Mt Daisen English Website

1. HISTORY AND CULTURE

[Introduction]

Daisen: A mountain ski hamlet with a 1,300-year history

Perched near the peak of western Honshu’s majestic Mt. Daisen – known as Japan’s second Mt. Fuji – the town of Daisen was once home to 100 temples, thousands of soldier-monks, and a centuries-old tradition of religious asceticism. Generations of worshipers have walked the pilgrimage roads leading to the holy volcano, which some say is the abode of Kagutsuchi-no-mikoto, god of fire.

Today the town is a popular ski destination in winter and a perfect base for exploring the region’s beech forests, alpine meadows, and sparkling waterfalls in warmer seasons. Overlooking the Japan Sea, Daisen is also a short drive from beachfront hot springs and very fresh seafood. So book a room at a traditional inn, plan a few days of touring, and discover one of western Japan’s best-kept secrets.

Shrines and Temples

Daisen Temple
Daisen’s main temple was founded in 718, and in ancient times was an important training ground for followers of Shugendo, a form of ascetic/shamanistic worship practiced in the remote mountains of Japan. As these indigenous mountain religions were increasingly brought under the umbrella of Buddhism in the Heian era (794-1185), more and more temples were founded in Daisen. At the height of its power the region boasted over 160 temples and 3,000 warrior monks, making it a seat of influence comparable to the powerful Koyasan, Hieizan, and Yoshino regions. Daisen Temple is said to have amassed impressive riches by the Edo period (1603-1868). But the religious center fell into decline in the late 19th century, when the emperor made Shinto Japan’s official religion and forcefully disentangled Buddhist and Shinto practice. Today just four main halls of worship and five sub-temples remain in town.

Daisen Temple’s ancient treasures can still be viewed in the Reiho-kaku, or treasure house, and the Amida Hall, a structure dating to the Fujiwara period (898-1185) that houses a statue of Pure Land Buddhism deity Amitabha Tathagata carved by the great sculptor Ryoen. The main temple burned down in 1928 and was rebuilt in 1951. If you make reservations ahead of time, you can get a lesson in Zen meditation from the temple priest; fees are 500 yen per person (more when the number of participants is very low). 20-minute “Mini ZaZen” sessions are available at Amida Hall for 500 yen, also by reservation only.

O-Gamiyama Shrine/ Oku-no-Miya
Although Oku-no-Miya’s main shrine today ranks among Japan’s most impressive examples of gongenzukuri (a style of Shinto architecture in which the main hall and worship hall stand beneath a single roof, connected by a passageway), its origins are said to be far more humble. Legend has it that the shrine was once a simple shelter for worshipers who came to Daisen to practice a form of mountain asceticism called Shugendo. Despite being mentioned in numerous ancient records, however, its story remains shrouded in mystery.

During the long period of history during which the line between Buddhism and Shintoism was less clearly drawn than it is today, O-Gamiyama Shrine Oku-no-Miya joined forces with Daisen Temple to expand its range of influence and build a large army of monk-and-priest warriors. Far from being under the thumb of the Buddhist monks, the Shinto priests presided over all religious ceremonies on the mountain.

In the late 1800s when Shintoism was forcefully separated from Buddhism and became Japan’s state religion, the shrine lost its connection to Daisen Temple. Today it is famous in western Japan for its magnificent portable shrine, which can be viewed at an annual procession each spring.

Enryu-in
One of Daisen Temple’s five remaining sub-temples, Enryu-in was rebuilt in 2009 with a highly unusual feature: 108 paintings of fantastical beasts and ghostly creatures by Japan’s beloved manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, creator of the GeGeGe no Kitaro series. The round paintings adorn the ceiling of the main hall and draw visits from Mizuki fans from around the country. Among the paintings is a “Tengu Crow” character drawn specially for the temple. You can try out Zen meditation or sutra-copying at Enryu-in as well.

Ju-un Temple Established in 1334, this Buddhist temple is affectionately called “Fuji-dera,” or “Wisteria Temple,” after the huge old flowering vine in its courtyard. The Fuji Festival is held here each May, when the lavender clusters of flowers measuring over 1.5 meters in length are in full bloom.

Myogen Temple
The famous essayist, folk-tale collector, and journalist Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904; also known as Yakumo Koizumi) depicted an Obon festival dance held at this temple in his book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan. A stone monument engraved by Hearn’s great-grandson Bon Koizumi stands in the temple precincts.

