple
Legend or myth if any known to you
small Description (not necessary)


ted said...


This temple was more of a city temple actually. If I find anything interesting in my walks, I send you the information.

By the way, you have a very nice blog!