Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Day in Nagato

Nagato is one of my favorite places in Yamaguchi Prefecture! It is about 2.5 hours away from Iwakuni by car, which makes it a great day trip destination.

There are more than just a few reasons to visit Nagato, but the most famous of all now is probably the Motonosumi-inari Shrine. This shrine by the sea has 123 red Torii gates you can walk through as you enjoy beautiful views of the ocean.

The colors are stunning when it's a beautiful day, and in the summer months it's even more spectacular because everything is so green!

After you finish walking around and enjoying the wonderful views, be sure to try your hand at getting some money into the offer box at the top of the Torii gate located right across from the parking lot. I usually use whatever I have in my wallet, besides a one yen coin (too light).....and it usually takes me a few tries. Okay, it may have taken me 6 or more tries my very first time. I wouldn't have felt so down about it if the guy before me didn't get it in there on his first try! Really?! Having an audience didn't help matters much either (so much pressure!), but I did finally make it and my audience actually cheered for me!

They do have parking right across the entrance. The first couple of times I went there were hardly any other cars in the lot, but when I went a couple of weeks ago the parking was completely full. Luckily someone started to leave right as I was trying to figure out what to do. Also, the road leading to the shrine can get pretty narrow in some spots. There was a tour bus there a couple of weeks ago so it's not crazy narrow, but I am really glad I didn't run into that bus on my way there or on my way out.
This shrine is not stroller friendly as there are steps walking down through the Torii gates.

Another place to check out in Nagato is Senjojiki, which means one thousand tatami mats. I believe that is to describe how large of a space it is, and it's pretty large. I would say more than a thousand tatami mats large, but I do like the name. The views from here are pretty amazing! There is also plenty of space to throw down a blanket and have a nice picnic lunch or just relax for a little bit. I saw a few benches around the area too so there were definitely plenty of places to have a seat and take it all in.
Senjojiki is not too far from the Motonosumi-inari Shrine and it has a good amount of parking.

Be sure to explore the area and enjoy the views!

If you like boat tours, there is one in Nagato that goes around Omijima. There are different tours to choose from, but the one that goes all the way around Omijima can get canceled depending on how rough the waters are. The day I went, the waters were too rough for the full tour so I just did the short tour. It was still very beautiful and the rock formations were really neat too.

I don't recommend sitting at the very front of the boat. The views are not so great and when we hit a rough patch, I'm pretty sure the front of the boat got the worst of it. They do have an area in the back where you can go out to enjoy the views and take pictures.

There are some other really great places to explore in Nagato, and I hope this helps you plan your own day trip to explore the other side of Yamaguchi Prefecture!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Susa Hornfels

I have been trying to get to the Susa Hornfels for a few years now. Every time I planned to go, it just didn't work out. So, of course, the one time I don't plan on going is when I finally make it there!

A couple of weeks ago, I was on my way home from a whirlwind day trip to Nagato, Omijima, and Hagi when I saw the sign for Susa. It was still kind of early and when I typed the Hornfels into Google Maps it showed that we would get there in about 20 minutes. So, I told my friends we were going to take a little side trip on the way home and started driving towards Susa. Well, I did a happy dance and jumped around for a few minutes before I got back in the van. I may have even squealed with joy while I was jumping around. At any rate, I was pretty excited!

About 20 minutes later I hear, "You have arrived at your destination." Um. Nope. I'm pretty sure the thing on my right is a train station and on my left are some buildings.... What the heck Google Maps?! I was a little bit sad because I thought I was going to have to see it some other time. I kept on driving straight so I could find a place to pull over and figure out the quickest way to get home, and then I saw a sign that said "Susa Hornfels" in English!! I followed the signs and I found it!

I couldn't wait to get down there and see it up close! I think the walk down was less than 10 minutes, but when I got to the end of the path I realized the real fun was about to begin. The rest of the walk down was definitely a little scary for me. It's rugged and slanted and I kept thinking I was going to slip (parts of it were wet). Then I saw a couple coming back up and the girl had HEELS on. Ahhhh....It's official. I'm a wuss. I will say that she was walking very slowly and very carefully, but still. I did not have heels on and I think she was walking faster than me.

I did manage to make it to the bottom without slipping! I would have done a happy dance, but it was very uneven and I wasn't going to push my luck.

It was so beautiful! The different layers of colors were just so amazing to me. I couldn't stop staring at it. It was like a large piece of artwork.

There was another path that went to the left when we started walking from the car to the path leading down to the Hornfels. I really wanted to go check it out, but I ran out of time. I guess that means I have to go back, right??

I highly recommend adding this beautiful place to your itinerary when you head to Hagi. It ended up being about 30 minutes from Hagi and then it took us a few hours to get home from the Hornfels. We didn't take the expressway at all on the way back.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pilgrimage Adventures - Part 1

Almost a year ago, I had the most amazing, whirlwind of a weekend with my friend, Tina! 17 temples and shrines, a wonderful hotel, friendly people, and about 700 kilometers added to my car. It was an experience I will cherish forever and I learned a few things I wanted to share with those who are interested in doing a pilgrimage in Japan.

I'm not exactly sure how I came across the site for the Izumo Shinbutsu Pilgrimage, but as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to do it. I have been curious about temple pilgrimages since I read about the 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Shikoku a few years ago. 88 temples seemed a little overwhelming, but I found myself thinking about it from time to time. Wondering if there was a way to do it. I thought, maybe if I take my time and do it over a year I could complete it. Then, I stumbled upon the Izumo Shinbutsu Pilgrimage website. Very informative AND it's only 20 temples and shrines. I thought 20 would be a good one to start with. I was also really excited when I saw that this one was a combination of shrines and temples since the other ones I had seen were temples only.

