Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Western Front III

I would return to the walk, and to Sakamoto where I had left off.  The sky is hazier, the day hotter, pressing toward 30 depute this being the last week of September.  I'm front-facing a large shrine when I make an abrupt turn to the right.  This particular road will accompany me a long while, as I bisect dozens of temples and shrines, each with a small plaque which explains its place in history. As I photograph one, a woman asks me if I can read what's written on it.  I explain that my kanji ability is decent, not great, and if I were to try to puzzle the whole thing out, I'd be standing there for fifteen minutes.  Usually I'll skim read to get the gist of things, then photograph the sign to read again in more detail later.  She tells me that she is the priest's wife, and invites me in to look at the altar.  I thank her, but tell her that I'd best keep moving along.  It's hot already at this early hour, and I'm liking the feeling of locomotion.

I come soon to Karasaki Shrine, one of Omi's eight famous sights.  They are meant to be seen not only in their specific locales, but also under certain conditions.  I'm supposed to enjoy this view of the water at sunset, on a rainy evening.  Instead, I get fishermen casting nets across a water surface shimmering in the sun.  Behind me is the Shrine's equally famous pine tree, twisting itself tall and proudly over the grassy lawn.  The 'kara' of Karasaki reads "T'ang" in Chinese, so I assume this tree, or one like it, has been here since at least the Heian period.  A small sign tells me that the tree had been damaged  in last week's typhoon. As if one cue, some workmen appear, and begin to wrap things in sheets of blue.  

I come eventually to the busier road I'd followed last week.  Some bicyclists who'd passed me earlier are now sitting in the shade of a convenience store, one of them smoking a cigarette with no apparent air of incongruance.   I'll be on this damn road for awhile.  Lake Biwa is mere meters to my left, but I am only given the odd glimpse.  I've ranted before about how the most beautiful cities in any country are those that feature their waterfront.  Here, Otsu has straightjacketed hers in concrete highways and chain stores.  Seeing the water would be a nice distraction.  Another of my usual rants is this city's lack of trail signs, but walkers are done the further injustice of sharing the busy road with the incessant stream of cars, without the courtesy of sidewalks.  

I'm directed up the last of the roads I'll walk, which again takes on the look of an old feudal highway, the two-story houses narrowing to one lane, punctuated by Buddha statues and small shrines.  Just below Mii-dera, I'll turn left down a lane lined with temples. At its end, I'll find the stone that marks where the Nishi Omiji meets the Tokaido, the latter stretching away from me, familiar from a morning fifteen months ago.  

It's only 10:30, so I decide to walk another couple of hours over the ridge to Yamashima station.  I backtrack past the temples again, which stand shoulder to shoulder all the way to the forest's edge.  Opposite, on the lower side of the road are a parallel row of houses that themselves line the narrow canal that will eventually become the Kyoto aquaduct.  Workmen and residents are removing sandbags at the canal's edge, and the presence of small diggers reveals the ferocity of the water's movement during the storm.  The small road upon which I'm walking then gets cluttered when one of the machines backs up, stopping the flow of cars and taxis heading to one of the many temples on the opposite side.  It is O-higan today, and the graves are busy with visitors.  

After freeing myself from the traffic jam below, I stop for a chocolate break, sitting beside a large grave that stands alone at the edge of the forest, one carved with Korean characters.  The odd car passes by as I make my way along the forested road toward the pass.  There is the obligatory Jizo hall, with a sign informing me that what I've been walking is know as the Kozuki-goe, the route taken by those moving north from Kyoto, rather than following the heavier trafficked Tokaido moving east.  The more I follow the more famous old roads, the more I encounter their smaller, more localized siblings.  Too many to walk in one lifetime.

I soon come to a smaller path which follows the canal, its water beginning to accelerate toward the aqueduct at the foot of this mountain.  I bypass it, formulating an idea about a walking trip that follows this little canal as it brings the water from Biwa and over two passes to Nanzenji.  I'm interrupted from my revery by a group of old timers walking up the hill toward me.  Earlier, I'd seen a dozen old men walking solo, each wearing a number that identifies them as some sort of walking race today, which I'm uncharitably referring to (in my head) as the 'old man marathon." But this group is unrelated, and had chosen this walk as a consolation prize to a planned mountain walk that had been called off due to storm-related trail damage.  I say farewell, and a few minute's descent brings me to a busy bypass road, complete with a police speed trap.  A quick look at the map shows me that I should have followed the smaller path along the canal.  I figure out how to return to the Kozuki-goe, and along the way, encounter a woman moving red cones in order to allow her car to pass.  She must live in the lone house that stands at the bend in the now-closed road.  A concrete wall has fallen against the front, taking with it a road sign.  The road itself has fallen away, the force of storm swollen water having risen with fury at this small bend.  

I've passed through the barricades on the far end of the road, and meet again the group of old-timers from thirty minutes before.  They confirm that I had indeed wanted to take the smaller road, and as it is only a kilometer to the pass, I hurry up and back.  Heading west once more, I make a metal note to return to a now shuttered Jakko-ji in order to see it's Magaibutsu.  It's a pretty straight forward walk along the aqueduct, sakura shading its length.  (This last point is perhaps a hint as to when to do this particular walk.)  I'm directed alongside some small factories.  In front of one, the road has collapsed completely into the river.  Then finally I meet the stone marker at the corner of the Tokaido, and familiar territory, and the train that gets me home for lunch.


On the turntable: Miles Davis, "Seven Steps"
On the nighttable:  Junichi Saga, "Memories of Silk and Straw"

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