Taikyu Temple
Founded by the famous Zen Buddhist priest Genno Shinsho in 1357, this is the oldest Soto-sect temple in the Sannin region (encompassing Shimane, Tottori, and parts of Yamaguchi prefectures). Visitors can view the special gate used by imperial messengers, the renowned earth walls, and a votive tablet engraved by Emperor Go-Komatsu (1377-1433), Japan’s 100th emperor.

Nawa Shrine
This shrine is dedicated to the Nawa clan. Nagatoshi Nawa, the most famous member of the family, was a 14th-century lord who fought to re-establish the reign of exiled Emperor Go-Daigo. The path leading to the shrine is lined with cherry trees, and it spring viewing parties come to walk along the tunnel of blossoms.

Ki-no-ne Shrine
This shrine stands at the base of a sacred ancient pine tree.

Okoshikake-no-Iwa (Crouching Rock)
Legend has it that Emperor Godaigo rested on this rock after he escaped from the Oki Islands, to which he had been exiled, in the 14th century.

Local Myths

The Origin of Mt.Daisen
There are many stories of how Mount Daisen came into being. All appear within the creation legends of Japan, but in that world of myriad gods, even the myths fight one another. Who knows which is true?

The ancient records of the Izumo region’s culture and geography (called Izumo Fudoki) tell one version of how Japan came into being. According to that story, one of the gods wanted to make the country larger, so he stood on the shore and used a rope and stake to pull a bit of land from across the sea over towards Japan. The rope he used became the Yumigahama Penninsula (also called Yomigahama) and the stake became Mt. Daisen. In that legend, Daisen is called Hinokaminotake, or “the fire god’s mountain.” It seems that as the story was passed down through later generations, the name changed to Okamitake, or “mountain of the great god,” which is close to its current name, meaning “great mountain.”

But why was Daisen called the fire god’s mountain? Some say it is the fire god Kagutsuchinomikoto who is worshiped there, the last-born child of Izanami, mother of myriads gods and the one who caused her to die in anguished childbirth. But each scholar seems to have his own explanation of the mountain’s name, and none knows the truth for sure. In any case, throughout Japan high mountains are thought to be the abodes of the gods and have long been worshiped as sacred places. Perhaps it is their sublime majesty, or their inapproachability, or their unearthly glow at sunrise and sunset. Whatever the reason, whoever gazes at Mt. Daisen or climbs to its heart cannot help but feel it is a mystic place.

Tengu Karasu
Mt. Daisen is famous as the abode of karasu (crow) tengu, a mythical creature which blends the features of humans and birds. Some say local villagers spun stories of tengu when in reality they had merely seen the ascetic mountain hermits who wandered Daisen’s remote valleys and peaks. Others say tales of the tengu were invented by the mountain ascetics themselves as a way to scare commoners away from the depths of the holy mountain. In either case, even today Daisen boasts an abundance of entertaining tales about the tengus and their magical powers.

Regional Foods

Shojin Ryori
The vegetarian cuisine that you can sample at some of Daisen’s inns is rooted in the town’s long history as a center of Buddhist worship. The religious precept of nonviolence led temple cooks to develop a wide range of meatless dishes, such as vegetables simmered in seaweed broth and tofu made from sesame seeds; the style of cooking is called shojin ryori in Japanese. While monks and nuns often ate very simply, tourists are usually treated to a more elaborate version of shojin ryori, with many beautifully-presented dishes arranged on lacquered trays. Some temple meals prepared for tourists uses fish broth or other fish products, however, so strict vegetarians should check with the kitchen to make sure their meal is truly animal-free.

Sansai Ryori
The deep natural woods surrounding Daisen provide villagers with an abundance of wild vegetables. When fall rolls around locals head out to collect mushrooms and chestnuts in the woods, and as soon as the snow melts in spring they’re out again plucking the first pale green butterburs and baby ferns. Summer is the time for catching char and other freshwater fish. Lucky for visitors, the harvest often ends up on the dinner menu at local inns.

Hyakusai Shoku
More recently villagers have developed a healthy style of cooking that features local vegetables and fish. It’s called hyakusai shoku, or “hundred-year cooking,” because those who eat it will live a long life – or so it’s said! Some inns offer hyakusai shoku, but it’s usually necessary to let the owner know ahead of time you’d like to try it.

