During the Age of the Gods, the daughter of the Japanese sea King Ryujin, Toyotama, lived with her father in the underwater palace of Ryugu-jo. One day, the dragon goddess met a young hunter named Hoori who had come to the bottom of the ocean looking for a missing fishing hook that belonged to his brother. The two fell in love and were married.
After a few years of living together in the palace, Hoori began to long for a life above the sea. He convinced Toyotama to come with him and, pregnant with his child, she agreed. They set up camp inside a cave along the shore and soon after Toyotama went into labour.
Not wanting her husband to see her transform into her alternative form, Toyotama begged him to wait outside. Curiosity got the better of him, though, and he peered in to find a giant black dragon holding a baby. Ashamed, Toyotama fled back to the sea, leaving her breasts behind to feed the newborn child.
More than 1 000 years ago, a Buddhist priest named Shodo Shonin crossed the Daiya River on his way to Mount Nantai and founded the first temple at Nikko. Today, 103 buildings and structures make up an area known as the “Shrines and Temples of Nikko”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After our drive up to Kegon Falls, John and I headed back into town to see one of the site’s most prominent shrines, Toshogu (東照宮).
Unlike the simple architecture of most of Japan’s shrines and temples, Toshogu is exquisitely ornate, decorated with gold leaf, bright lacquer paints and intricate carvings. The mash up of Buddhist and Shinto elements with a strong Chinese influence is a circus of texture and color, for which appreciation varies according to personal taste: some love it, others hate it. I found it fascinating.
“Oh this isn’t so bad,” I thought as we entered the tunnel. But as we walked further and further, the air became thick with black and eventually I couldn’t even see John in front of me anymore. My grip tightened around the edge of his jacket as he led us deeper into the darkness. I’m not a fan of not being able to see my own hand, but exploring a passage under the altar of one of the most famous temples in Japan is an experience I just couldn’t miss out on.
Nestled in the valley of Nagano city, against the backdrop of apple orchards and snow-capped mountains, Zenko-ji (善光寺) temple boasts a 1400-year history and an annual visitorship of 7 million. It is believed that if you visit the pilgrimage shrine just once in your lifetime, you will be granted salvation and passage into the afterlife.
In early November, my former roommate and longtime bro, Matthew, came to Miyazaki for a visit. This is Part 2 of our road trip down the Nichinan Coast. Part 1 is here.
I chased his voice to the side of the hotel, and we fought our way through the overgrowth of what was once the garden. In a small clearing stood five or six horses, peacefully grazing for a lunchtime snack. If there was ever a reason to jump security rope, this was it.
We stood watching the horses for a while. Every now and then, I found myself looking up to the windows of the hotel. I kept imagining I would suddenly see someone staring down at me. For an abandoned place, it doesn’t feel very empty.
The Itabashi-Fudoson temple, formerly known as Seiansan Fudoin, is a famous temple in Tsukuba Mirai City believed to have been built by Kobo Diashi in the Heian era. Dating back to 808, the main hall, two-storied gate and three-storied pagoda have significant cultural importance.