Friday, May 26, 2017

Ring off: Japanese women and Mt. Oyama in Urasando 大山裏参道

16-Chome with the 18th century obelisk

Now let’s talk about Urasando 裏参道 for Mt. Oyama. Major Shintoism shrines often have two approaches to its sanctuary. Omotesando 表参道 is the main street, and Urasando is a supporting road for Omotesando. In Mt. Oyama, Omotesando and Urasando shares the same route for the first 1K from the peak until 16-Chome (16丁目, 995m ASL). Uradando diverts from Omotesando there, and brings us to Minogue Town 蓑毛 in Hadano City 秦野市. From Minogue commuter bus services (time table, here) bring us to Odakyu Hadano Station 小田急秦野駅. When we see Oyama from Tokyo, the road from the east is surely the main street, and from the west is a backup. Urasando from the west of Mt. Oyama is exactly so. You know, when a major social change happens, people adjust the main thing first for the new, and then proceed to deal with the 2nd tier matters later. If it takes a long time to settle the primary, and treating the secondary is not so important, it is happily forgotten ... There is one particular scenery in Urasando in Oyama, which could be in this category.

To Urasando

As I told you last week, till 16-Chome, the route is scree-covered from the top. You may have a slight expectation the alternate route would be less so ... Fat chance. Not for nothing Mt. Oyama is for the mountain worship for millennia. The backup of the Main Street has also played its part for centuries, and inevitably shows the effects of tread pressure by the pilgrims. The scree-covered mini-valley continues for about 300m in Urasando from the 16-Chome. This side of the slope of Mt. Oyama is in Hadano City. It is a continuation of the forest we’ve visited last fall for Kashiwagui Forestry Road 柏木林道 from Yabitsu Pass. The vegetation we go through for Urasando is of afforested coniferous trees. In less than 15 minutes from the 16-Chome, we meet a junction. To the left is for the Lower Afuri Shrine 阿夫利神社下社 at the Cable Car station 大山ケーブル. To Minogue, we go straight. From here, the route becomes a bit less steep with smaller scree. Phew.

At the beginning, the road raises our expectation …
But soon, it’s all the same.
Though, the signposts are well-situated.The forest maintenance work has been down there.
The junction to the Lower Afuri Shrine and Minogue

Very soon from the junction to the Lower Afuri Shrine, at 829m ASL we find on the right a moss-eaten obelisk, accompanied by a small signpost with an inscription of “the Lord of Sohshu-Odawara Han 相州小田原藩領主.” The signpost is the declaration this obelisk was built by the governor of the area who was directly designated by the Tokugawa Shogunate Government in Edo (Tokyo).  i.e. It was a serious stuff. The obelisk itself has an inscription, “Koreyori Nyonin Kinsei 従是女人禁制.” It’s an ancient legal phrase, saying “From this point no woman is allowed to enter the mountain.” Well, Mt. Fuji might be a goddess, Konohana-sakuya-hime 木花咲夜姫, but at least until 1872 no female pilgrim was officially admitted for the top of Mt. Fuji. UNESCO World Heritage of mountain worship in Japan has this kind of history. In Mt. Oyama , the dad of Mt. Fuji, Oyamatsumi-no-Okami 大山祇大神, it was also not permitted for  lady believers to express religious passion as male counterparts. I just wonder in those days how women visited Afuri Shrine / Oyama Temple. If they took Urasando from Minogue, they have to turn right at the junction that appears after this obelisk. I am sure the same warning was standing somewhere between the current Lower Afuri Shrine and Koma-sando street. If they obeyed the governmental order, they could not worship the deity in the shrine, lower or upper. And there is that cursed-doll shrine, Niju Yashiro 二重社. It is said that Ushino-koku-Mairi 丑の刻参り rituals were often performed by female. I don’t think women are more resentful than men, but if there were enough number of women who visited Niju Yashiro 200 years ago, there must have been the itinerary for them. The route to the cursed doll is one narrow trekking road coming right below the Lower Afuri Shrine that was off-limit for women. Did they sneak in? How? What kind of urge did our female ancestors have for Mt. Oyama? They even committed the crime of “climbing the mountain” in dead past-midnight …