Festivals

Spring
In early May, when the huge old wisteria at Ju-un Temple is in full bloom, the Fuji (wisteria) Festival is held on temple grounds. Participants can sample rice cakes and watch a tea ceremony beneath the fragrant vines. May is also the month for the Miyuki (or Mikoshi Gyoko) procession at Daisen Temple, a traditional Buddhist ceremony said to date back to the Heian era (794-1185). The temple’s elaborate portable shrines are paraded through the streets on the shoulders of men dressed all in white. Children in traditional attire and adults dressed as priest-warriors join the parade as well.

Summer
Summer on Mt Daisen officially begins on the first weekend in June, when priests from Daisen Shrine preside over rituals to pray for an accident-free mountain climbing season. The fire ceremony that takes place on this weekend is the shrine’s central summer event. In the evening, about 2,000 participants kindle torches in a sacred fire at the shrine, then descend the pilgrimage road through the woods, torches a blazing wave of fire (in the past the procession went in reverse, with deeply religious participants carrying their torches up the mountainside to the shrine). A daytime ceremony is also held at the mountain summit.

Fall
When the forests turn their fall colors in late October or early November, the town of Daisen holds an Autumn Colors Festival. Events includes a fire ceremony at Daisen Temple in which priests carry sacred lanterns, a photography contest, and in some years the Daisen Warrior Priest Drum Performance.

Winter
On the 23rd of December, a ceremony is held to mark the opening of the ski season. Along with a ritual to pray for a safe ski season, there are ski demonstrations, mochi (rice cake)-making events, and free lift passes for all participants.

Sports Events

Nawa Half-Marathon
16 competition categories mean everyone can join in this mid-May run along the Nawa Sakura Course

Daisen Highland Cross-Country Event
Participants come from all over Japan to join in this event held each July at the Gouenzan Ski grounds, 750 meters above sea level.

Hamanasu (Rugosa Rose) Cycling
This annual October race offers two routes along the Daisen foothills: a 15-kilometer beginner’s course and a more challenging 30-kilometer hill course. After you’ve worked up an appetite cycling, join the crowd for BBQ beef from a local ranch and a free dip in the Nakayama Hot Spring.

Skiing in Masquerade
Every hear about 20 teams participate in this festival on the Daisen ski slopes. Events include races, synchronized skiing, and performances.

Sea to Summit
This challenging triathlon starts with a 6km kayak race in the Sea of Japan, continues with a 23.5 km bike ride through the rich Daisen foothills, and finishes with a 4.5 km hike to the peak of the mountain. Hosted by outdoor-equipment company Mont-Bell, the race got started several years ago as a way to take advantage of Daisen’s unique beach-to-summit landscape. It’s now spread to several other parts of Japan and looks set to become an annual tradition in Daisen. The event is held in May, with registration from February 5 through March 10. Entry fees are 15,000 yen for individual participants and 9,000 yen if you’re part of a group. See www.seatosummit.jp for details.

2. ACTIVITIES

Outdoors Activities

Mountain Climbing and Hiking
The ancient beech forests, alpine meadows, and craggy peaks surrounding Daisen’s village center offer a wide range of hiking opportunities. From steep courses to the mountain’s 1,709-meter-high summit, to easy strolls through the woods or along centuries-old stone paths leading to temples and shrines, there’s something for every shade of nature-lover. At the bottom of the page we’ve listed just a few of the options.

English hiking maps are available at the Daisen Information Center
(Daisen Johou Kan, 0859-52-2502). The Center also organizes guided “Green Walks” through the verdant beech forests in summer and snow-shoeing expeditions – called “White Walks” - in winter. A volunteer guide will point out regional plants, animals tracks, and some of the area’s magnificent old trees. No experience necessary! Daisen Natural History Museum (0859-52-2327) leads guided nature walks as well.

Jakujouzan Course
Distance: 5km round-trip
Time: About 2hrs 30min
Difficulty level: Easy enough for anyone to hike, but a good workout.
Description: This trail begins at 1300-year-old Daisen Temple, follows ancient stone paths through the woods to O-Gamiyama Shrine, then loops back past the grounds where soldier-monks of old practiced martial arts before returning to town. Lined with stone monuments and statues, this course is ideal for those with an interest in history and religion.

Summer Mountain Climbing course
Distance: 3.4 km each way
Time: About 5 hours round-trip
Difficulty Level: The trail is steep, but easy enough for elementary-age kids to climb in summer. In winter, conditions are harsh and the trail is recommended only for experienced mountaineers.

