Thursday, 31 July 2008

Haguro san

Distance travelled: 18.600 km


For those of you not familiar with the writing system of the Japanese, its a rewriting of the title of a song I learned together with the wondrous crowd on Rebun island, and it means I love this country.

I have developed a set answer to the inevitable inquires as to why exactly I love this county; the contrast i tell people, which obviously is as incomprehensible to people who has not experienced Japan as if i had said The blue whales. One of many contrasts you find in this country is aesthetical. Japanese cities, which are quite numerous since they have more or less squeezed 120 million people onto something that bears much resemblance to Norway in terms of size and flat land, the effect is only enchanted by the fact that outside Tokyo, people have come to a collective conclusion, that tall buildings are overrated - This more or less means that anything resembling flat land is either occupied by a city or a rice paddy.

Now, calling Japanese cities pretty, would be much like calling the queen pretty, small patches of exquisite jewelry, on a rather bland mass - gray, concrete - block after block, is the norm, broken up by some of the pretties restaurants, warm springs, temples and gardens in the world. And then there is places like Hagurusan, that will punch out all the air in your stomach, and then proceed to gently caress your senses while you regain consciousness.

I got of the bus, and stretched my weary muscles. An otherwise short journey by what have become my standards, had been made awfully tiring by getting up late, and missing the express train, left with a Futsu, i had stopped at anything anyone considered a town, even a few rice paddies had been considered worthy of a stop. I looked around to get my bearings, souvenir shops and Ramen shacks - nothing out of the ordinary Japanese tourist spot, the amount of people wearing white was though, they were swarming the place like some mongol horde. Worshippers, they were, setting out on the first leg of their pilgrimage to the 3 holy mountains of Daizetsusan, and i was going to follow on this first endurance test of 2446 stone steps.

Haguru san

As i entered the mountain through a wooden gate, i went speechless, not that i had anyone to say anything in particular too, but i was non the less speechless - the place was magical, like taken out of a Miyazaki movie. In an instant i suddenly realized what Shinto - japans ancient religion - is, you could not quite help but to feel the place had a soul. Tall, ancient, majestic trees was reaching for the sky above, their presence so massive you could hardly see it, the canopy dimmed the daylight, twilight almost, and scattered around lay ancient wooden temples - and a tall wooden pagoda stood silently, like a monolith... Hey Hey... Hey! "Snap out of it mate!" Okay, it was a fantastic place, a short glimpse of another world, and my bloody camera ran out if battery! As i reached a tea house half way up the stairs, i was pondering - 3 times by now,I had felt something akin magic in this country.

Kinkakuji, the golden pavilion of Kyoto had been the first, I had turned a corner and walked into a post card, hard to explain to the someone who has not seen it, the garden where the pavilion sits, has been perfected through centuries, to a point where the setting seems to perfect to be real, if you are fortunate enough to avoid the crowds, it too feels like stepping into another world.

Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, was another - while even a Russian would be stretching it to call the place pretty, it is however a truly humbling experience emerging from the underground, and being smacked in the face, by your own insignificance as you walk onto the station square. The sheer number of people pausing, passing, crisscrossing through the myriad of the other 2 million people passing through the place every day, has an uncanny ability to make one feel like an ant.
The fact that the every building in the vicinity has been outfitted with an insane number of flashing lights, giant TV screens and loudspeakers, in a heartfelt effort to short circut your senses, doesn't exactly help on the feeling of being lost in Japan.

And now this place. This is why I travel, apart from being fun and enjoyable, it has the ability to make leave you a wiser man, about the ways of the world.

- Stefan

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