Today I travel from Hiroshima to the island of Miyajima on a daytrip. The island is a popular tourist destination for the Japanese.
Traditionally it was considered so holy that the only way to enter the island was through a huge orange gate which was submerged in water only at high tide, which led to the main shrine. These days you can get the ferry and they let pretty much anybody in.
After the visiting the gates and main Shinto shrine I decided to schlep it up the mountain. The majority of the island is rugged and hilly and covered in trees. There were three paths to choose from to get up to the 535m summit of Mount Misen.
I thought I was choosing the easiest one, up the middle, but I soon discovered that I had instead taken the wrong turn and taken the hardest path. “Oh well, I thought, how hard can it be? I’m reasonably fit.”
So when Japanese signs say that a track is hard, it’s hard. Sections of the hike to where the tracks intersected were so steep I was pretty much climbing with all fours. I saw one other person along the way.
At one point as I pulled myself up to a landing I came face-to-face with a black snake in the middle of the path, about two feet away. I think it saw me before I saw it (or heard me lumbering towards it) and moved out of the way. This was quite early in the walk, so I didn’t suffer for a lack of adrenaline for the remainder of the walk. With no map however, I had little conception of how far along I was to my goal.
I reached a summit and felt exalted, only to realise it was the second highest peak on the island and I had to go back down the the ridge and then head across and up higher to Mount Misen.
In the end, on a humid Japanese Summer’s day, I did the 90 minute walk in about 75, drenched in sweat when I finally made the cross-roads . I stripped off my sweat stained shirt (how much lighter did I feel?!) tipped the rest of the water bottle over my head and lay on a picnic table for five minutes, until a couple of Europeans came up a different path and I thought I should probably make myself decent again.
From the crossroads I didn’t go straight to the summit (another 100 or so metres). Instead I headed off in another direction, towards Okuno-in on the other side on the island from the rest of civilisation. I saw no-one on my way there and the Buddhist temple itself was completely uninhabited.
It was a pretty special place. I sat inside the meditation room and chillaxed for quite a while, before drinking from the mountain stream, some of the most vividly fresh water I can recall ever tasting.
It was so peaceful. The water was so pure it sent a jolt rushing through me. I recalled, just a few days previous in Nagoya, Hishihiyaki introducing me to the gods of Japan, especially Shimizu (literally “pure water”); or Nobu the Monk two nights ago in Koyasan telling us about the ritual of washing one of the Buddha’s before approaching the mausoleum of Kobo-Daishi, the founder of Japanese Shingon Buddhism.
That morning I had bought a bottle of water from a vending machine at Hiroshima train station, and by some fortune received a bottle of green tea as well. I filled both up in the stream by the uninhabited temple, and both were gone by the time I had reached the summit of Mount Misen and gone halfway back down the mountain (via the direct route this time, the path I had originally intended to traverse).
At the bottom I had a well-earned lunch, including a couple of draught beers and two grilled oysters.
As I wrote, “Today I learned that sometimes the first step isn’t the hardest. The hard steps are ones where there are no ends in sight.”
(BTW, I found a 3 minute walkthrough of Okuno-in that an American guy did, at about the same time of year. You might want to turn the sound down to avoid his commentary.)