Description: This steep trail passes through magnificent beech forests and groves of Japanese yew before reaching the Misen Summit, where hikers enjoy a 360-degree view of western Japan. To the north you’ll see the Japan Sea and nearby Oki Islands, and to the south the layered peaks of the Chugoku mountain range. An optional – and challenging – loop route on the way back takes you through the stunning Motodani valley.

Golf
There are a number of scenic golf courses and driving ranges in the Daisen foothills. Memberhip is not required. Facilities may be closed if the weather is poor; for details call the numbers listed below, or visit www.golf-in-japan.com

Kanda Golf Club (0859-54-2181)
Nihonmatsu Driving Range (0859-58-3058)
Daisen Heigen Golf Club (0859-68-4108)
Daisen Golf Club (0859-52-4101)
Daisen Nikko Country Club (0859-63-0330)
Asahi Golf Club Daisen Course (0859-56-6355)
Daisen Ark Country Club (0859-63-0374)
Green Park Daisen Country Club (0859-64-2111)

Snow Sports
With a panoramic view over the sea of Japan, six miles of groomed slopes, and an abundance of powdery snow, Daisen is Western Japan’s top ski destination. There’s something for everyone: black-diamond slopes for the daring, gentle hills for the less so, sledding spots for the kids, and snow-shoe rentals for those who prefer the back country. Ski season starts December 24 and runs through early March, or as long as the snow lasts.

Daisen White Resort (0859-52-2315) manages the slopes in the entire area, which are divided into four sections: Gouenzan, for beginners; Nakanohara and Uenohara, the most popular areas and the ones best suited to intermediate-level skiers and snowboarders, and Kokusai, the most challenging area. One ticket gets you access to all four.

Cycling
The steep, scenic slopes and cool temperatures around Daisen’s base provide a great training course for amateur and professional cyclers alike. Takumi Obara, a professional triathlete who represented Japan in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, calls the road from Nawa to Nakayama “the toughest course in Japan.” Are you up to the challenge? Bikes available for rent at Mori-no-Kuni Daisen Field Athletics.

Horse Riding
At Daisen Horse-Riding Center (0859-53-8211), you can head out to the mountain trails after a warm-up lesson in the practice ring. On rainy days, take a ride around the indoor arena. Accommodations are also available. Open 9-5, closed on Wednesdays except public holidays.

Kayaking
Tottori Prefecture Daisen Youth House (0859-53-8030) offers free kayaking lessons in Akamatsu Lake for university students and younger kids. Make a reservation at least one month in advance.

Photography
Bring along your camera and try snapping some shots of the photogenic mountain. Prime photo spots are marked by a camera icon on the map on page 12 of the “Traveling All Over Daisen” pamphlet, available at the information center.

Athletic Facilities

Located near the Gouenzan Ski Area 5 minutes by car from the town center,
Daisen Sports Park (0859-52-3113) includes a 300-meter all-weather track, multipurpose grounds, and a gym with volleyball and badminton courts and weight training room. No membership required and fees are very reasonable.

Nawa Sports Land (0859-54-2035), located near Nawa train station about 15 minutes from Daisen town center, features tennis courts, sports fields, an indoor track, and a rock-climbing wall. No membership necessary. Easily accessible from the Goenzan Ski Area.

Mori-no-Kuni Daisen Field Athletics (0859-53-8036) is a multi-purpose complex including u-pick fields, a miniature golf course, camp grounds, and extensive athletic facilities for kids and adults. Reservations required for some activities, so call ahead.

Farms

Cool, crisp mountain air and abundant spring water combine to make the Daisen highlands a center of fruit and dairy farming. For 500 yen, you can eat your fill of berries at Daisen Blueberry Noen (0859-53-8810). Take-home packs sell for 500 yen. Waisei Ringoen (0859-54-221) has apple trees pruned low so kids can enjoy picking too; eat all you want in the orchard for 500 yen (less for kids), or take some home for 400 yen per kilo.

Daisen Makiba Milk no Sato (0859-52-3698) is another fun destination for families. The ranch and dairy offers butter- and ice-cream-making workshops for 500 yen. You can try milking a cow too, or sample the dairy products and barbequed meat at the on-site restaurant. Open from 9-5, closed from mid-December to mid-March, and on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month (when that day falls on a public holiday, the ranch is open, and closed on the following day instead). About ten minutes by car from central Daisen.

Arts and Crafts

Mori-no-Kuni Daisen Field Athletics (0859-53-8036) offers workshops where kids can make keyholders using natural materials (700 yen), and cooking classes where kids make ice cream and crepes while learning about the chemistry behind the process (2,400 yen for four participants). Reservations required for the cooking class.

