Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A meizanologist's diary (12)

October 20: with only the afternoon to spare, we need a low mountain. Monju-san, a few kilometres south of Fukui, fits the bill. It has just one metre of altitude for each day in the year. Height, though, is not the same as stature, as Fukada Kyūya points out in the afterword to his most famous book. For this is a mountain that no meizanologist should miss.

Monju was “opened” by Monk Taichō himself, in the first year of Yōrō (717). Presumably, he was warming up for his pioneering excursion to Hakusan in the same year – the climb that Fukada somewhat adventurously identifies as Japan’s first high-mountain ascent. Actually, it is surprising that Taichō didn’t climb Monju sooner, since he was born in Asōzu, the village at its foot, more than three decades earlier.

Be that as it may, Monju’s Meizan status cannot be disputed. Like any self-respecting sacred mountain, it has three peaks, identified on the hiking map as Little Monju, Big Monju and the Inner Sanctuary (Oku-no-in). But the first and last ones are known additionally as Murodō and Ōnanji, names that also adorn the equivalent places on Hakusan and Tateyama. This suggests that people once saw Monju in the same terms as those two other sacred peaks.

Some centuries after Taichō, Monk Saigyō, the all-terrain poet of the Heian era, distinguished the mountain in a deft tanka:


                     In Koshi, over yonder
                     Is it Fuji there, I wonder?
                     So bright the daybreak glows
                     On Tsunohara-Monju’s snows

Indeed, you can still climb Monju via a “Tsunohara course”. And it may be that the mountain really does look like Mt Fuji from that western aspect. Though, when we step out of the Sensei’s van at the foot of the normal route, it is a straggling ridge that rises above us rather than a shapely cone.

In the carpark, we brush up on Monju’s history from a signboard. On its battered paintwork, a tiny frog is contemplating a vertical direttissima. A few minutes into the woods, we encounter a sign warning that bears might leap out at us. The Sensei is unfazed, but I deploy her bear-bell all the same. It’s always best to err on the safe side when dealing with these ursine types.

In fact, the trail presents a greater hazard – it is broad but slippery, the mud polished to a mirror glaze by the passage of a millennium’s worth of feet. About half-way up our hill, the Sensei tires of it and launches into the woods on our right. Trust me, she says, there really is a path. So, chiming rhythmically, we start our own direttissima across the mountain’s north face. A strip of red tape marks the way for those who would brave this route in mid-winter.

In front of us, the leaf litter rustles as something leaps for cover. Fortunately, it is an order of magnitude or two smaller than a bear. Instead, we find a fat brown frog palpitating by the side of the track– pregnant with eggs, says the Sensei, who knows about country things. Perhaps it is taking the warm weather for the start of spring.

We come up on the ridge close to a pavilion that houses a Kannon, or so at least a gaudy banner suggests. Nearby is a tree wearing a sacred rope, suggesting that nobody ever tried very hard to disentwine Buddhism and Shintoism here, as they did on Ochi-san. Even today, the Sensei tells me, it is a temple at the foot of the mountain that looks after the shrines up here.

High on the ridge, we pass a lightning-scarred tree. Monju, one of the four great Bodhisattva (Bosatsu), is sometimes portrayed with a thunderbolt (vajra) in his hand. He seems to toss them down with considerable liberality on his namesake mountain.

A few minutes later, on the summit itself, we see a tree-stump that a lightning strike has completely burned out. Probably one should avoid Monju during thunderstorms.

Below the Oku-no-in, the path leads into a rift between the two halves of a gigantic boulder. You should only pass through if you have a clear conscience. No impure thoughts now, says the Sensei. Or the rocks will clap together and swallow you up.

I hesitate for a moment. I mean, suppose there were an earthquake. Then, surviving the passage unscathed, we circle back through the woods towards the middle peak.

Guarded by a row of jizō statues, the summit shrine is silvery with age. Its timbers must have looked fresher when Fukada Kyūya, then in his fourth year at Fukui Middle School, came up here with three companions on November 27, 1919. Another noticeboard gives us these details.

As fellow students had helped to clear the path a year or two before, Fukada and his friends might have felt a proprietary interest in Monju-san. At any rate, all four felt entitled to inscribe their names on the shrine.

Where the future Hyakumeizan author left his mark
(Photo: Fukui Shimbun)
Ninety-nine years later, I look here and there for the graffiti, without success – sorry, says the Sensei, they carved their names inside the shrine, and you can only see them when the doors are opened for the annual festival.