No Woman Allowed,
Signed by the Lord of Odawara

According to Dr. Yukie Takeya 竹谷靱 of Takushoku Univ. 拓殖大学, no matter the legal prohibition, Japanese women tried, tried and (secretly) succeeded in reaching to the peak of Mt. Fuji for more than 500 years. He concluded their persistence in the end opened the “official” door for Japanese women to climb the mountains in the late 19th century. (“Mt. Fuji and No Admittance to Women 富士山と女人禁制” June 2011, ISBN978-4-87294-690-1 C3039) … I wonder why that obelisk is still standing there in Oyama. Maybe, people in the 19th century were busy sorting out the mess of Oyama Temple and Afuri Shrine during the Meiji Restoration. They forgot to deal with a trivial matter of female prohibition and left the relic of previous era intact … or, there could be people who still believe what the obelisk says is important ... Our elder hiking sisters may have chosen to leave it as an educational tool. In any case, these days, scholars of Japanese mountain worship argue there is no fundamental female exclusion in Shintoism theology, and a trend is apparent for population growth in female Yamabushi. Huh! I’ve been to the top of Oyama, many many times! Mt. Oyama is definitely more manly and generous than the “Lord of Odawara.” Oh yeah.

Near the obelisk,
there are vigorous trees of Lidera praecox which were in full bloom in mid-April.

Our road is steadily descending after the obelisk. Along the road within the afforested coniferous forest there are several broad-leaved trees whose trunk is covered by plastic mesh. Approx. 15 min after the obelisk, we arrive at another junction. To the left the road goes to Minogue-goe 蓑毛越 and eventually reaches to Odakyu Hadano Station 小田急秦野駅 in about 5 hours walk. To the right is Oyama Urasando, so let’s take this direction. We would notice the forest floor has a peculiar feature. It may be because of congested planting of cedars and cypresses … but it is sure Hadano City is thinning the area as there are lots of logs lying on the slope. The floor receives some sunshine, and there are even open spaces. In spite of this, the ground looks very bare in April. The vegetation we can find in the forest floor in mid-April consisted of violets (cute 😙), Pteris cretica L., Skimmia japonica Thunb., and Daphne pseudomezereum. The combination of them continues almost to Dainichi-do Temple 大日堂, the terminal point of Urasando in Minogue town, except at 3 crossing points for the paved forestry road, named Shungaku Rindoh 春岳林道. Each crossing between our Urasando and Shungaku Rindoh preserves the other kinds of plants like sasa bamboos which conceal the almost exposed inside of the forest … Why? A hint: the paved forestry roads around Minogue and Yabitsu Pass are very popular for cyclists and bikers training for races a le Tour de France. I’ll return to the issue next month, after telling you my adventure in Yadoriki forest やどりき水源林 … The thing here and there are connected. 

The trees wearing the plastic
Don’t you think it’s too naked?
Flowers of Daphne pseudomezereum.
It’s an odd plant,
having leaves and flowers during winter
and early spring.
They will shed everything soon
to spend summer as stems and branches only.
They have enthusiasts for
their very understating brown flowers
and red berries.
The Junction for Minogue-goe and Minogue town
In any case, the signposts are well-located on this route.
The end of Shungaku Rindoh
which is our first crossing with
the popular paved road in Minogue area.
The other side of the above photo has
a signpost for continuing Urasando.
2 more crossings have the same arrangement.
Dreaming for yellow jersey …
We cross Shun’goku-sawa Stream 春岳沢 which annihilated a village in upstream
with debris-avalanche
of the Great KantoEarthquake.
Immediately after crossing the small bridge is,
our Goooooooooal!
On the right is Dainichi-doh Temple.
We turn left at the Temple for Minogue bus stop.
By the way, along this road on the right
there is a small restaurant
whose specialty is BBQed trout
freshly caught from Shun’goku-sawa.
For a brief moment of 2 weeks in April,
they sell tempura of fresh spring herbs
morning-gathered from nearby.
Take-away available.
They tasted so pure …
Spring ephemeral 😋
Minogue 蓑毛 Bus Stop