At Daisen Natural History Museum (0859-52-2327), you can learn to make woodcrafts - some programs for child.

Tours and special experiences

Volunteer Guides
The Daisen Volunteer Guide Association (Daisen Guide Volunteer no Kai) has many talented members with experience guiding visitors from all over Japan and beyond. Known for exceeding visitors’ expectations! Unfortunately, the volunteers do not offer tours in English, but they are happy to use body language and welcoming smiles to show around guests who don’t speak Japanese.

Sakae Yamane and Hirofumi Inoue are among the group’s most popular tour leaders, and have been recognized as skilled guides by the Chugoku District Transport Bureau. Sakae Yamane leads “history walks” that blend folk tales with scholarly research, while Hirofumi Inoue spikes her “health walks” with humor and a broad range of knowledge about the region.

3. LOCATION

Map

National Park
Mt. Daisen is part of the Daisen-Oki National Park. While you’ll see regular towns and roads throughout the area, the designation means development is regulated and some wild plants and animals are protected. More information about Japan’s national parks can be found at http://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/index.html.

Climate and Natural History
Located just a few kilometers inland from the Japan Sea coast, Mt. Daisen rises dramatically from the lowlands, encompassing a wide range of coastal and mountain ecosystems. The pristine forests and fields offer a perfect place to escape urban Japan.

■Four seasons on the mountain
Ski season opens on the 24th of December, and from then through late
February the town is buried in up to two meters of snow. It’s a winter
wonder-land great for downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just sipping hot tea in a cozy inn. Although the snowpack usually begins to melt by March, spring doesn’t start in earnest till the Golden Week holidays in early May. As the new leaves turn the beech forests a dappled green, hikers arrive to make the most of the cool, pleasant weather.

The beginning of summer is traditionally marked on the first weekend of
June with a Shinto ceremony called Natsu Yama Biraki, in which participants climb to the summit of Daisen and perform a purification ceremony. Through September the town, at an elevation of about 750 meters, offers a respite from the heat and humidity down below (no air conditioners needed), and with the ski rush over, the mountain becomes peaceful and quiet. In fall the deciduous forests turn brilliant shades of red, yellow, and orange, and villagers head out to collect mushrooms and other wild mountain vegetables to serve at the local inns. Leaf season peaks between October 20 and November 5. Soon after, the hush of winter begins to fall over the mountain as the yearly cycle comes to a close once again.

■Local plants and animals

■Spring water
Daisen is famous for the pure groundwater that bubbles up in springs at the foot of the mountain – so famous, in fact, that both Coca Cola and Suntory have spring-water bottling plants in the area. But if you bring your own bottle, you can skip the store and join the locals in getting your water straight from the source instead. Ask at the Daisen Information Center for exact location details.

Nearby Attractions
Shoji Ueda Photo Museum (0859-39-8000)
This museum displays works by well-known modernist photographer and long-time Yonago resident Shoji Ueda (1913-2001). The camera obscura in the exhibition room uses the world’s largest lens to reflect an upside-down image of Mt. Daisen on the wall. Open from 9-5 (last entry at 4:30). Closed Tuesdays and between exhibitions; call to check the schedule. Admission is 800 yen for adults, 500 yen for high school students, 300 yen for junior high and elementary students, and free for kids under 6. About 20 minutes by car from Daisen Temple.

Adachi Art Museum (0854-28-7111)
This museum features a large collection of paintings by Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958) and other modern Japanese artists. The museum’s exquisitely-manicured gardens stretch over 4.3 hectares and include moss and pond gardens. Ranked number one on the Journal of Japanese Garden’s list of the country’s best gardens eight years in a row. The journal’s website calls it “quite possibly the world’s top garden,” with “an intensive grooming program that involves every single member of the museum’s staff on a daily basis.” Open every day from 9-5:30 (9-5 from October to March). Admission is 2,200 for adults, 1,700 yen for university students, 900 yen for high school students, and 400 junior high and elementary students (free for those below university age on Saturdays).

Mizuki Shigeru Road
Japan’s beloved manga artist Mizuki Shigeru (1922- ) spent much of his life in the town of Sakaiminato, near the Yonago Airport, where he created the wildly-imaginative GeGeGe no Kitaro series. Today bronze statues of the Rat Man, Sand-Throwing Hag, walking Plaster Wall, and other famous characters line the streets of Sakaiminato. There’s also a Mizuki Shigeru memorial museum and an abundance of gift-shops selling every imaginable variation on the GeGeGe theme. Call the Sakaiminato City Tourism Office (0859-47-0121) for details.

