Near the sea: six views of descent in Japan

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Stories behind the photos

Koinobori - Onomichi

Koinobori – Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture

On our way down from exploring the low mountains above Onomichi, we walked through a cramped neighbourhood filled with cats. The humans obviously adored the creatures. There was a cat-themed tiny bar, cats made of rocks and cat signs.

While koinobori (Japanese carp banners) are hung around Children’s Day in May, we had never seen such large versions draped within a community. Perhaps the cats were not amused.

Torii gates - Kumamoto Prefecture

En route to Aso-san from Kumamoto City, Kyushu

A few of these torii gates were easily visible from the busy road so we had to pull over to check them out.

Following the path up to an almost abandoned shrine meant crouching low under the gates to avoid disturbing massive spider webs. While going up wasn’t bad, it took ages to get down as the webs were less visible. The spiders were big enough to sit comfortably on an adult hand. Would one drop and squiggle down my back when I wasn’t looking?

slanting home - Fukuyamashi

Fukuyamashi, Hiroshima Prefecture

Old buildings are irresistible, especially those that seem to be held up only by their surroundings and determination.

rickety dock - Fukuyamashi

Fukuyamashi, Hiroshima Prefecture

This wobbly dock gently descending over the water looks as if it is held together only with love.

rocky outcrop - Abuto

rocky outcrop – Abuto, Hiroshima Prefecture

We purposefully booked a ryokan (small traditional hotel) in a rural community, loving the idea of being isolated. We didn’t realize the extent of our seclusion until the next morning when we went for a walk.

Thinking we’d be out strolling for at least an hour, we were shocked when the road ended abruptly with a wooden wall less than ten minutes later. The wall was attached to what looked like a private home. But towering above was obviously a shrine. Following a narrow, pebbled walkway behind the wall led us to a small gate and entrance to an unbelievable structure.

The shrine seemed to squat on a clump of rock directly above the sea. The oddest feature was a sloped deck or walkway surrounding the main shrine building. We took off our shoes, as per the signs, and gingerly crawled on our hands and knees around the side of the shrine to the section facing the sea. I was terrified one of us would tumble over the edge! I begged Hitoshi to not stand up as the pretend railing around the deck only came up to our knees.

The view in this photo was directly below the inner part of the shrine that was open and facing the sea. And what was inside the shrine? Set after set of large, stuffed breasts! It wasn’t until this point that we discovered that the shrine was dedicated to breastfeeding and fertility.

Steps down to ocean - Abuto

steps down to the ocean – Abuto

Beyond the main shrine building was a much smaller shrine. It could only be reached by timing our descent down these stairs with the crashing waves. While a shrine is normally serene, we were giggling and screaming, jumping and hopping down the crumbling stairs and finally sprinting down the path to avoid the crashing seawater.

Have you been completely surprised by a new experience? What happened?

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2 thoughts on “Near the sea: six views of descent in Japan

  1. Oh, I think I’ve heard of the shrine you mentioned (unless there are several with stuffed breasts around… Actually, there may well be!)ーwhat a surprising discovery on a “normal” wander around. 🙂

    I love the house that seems to be clinging on for dear life to its neighbors, though I wonder what would happen if there was an earthquake in the area. Given its current state, I wonder if the owners would be liable for damage to the other houses if it went down? (There was a train of thought that led to this random question, but it’s too long (and weird) a process to include. ^^)

    I like the stories behind the photos, illustrating your experiences.

    As for being surprised… Oh! Actually, just the other day on a walk in Tokyo, I found an empty lot with flowers growing in it. http://instagram.com/p/u2ZAJ_F_26/?modal=true
    Usually these lots are either covered in tarps, concreted over and made into parking lots, or just covered in weeds. Was quite refreshing in a normally gray and dreary area.

    • Really?! That’s amazing! I think Hitoshi said that there are other similar shrines but I’m not sure where they might be. At the time, we only found one website that mentioned this shrine and it was in Japanese. I didn’t check it out this time. Honestly, that shrine was terrifying. When I saw how sloped and slippery that walkway was, it took me ages to even make it around the back end where there was some land to look at. When I came around the first corner and looked down to see nothing but a whole lot of air before rocks and water, I glued myself to the wall of the shrine and inched along almost whimpering. The whole experience was nuts!
      I know! I’ve seen so many homes like that and that’s a good question. I guess it depends on what kind of earthquake. If it’s the up and down kind, unless all those homes stick together as a unit, it would likely be bad for all of them.
      Thanks! I think the stories are important. You can only tell so much from an image.
      Neat! I love that! Yes, dreary is a great description of many empty lots. And stupendous would be another word when you see how many parking stalls can be crammed into them! 😀

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