There’s nothing quite like a sacred mountain by the sea to get the monkey’s juices flowing. Yesterday he spent the day hiking around Mt. Daisen in the southwestern part of the island of Honshu. Soaring about 5,400 feet above the Sea of Japan this is another volcanic mountain created over hundreds of thousands of years by several eruptions. Since about 70% of Japan is mountainous, it’s inevitable that you’re going to spend some time with them and every town seems to have its own sacred mountain.
At one time there were at least 30 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines scattered about the mountain. The first temple was built back in the early 700s. With the Meiji Restoration in 1868 the Japanese government banned Buddhism in favor of Shinto as a national religion. This was an effort to unify the country and it was thought that two competing religions would divide the people. As a result, most of the temples were destroyed. Today, only three temples remain on the mountain but as you hike around you can see the remains of previous sites of worship.
There are many trails up the mountain but the fragile landscape forces the park authorities to prohibit climbing to the highest peak. During Kongo’s three hour trek he didn’t even get close to the top but he got a pretty good workout and closed all his rings on his Apple watch. Daisen used to be considered so sacred that only two monks were allowed to climb the peak and common people were prohibited on the mountain until the end of the Edo period.
Trails are clearly marked but the hiking is pretty much straight up. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your condition) stone steps take hikers up the winding paths.
The temples and shrines provide handy resting spots as you work your way up the mountain. Ancient statues and pagodas give the entire neighborhood a mystical ambiance so maybe it’s more than the climb that’s making your heart race.
The lower mountain area is covered with dense cedar forests and groves of Beechwood. The towering trees create shady groves and dappled sunlight making photography challenging. The uneven pathways also force you to keep your eyes to the ground to watch where you’re stepping. A false move might send you crashing over a steep hillside. Perhaps the monkey shouldn’t have worn his boat shoes after all. What was he thinking?
Kongo’s master rarely gets in the picture. He’s too busy chronicling the adventures but Mrs. Kongo insisted on a least one “proof of life” photo and one of the monkey’s traveling companions, Elaine, took this nice shot to show that Kongo’s master really does exist.
At one of the temples hikers take turns ringing the temple bell. We could hear the deep gongs for nearly an hour as we slowly worked our way to the holy site.
The air at the temple has a sweet scent from burning incense.
Kongo’s group of about 20 intrepid trekkers had a guide and naturalist to lead us through the maze of trails leading up the mountain. They provided a wealth of information about the area, the plant life in the park, and even helped us ford the occasional stream.
So here’s a cruise boat mystery. Mrs. Kongo has been wondering why prune juice keeps appearing on their morning breakfast tray when she is sure she did not order it. Monkeys don’t drink prune juice. When the first glass appeared, Mrs. Kongo just ignored it, thinking it a kitchen error. The second time, two glasses showed up on the tray. She noted to the server that they had not ordered prune juice and he promptly pulled out the order sheet showing the prune juice box checked with an additional note saying FOR TWO. Now she was truly mystified so when placing last nights order, she double checked before placing the order outside their door. And guess what? Two more prune juices showed up this morning. Now, Kongo believes he has solved this mystery. The Kongos, not being night owls, or night monkeys, usually retire after the first evening show. Their next door stateroom neighbor, travel agent Betty, is quite the night owl. Kongo suspects that all in good fun, his menu is being altered. Revenge can be sweet.
Travel safe. Have fun!