Tottori Hana Kairo (Flower Galleria) (0859-48-3030)
10,000 square meters of poppies, salvia, lilies, and more. There are numerous theme-gardens (smelling, mist, and floating, to name a few) along with a “Flower Train,” restaurant, ice cream shop, and more. Open year-round from 9-4:30; closed on Tuesdays from December to March. Admission is 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for kids under 15, with reduced fees in winter. About thirty minutes from Daisen Temple by car.

Hot springs and spas
Nakayama Hot Spring/Yu Yu Club Naspal (0858-49-3330)
The alkaline waters at this spa are said to soothe neuralgia and leave skin silky smooth. Located about 25 minutes by car from Daisen town center. Open from 10am to 9pm, closed the second and fourth Monday of each month (when that day falls on a public holiday, the hot spring is open, and closed on the following day instead). Adults/420 yen, children 12 and under/210 yen, children under three/free.

Kaike Hot Spring Village
About 35 Japanese-style inns, each with its own hot spring bath, line the streets of this seaside village located 30 minutes by car from Daisen. The salt-water hot springs are particularly famous. Sample them for free at the public foot bath in town! For details, call the Kaike Hot Spring Japanese Inn Association (0859-34-2888).

4. ACCESS

Daisen is located about one hour by car or bus from the city of Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, on the central west coast of Japan’s main island. Yonago is easily accessible by trains, express highway bus, or airplane. To head to the mountains from there, you can catch a bus or rent a car.

Air

All Nippon Airways (ANA) offers flights from Tokyo and Nagoya to
Yonago; travel time is about 1 hour and 15 minutes. For
more information, call 0570-029-709 from within Japan, or 1-800-2FLY-ANA from the United States or Canada.

Japan Airlines (JAL) has daily flights from Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, and Fukuoka to the city of Izumo, just west of Yonago. Call 0570-025-071 for information and reservations.

Train

Japan Rail (JR) offers a number of options for reaching Yonago. The bullet
train (Nozomi) from Tokyo to Yonago takes 5 hours 20 minutes, with a
transfer in Okayama; from Osaka to Yonago takes about 3 hours. An overnight express train, with sleeping berths, will get you from Tokyo to Yonago in about 11 hours. Exact route information from these cities as well as others is most easily found at www.hyperdia.com

Busses

Highway bus
Affordable Express busses run daily between Yonago and many major cities. The overnight bus from Tokyo takes approximately 10 hours 30 minutes. For information, call the Nihon Kotsu bus company at 0859-33-9116.

Local Bus
Buses run between Yonago train station and Daisen Temple five times a day, as well as between Yonago airport and train station. Call Nihon Kotsu bus company (0859-33-9116) or Hinomaru Bus Company (0859-32-2121) for more information.

Loop Bus
On weekends, holidays, and peak touring seasons, a loop bus runs
from Yonago train station to Daisen’s main tourism spots. Be sure to call Nihon Kotsu bus company (0859-33-9116) to check the schedule, as the bus does not run year-round.

Taxis

A taxi from Yonago train station to Daisen Temple costs about 5,000 yen and takes 30 minutes. The following taxi companies serve the Yonago and Daisen areas:
Kaike Taxi (0859334331)
Yonago Daiichi Kotsu (0859-22-2175)
Tsubame Taxi Company (0859-22-5103)
Wakatori Kotsu (0859-44-0345)
Aozora Kotsu (0859-22-3939)
Daisen Taxi (0859-27-0918)
Parking lots near Daisen town center can accommodate 800 cars in summer and 500 in winter. Free in summer only.

Limousine service/ hotel shuttle bus

Most hotels and inns in the Daisen Temple area will send a shuttle bus to pick up guests from nearby locations. Contact the hotel ahead of time for details. For groups, shuttle service from Yonago station is also available.

Rent-a-car/parking lots

The following rent-a-car companies operate in Yonago. Most have branches at both the airport and train station:
Orix (0859-37-2686)
Japaren (0859-37-6111)
Toyota (0859-45-0115)
Nippon Rent-A-Car (0859-32-0919)
Nissan (0859-34-4123)
PLEASE SEND ME TEXT RE: PARKING LOTS

Rent-a-cycle

Daisen Field Athletics (0859-53-8036) rents out mountain, road, and electric assist bicycles. 1000 yen for an hour or less, 1500 yen for 3 hours, and 2000 yen for the whole days. Reservations recommended but not required - the number of bikes available is limited.