If you find environmental problems in Mt. Oyama, please make a contact to
Kanagawa Nature Conservation Center 神奈川県自然環境保全センター
657 Nanasawa, Atsugi City, 243-0121 2430121 厚木市七沢657
Phone: 046-248-0323

You can send an enquiry to them by clicking the bottom line of their homepage at

Friday, May 19, 2017

Like a Rolling Stone, in the Main Street: Oyama Omotesando 大山表参道

I haven’t climbed the Mt. Oyama from the standard direction, i.e. not going up via Omotesando 表参道 or Urasando 裏参道. Rather I went down these roads. So, this week and next are about my adventure with the “main street of Mt. Oyama” in reverse. Omotesando/Urasando can be found in many shrine towns in Japan. Omotesando means “the main road reaching to a shrine.” Urasando is “the supporting road for Omotesando to a shrine.” Let me talk about Omotesando first. To take Omotesando or Urasando from the top of Mt. Oyama, we have to walk the same road for the first 1K. Then, the road diverts to 2 directions at 16-Chome 丁目 sign post. Omotesando is to the left reaching to the Lower Afuri Shrine 阿夫利神社下社. Urasando is to the right arriving at Minogue Town 蓑毛. I tell you, I was glad I chose this strategy of going down the Main Streets.

Goodbye Mae-Yashiro.

Leaving Mae-yashiro 前社 and Torii behind, we see what’s in front of us before reaching to the bus stops, i.e., a scree covered road in a bit too deep mini-valley. These rocks are called Botan-ishi ぼたん石. Botan is peony flowers in Japanese, and the stones of Mt. Oyama looks like them (or bigger). Both sides of the slope are about 1m high from the road and covered by forests, first of Abies firma and Fagus crenata, then in 800m or below altitude with ancient Cryptomeria japonica. The rubble routes must have become as such due to tread pressures of pilgrims for millennia. Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山系 were created when volcanic islands on Philippine Sea Plate, the current Izu Peninsula 伊豆半島, crashed to the Eurasian Plate. The sedimentary stratum and volcanic rocks were pushed up in a slanted way to the above sea level. Then, the ashes from erupted Mt. Fuji piled up over them. Consequently, the top soil is not deep in Tanzawa. The entire structure is fragile. For ages, pilgrims are getting rid of the ground binding the rocks and boulders geologically brought from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. People have created the rocky Main Street to the Afuri Shrine.

Large Abies firma,
probably a (descendant of the) survivor from the Ice Age.
The road has been excavated by human steps.
An observation point for environmental changes in Mt. Oyama.
Around the peak along Omote/Ura-sando,
we can find many of these placed by scientists.
More to it in my later post.

We can find many religious artifacts along these Main Streets. The most common, and practical, monuments are marble sign posts along Omotesando, donated by pilgrims to mark how far we have reached from the Lower Afuri Shrine. Each point has a suffix, Chome 丁目, and the Lower Afuri Shrine is 1-Chome. Yeah, it’s not zero … so Japanese traditional floor counting is not European, but American … I’ve now realized it ... (wow.) After leaving from the Torii of Mae-Yashiro, the first sign post we meet has the number 27 so that we can meet 27 posts before reaching to the Lower Afuri Shrine. All the posts are new. They have been inscribed the date of donation, the majority of which says just 40-30 years ago. There are several points where they stood side-by-side with old, moss-covered posts. The oldies show the date of the 18th or so centuries. So, people are really digging this road for centuries … except one point where deliberately artificial structure covers, not digs, the path. After 27-Chome post and another Torii, there are metal steps of grating, covering the dirt and rocky surface. It’s a treatment Kanagawa Prefecture takes against … deer. I’ll write about them in my later post. That’s a serious environmental problem in Japanese mountains these days.

