Friday, May 12, 2017

Sprawl (Mountains beyond Mountains): Higher Afuri Shrine 大山阿夫利神社上社

Yay! We’ve checked 3 routes to the peak of Mt. Oyama, and here come the shrines at the top of the mountain, 1252m above sea level. Enguishiki (927) 延喜式, one of the major documents for the students of the 1st millennium of Japan, has the mention of the shrine. Even earlier, the place could have been “sacred.” In 1959, a large academic excavation was done, and found artifacts of Jomon Era 縄文時代 (14000BC-300BC) at the peak. Whenever the scholars dig the ground, they find something very old to relatively new. The archeological findings from Mt. Oyama are now stored in the warehouses of Afuri Shrine and Kanagawa Prefectural Archaeological Artifacts Center 神奈川県埋蔵文化財センター. Before, Yamabushi did their rituals daily there. I think they would love to do it now as well, but given the popularity of the place, the religious activity at the top is limited for special festivals. (The calendar is here.) The other day, I met several groups of partying hikers at the top with “salad and spaghetti buffet,” or “BBQ for sizzling steaks.” I was amazed how resourceful we can be when we really want to do something ... My friends praised their preparedness. “Well, we can ride out a mega-earthquake. People can manage cooking pasta in tiny amount of water at the top of Mt. Oyama.” I simply hope they carried down their garbage after the melee. Come to think of it, we can recognize Mt. Oyama next to Mt. Fuji, from Tohoku Shinkansen 東北新幹線 beyond Kuroiso Station 黒磯駅. It really stands out even from that far. I can understand why many of our ancestors, and we, have thought the mountain something special …  So, at the tiny space of the summit we will be greeted by 4 shrines and a spectacular view.

Lots of hikers at the mountaintop of Oyama

Worshiping 4 shrines in turn at the top of Mt. Oyama has a special name, Ochudo お中道. It takes less than 10 minutes, your prayer time inclusive. The area is not large, and everything is a sort of standing very close in a Japanese way. The shrine we find when we come from Yabitsu Pass ヤビツ峠 and Omotesandoh 表参道 is Mae-yashiro 前社, a welcome shrine for the pilgrims. This is another house for the dragon deity, Takaokami-no-kami 高おかみの神 (; do you remember that “doll” things down there?) There are 20 or so stone steps from Mae-yashiro to climb further. We notice picnic benches and kiosk (open during summer and for major festival) at the landing, and a wooden house attached to the kiosk. Actually, the attached hut is the Main Shrine of Afuri Shrine 本社, for the god of Mt. Oyama, Oyamatsumi-no-Okami 大山祇大神. Comparing with the glittering Haiden 拝殿 in the Lower Afuri Shrine, it is a humble structure. The standard protocol for Shintoism is independent Haiden and Main Shrine. The theory is, Haiden is for mortal humans to pray for a god, and Main Shrine is a house for a deity. For Mt. Oyama pilgrimage, the god is the mountain itself, and Main Shrine could be something for human comprehension as a residence of supernatural. i.e., it doesn’t have to be uber as the mountain itself is here. On the other hand, Haiden is for stupid humans who can understand, er, well, things like glitter. Even though, thinking the condition to carry construction materials up here, I think the Main Shrine of Afuri Shrine is charming enough.

It’s really a relief to see it after tackling
with scree-covered Omotesando …
The Main Shrine of the Afuri Shrine
During weekends in season,
the door of the Main Shrine could be opened …
inside is not bling.

There is a large round mirror which is
a symbol of deity in Shintoism.
But the god here is the mountain itself, isn’t it?
… we need to do some symbolism analysis.