5. ACCOMODATION

With about thirty hotels, traditional inns, and ski lodges surrounding Daisen Temple and about a dozen more 7 kilometers away in the resort village of Daisen Akema-no-Mori, visitors will find a full range of options for their stay. Most inns offer guests a full breakfast and dinner, and many feature local produce, wild vegetables, and regional specialties. Signing up for meals along with your room is a good idea since there are few restaurants or grocery stores in the immediate area. Backpackers or those on a limited budget might want to stock up on picnic supplies in the nearby city of Yonago. Hotel reservations may be made through the Daisen Tourism Association (0859-52-2502), or by stopping in at the Daisen Information Center.

Hotels and Ryokan

Ski Lodges and Hotels
Hotel Daisen & Shirogane Annex
Hotel Daisen boasts the largest, best-maintained bath in the Daisen Temple area. It’s open 24 hours so guests can take a relaxing soak any time. With 56 rooms, it also has the largest capacity in the area. Some rooms have their own attached toilet and bath, and if you prefer not to use shared facilities, this is the best choice in Daisen. The bar in the lobby is a favorite hang-out spot for guests and non-guests alike.
http://www.hotel-daisen.jp

Minshuku (guesthouses)

Daisen has plenty of simple, reasonably-priced lodges known as minshuku. Minshuku usually feature traditional Japanese-style rooms with tatami mats, sliding paper doors, and futons. Home-style (but copious) meals are served in a common dining room, and you should expect to share a bathroom with other guests. Staying at a minshuku is a bit like staying at the home of your great-aunt twice removed: nothing fancy, but there’s nostalgia and hospitality to spare! The standard charge per person is 9,450 yen, including two meals.

Daisen Utopia
This inn right across the street from the ski slopes is run by a creative cook and her husband, an avid fisherman and edible-mushroom gatherer. Instead of standard hotel fare, the proprietress cooks up whatever suits her fancy using local in-season vegetables, wild mushrooms, and fresh fish from nearby mountain streams. She’s happy to take requests as well and will match the menu to your budget. Dogs and other pets are welcome at the hotel, too (the owners have two dogs themselves).
http://www.chukai.ne.jp/~utopia/

Sugata Ryokan Bekka
Well-known for traditional dishes like okowa (sticky rice with seasonings and vegetables) and handmade soba, as well as a local take on health-food called “Hyakusaishoku,” or “100-year cuisine,” featuring vegetable and fish dishes.
http://www.goodtown.org/sugataryokan/

Misen-so
This inn serves meals using vegetables grown in their own garden. The cozy kotatsu (low blanket-covered tables with a heating lamp underneath) in each room are popular with winter guests.

Yoshino Ryokan
From the corner room of this small in, you’ll enjoy views of both the Japan Sea and Daisen’s stunning peak.

Sekka-so
Guests rave about the delicious rice served here, which is dried beneath the sun on traditional frames in the fields.
http://www.rapis.jp/~ sekkasou/

Midori-so
Come here for lamb hotpots served in a dining room overlooking the Japan Sea.

Chiroru and Shirakaba
A popular choice with competitive skiers in the winter. The proprietress speaks some English. Some rooms with a private bathroom are available.
http://www.tirol-shirakaba.net/

Miyamoto Ryokan
The young owners sometimes make hand-cut soba for guests.

Daisen White Palace
Daisen’s largest hotel. The lobby is decorated with old books featuring Mt. Daisen and eclectic nic-nacs collected by the travel-loving owner, including passenger seats from a vintage airplane.
http://www.chukai.ne.jp/~dwpalace/

Yamabiko-so and Kazan
This inn with its own soccer field out back is popular with sports-loving travelers.
http://homepage2.nifty.com/yamabiko- apple/

Kawadokoya
The chefs at this inn are known for their lamb dishes (reservations required if you’d like to try some). http://www.chukai.ne.jp/~daisen-kawadoko/

Lodge Sano
Japan’s high-school track teams often book this lodge for combination holiday-and-training-sessions. Nearby mountain trails make for a challenging workout!
http://www6.ocn.ne.jp/~l-sano/

Daisen View Heights
An affordable hotel operated by the local government, Daisen View is located right across from the ski slopes and features a large shared bath. The manager likes to collect wild mushrooms, so if you visit in fall you’re likely to find some unusual varieties in your dinner.
http://www.daisen-vh.com

Daisen-kan
Located very close to the trailhead for climbing to Daisen’s summit, this inn is famous for the fermented dried squid handmade by the elderly proprietress. Available in jars to take home as a gift – but be forewarned, this may be an acquired taste!