Why did I want to do this pilgrimage? I love the temples and shrines in Japan, and I have become quite obsessed with collecting the temple stamps. I have 2 full books so far! I also thought this would be a good way to see temples, shrines, and areas of Japan I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise. Many of the temples and shrines in this pilgrimage are not mentioned in a lot of tourist sites, and if they are, they are listed way at the bottom so most people don't bother. We saw some amazing countryside and visited some really beautiful temples and shrines on this trip! I know I would not have seen most of this if I hadn't decided to do this pilgrimage. I am not a buddhist, but I do offer a donation and a prayer at any shrine or temple I visit. My mother was quite excited when I told her I was doing this, but then she looked at me with a very stern look on her face and said, "You better not just go there and take pictures and get your shuin and leave! You better show some respect and offer a donation and prayer!" I assured her that I have been doing this already and that seemed to make her happy. I will admit though that I used to be one of those people who just took pictures and got my shuin, and left. I didn't want to ruin my perfect daughter image so I kept that information to myself.
If you're not sure of what to do at the temples and shrines, here is some information that might help. You may have noticed an area with water and wooden cups with long handles around the entrance of a shrine or temple you have visited. This is for people to cleanse (or purify) themselves before entering the temple or shrine. I typically grab the handle with my right hand, fill it with water, and then pour it over my left hand. I then switch hands and do the same to my right. Now you can head to the shrine or temple. Once you go up to where the donation box is, gently place the money in the open slats on top and take a very small step back. If you are at a shrine, bow twice and then clap your hands twice. Keeping your hands together, say a quick prayer or just enjoy a moment of silence. Bow one more time. If you are at a temple, bring your hands together and bow. Say your prayer or enjoy a moment of silence.

I know I opened with how we visited 17 temples and shrines over the weekend and this is a 20 temple/shrine pilgrimage. We had already visited 2 shrines and 1 temple on previous trips to the area. So, that left us with 17 more to visit to complete our pilgrimage. Tina and I decided we would do the remaining 17 over a weekend. So, I sat down and wrote out a plan based on where the temples/shrines were located and I ended up with an itinerary that had us visiting 8 on the first day and 9 on the second day. I also managed to find a hotel that was a perfect stopping point and had an onsen bath. They had me at onsen bath. After driving all day and walking around 8 temples/shrines, I figured our bodies would really appreciate a nice long soak in a hot bath. I was so right.

We left at 0700 on a Saturday morning and after a quick stop at the 7-Eleven (COFFEE!! and money), we were on our way. It was about a 3 hour drive to our first shrine so we arrived a little after 1000.

Our first stop was at No.18, SUSA SHRINE.

This shrine is mostly known for the beautiful giant cedar tree in the back that is believed to be 1200 years old.

After we got our shuin (temple stamp), said our prayer, and explored the grounds of the shrine, we headed to the next place on our list.

Our second stop was at No.17, MINEJI TEMPLE.
The drive to this temple was quite interesting. Some of the temples and shrines we visited involved driving on some very small roads to get to them. When I say small, I mean there was barely enough room for one vehicle, but it was a two-way road. There were a couple of times over the weekend that I really thought there was no way we were anywhere near a shrine or a temple, but I would round a corner and there it would be. This was one of those.

This temple was surrounded by some beautiful scenery so we had quite an area to explore before getting our shuin and saying our prayers.
While we were walking around exploring, we ran into a couple of ladies who asked us what brought us to this particular temple. When I explained that we were trying to complete the pilgrimage, both of the ladies said they were doing it too. One had only completed a few and the other didn't have too many left to visit. They asked us how far along we were so I explained that we were planning to complete the pilgrimage that weekend. They were both pretty surprised that we were trying to visit 17 temples and shrines in 2 days. They were also surprised we had driven from Iwakuni just that morning and planned on driving back to Iwakuni the following evening. We spoke for a few more minutes before parting ways. They were very sweet and wished us both safe travels for the rest of our pilgrimage.
We headed down to the temple and purchased our shuin before heading over to offer our donation and prayer at the temple. Then it was time to get back on the road.

Our third stop was at No.16, SUGA SHRINE.
I was very excited about this one because when I was researching and planning this trip, I read on the Shinbutsu Pilgrimage website that this was known as the first shrine in Japan!

This shrine was not very big and the grounds area was not very large. There is a hiking path behind the shrine, but we were starving by the time we got here so we walked around, said out prayers, got our shuin, and went in search for a place to grab some food.

Here is the shuin we received from the Suga Shrine -

We were hoping we would find a place to eat on the way to our next shrine, and we did! There was a soba place on the side of the road that didn't look like much from the outside, but it did look like it had been there for a while. Soba sounded good to us!
They make their own soba noodles from scratch, and the owner is a wonderful older gentleman who had passed on the family business to one of his children, but still loves to come in and chat with the customers. He asked us where we had come from and what we were doing in this area. I explained that we were on a pilgrimage and he chatted with us for a few minutes while we waited for our food.

They brought out the dipping sauce for the soba, along with some pickles and little appetizer-like items.

Then, they brought out our soba noodles and toppings. I loved the stacking bowls that the noodles were served in!

The soba was delicious, and Tina was kind enough to pose with the empty bowls on our table.

When we were leaving, the owner stopped us and gave us some roasted sweet potatoes and some grapes. We were so thankful to have met such wonderful people!

Now we were ready to continue on our pilgrimage. We had five more temples and shrines to get to before we headed to our hotel for the evening. I couldn't wait to soak in the onsen bath!

To be continued....