The view makes up for any disappointment. For its height, Monju must afford one of the best all-round vistas in the prefecture. Through gaps in the trees, we look westwards to Ochi-san and the coastal hills. In the opposite direction, Hakusan and all those other famous mountains of Hokuriku loom through the haze. Mountains, as any meizanologist will testify, are places that let you see further.

Tomorrow, we would have to head back to the Big Slope. There were friends to meet and a flight to catch. We’d take the view from Monju with us, though.


Unknown said...

Dear Martin

I really enjoyed reading “A meizanologist’s diary (12)”. Meizanologist is the word you created, isn’t it? I sometimes go on a hike there, expecting to see late-blooming cherry flowers or dogtooth violets, but I didn’t know much about historical things. Thank you very much for giving me a lot of information on Monju-san. I’ve learned a lot from you.
Early in December I happened to stay at Taicho-no-mori( an inn with hot spring), where I found a small Taicho museum. My friends and I appreciated the display, reading the explanation of his childhood experiences and watching a lot of pictures. For the first time in my life I’ve recognized not only Haku-san, but Monju-san, Ochi-san, and Hino-san were opened by Monk Taicho. We are lucky because Fukui people are surrounded by five sacred and beautiful mountains.
Your diary tells us about 3 peaks of Monju-san. Little Monju is known as Murodo and Big Monju is as Onanji. I was amazed to find that ‘People once saw Monju in the same terms as those two other sacred peaks’. The naming sounds very interesting and charming. I would like to call them Murodo and Onanji from now on. About the naming I have a question. According to Wikipedia, the Inner Sanctuary (Oku-no-in) is Onanji. Is the Wikipedia wrong?
Talking of poems, Saigyo’s poem sounds very beautiful. It’s surprising that Monju really does look like Mt. Fuji if we take a “Tsunohara course”. I’d like to see Monju from the western aspect. There are some mountains called certain Fuji in Japan. I’ll show you a poem on Hino-san written by Yosano Akiko. She was a famous tanka poet in the
Showa era and she also translated the original “Tale of Genji” into modern Japanese. “The Tale of Genji” attracted Akiko so much that she read it again and again since she was a child. Naturally Akiko came to love Shikibu very much. The author of Genji, Shikibu, once lived in Echizen while she was young because her father was transferred to Echizen. This is why Akiko visited Echizen and wrote a lot of poems. The following is one of them which referred to Mt.Hino.

 われも見る源氏の作者おさなくて父と眺めし越前の山  Akiko
A mountain in Echizen means Mt.Hino which has been called Echizen Fuji
The following is my translation. I have not translated tanka poems into English, so please correct it as poetically as possible.

Now I’m looking at
Mt. Hino, Echizen Fuji
Like the young author of Genji
Was once looking at
With her father
(instead of a mountain in Echizen, I preferred Echizen Fuji)

Near Shikibu Park in Takefu you can find a stone monument on which this poem is engraved
This October I participated in Yosano Akiko tour. The guide took us to Shikibu Park and Itadaki-no-tei where Akiko stayed. Since then Akiko and Hino-san have become very close to me. Watching beautiful Hino-san, I wrote some poems. One is about Echizen Fuji and Akiko.


In front of me
Echizen Fuji has spread
Just as what it was
In the Showa period
When Akiko was looking at

Anyway I really enjoyed your diary. The words you selected and your writing style are very sophisticated and beautiful. And the content is quite useful and has expanded my view and knowledge. After I read your diary I was able to do some research(laughing!) to make sure of facts. Thank you very much again.
I’d be very happy if you corrected the poems I translated into English from Japanese.
Kimiko Murayose

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Dear Murayose-sensei

Thank you for reading this post, and for pointing out that Onanji is the name for Oku-no-in (both are good names). I've changed the text. Also it's very interesting to hear that Yosano Akiko also visited this region. I find the tanka you translated paints a very charming picture of the young Murasaki with her father gazing up at Echizen-Fuji. Your own tanka, also delightfully translated, adds to the chain of people looking up at Echizen-Fuji. It was also new to me that Taicho opened Hino-san too. Clearly, he was a busy man. As of yet, there doesn't seem to be very much in English about Taicho's history. I hope that can be fixed in the course of next year, the 1300th anniversary of his Hakusan ascent ...