…or, “the day I accidentally went hiking, photographed mating frogs, got invited into a shrine, found a fire god and ate too many dango“.
Monday was a curious day. About a week ago I realised that I had no plans on Monday 7th March. In fact, it was the only remaining day before I leave Japan on which I had no plans. So, taking the recommendations of my students, I hastily made a plan to visit Hattasan Son-eiji – one of the most important temples in the area.
It was easy to find out how to get there – a quick Google revealed that all I had to do was take the JR train to Fukuroi (about 15 mins, ￥320) and then take the bus from bus stop number two (about 15 mins, ￥280).
Well, when I woke up on Monday morning it was raining quite heavily. I lay in bed feeling sad, thinking that I would have to cancel my plans. I couldn’t very well have a temple adventure in the rain, could I? After a few hours I managed to talk myself into going. It really was my last chance (“last chance” is becoming a bit of a key phrase for me these days!) and I knew I’d regret not going a lot more than I would regret going and getting soaked by the rain.
So, dressed for rain and clutching my brolly, I stepped out. Actually, in the end, the rain had stopped and it didn’t start again all day. It even got quite hot and sunny at one point.
When I got to Fukuroi it was just before midday. I found the bus stop and tried to decipher the Japanese. If I had read it right, there wouldn’t be a bus for another hour and twenty minutes! I confirmed this with a bus driver and looked around. Sure, I could have found somewhere for lunch and waited, but I couldn’t see any enticing cafes in the vicinity. So, I got out my phone, turned on the GPS and asked Google for directions (honestly, what did I do before I had this technology in my pocket?!). Google estimated that it was about 5km walk, which should take about an hour and ten minutes. Well, that would be faster and healthier than waiting for the bus, I reasoned. So off I went, watching the little blue marker slowly move along the dotted line on my Google map as I walked.
Fukuroi is really in the countryside. My walk took me along winding roads by small houses and tea fields, and I found myself once again feeling like I was slipping into a Ghibli movie. The morning’s rain seemed to make the smell of tea rise up from the green fields around me. The air smelt fresh and crisp, and my taste buds tingled for hot tea. I made do with the cold PET bottle of green tea in my bag, which I had bought from a vending machine earlier in the day.
As I rounded a corner, I spotted a shrine (would have missed that if I had taken the bus!). The old stone torii, darkened by the rain, stood before me.
Rain drops sat silently on blossoms which bloomed by the gate. Plum blossoms, I think.
I wandered into the shrine. As I entered, I passed by two men talking. I nodded in my acquired Japanese way and said “konnichiwa”. They seemed a little surprised but replied, and continued talking. Other than the men, the place was quiet and empty, or so I thought. As I got closer to the garden area of the shrine I saw a pond, and from the pond came the croaks of the loudest frogs I have ever heard.
The sun was behind clouds, so I couldn’t see the frog in detail when I shot the photo. I just sort of zoomed in blindly. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised I had in fact taken a photo of… a two-headed frog?! 😉 Oops – sorry Mr. & Mrs. Frog for disturbing you there!
Just as I was snapping the horny frogs, I heard a voice. One of the men who I had passed was talking to me. He was speaking in Japanese, and asked me if I wanted to come into the shrine and take more pictures. He seemed to be the guy that runs the shrine (what do you call that guy?), so I said yes. I was quite excited to be invited in – and even more excited to be allowed to take photos!
The man spoke to me a lot but I probably understood less than 10% of what he said, unfortunately. Still, I didn’t want to appear rude, and he seemed so pleased to have someone to talk to. I guess it must be pretty lonely in that shrine most days.
After my detour to the shrine I continued on to Hattasan. Along the way, I occasionally checked my GPS but it was basically a straight line. I also saw some encouraging signs along the way:
…and this less encouraging ones:
It wasn’t so long before I found the unmistakable approach to the temple, which was lined with little shops and restaurants (many closed, being a quiet Monday).
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I found. The temple itself was fairly ordinary, but the forest setting was gorgeous!
First, I entered through an imposing gate:
On my way out, I noticed this cute sign leading me back to the gate which, apparently, belongs to Dave (I think it should read “deva“).
Perhaps this is Dave?
One of the most interesting things I came across was this “fire god” (?) statue. I’ve searched online and can’t really find out who or what this is. If anyone can enlighten me, I’d be very grateful!
There were even special “ema” with the same “fire god” on them:
Another curious thing I found as I wandered around was this little secret cave. It reminded me of the one I found before in Kanzanji.
Naturally, I had to have a look inside (although I was a bit scared there was a giant frog inside, as all I could hear was more loud frogs – no doubt mating in the bushes!)…
Finally I came to the temple itself. As I said before, it was fairly ordinary, but large and beautiful. The grounds were very wide and empty, which made me feel peaceful.
I wish I could find out more details about this place… I came across this wonderful but strange statue and have no idea what it symbolises or why it is at a temple in Fukuroi.
Near the main temple building there was also this smaller, much older building. The wooden floorboards creaked dangerously as I walked around inside.
One thing to remember in Japan is to always look up. Sometimes you can see beautiful things on ceilings!
A lot of things seemed to be focussed on the Chinese zodiac at Hattasan. In fact, when I bought my “omamori” they asked me what my sign was, and picked one especially for me based on my sign. I’m a rooster (酉), just in case you were wondering.
One more thing that Hattsan is famous for is “dango“. When I told people I had been to Hattasan, everyone asked if I had tried the “dango” – they’re that famous! Of course, I did try some…
They were really delicious!! 🙂
On the way back from Hattasan to Fukuroi Station I had intended to take the bus, but there was a 30 minute wait, so I ended up walking back the way I had come. The weather had become really nice by that point, and I was very much enjoying my walk when a small van pulled up on the road next to me. A friendly looking guy asked me in Japanese if I was all right. He said he guessed I was going to the station and would I like a ride? Of course, I said no. I mean, he looked friendly enough, but you never know, do you? He checked again that I knew my way, I said I was fine, and he drove off. I guess I will never know if he was simply a friendly guy, or if he was actually an axe wielding maniac driving among the tea fields of Japan looking for stray foreigners…
The full set of photos can be seen, as usual, on Flickr.
This is a Show Me Japan entry. Don’t forget to check out the others! 🙂