Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Nihon Hyakumeizan: in search of ground truth (9)

Travelogue continued: further musings on Takachiho-mine's Heavenly Jewelled Spear while night falls on the Kirishima traverse

November 18: I pass over the shrine-less summit of Karakuni and take the path down its southern slopes. A set of solidly framed wooden ladders takes the sting out of one steep passage. At its foot lies a cellophane-wrapped bouquet, together with some unopened cans of coffee and fruit juice. The offerings hint at a mountain tragedy – perhaps some senior citizen collapsed on his way up here.

In the wooded col below, I catch up with a group of seven or so hikers, who introduce themselves as a local fire-brigade on a works outing. They explain the bouquet: an 11 year-old boy got separated from his parents, wandered off the path and fell over an edge to his death. The accident caused a lot of commentary in the press.

The fire brigade is heading for Ebino Kogen, so-called (some say) for the shrimp-like pink hues of its pampas grasses. I’d like to see this spectacle, but Ebino is too far and so I opt for the more direct route to the road, past Ohnami.

Cut off by the high wooded cliffs that ring the crater, the slanting late-afternoon light has retreated from the lake. Ohnami’s mere is still and dark. A helpful signboard explains that it takes its name from a beautiful girl who threw herself into the lake, reverting to her true nature as the volcano’s tutelary dragon.

Dragon or no, this is an eldritch place. There seems to be a trajectory to this traverse: a morning full of light and vigour, an evening of shadows and tragic endings. I hasten down the steep path to the road, reaching it just as the sun touches the horizon.

Soon I have to switch on the new headtorch for the second time today. This morning, I caught a startled deer in its powerful beam. Now the light-shaft reveals a line of glowing eyes, perched atop a grassy bank above the road. Unearthly shrieks excoriate my passing.

After a while, the animals fall silent; the road has descended into a dark and lifeless factory forest. I’m still thinking about Takachiho-mine, and why the Nihon Hyakumeizan author Fukada Kyuya turned it into the centerpiece of his chapter on Kirishima. The answer, I suspect, lurks within its enigmatic summit totem, the Ame-no-sakahoko.

“I attach great weight to a mountain's history,” Fukada says in his afterword to Nihon Hyakumeizan. “No mountain with deep and long-standing links to humankind could be excluded from my list. A peak that people admire from morning to night, that they crown with a shrine, necessarily qualifies as a Meizan.”

Quite so, but what exactly does the spear signify? I thought back to the Kirishima chapter of Nihon Hyakumeizan. Sure enough, the clue is right there in the second paragraph:-

It was here that Ninigi-no-mikoto, a scion of the gods and ancestor of the imperial line, descended from heaven, according to the account of our country’s creation in the Kojiki. The chronicle calls the mountain "Kushifuru-take of Takachiho of Himuka".

I should have done my homework before climbing Takachiho. If I had, I would have found the Ame-no-sakahoho mentioned in first few pages of the Kojiki, where the “jewelled spear of heaven” is used to stir the first Japanese island into being. A condensed version of the story, from a later Shinto scripture, runs as follows:-

The two deities Izanagi and Izanami opened up Mt Sumeru and looked into the sea below but there was neither land nor island. So they thrust down the ‘reversed spear of heaven’(ama-no-sakahoko) and stirred and searched. The drips from the spear hardened and became an island, and the five characters A-bi-ra-un-ken appeared. Then a strange wind arose and the ‘five-cornered island’ was created. This was Awajishima. And many deities lived there…

Naruhodo, I would have thought – the Ame-no-sakahoko was literally present at the Creation. Of course, that doesn’t explain how the present halberd came to be planted atop Takachiho (some say that Ninigi brought it with him), or how it survived constant eruptions from that day to this. But, as Hidaka-san had observed, to demand answers to these questions would spoil the mystery.

Tiring of the long walk down the tarmac road, I take a path that offered a short-cut through the woods. A tiresome twenty minutes ensues, playing hide-and-seek with a grassy trail through the pitch-black forest. At last, the lanterns of the Kirishima grand shrine gleam through the trees. Under the cedars that surround the shrine, a movement catches my eye: robed in white, a priest is gliding like a ghost between the shrine buildings.


Kittie Howard said...

Thank you for your generous comment. I really enjoy your blog and the images you conjure up. However, I wasn't sure if you and your followers were a specific group and that I was intruding so was a bit shy about jumpin in. So, here I am again. By the way, I climbed Mount Sanai, reached the top, enjoyed the walk down and promptly retired from that sport :)))

hanameizan said...

I remember that night. The television news reported that a boy had become separated from his parents, and the search had been called off until the morning. As we went to bed, I couldn't help but worry about that small boy, lost and frightened and trying to survive the night on his own near Karakuni.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Kittie: many thanks for reading and enjoying this somewhat hobbyhorsical blog. As for us being a specific group, well, far from it - the blog is for anybody with an interest in the mountains of Japan and their denizens ... Congratulations on your Sinai ascent: I guess if you were going to climb just one mountain, what could possibly be more appropriate. What other mountain gets a mention in the first few lines of Paradise Lost ... Will you write us a posting about it?

Hanameizan: yes, a particularly tragic accident. Looking at the steepness of the slope and the density of the bush and the terrain, I could understand how it happened. Well made paths, like that on Karakuni, lull one into a false sense of security. But the surrounding country is unforgiving...

wes said...

a splendid and well-timed account. I wonder what you were doing strolling through the shrine after dark, and what wisdom the priest gave (and where you ended up sleeping for that matter). I guess all will be revealed in part 10.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Wes: I guess that's about enough about Kirishima - on to Kuju in the next posting. So to answer your questions: I saw the priest but we didn't speak. And I stayed at the Kirishima Jingu Tozanguchi Onsen - actually a friendly, family-run ryokan. Strongly recommended for intending Kirishima traverse/Takachiho candidates. In summer, I guess there'd be various camping options too ....