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A Walk in the forest of Ushita-Yama

January 5, 2009

Today I headed down to the station to drop off my friend’s makeup, she was on her way to Narita to fly home (boooooo) and hopped off the Shinkansen to get it. Afterwards I decided to go for a cycle seeing as I had my bike with me and I ended up having one of the best days I’ve ever had.

I cycled north from the station towards what I assumed was a temple I’d always seen when catching the Shinkansen; a snake of hills move northwards away from Hiroshima and nestled at the foot of these are a series of temples and shrines that I’ve never heard mentioned in any guide books. At the foot of the mountain was a large temple, full of businessmen dressed in suits – I guess today is a special day for businesses to pray for prosperity because they were nearly the only people there. Feeling rather conspicuous I held my head high and fixed a genki smile to my face and sailed through the crowds towards the back of the temple – towards the forest.

After a while and after skipping over a chainlink fence I was on a road that sloped gentley upwards – I demi-bowed to a series of Japanese grannies before turning off the road and heading into the forest.

Stone step after stone step. Hundreds. Thousands maybe. And at intervals there were shrines,  little kami-huts perched between rocks. Kami, in Shinto belief, are the spirits which occupy things. Inanimate things like the daikon radish but also some animals. In all these shrines were tiny foxes – Inari messengers, or Inari herself depending on the idiosyncrasy of your own particular Buddhist-shinto belief. 

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After a while, the shrines stopped and the climb became…well…disturbingly vertical. Was this a rain drainage channel I was climbing? Eventually I pushed through some trees and came out upon a small clearing, where – stood up on a rock i could see the whole of Hiroshima spread out below me. Yes, it was beautiful – but more than that it was Vertiginous in the extreme.

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Plowing on, I came across what I had been really after – the silver Pagoda that sits on top of the Ushita-yama. I’ve been asking people about it ever since I came here and no one has really seemed to know what it was exactly, well now I know. Its a silver pagoda containing gifts of the Buddha’s ashes – gifted to the city of Hiroshima to aid the repose of the souls of those who died as a result of the atomic bomb. Also inside are thousands of stones – each one representing a prayer for peace. A little like a cairn in England I suppose.

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I spent some time sitting, gazing out across the bay and watching the graveyard visitors tend their families graves. Soon, it started to rain, so I headed back into the forest. This time I headed west along the mountain summit and through the woods. It was beautiful. It was sheer joy for me, to be knee deep in leaf fall, using the branches to pull myself along at points. Listening to the sounds of the forest – listening to the kami who lived there calling out. Tree’s sighing, birds rustling, the wind moving through the branches. At one point I lay down in the dry leaves and just listened and smelled. It didn’t feel like the city one bit. It felt like the middle of nowhere – in another age.

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I will be going back.

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One comment

  1. Vertiginous in the extreme…. ha I love it! do go back! get out of the city as much as possible! you’ll never regret it! xo



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