2014
06.05

SYNOPSIS:  About the oldest Shinto Shrine in Japan and the many surprises the island of Mayajima holds.  From Buddhist Temples, to Cable Cars and treacherous walks.  A day spent with Kim and Ozi.

You might wonder how I ended up at the red car at 7 AM at Hiroshima Station to meet a stranger to go to Itzukushima.

Well, yesterday, I did what I would call speed arrangement.  As I arrived from Oita via the Shinkansen the train slowed down for the second stop and I was not sure where we were.  Another Westerner got ready to leave and I asked him about the name of the station: Hiroshima.  I was in the right place and by this one word I could tell he was German.  It’s that accent thing… 🙂

As we departed we kept chatting and the conversation back and forth went something like this:  Where are you from?  Germany/Michigan.  What brings you here?  Travel.  What are you doing tomorrow?  Miyajima.  Want to go together?  Why not.  Where should we meet?

At that point we had arrived at a big shiny red car.  At the red car?  OK.  When?  9 AM?  No, that’s too late.  OK, 7 then.  See you.  Buy.  Oh, what’s your name?  Kim/Elisabeth.

We quickly exchanged business cards and went on our ways.

And that’s how I ended up at the red car at 7 AM to meet a stranger to go to ItzukushimaAnd he arrived as agreed, with a travel companion whom he had picked up most likely at just about the same speed at his hostel: Turkish-born, Dutch Ozi.  This kind of stuff only works abroad.  Try anything like it at home and you will be in trouble!  But that’s how we were three; ready to embark to the island of Miyajima, to see one of the oldest Shinto Shrines of Japan.

The day was so exhausting, that the pictures mainly have to speak for themselves.  I can’t provide much more in depth detail.  One thing was clear.  There was so much more to the island that we had not anticipated.  Ozi and I had enough time to explore almost all of it; Kim had to leave around mid-day.  There are major Buddhist temples there which developed first in the shadows of this major Shinto Shrine and then as its caretakers.

The Meiji Restoration did not look kindly on this syncretism of religions and demanded a separation and a “cleansing” of sorts.  Both sets of priests worked diligently to preserve images and treasures that otherwise might have been destroyed.  Everything here goes back for centuries and old images exist happily next to brand-new ones.

We got extremely lucky to witness both a Shinto ceremony in which the priests of the shrine lined up in the morning, and then brought offerings to the deity.  I guess, that was the reward for the early birds we were!  Later at the famous Daisho-In, the main Buddhist Temple, we witnessed a sermon of a monk reciting Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit, and striking the gong and beating the drum in between.  It was amazing to see how many of the Japanese were both tourists and devout followers of these religions.  The coffers were ringing from all the coins that were dropped and the gongs were vibrating from all the people who announced themselves to the gods.  At some point later, I will describe in more detail the typical worship practices for each religion.

As if we did not have enough to do for a day at the shore line — I can’t imagine all the things we would have had to skip had we not gotten an early start — there was also Mount Misen, the tallest mountain on this holy island and considered the most holy spot of all.  Supposedly, seven wonders are attributed to the mountain, such as an unexplained clapping sound, miraculous writing, mysterious lights emanating from some of the biggest trees, a flower which never blooms, etc.  Since I did not witness any of them, I won’t dwell on them either.

But we saw a few interesting temples which are scattered around the peak of the mountain; the Kiezu-no-Reikado Hall with the ever-burning flame which is particularly good for lovers and which became the source for the eternal flame at the Hiroshima Peace Park which I will visit tomorrow; a temple where Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism meditated for 100 days — just for the heck of it, I meditated for about 100 seconds there in his honour…  And a few minor shrines along the way.

I admit, we also skipped a few sites when they would have gotten us off the already treacherous path…   We could have made the mountain alone a whole day’s worth of sightseeing.  Independently from the Shinto Shrine, Mount Misen has achieved UNESCO status as a natural monument.   The views from up there into the inland sea across a set of islands are spectacular.

How to fit it all in?!  Well, there is a cable car which you can take up and up and down again.  Still, there is hiking involved.  We opted for the compromise: take the cable car up and walk all the way down.  In hindsight, I wish I had gone the “lazy” way and taken the round trip.  After 90 minutes of continuous steep, uneven, stone-steps downwards with hardly any regular path in between, my knees felt like pudding!  Who do I think I am?  I am not in shape for this.  But I will also blame the misleading information.  A downward trip that was advertised as 60 minutes took us 1 hour and 45 minutes!  And we were not slow.  Yes, for a few short minutes I would ask for a break.   But overall, you could not have done this much faster.  Or could those Japanese?!  They certainly all look like they are in perfect shape.  Oh well…  We did it, Ozi and I.

By the time we got off the mountain it was close to dusk.  What is great about spending a whole day on the island is that you most likely get to see the changing tides.  In the morning, we encountered the famous Torii of Itzukushima under water.  By now, it was sitting in the mud and you could walk right up to it.  Ozi actually had obtained a tide schedule — a good thing to have if you care about your photos.

By the end of the day I had found out that Kim was in his late thirties and lived in Hamburg.  When he is not traveling he is a banker.  And Ozi from Amsterdam is a policy advisor.  We laughed about the fact how all three of us had such serious and somewhat conventional jobs and then broke out to go on these trips.  We each came to this from very different perspectives and with very different goals: I was on a mission to do the UNESCO sites, mainly to expand my background for teaching.  Kim was mostly interested in popular culture, the Ninjas, martial arts, etc.  He is writing a blog, too, which the German speakers among you might find interesting:  www.followingbudo.de  And Ozi is in it for special photography.  To his chagrin they would not let him use his tripod in the temples.  What a shame.  But he was going to stay on the island until darkness to take night pictures of the gate.  I wonder if they turned out?

Again, I have no idea if our paths will ever cross again.  But today it was a great enrichment to have both of these guys around.  We had fun and I certainly was grateful for not having to do this mountain all by myself.

I barely made it home before I collapsed.  Good night.