Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kuragari (Ise Hon-kaido I)

I stepped out of the subway station, and look slightly up the hill toward the castle.  The grounds were a Pollock splatter of pink buds, but I didn't detour to investigate whether they were plum or cherry.  Probably the former, as the sakura weren't due for a another few days still.

I grabbed a cheap 380 yen bento, and walked over to Tamatsukuri Inari Shrine, sitting on the steps since benches weren't provided.  This area was once home to the craftsmen who had carved the magatama jewels that were so sacred to the ancient Japanese.  Today, it was a quiet neighborhood, that still held the same slightly working class vibe, personified I suppose by the man who'd made my lunch.  

More importantly, this shrine was the Osaka terminus of the Ise Kaidō.  Just what I needed, yet another road to walk.  I was already in the process of walking a couple of others.  But this particular old path received priority status as it was considered most auspicious to undertake the Ise pilgrimage in a year following the shrine's renewal, a fact I learned from a recent post on my friend John's Green Shinto blog.  I had already planned to walk the Ise-ji section of the Kumano Kodō later this autumn, but now I felt compelled to undertake this parallel, 170 km road as well.  Good thing I bought new shoes last weekend.

I moved downhill, beneath a massive kusunoki standing in the middle of the road, then rejoined grand Nagahori-dori.  Signage was good here, and it led me seamlessly onto the smaller parallel streets that followed what in these early stages was referred to not yet as the Ise-Kaidō, but rather the Kuragari Kaidō, and old road that led from the capital Nara to an ancient part of modern Osaka called Kōraibashi.  The name was reminiscent somewhat of the word "Korea," proving an interesting linguistic parallel since it means Goryeo bridge, a reminder of the strong contacts between Nara and Korea at the time, and may even be where boats from the continent were moored.   

I was curious when the signage would end, and it didn't take long.  I was moving hesitantly into Higashi Osaka proper, along the busy Rte 15, or occasionally beneath the large factories lining the roads that flanked it.  Very run down and rough looking.  A couple of workmen in their 50s gave me a good glare as I passed.  The lack of signs made sense if you consider that it's difficult to care about history when it's hard enough just to focus on the day-to-day present.  

I had been long intrigued with this area, in particular with the section once called Kawachi, since it and its people had been the setting for Imamura Shōhei's first film called Stolen Desire.  The locations of the film reveal a small rural town surrounded by vast farmland.  Today it was all new, suburban, the absolute worst of Japanese development, right down to the rugby stadium in the middle of town, a testament to the rough and tumble people here.  Any time I passed a person of the film's vintage, I wondered if they might have been within Imamura's frame, as so many residents had been extras.  More important was the changes they must have seen during this last half century.   As I walked along, pondering this, Mt. Ikoma rose like a wall ahead of me.  

Before long I reached her feet.  I paid respects to Hiraoka shrine, as picnickers enjoyed the plum groves nearby.  I stepped back onto the concrete path of Route 308, which wound narrow and steep up the mountain's flank.  It wasn't a long ascent, but it was a tough one, forcing me to stop a few times.  I passed a couple of walkers coming the other way, each of whom nodded but didn't say anything as I came past.  Were they trying to emulate the holy men of old, taking some sort of vow of silence on the climb?  

I finally made it to the small hamlet up top, the tea house closed on this Monday.  I moved beyond it, to admire the view of the Nara basin beneath the seasonal haze.  Then quickly down the other side, past the fields and the Basho stone, the stone statues and the small temple halls. When my feet leveled out again, I was at a train station, tired, hungry, and foot-sore.  But the shoes had performed marvelously.  


On the turntable:  The Clash, "The Story of the Clash"
On the nighttable:  Rob Scheltheis, "Bone Games"

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