Thursday, February 21, 2008

Honyabakei/ 本耶馬溪

(Better Know a City)

Honyabakei: A city in Two Days
Around 12:30 on a Friday afternoon, I got a phone call from Chris asking me if I wanted to do some hiking, and did I know any good places. I recommended the area around Honyabakei. I also decided to bring along my video camera with me with the idea to combine the outing into a "Better Know a City" Entry. But of course by the time we got out and about, we only had a half a day of sight seeing. So I thought I would bend my rules slightly, and do Honyabakei as a two parter. Some other day later in the week I would come out and spend another few hours there to round out anything I may have missed.

....That was way back in November. It's taken me this long to get out again and finally complete my entry on Honyabakei. I am really terrible at sticking with this "Better know a city" Project.
As with the last time I apologized, there are numerous excuses. Some legitimate, and some just a result of laziness. At the rate I'm going, it's looking very unlikely that I'll ever finish this project. Which Brett actually predicted long ago when I first told him of the idea. "You're never going to finish this," he said.
"No, I'm pretty sure I will," I said.
"No you won't. I know you. You'll wake up in the morning, and you'll consider your choices of either driving out to this town in the middle of nowhere, or going back to sleep and then later watching some TV, and you'll chose going back to sleep every time."
....Be that as it may, here is my tour of Honyabakei, two different days spread out over several months.

The first day was back in mid-november. After a late fall, the leaves were just beginning to change colors. The air had begun to cool. All over Japan, thousands of desperate un-employed Nova teachers were getting increasingly frustrated. Across the atlantic, an enthustic republican party was feeling optimistic about Rudy Guiliani and Fred Thompson. ...

The First Day:

Chris, myself, and we rounded up Mr. Kingsley as well, set out in my car towards Honyabakei.
The road there was a little backed up, something I had worried about actually. Ordinarily the countryside of Honyabakei doesn't get a lot of traffic, but now is the time of year when the leaves are changing on the trees, and Honyabakei is one of the best places to see the fall leaves. Also it was the start of a 3 day weekend, and everybody was out. (That being said though, the traffic was never as bad as I thought it might be. I had heard stories (probably exaggerated) from JETs in the Honyabakei area about traffic at a complete stand still on a weekend fall day. We had to wait a little longer at the stoplights than usual, but we general kept moving).

Our first stop was the cliffs of Aonodomon. This place is famous in local legend. The details of the story seem to vary depending on which local your talking to, but basically in the olden days of yore it was very dangerous for people to walk across the cliffs of Aonodomon. A Buddhist monk spent his whole life, or a good chunk of it anyway, cutting out a tunnel by himself with just a hammer and a chisel. (Some say he was trying to atone for a murder he committed in his youth.

Anyway, Wikipedia article here and some panaramic pics of the area here, here and here. (My own pics posted below of course, but I can't compete with these).

There's a nice trail up and around the cliffs, and we hiked up that. Here's a video of some parts of that hike. I had to split it into two parts because of the length.
(By the way, this is as good as time as any to admit that on a lot of these "Better know a city" videos I'm obviously abusing the fact that google video has free hosting and no video limit or time limit. So I just let the video run for a while to see what will happen. If you don't feel like sitting through all of this, we're still cool.)
Part 1

Part 2

(When Brett came to Japan, I took him on the same hike, and we also made a video of the same area where we also left the video camera on for way too long video taping us walking around and our mundane conversation. Now that I've transferred my videos onto DVD, I hope to put it up as a retrospection at some point. In the meantime just ask him to show you his copy if you run into him. Or, these- pictures- here are all from the Aonodomon Hike.).

And here are a couple pictures I took along the hike:

And after hiking through the cliffs, here's the tunnel and river on the way back to the car.

By the time we had completed our little hike, it was after 3 o'clock, and the sun was already beginning to fade. (The sun sets fast in Japan. This time of year it's getting dark by 5). We decided however we could still fit one more hike in and headed out towards Rakanji.

Rakanji is a temple built onto a mountainside. It's a very easy climb up (especially compared to the hiking we had just done around the cliffs of Aonodomon), but they have a chair lift going up the mountain anyway for the faint of heart. We decided to take the hike.

From the top of the temple was a great view of the Honyabakei valley:

At the top we walked around and explored the temple. To actually go inside the temple was 200 yen (about $2) extra. Kingsley opted to pass. Chris and I went in and took the temple tour.

There was also a garden behind the temple which we toured as well

(Brett and I also went here when he came up. Ask him to see the video).

After that, we tried to see about getting up to the top of the mountian. I had forgotten that the path only goes halfway up, and that to get all the way up we needed to take the chairlift. We had a brief debate about whether we wanted to buy a lift ticket or not but in the end we decided to do it. The lift tickets were overpriced (about $7) but Chris was leaving Japan soon and probably wouldn't get another chance to come back to this area.

