Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Mitsumine Jinja (Chichibu area)

Today Megumi-san drove me to Mitsumine Jinja in the mountains of Chichibu region. As the photos may reveal, it was one of the most strikingly beautiful shrines in a unique location. As I was earlier in the morning entertaining the thought of cycling there (and back) I am both relieved and very thankful that she rescued me from such a crazy plan! Purportedly Kakizakai Sensei used to cycle there in his youth, which I now know to be a seriously heroic act. One should know to take his advice, "it is almost all the way ascent" as no understatement.

Mitsumine Jinja is one of the three most famous shrines in Chichibu, along with Chichibu Jinja and Hodosan Jinja, according to Enbutsu. The old cable car access is defunct but cars can drive up close to the summit and then you can walk along a cedar-lined path and through the torii (gates) up to the main shrine, its decorative gate and a splendid view off the mountaintop. We were lucky it was both snowy and sunny! Big clumps of snow occasionally dropped off the roofs, from boughs of trees and a thin haze of flakes fell from the branches when the breeze blew. There was the pleasant crunch of snow underfoot and trickles of icicles peeling off the curved roof-line as the sun thawed. The cedars (hinoki - Japanese Cypress) surrounding the shrine itself must be hundreds of years old, reminiscent of the beautiful cedars at Ise-jingu. The gate and its surroundings were donated in 1845 by a religious fraternity in Fukagawa, Edo and rafted up the Arakawa River. In February, a special bean-throwing ceremony is held. On the 19th of every month, red bean rice is offered to the holy-dog (maybe a wolf, according to legend) who guards the shrine. The name of the area Mitsumine means 'three peaks' and refers to Mt. Myōhō, Mt. Shiraiwa and Mt. Kumotori: a connecting route between them was a travelling course for ascetic monks. The innermost sanctum of Mitsumine-jinja, called Okumiya, stands at the peak of Mt. Myōhō. The journey passes along a very curvy road deep in the mountains, tunnels and steep retaining walls with bear-, rocks-falling- and landslide-warning-signs, with snow and ice at the curb and past Chichibu Lake (a man-made dam of turquoise water). The sheer valleys and near-vertical mountains are resplendent, unlike anything we see in Australia: the trees just hang on (or occasionally fall off). Megumi and I ate soba sets with mountain vegetables for lunch and visited a Japanese Coffee shop on the way home for a herb cake + coffee set - oishii. Several times in past years, the Kokusai Shakuhachi Kenshukan has held workshops in the adjoining lodge accommodation at Mitsumine - what a venue!