Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Kyoto Research Trip - Mt. Hiei

I am very excited about the fact that this happened.  I wasn't entirely sure my joints would let me do it, and at some points I had to stop every few steps because my hips hurt, but I made it!  Three hours up the mountain.  I don't have pictures of the climb because it was literally a climb in a lot of places.  I needed both hands quite frequently, especially near the beginning around Kirara.  It was a great experience though.  My adviser suggested I make the hike to see what it was like for the premodern monks who went back and forth.  The trails are definitely more maintained, but they're still very rough.  They don't always look as much like trails as narrow ruts.  Some of it is bare rock, which was tough because it was slippery, but most of it was dirt.  Some places had terraces built in with support beams or old blocks of concrete.  I'm still not sure if that makes climbing any easier or if they're just there to reinforce the trail so it doesn't give out.

This is as close to a view from the top as I managed because right around this point it started raining.  It wasn't too bad at first, but it started pouring right around when I reached the temple, which, well, let's just say I'm thankful it didn't do that before because the trail would have been a lot more dangerous and unpleasant.  It was still really cool to look out over the city.  I didn't get to check and see if Kurama was visible though because, well, I was inside a cloud and not much was visible.

Mt. Hiei is home to Enryakuji, probably the most notorious temple of the medieval period.  It's monks were numbered among the proverbial three uncontrollable forces in the 14th century military chronicle The Tale of the Heike, up there with the waters of the Kamo River and the fall of the dice.  They had a habit of protesting as a means of influencing the court and seem to have quite frequently gotten their way.

The pagoda in the picture is the East Pagoda was originally built in the 8th or 9th century by the monk Saichō, who brought Tendai Buddhism to Japan.  The compound is very conscious of its architectural history, and signs in a couple of places mentioned that this was one of the buildings burned down near the end of the Warring States.  Oda Nobunaga leveled the compound and chased the monks into another part of the mountain.

Enryakuji is still a very active temple, so it was an interesting mix of old a new.  They had these billboards along the walkway showing historical scenes.  This one is a reproduction of a Kamakura era painting of the East Pagoda,.  There were others showing famous figures and saints like Hōnen and Ippen.

These pictures are so terrible... but this is the Kaidan'in, originally built in the 828 for ordaining Tendai priests, which I was excited to see.

By this point my shoes were soaked through and I was freezing, so I spent some time in the museum, ate my lunch, and then headed back.  I would love to explore the western area and Yokawa, but that will have to be on a day when it's not raining cats and dogs and probably won't happen this trip.

Getting back was another mini adventure.  I was so done being on the mountain that I didn't want to walk the 2-3 km to the Yase cable car, so I took the closest one, which dropped me off in Shiga, next to Lake Biwa (on the opposite side of the mountain).  

Apparently the Sakamoto cable car is the longest in Japan, and when it's not going through a rain storm it's supposed to have a fantastic view of the lake.  I had fun looking for the waterfalls and wooden animals.  I do not recommend this if you're afraid of heights!

This is an awful picture, bu it's the only clear-ish one I managed.  They have wooden animal statues along the whole course.  They're so fun!  They even have a popularity ranking board in the Enryakuji Station.

The station buildings are neat too!  They're also registered as cultural properties.  Both were built in 1925-26.  They're two story concrete, and you can actually go up to the second floor of the Enryakuji Station building.  There's a small exhibition on the history of the station and the cable car.

The yellow building is Enryakuji Station, the white one is Sakamoto Station.  The insides are so fun!  Definitely not your normal train station.  

The car is also pretty neat.  It's a very smooth ride, and an audio guide tells you about the different stations along the way, bits of history associated with the view you're looking at, etc.

Then, for a totally unexpected find, I was going to take the bus to the train station because of the rain, but I'm a twit and watched it leave because I don't even know why.  The station attendant looked at me ten minutes later and was like, "You didn't get on the bus!"  Yeah... I don't have a good excuse for that one.  So I walked.  He said it was only about ten minutes and gave me directions.  I'm so glad I did!

Hiyoshi Shrine, didn't know it was on that side of the mountain, and I clearly pay really close attention to maps when I'm out wandering...

Hiyoshi Shrine is mentioned in Japan's first national history, the Kojiki, written about 712.  It had imperial patronage during the Heian period and became one of the country's protector shrines.  It also had the only monkey I saw on this whole trip.

Yeah... sad, right?  I'm cursed to never see wild monkeys!  The only non-human mammal I saw on the mountain was a very surprised deer.   I also saw this really awesome crab in Shiga.  I nearly stepped on him.  He was about the size of a US quarter and I almost didn't see him while I was walking.

Another really cool find from today was this abandoned house near the Eizan cable station.

I really, really wanted to get closer to check it out, but I didn't want to risk it.  The old steps looked stable enough, but I would have had a really hard time getting up, and who knows what condition the ground around the building is in.

All in all, I would really like to go hiking there again, or do the trail around the city.  Hopefully next time I get the chance my body is healthier and my joints can keep up with me.  There are so many branches you can step off and explore.  There were a lot of small shrines or historical markers.  Once you're on the trail, it's pretty clearly marked.  The hiking map I bought had the main trails on it, but the markers have a lot of the smaller ones, and they tell you if the trail is a dead-end or not.  

As a final, parting thought for the day, jellyfish is surprisingly crunchy.

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