Friday, 9 November 2007

Bushwalking (hiking in the cyprus forest)

I realise 'bushwalking' is a quintessentially Australian term for the NZ tramping or Japanese 'hiking'. Yesterday, Kundan was 'heading for the hills' and stopped by to see if I would join him. The brisk cool morning air rapidly warmed as we rode our bikes into the sunny rural area at the base of the nearby hills. We made our ascent via mossy stones, cyprus 'acorn'-carpeted track steeply up the hill to a statue of a Buddhist deity (perhaps that's not the right word - someone who helps pilgrims in some area of life) looking out through a canopy of leaves and dots of autumnal colours until we reached a vista over Chichibu town. On this occasion, we were headed for sshrines no. 26 En'yuu-ji & no. 27 Dai'en-ji marked by old Jizo statues and stone pillars inscribed with the temple's full name. Enbutsu's Chichibu: Japan's Hidden Treasure book gives an outline for visiting all 34 temples, as well as an overview of history and the festivals, including the approaching famous Night Festival of Chichibu on 3 December. It is often the details that seem remarkable: another shrine, another temple, more steps and so on but remarkable little alcoves in which people thoughtfully and caringly placed fresh flowers in the shrine, fruit, beads, offerings; the community of tiny fox statues inside the altar at the fox shrine, as well as the two large stone guardians beside it; the stickers bearing prayers or wishes adorning the old red wooden structure of no.26 perching on the cliff-side; red bibs draped around small statues in memory of lost children. As we pedalled through the maze of rustic back streets to get there, tumbledown quaint cottages, rusted tin sheds and a pottery are interspersed with contemporary dwellings, wooden house atop warehouses, small agricultural plots with older people ploughing, weeding, stripping the old crops, dangling persimmons out to dry from windows, endlessly meticulous, manicured gardens of patiently pruned trees, densely planted tiny courtyards with jungles of flowers and ornamental plants, the smell of wood-fires and freshly tilled earth.