This post is part 3 in a 3-part series on the shrines and temples on the second section of the Fureai Trail in Saitama Prefecture. Be sure to check out the first and second posts in this series as well!
Down from the Ne-no-Gongen
After the Ne-no-Gongen temple, the path turns downward on a steady descent to the valley floor and Agano Station, the end of the Path Visiting Inner Musashi’s Historic Temples. Shortly past the parking lot for the temple, the trail drops of the pavement and passes through a pine forest, but afterwards meets with a narrow road and from then on the dirt path turns to pavement for the rest of the way. The serious hiker may be disappointed by this, but I encourage such people to take the time and absorb the environment of rural Japanese life. Once you learn to appreciate that, the appeal of the paved sections improves.
As you travel down the road, keep your eyes open for Asami Teahouse (Asami Chaya, 浅見茶屋) on the right. It’s a large, traditional-style old wooden building with a real country-time feel to it. The place has a reputation as an excellent place to rest and eat (and maybe have some sake or a beer) at the end of a day’s hike. Unfortunately, the place was closed for the day when I passed through, so I can’t offer my own review, but definitely stop in for yourself if you get the chance and leave a comment below.
If you do happen to pass by on an off-day for the teahouse, all is not lost for refreshment. Just continue onwards until you hit the valley floor and you’ll arrive at Tôgô Park (東郷公園), where you’ll find a couple options, though none with quite the flair that the teahouse has. I ended up getting some curry and a coffee at one of these places. I can’t remember the name, but it was right by the road and had a nice atmosphere, though the refreshments were fairly average.
The real point of interest near Tôgô Park, though, is not the restaurants but the nearby Ondake Shrine, a large-scale religious complex covering the side of a mountain with its sanctuary at the summit. Most noteworthy about the shrine is it’s numerous memorials to one Marshal Tôgô, the most famous admiral of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Though not particularly well remembered today, at the time this war was significant on both a regional and world level, in the former because it settled the question of which country would dominate the Korean peninsula in the first half of the 20th century and in the latter because it was the first time that a non-European nation had bested a European one in the modern era, forcing the world to take note of the Japan’s growing power and authority.
Such places occupy a complicated space in contemporary Japanese culture. As a memorial to successful war for domination over part of the Asian mainland, this place without question calls to mind the country’s ignominious imperial past, one that many Japanese would like to forget but which their continental counterparts tend to be unwilling to allow. At the same time, just as there is still a fair amount of nostalgia for the antebellum days of the American south, yearnings for the Empire of the Rising Sun to this day attract a certain disgruntled subsection of the population. I’m left to wonder how the locals feel about the shrine though, as the place was completely deserted both times I visited it, so I couldn’t ask anyone.
The Attractions at Ondake Shrine
Enter Ondake Shrine through the massive stone torii gate, passing by the newly constructed Village Shrine (sato-miya, 里宮) with it’s shining roof of freshly minted brass shingles. According to the accompanying sign, the 80-year-old original shrine had aged to a state where it was becoming difficult to perform religious rites, so it was rebuilt thanks to the donations of the congregation.
Not long after passing the shrine, the road leads into the forest. On the right is a statue of a robed samurai, though I’m not sure who the person was. Beyond that, we reach the base of the mountain and the first flight of stairs rising steeply upwards. These continue one after the other all the way to the top. Though it isn’t so high, it’s a rather strenuous climb.
Shortly, we reach the first of the memorials of the Russo-Japanese War: two examples of ordinance utilized in the conflict, each sitting atop high stone pedestals. One is a specimen of the principal shell in the arsenal of the Russian Baltic Fleet, whose superior numbers and firepower proved a major obstacle for Japan’s fledgling modern navy. The other example is a Russian sea mine. These were deployed in large numbers at Port Arthur, which is located in northern China and was an important point in the conflict. The Russians prevented the Japanese fleet from approaching by using these devices.
The Statue of Marshal Tôgô
One of the greatest heroes of modern Japanese military history is Marshal Tôgô, supreme commander of the Japanese navy during the Russo Japanese War. Outnumbered and outgunned by Russia’s veteran Baltic Fleet, the odds were far against him. However, since the Japanese couldn’t easily resupply their troops in China and Korea if the Russians were able to prevent their cargo ships from landing, defeating the Russians at sea was critical for the troops fighting on the continent. For this reason Marshal Tôgô took the initiative and engaged the Russians in spite of his disadvantages and won a resounding victory, earning him lasting fame as a war hero.
The founder of Ondake Shrine, Kamoshita Seihachi (鴨下清八), thought that the exploits, virtue, and influence of Marshal Tôgô ought to be passed on to future generations, so he sought to have a bronze statue of the general commissioned. Such a statue, however, would not be cheap, so to raise the money he created a slogan based on Tôgô’s most famous utterance. On the day that he destroyed the Russian fleet, Tôgô had sent a message to his superiors, saying “[today is] the battle for the fate of the Empire.” Kamoshita switched the word “one battle” or issen (一戦) with the homonym issen (一銭) meaning one hundredth of a yen, and yielded the saying, “one hundredth of a yen for the destiny of the Japanese Empire.” Using this slogan, he collected donations for the statue.
