Asuka to Yoshino, Japan: May 22-23, 2016
After a full Japanese breakfast, the day began with a sightseeing walk around Asuka. Asuka was the capital from 552 to 645 CE. The first stop was at Tachibana-dera whose structures date to the Edo period. This is the birthplace of Prince Shotoku. I mention Prince Shotoku because a lovely statue of him is at a subsequent stop at the Asuka-dera. I think the horse statue represents Prince Shotoku's horse.
|Mourning Statue of Prince Shōtoku depicted as a bodhisattva in Asuka-dera, Asuka, Nara|
Further into the Tachibana-dera site, another structure called Oh join has a ceiling with 260 lovely floral paintings. A sign invites visitors to lie down on the tatami mats and relax while looking up at the ceiling. It was relaxing with flowers above and the grassy fragrance of the tatami mats below.
Continuing on we snacked on fresh strawberries from a farm stand.
Reinvigorated, some of us (not Dan) took a steep side trip up a mountain for a view of Asuka and the surrounding mountains. The hazy view at the top was underwhelming after the steep, sweaty climb up.
The Asuka Great Buddha (left), a bronze from the Asuka period, is the oldest Buddha statue in Japan. It was created in 609. This Buddha has survived fire, ruin, and neglect until the temple was rebuilt in 1632 and 1826.
Leaving Asuka behind, we took a train to Yoshino in the Kii Mountain Range. Several sacred sites connected by pilgrimage routes are found in this range. One site, Yoshino/Omine, is the birthplace of the "Shugendo" (a sect of Buddhism) religion. Shugendo Buddhism stresses feats of physical and mental endurance, such as hanging off cliffs or sitting under waterfalls, as a path to enlightenment.
|Kimpusen-ji Temple (shuttered for the night)|
Up the mountain from the train station Kimpusen-ji, a Shugendo Buddhist temple built with cypress bark, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and possibly Japan's second largest wooden building. The temple is the start of the pilgrimage trail to the sacred Mount Omine. As we arrived monks were beginning their evening worship service. We were invited to enjoy the service that included taiko drumming and the sounding of the horagai (giant conch shell). When the service was finished, the temple doors were shut for the night and we continued our own up-hill pilgrimage to the cable car.
At the end of our short cable car ride, we continued walking up hill to our accommodation at the wonderful Kama Kama hotel in Yoshino. Our bed was the usual mattresses on the floor. We had our own en-suite toilet and sink but baths were taken in an onsen--a traditional Japanese communal bath fed by hot springs. Quite a lovely way to relax after a long day of walking!
The next day we continued our walk toward Dorogawa village on the fairly steep Omine (great peak) trail through the woods of fir, pine, and cedar and across a cable suspension bridge.
We arrived in Dorogawa in the late afternoon. At our lodging we were reunited with our baggage, and we will stay here for two nights.