I found a collapsed stone lantern
before the 27-Chome.
Was it because of the GreatKanto Earthquake?
27-Chome sign post
This Torii is beaten …
Grating steps.
Well, it’s certainly easier for us humans
to pass than through rocky route.
The standard feature of Omotesando
New signpost and the old one (lying flat on the left)

Soon after the anti-deer structure, about 10-15 minutes down from the Mae-yashiro, we reached the folk point named Honzaka-oiwake 本坂追分, an elevation of 1169m, between the Omote/Ura-sando to the left, and to the right to Itatsumi Ridge Way イタツミ尾根 we’ve visited from Yabitsu Pass ヤビツ峠. We go to the left and down, down, down … I warn you this is a very long descend of the pebbly steep slope. I knew several people who hopped down the road for a while, and suddenly their knees have “gone.” They crawled to the Oyama Cable Car Station, and then walked to the Oyama Bus Terminal along Koma Street こま参道, almost crying. Unless you are sure for your ability, I strongly recommend you crabwalking  down on this route, one step a time. After 1169m point there is a place where there are two benches. Please use the opportunity wisely for your knees. A bit down from the benches, there is a spot, called Fujimidai 富士見台, which is the final location for Omotesando to see Mt. Fuji, the deity Konohana-sakuya-Hime 木花咲耶姫 who is a daughter of Oyamatsumi-no-Okami 大山祇大神, aka Mt. Oyama. She stands over there serenely and beautifully as always …

Honzaka-oiwake. To the right is to the Yabitsu Pass.
You see?
Humans excavated the ground
this deep for centuries to make a road.
Let’s have a rest.
Before Fujimidai.
I think this is a statue of Bodhisattva.
A forest of Fagus crenata near Fujimidai.
There is a problem in this photo.
Could you figure it out?
(More to it in the later post.)
Mt. Fuji from Fujimidai

30-40 min. from Honzaka-oiwake via Fujimidai we arrive at 16-Chome, an elevation of about 900m, which is a junction between Omotesando and Urasando. Let’s take to the left first for Omotesando. From 16-Chome to the toilet of Lower Afuri Shrine, it’s about 1.3K, or 30 minutes’ walk plunging to an elevation of 700m. In 16-Chome, there is a 5.5m tall obelisk that was a donation of pilgrims from Edo (Tokyo) in 1716. People carried it to here … the power of religious belief. From around here, there come several shrine-like large monuments. At the same time, the size of Cryptomeria japonica gets bigger. They should be at least 500 years old as we were explained at Hinata Yakushi Temple 日向薬師 … Beautiful. “Two” of them at 8-Chome have a name, Meoto-sugi 夫婦杉, or “Husband-Wife Cedar.” They are deified by people praying for a peaceful marriage. Going down further, in 6-Chome there is another obelisk as a symbol for Oyamatsumi-no-Okami. Soon we arrive at the top of the stone steps starting from the west of Haiden 拝殿 in the Lower Afuri Shrine 阿夫利神社下社. Hurrah! Goal-in!

We’ve been working on the rocky Omotesando all the way …
But the scenery ahead is changing …
At 16-Chome.
This way to Urasando reaching to Minogue
The obelisk.
The passion for Mt. Oyama in the 18th century.
The name of this rock is Tengu-no-hanatsuki-ishi 天狗の鼻突石,
meaning “the rock with a hole made by a long nose of Tengu fairy.”
天狗 is a mountain fairy with an attire of Yamabushi.
Mt. Oyama has a connotation with Tengu
as it’s a place for Yamabushi.

After Meoto-sugi,
the road becomes more organized.
it’s the same in terms of stoniness.
The Oyamatsumi-no-Okami obelisk.
We are getting there …
Final stretch!
It seems to me from 1-Chome to 6-Chome
is a kind of cheating distance …
too short comparing with the places
of higher altitude, like 20-Chome.
Is it evidence about human psyche to deity?

So, I have now only Urasando to tell you my adventure with Oyama this time. It’s the matter of taste, but I like Urasando a lot … very quiet going down. To be continued!

Oyama Afuri Shrine 大山阿夫利神社社務局
355 Oyama, Isehara City, 259-1107 伊勢原市大山355
(phone) 0463-95-2006

If you find environmental problems in Mt. Oyama, please make a contact to
Kanagawa Nature Conservation Center 神奈川県自然環境保全センター
657 Nanasawa, Atsugi City, 243-0121 2430121 厚木市七沢657
Phone: 046-248-0323

You can send an enquiry to them by clicking the bottom line of their homepage at