The Road of 88 Stone Buddhas
The main hiking trail that winds out of Hattoji, up Mt. Hattoji, over to Mt. Iimori, and then back to town is named after these small shrines to Buddhas that dot the trail. These two are typical -- one is inside a small shelter, the other is in the open. They have some carved lettering I couldn't really make out, and always have a bas-relief Buddha.
|Of course, from looking at this one you might conclude it was destined to soon be the road of 87 stone buddhas. On the other hand, if you figure these have been out in the weather for between 700 and 1200 years, they're doing great!|
As you wind up Mt. Hattoji, you come to this small building, which is listed as the "Small House for Discipline." I guess this is where you got sent if you were a bad monk!
|Here we are at the glorious summit of Mt. Hattoji, the highest mountain in Okayama! Just like it looks, the summit of the mountain is in the middle of a thicket, and you can't see anything anywhere. There are beautiful views to be had from Mt. Hattoji, but the view points are a little below the summit.|
|This isn't the best picture in the world (sorry). What it's a picture of is the blobby thing in the middle -- that's the body (not including legs) one of the thousand of colorful orange-and-black spiders I saw along all the trails around Hattoji. If you compare the size of the blob to that of the branches and leaves for scale, you'll see why I started carrying a stick to sweep the trail in front of me for webs -- I wouldn't want that landing on my neck!|
|As you go over the pass between Mt. Hattoji and Mt. Iimori (actually, everyone in town called Mt. Iimori 'shiroyama' meaning "castle mountain", Mt. Iimori is a name I saw only on maps), you find this 20' high granite monument. It's called Ouyashiki and commemorates the night the emperor Gotoba Joukou spent in Hattoji when he was forced into exile in 1211. 750 years later it's a beautiful piece to come across in the woods -- I spent some time doing a drawing of it. So, although I appreciate it's being there, I am still puzzled by the thought of erecting this monument just to commemorate a one-night visit by someone. From this I learn that a brass plaque saying "Gotoba Joukou slept here" was not considered sufficient in twelfth century Japan.|
This is one of the trippiest things that's ever happened to me while hiking.
So on my last evening in Hattoji I went for a hike looking for shiroyama. I must jave missed the correct trail turnoff, because the trail just kept going and going and going. I finally concluded I really should turn around soon -- it was getting later in the day, and I really didn't want to be alone in the deep woods 6000 miles from home after dark.
At this point, I saw a side trail that branched off backwards from the direction I was going, but on the correct side of the trail for shiroyama. I checked my watch and decided to follow it since it might be a path to shiroyama, but I said to myself, "I know how this works -- this trail will get 500 feet into the brush and then peter out."
Well, the trail got farther than 500 feet -- it was pretty well-defined and started climbing rapidly, running alongside a small creek. I followed it up and gained several hundred feet of elevation -- of course, increasing my commitmant to the trail. The trail then just turned into following the watercourse. At this point, I was just in outback woods like this.
|So I started following the trail up the watercourse. It went on for awhile more when the ravine the creek was in flattened out, the watercourse came to an end, and looking around carefully revealed no footprints or crushed plants indicating any kind of a trail at all. Great. I had burned a bunch more time, it was strarting to get dark, and the trail was completely, utterly gone.|
|That was when I looked up. Staring straight up the hill, I realized that the trees on the left of me, and the trees on the right of me, were in perfectly straight lines. Not simply that you could get through -- but that they had been planted in arrow-straight lines that led up the hill.|
Well, as you might guess, there was no way I was going to turn back now! I started climbing up the hillside, staying between the two rows of trees. There was really no trail, and no footprints, there at all. I totally felt like I was in a D&D game, and going to find the entrance to the dungeon at the top of the trees! I had gotten out into the middle of nowhere, and suddenly found two perfectly straight lines of full-grown trees (the same age as the rest of the forest) in the middle of the woods. No (other) signs of human life anywhere...
Another bout of climbing up the hillside brought me to the end of the rows of trees. They ended in a kind of circle of trees at a flat spot on the hillside. In the middle of the circle was a small puddle... This is a picture looking down from the circle (you can see it's gotten darker, although it wasn't as dark out as this picture suggests).
I have no idea what this was. My best guess is that at one time the mud puddle might have been the spring that gave rise to the stream, and that the trees were some way of honoring the spring, since in Shintoism springs (and trees and mountains and...) have spirits of their own. On the other hand, this area was a stronghold of Buddhism not Shintoism for the last 1200 years... It's also the case that there were castles on the mountains around here, so this may have been related to a castle entrance or ceremonial path. I couldn't really figure out any way to find out what it was, in a remote area of a country on the other side of the ocean with historical documents I can't read... but if anyone out there is an expert in the history of Yoshinaga-cho, please let me know!
|After that I bushwhacked around trying to see if the trail went anywhere after the circle of trees. I found a game trail which after a short time in the brush led out to a major (fire road sized) trail, but one that hadn't been used in years. I tried to follow that towards shiroyama, and it looked like it might have worked its way there along the ridgetops, but it was too hard to follow the trail and getting too dark, so I finally turned back, retraced my steps all the way through the rows of trees and back down the stream, and eventually got back to Hattoji without incident.But I sure would like to know how those trees got there...|
|previous The Town of Hattoji||map Hattoji||next Shizutani Gakkoo|
|© 1998 Leo Hourvitz|