Japan (April 2019): Kurayoshi and Mount Mitoku

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Kurayoshi (pop. ~50,000) is a city located 60km east of Yonago. Most of it is not especially interesting, but one of its neighborhoods, around the white-walled Shirakabe warehouses, is worth a visit. Moreover, located 13km from Kurayoshi, Mount Mitoku (900m) has been a place of religious importance for more than a thousand years, with a pilgrimage route dotted by multiple shrines and temples. These two sites form the easternmost and final destination of my trip along the San-in coast.

 

Kurayoshi:

 

The historic merchant neighborhood around the Shirakabe warehouses dates from the Edo and Meiji periods. It is an area of old canals crossed by numerous stone bridges, white-walled warehouses, and old-fashion wooden buildings, most of them former breweries and soy sauce distilleries.

 

Canals and bridges.

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White-walled warehouses.

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Two warehouses seen from the other side.

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Side-street bordered by lanterns leading to the Dairen-ji temple.

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Cyclist in front of an old brewery.

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Drawing artist behind the window of a shop.

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Former brewery.

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The 110-year-old bathhouse of Taisha-yu.

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In the merchant house of Yodoya. Its main part was originally built in 1760.

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Mount Mitoku:

 

Mt. Mitoku is located some 13km south-east of Kurayoshi. Its northern slope is home to Sanbutsuji, a former Buddhist temple used during the Henan era (794-1185) as a retreat for monks. Sanbutsuji actually consists of a series of shrines and temples along a pilgrimage route that rises from the Mitoku river to Negeiredo, the last temple built in a cliff below Mt. Mitoku′s summit. Today, Sanbutsuji is a syncretic combination of Buddhism and Shinto. The pilgrimage route attracts both actual pilgrims and less religious-minded visitors. It is said that by climbing this steep pilgrimage route and offering prayers along the way, one can purify his/her six roots of perception.

 

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[Source: http://spa-misasa.jp/japan-heritage/en/mitokusan-map/]

 

The main Sanbutsuji shrines and temples along the route are successively Rinkoin, Hondo (main prayer hall of Sanbutsuji), Monjudo, Jizodo, Kannondo, and Nageiredo. The shrines/temples above Hondo are not especially beautiful wooden structures, but their construction on steep slopes is quite spectacular. The roundtrip for the route takes about 1.5 hours.

 

Rinkoin, at the beginning of the ascent above the Mitoku river.

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Statues and small shrine further up, just below the platform where the main hall (Hondo) of Sanbutsuji is built.

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Main prayer hall of Sanbutsuji.

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Inside the main hall (first photo below) and the two guardians located on its sides (next pair of photos).

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Statues around the platform in front of the main hall.

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Cedar trees and stream near the Yadoiribashi (bridge) along the route behind the main hall.

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The steep, chain-equipped Kazurazaka (″zaka″ means ″slope″) below Monjudo.

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Views from Monjudo. The rightmost picture below shows Kazurazaka from the outer edge of the temple′s terrace.

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Jizodo.

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Shorodo (bell tower). Here, pilgrims and visitors are invited to pray and then strike the bell with the suspended beam.

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Trail on rock above the Shorodo and man returning from Nagareido. Everyone on the route is required to wear a wagesa stole (symbol of religious pilgrim).

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Kannondo (and a tiny adjacent shrine).

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Nageiredo, precariously built on a cliff

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On my way back, I reached the main hall of Sanbutsuji just as a religious ceremony was going to begin. A priest invited me to attend the ceremony (after drinking some sake with monks and local participants). The ceremony combines Buddhist and Shinto rituals.

 

Monk setting up the hall for the ceremony.

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Buddhist opening of the ceremony.

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Shinto rituals afterwards.

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Here the Shinto priest performs harai, the Shinto rituals of exorcism and purification to clean any evil or sins away from the shrine. He shakes a fresh branch of sakaki tree adorned with asa fiber ribbons. (This branch lied on the red table visible in the middle of the first two photos of the Buddhist opening ceremony.)

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