Kamoshita, however, couldn’t have the statue commissioned without the permision of the marshal himself, a task that proved to be easier said than done. Time and again Kamoshita visited the Marshal’s residence, but Tôgô staunchly refused, saying that no such bronze statue would be made of him while he was still alive. Nonetheless Kamoshita persisted and, after something like 80 visits, the Marshal was finally moved by his sincerity and in the end he consented. On April 17th of Taishô 14 (1925), a bronze statue of the Marshal was erected in full dress uniform.
A photo of the installment ceremony accompanies the statue today. I remember being struck by the stern faces of those photographed, most especially Kamoshita’s severe expression, accentuated by his shaven scalp. I would have thought that the event would have been a happier occasion.
The Deck Plate of the Battleship Mikasa
The moment that decided the Russo-Japanese War was the Battle of the Sea of Japan, which occurred on May 27th, 1905. The Russian fleet was on the move, headed for Vladivostok; meanwhile Tôgô and the navy were on high alert. Tôgô sent the following message to his superiors: “Having received a report that enemy ships were sighted, the combined fleet will set sail immediately. We shall attempt to annihilate them. Although the weather is clear today, the waves are high.” He then uttered the words that would later become famous: “This is the battle for the fate of the Empire. Each of us will give out utmost efforts,” (皇国興廃在此一戦 各員一層奮励努力).
The result of the battle was decisive. Under Togo’s command, the outnumbered and outgunned Japanese navy wiped out the Baltic Fleet, letting only three of the 38 ships escape; six were captured and the rest were sunk. Togo’s own flagship, the Mikasa (三笠), was hit during the battle, leaving massive holes torn into the thick metal plating. Today, on the slopes of Chichibu’s Ondake Shrine, visitors can view a section of this plating and imagine what it must have been like to be there on that day.
Marshal Tôgô passed away in May, Shôwa 9 (1935); just under a year later Ondake’s Tôgô Shrine was erected in his memory. Kamoshita Seihachi chose this location deep in a green forest in accordance with the marshal’s wishes. This shrine both extols his achievements as well as venerates his spirit as a kami of peace. The annual celebration associated with the shrine is held on May 27th, the date of his victory over the Russian fleet. At the celebration, participants pray for world peace and the safety of Japan.
The shrine itself proved difficult to photograph, located as it was atop a steep stone staircase. Inside are several watercolor paintings of marshal and his fleet, wrinkled and faded from water damage over the years.
A Russian-made 3-inch Field Artillery
The Russo-Japanese War was far more than just the naval war that we’ve discussed so far: there was also a land-based campaign in Manchuria, the northeastern area of China adjacent to North Korea. In this conflict, the Russians gave the Japanese a rough fight due to their state-of-the-art field artillery like the one pictured below. At the time, Japan’s artillery used older technology: upon firing, the cannon’s carriage recoiled, causing a loss of accuracy. In contrast, the Russian artillery had a body designed to absorb the recoil shock so that the carriage didn’t move so much, resulting in a much better accuracy rate on top of being easier to use.
The Sanctuary of Chichibu’s Ondake Shrine
If you visit Kiso (木層) in the Shinshu (信州) area, you might chance to pass another Ondake Shrine. This, in fact, is the original. Kamoshita Seihachi founded the shrine in Chichibu in the 28th year of the reign of Emperor Meiji, performing a special Shinto ritual known as “dividing the spirit” (bunrei, 分霊) in which he divided the spirits worshipped at the Ondake Shrine in Kiso so that it could be worshipped at both locations. The sanctuary at the top of the mountain at Chichibu’s Ondake Shrine was constructed for worshipping the spirits of Kiso’s Ondake from afar, so that when one offers prayers here, the spirits in Kiso will receive them. Every year on July 9 a festival is held for world peace and for the safety of the temple’s patrons. The original structure was rebuilt in the year Heisei 10 (1998) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the temple’s founding.
To Agano Station
Having concluded my visit to Ondake Shrine, I hiked out the last few kilometers to Agano Station. The path followed along a small stream running through the village, past a small village shrine and eventually arriving at the station. When I passed through, it was in mid February, so the sun was already getting low even though it wasn’t much later than 4:00. While waiting for the train, I drank a beer and chatted with some other hikers.
Trail Name: The Path Visiting Musashi’s Historic Temples (Oku-Musashi no Kosatsu o Tazuneru Michi, 奥武蔵の古刹を訪ねる道)
Map: Click here
Start: Kodono Bus Stop (Little Palace Bus Stop, 小殿バス停)
End: Agano Station (Ourfield Station, 吾野駅)
Natural Beauty: Low
Ideal Seasons: Spring (for flower viewing)
Camping Locations:* Mamekuchi Pass (豆口峠)
Length (distance): 9.5 km
Length (time): 2 hours and 40 minutes
Food access: Ne-no-Gongen Temple (子の権現), Asami Teahouse (浅見茶屋), Tôgô Park (東郷公園)
*Note that these are not officially designated camping locations but simply places that I judge would be nice to put down a tent. Camp at your own risk.
My Trail Stats:
Distance traveled: 110.3 km (6.1%)
Courses completed: 9/160 (5.6%)
Days Spent: 7
© Brian Heise 2018