(The chairlift itself was pretty old fashioned. Chris commented that one of the things he liked about Japan was all the cheesy kind of old stuff was still in use. I said that this might just be because we're out in the countryside and places like Tokyo were more up to date. Chris countered that even in Tokyo you can still find stuff like this. We never did reach full agreement on this).

We took the chairlift up to the top of the mountain, where there was a little sight seeing tower from which we could get a nice 360 degree view of the Honyabakei area.

After that the boys were complaining of hungry stomachs, and the sun was beginning to set, so we headed back to Nakatsu for some Curry dinners.

Thus ended day one.

The Interim
I did actually make it out to Honyabakei a couple times in the interim. For example, when a friend visited over the holidays from Fukuoka, I took him hiking in the Honyabakei area. We went over more or less the exact same trails, so it didn't seem necessary to document it on video camera.
The only difference was that instead of driving back and forth from Rakanji to Aonodomon, we followed the signs for a walking trail between the two attractions.
The trail started out cutting through the forest under the fall leaves, and I allowed myself to hope that we had found a wonderful little trail between the mountains. Then the trail veered down towards the main road, and merged with the side walk along the road. Which was not quite so scenic and I thought was cheating a little bit. Eventually the path led us into some construction area, and stopped altogether. After that we just walked along the main road. Not quite as scenic as we hoped, but it did get us there in the end.
Along the way we stopped at the Yabatopia, a little tourist trap located at the interesection of two rivers. I had driven by Yabatopia several times over the years, but never bothered to stop. Now that we were on foot, there was no reason not to.
There was absolutely nothing of interest there (as I had long suspected). A couple of closed down buildings with no one around. It could have been that we had just come during the off season. Maybe in the summer they re-open up, and sell soft serve ice cream or something.
We ate lunch at a shop at the base of Aonodomon before hiking up. This was my decision, I didn't want to start a hike on an empty stomach. It ended up not being my best decision, as it was that much harder hiking with a belly full of rice and noodles. We would have done better to wait to eat a big lunch until after the hike....

And now fast forward to February, for my second day into Honyabakei:
Day 2

...Actually I've got to admit, having satisfied my conscience by going out to Honyabakei for another half a day, I can't help but wonder if I should have just called it quits after the first trip. I'm not saying there's nothing else to see in Honyabakei, but if there is I sure didn't have luck finding it.

My first stop was the old Dutch stone bridge. (So called Dutch bridge because it was made of stones imported from Nagasaki, and the Dutch used to have a trading post in Nagasaki long ago. At least that's my best guess at reading the Japanese sign next to the bridge).

I got out of the car and walked along the bridge, then I walked along the Yamakuni river for a while. I've always thought this river was very beautiful.

Unfortunately, the Japanese construction companies are always messing with it. (A big problem in Japan, as anyone who has read "Dogs and Demons" knows). Today was no different, and you can see them at work on some sort of construction project on the river as well.

Next, armed with a couple of tourist maps I had picked up on my last trip, so I was determined to get out and see parts of Honyabakei away from the main road. This proved to be pretty much a wild goose chase.
As so often happens when touring the Japanese countryside, many areas marked clearly on the map seem not to exist in real life. Or one can follow clearly marked signs that lead you up and up a winding mountain road, only to take you nowhere at all.

There were a number of fire fly observation points along the road, but February is the wrong season to see fireflies. (Actually fireflies are notoriously hard to see in Japan. Unlike their American counterparts, they're only visible for about a week and a half during the spring, and then only near rivers.If you come to Honyabakei in this small window of time, apparently you can see some fireflies there).

After a lot of winding up and down mountain roads, I didn't find that much of interest. I drove down roads following signs that promised hiking trails, but didn't find anything. In the end I did park my car at a private campground (closed during February) and walked around a bit. There was a bit of a trail going up the mountain, but it didn't feel so much like a hiking trail as an old dirt road that was unused and had grown over a bit.

Nevertheless, I did find a couple temples hidden up in the mountains.

...And I also found some more evidence of the construction companies at work.

Unfortunately, you see this kind of thing all over Japan. I think it's just an obsencity. And, although we don't see a lot of this kind of thing in Michigan, I know it takes place in other parts of the US as well. These mountains have stood for thousands of years, and our generation thinks it has the right to tear it down.
(At least this mountain is hidden in the middle of nowhere. It's not uncommon to be in the middle of a Japanese town and be able to see them slowly tearing down a mountain right at the town's edge. In fact this was going on in the town I lived in up in Gifu. Like all old Japanese towns, this town was thousands of years old, and for thousands of years people looked to their east and were able to see that mountain peak there. Then some construction company makes a backroom deal with some shady politician, and it's okay to tear it down. The real tragedy is that most of it is being used to make concrete and construction materials for public works projects that don't need to happen and are pure pork barrel. Once again, reference Alexander Kerr's "Dogs and Demons" for more on this problem.)

Bonus Videos:

Here are some videos of Brett and I doing the Aonodomon hike from when Brett visited Japan.

Video 1:

Video 2:

Video 3:

Video 4:

Link of the Day
Democrats, Iraq, and Withdrawal

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