I finally did what I keep telling my students I’m planning to do and climbed Sarakurayama, the tallest mountain in Kitakyushu City.

The trailhead was a 30-minute walk from the nearest train station, and it was an interesting walk. I got a little lost in a residential area’s alleyways, and accidentally found a temple.

There’s a cable car to the top of the mountain, but I took the more interesting route. Near the bottom of the mountain there were several shrines beside the path, mostly featuring jizo, a Buddhist saint who looks after travellers. I also passed a semi-abandoned temple: the residential part had the roof caved in, but there were icons with recent offerings.

The trees on the mountain are a mixture of cypress, camelia, and giant bamboo.

I found a spring on the path, about halfway up. Presumably safe water since it’s signposted pretty clearly, with a sign saying 皿倉山泉 (spring) with a plastic mug hanging on a tree branch.

The mountain got quite steep after a while. I met a few other hikers, and it seems normal to greet each other. I also met this guy, when I eventually made it to the visitor centre near the top. Ravens are pretty common here.

Quoth the Raven, “Mata Nai.”

There are a lot of paths around the peaks, and there’s a fair bit going on. There’s an archery club, and I saw the targets through the trees. There’s a campsite. There’s also a couple of shrines.

Here’s a gallery of photos taken from the top.

There was also a little viewpoint made to give lovers good fortune.

The procedure is to hold hands while reaching through holes in a plinth, which puts both people in a position to look through the heart and see, on a clear day, Aijima (love island). Following this, you’re supposed to clip a padlock onto a nearby railing in Pont Des Artes style, and give an offering at small shrine by the cable car station.

Sarakurayama officially offers one of the three best night city views in Japan, but it was getting cold so I’m leaving that for another time.


Night Photos

Some things I saw when I went for a walk.

History Sightseeing

Osaka Castle

The keep from the outer bailey’s plum orchard.

Osaka Castle is one of the most impressive places I’ve ever seen. It consists of an inner bailey containing the keep, an outer bailey, and sits just south of the intersection of the O, Neya, and Daini Neya rivers providing a tertiary moat on one side. Its massive footprint was once filled with military buildings, but has been converted into a public park and the only fee is for climbing the keep.

The outer bailey currently contains a Shinto shrine, and a martial arts training hall, where I could see high school students competing in kendo.

The keep from inside the inner bailey.

The keep’s interior has been converted into a museum, and has modern decor, so I have yet to see what the inside of a Japanese keep really looks like. Although crowded, the museum was interesting.

The castle was bound up in the Warring States era, a tumultuous period of Japanese history lasting approximately from 1467 to 1615. The castle was built in 1583 as the headquarters of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a lord from humble beginnings with the ambition of unifying Japan and becoming shogun, the head of a national military government.

Despite his peasant background, Toyotomi Hideyoshi had expensive tastes. One portion of the museum was a replication of his small private tea room, in which everything was covered in gold except for the tatami mats, his tea whisk, and the paper in the sliding door.

In the sun, the keep seems to be covered in gold.

The first castle looks to have been impressive, but after Tokugawa Ieyasu was declared shogun (1603) having defeated Toyotomi in 1600, he began a major military construction program in the Kansai region to suppress any lingering threats. Between 1620 and 1629 the castle was enlarged to its current size, which still feels imposing even across the river from a modern corporate district. The keep was later burned down by lightning and rebuilt, then the castle was burned down again and restored once more as a result of the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

On that note, it’s worth pointing out just how big those embankments are. They’re huge.

I’m unclear on how these cliffs would have been topped off. In most castles, they seem to have trees growing on them. Given the watchtowers at strategic points, I strongly suspect that originally there would not have been trees, but a substantial wooden wall.

View from the shore to the inner bailey and the keep.

After exploring for a while, I had a fun conversation with a middle-aged man who spends his free time approaching tourists to practise his English. Happy to practise teaching, I obliged. He carried a globe, and showed me how useful maps can be in bridging a language gap and finding things to talk about.

View from across the Neya river. The far shore is separated from the castle again by the Daini Neya, over which there is a bridge to the outer bailey.

In case I haven’t said it enough, this place is big. To the Osaka residents of 400 years ago, it must have appeared massive. I can’t help but think that Tokugawa was making a statement of dominance by enlarging an already quite serviceable castle. The Tokugawa Shogunate governed from Edo (now Tokyo) with a regional headquarters in Kyoto’s smaller and more comfortable Nijo castle. Osaka castle was more military, a giant fortress in the middle of Tokugawa’s enemy’s former territory.


Fushimi Inari Taisha

Saturday, 1st Feb 2020

I accidentally climbed a mountain before breakfast. I was nearing the end of my stay in Kyoto, with so many shrines still to see. Kyoto has a lot of shrines, but Fushimi Inari Taisha is so ancient and famous I had to go, even if everyone else would be thinking the same on a Saturday morning.

The main shrine is dedicated to Inari, a Shinto deity associated with rice, and by extension general prosperity. The shrine has been in operation since the early 8th Century.

Typical of Kyoto, shops and residences are built up unceremoniously close to the shrine, at least on some sides.

Side road to Fushimi Inari Taisha

I wandered up a side road towards the shrine, lined to street food vendors. Food is usually not allowed within shrine grounds, although the tea shops up the mountain seem to be exceptions.

The main shrine was very busy, unsurprising on a Saturday, so this was as close as I got before heading up the mountain.

The mountain is as much an attraction as the main shrine, because its paths are lined by torii gates. Supposedly over a thousand gates go all the way up the mountain and all the way down, with only occasional breaks in the line to make room for more shrines, tea houses, and even more shrines.

It was initially very crowded, but even a small mountain is big, so I got my chance for a selfie.

The torii are donated by business sponsors, so I assume the writing is about them.

There wasn’t really a view from the top, but here’s the view from the tea house where I had brunch. I treated myself to amazake, a fermented rice drink; slightly alcoholic and very sweet. Like the hot chocolate of rice-based food. The tea house was built in a traditional style, with kneeling room only on a raised floor.

It seems to be normal for anyone who wants to establish a shrine to build it near an existing larger shrine or temple. On the way down the mountain I passed a multitude of small Shinto and Buddhist shrines near Fushimi Inari Taisha.

This one caught my interest, because it illustrates a Chinese parable. The three figures are Confucius, Laozi, and Buddha sitting together with a vat of vinegar. Confucius dislikes the sour taste, Buddha drinks with total equanimity, and Laozi enjoys the exciting sensation of vinegar on his tongue. The story is meant to illustrate the outlooks of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, with a bit of a bias towards Taoism.