Off the Beaten Path, Japan #31: Walking the Ridge

Walking the Ridge

The photo connoisseurs of the internet often disparage the snapshot, but in reality some of the best scenes are those most unplanned.

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Off the Beaten Path, Japan #28: Sunset on Stonehammer

Sunset on Stonehammer

At the foot of the mountain the sign read, “Watch out for vipers.” The fields of bamboo grass covering the slopes would have been an ideal home for a poisonous snake, but as I crested the summit of the mountain I found no dangerous reptiles but rather a tent already set and waiting for evening though it was still hours until sunset.

The sound of my approaching footsteps brought attention to its occupant and soon there emerged like the budding of a flower not a serpent or medusa but possibly a siren. She said her name was 萌.

And so we spent waning afternoon together chatting idly as the sun settled towards the shoulder of the mountain. Suddenly the light was right and I jumped to work. 萌 stood behind me watching. Almost as an afterthought I said, “Stand over there. The photo will look better if you’re in it.” Then I took the photo.

She was tired and went to bed. I stayed up to watch the moon rise.

Copyright Brian Heise, 2019

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Off the Beaten Path, Japan #10

White Caps in the Distance

Hiking in mid-March following a relatively warm November, and moreover hiking through the foothills of Gunma on the edge of the Kanto, I didn’t expect many fantastic views. Imagine my surprise then when I crested the ridge to see a line of white-capped mountains stretching across the horizon. Needless to say, I was satisfied.

Off the Beaten Path, Japan #6

Sunset in Honjo

And so I sat on the bus as it wound through the town, wondering whether or not I would go back to the mountains again soon. Two days passed wandering around Kanna Lake and I hadn’t once felt that spur of emotion that usually drives my every step. I wondered if my love of the mountains had really been nothing more than an affair. And then, out of the corner of my eye there was a flash of color as the buildings in the village fell away and the farmland spread out before me exposing the mountainscape beyond which the last rays of the sun were quickly disappearing. Faint though that spark was, it rekindled a flame: I knew I would be back next month.

A River Where a Goddess Dwells

The Statue of Benzaiten in Agano

An Attraction on Fureai Trail Saitama Section 11

As one walks along the stream flowing through the middle of Agano Village at the beginning of Section 11, one will eventually catch sight of a large boulder atop which sits a small pine tree and a stone statue accompanied by several red flags bearing white characters. According to local legend, this stone is the residence of the goddess Benzaiten (弁財天), a deity that originated in India and has since entered the Japanese Buddhist-Shinto syncretic tradition.

The residence of Benzaiten in Agano, Japan

Benzaiten originated as a goddess of a holy river and was worshiped for making lands fertile and prosperous, but has since developed into a deity who governs all things that flow, including music, rhythm, and speech. They say the bridge near this rock is blessed by the goddess, and those who cross over it can feel her miraculous powers. If you are a musician or a writer, consider sending a prayer to Benzaiten as you pass.

© Brian Heise, 2018

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