The third shrine is something you can miss unless you know it. It is a kind of remnants that once stood next to the Main Shrine. We find a tree growing tall from the ground approx. 2m lower than the ground for the Main Shrine. It’s a sacred tree called Amefuri Tree 雨降木 (Raining Tree), as people found its branches drenched always with rain. The tree gave Mt. Oyama a nickname, Raining Mountain 雨降り山. The bank next to the tree is a stone wall that is according to the map of Afuri Shrine supposed to be leftovers of the third shrine, named Torinoiwakusufune-no-Kami-Yashiro 鳥之石楠船神.  Torinoiwakusufune-no-Kami is a sacred ship who (yep, a person) could be the first ambassador of Japan dispatched to China, according to Japanese mythology. We can see Mt. Oyama from Kuroiso Station in the north. So, the mountain must be seen also far from the south in the Pacific Ocean. Seamen worship Mt. Oyama as a beacon recognizable from the sea, and here was their shrine. Shrines for Torinoiwakusufune-no-Kami are not many in Japan (huh, foreign affairs are not popular in any period of time). This place at the peak of Mt. Oyama was one of them. Finally, from the Main Shrine, 10 or so stone steps go up to the real peak of Mt. Oyama. The 4th shrine is there called Oku-Yashiro for O’oikazuchi-no-Okami, aka the thunder god. Being the god of Mt. Oyama is required to do multi-tasking forever …

Amefuri Tree
There is this stone wall right next to the tree.
The place should be the remnants of the shrine
for the first Japanese ambassador to China.
Next to the structure, there is a shed with a bench
so that we can have a refuge there when it rains.

The view from the top of Mt. Oyama is something you should experience if you’re in Metropolitan Tokyo. On paper, we know there is nothing between Mt. Nasu 那須岳 that separates Kanto Plain from Tohoku Region, and Mt. Oyama. When we stand at the top of Oyama, we can actually feel this fact. Skyscrapers of Tokyo look like tiny prickles, but there is no obstruction between us. It would be a sad reality we can see not much green below us to the horizon … Whenever I’ve been there, I experience a drop or two of rain, even if it’s a fine day. Not for nothing we have a Raining Tree. I guess the moisture from the Pacific Ocean first crushes to the surface of Mt. Oyama, and becomes rain drops before going further into the Honshu Island. In my later post, I tell you a story of Tanzawa where 40 years ago Japanese for the first time noticed the effect of acid-rain. I think it is no surprise given the location of the area, especially for Mt. Oyama. This place is always facing directly to the vast Pacific Ocean and human activity. And it still preserves the lives from the Ice Ages, like Abies. The god of Mt. Oyama is very resilient … strong … Cool.

This direction must be to Kuroiso Station.
Yeah, there is nothing to block the view.
Hello, Pacific Ocean!

Moreover, the top of Oyama has 360° view when we get behind the Shrine. We notice next to the peak, there stand towers of the 21st century. We can go near to them taking a small path from the back of the toilet next to the peak. From there, we enjoy a spectacular view of Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山系, Chichibu Mountains 奥秩父山系, Mt. Fuji (of course), and if you are lucky, the South Japan Alps 南日本アルプス. A bonus is, there are not many people on this side as the shrine side of the peak. It’s possible for us to immerse ourselves quietly in the wide open sky of the top of the mountain. 😊 A path goes down from the towers, and meets with Omotesando at the point of the first Torii from Yabitsu Pass, 10m or so down from the Mae-yashiro. This route is far easier to walk, although it is not the official route for pilgrimage. Oh, by the way, from the back of the tower, there is an opening for a route going to the north. It is the entrance of the North Ridge Way of Mt. Oyama, eventually reaching to Miyagase Lake 宮ケ瀬湖. The ridge is very narrow and covered with bushes. On this road, it’s easy for hikers to tumbling down to death several hundred meters below. Unless you know really well the area, you should not go in there. Never underestimate Tanzawa.

The toilet was open in the middle of April.
It’ll be closed when water freezes early October.
Could you see the route at the back of it?
It’s the direction to the tower.
By the way, we should leave a donation in the box
at the entrance whenever we use the facility.
Maintaining it at the mountain peak is not at all cheap.
Some say, the owner of the facility is
intentionally obscured
in order to avoid terrorism,
but one of the doors has a logo of TEPCO,
and the wire fence facing to the west
of the facility says FM Yokohama.
A view of Tanzawa Mountains.
Unfortunately, we could not see Mt. Fuji on that day.
She is supposed to stand high in the north west of this photo.
Pro-only route to the North Ridge of Mt. Oyama
A wider road is coming from the modern structure
to the west …
It goes like this,
and this,
to Torii of Omotesando.

Next week we finally descend from Mt. Oyama via Omotesando / Urasando. 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

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