Ichiban-kan and Komorebi-kan
Ichiban-kan is open only in winter. Komorebi-kan is open year-round with a restaurant open in summer only, and an electric-vehicle charging station in the works.

Kotobuki-so
Popular for its casual boarding-house lunches of ramen and fried rice.

Iwata-ya
Located midway up the road to Daisen Temple, this inn has five small rooms above a gift shop on the first floor. The cozy little dining room is decorated with traditional kasuri-style wall hangings made by the owner.

Temple Lodging
Sanraku-so, located just outside the gates of Daisen Temple, offers lodging, meals, and a taste of the old temple town as it once was. Rooms are simple Japanese-style, with tatami mats, a shared bath, and futons, while meals include exquisitely presented, multi-course vegetarian temple fare (with a few new twists, like the meatless “sohei,” or “monk-warrior,” burger). Guests can join monks in prayer services. Popular with foreign travelers.

Daisen Akema-no-Mori Resort Village
With a dozen western-style inns offering comfortable rooms and homemade meals, the tranquil vacation village of Akema-no-Mori is a great spot to spend a mountain weekend. Especially nice in summer, when the streets are lined with flowers and herbs and the weather mild. For an example of what you’ll find, visit the Pension Liberty Club home page at http://www2.to/libertyclub.

Campgrounds

Gouenzan Camp Ground and Shimoyama Camp Ground are simple facilities run by the National Park Service (0859-52-2165). Popular with mountain climbers. Entry fee is 400 yen for high school students and up, 300 yen for elementary and junior high kids, and 300 yen per tent space. Shimoyama also has tents for 5,000 yen. Open mid-June through August, with a free parking lot.

Mori-no-Kuni Daisen Field Athletics (0859-53-8036) is a less rustic option, complete with mini-golf, and extensive athletic facilities. Open Mid-March through late November. Entry fee 700-800 yen, plus a per-person site use fee of 700-1300 yen. Tents, BBQ sets, blankets, and everything else you might need available for rent.

Furosato Nichinanmura (0859-83-1188) has fifty campsites (1,500 yen per tent) along with log cabins (15,000 yen), baths, a Laundromat, dining hall, tennis courts, and craft and educational facilities. Open April-December. Pictures at http://web.sanin.jp/p/nichinanmura/facility/ (Japanese-only home page).

Restaurants

Soba (buckwheat noodles)
Noodles made with unrefined locally-grown buckwheat are popular in the area. They are known for their robust flavor and dark color.
Nakanohara Ginrei serves a nice selection of different dipping sauces with their handmade soba, and the chef even lets guests try rolling and cutting your own! If you’re used to the salty/savory soba dipping sauce from eastern Japan, you might find Daisen dipping sauce a bit sweet. In general, cooks in western Japan tends to add a dash more sugar than their counterparts in the east.

Okowa
Okawa is a traditional dish of sticky rice steamed with flavorings, wild vegetables, and other chopped vegetables and meats. Legend has it that the dish was originally served to people attending the local cow and horse market. Okowa is on the menu at many of Daisen’s inns and restaurants.

Cafes
The cozy Inakaya Café opened in a remodeled temple-inn in 2010 – but wooden beams shiny with age and old Buddhist statuary from the temple make the café and adjoining shop feel like they’ve been there much longer. The café offers freshly-roasted coffee, homemade cake, and macha green tea; the shop has an eclectic collection of clothes made from recycled kimonos, antique household goods, pretty old dishes, and artwork.

Other
Souvenir shops
Post office
Etc

6. MUSEUMS AND OTHER FACILITIES

Daisen Information Center (Daisen Jouhou Kan, 0859-52-2502)

This handsome post-and-beam information center, built with local red pine and volcanic andesite rock from Mt. Daisen, opened in the village center in 2003.

The first floor has a bus waiting room, changing room, public bathroom, and office where you can get information about the local environment and outdoor activities. Upstairs on the second floor you’ll find the tourist information center, a branch office of the environment ministry, a balcony with great views over the Japan Sea and Oki Islands, and a public rest area stocked with books, displays, and magazines featuring the Daisen area. The staff at the tourism center speak English and can help you make hotel reservations, find information about events and activities, or recommend a good restaurant.

The information center was built with environmental protection in mind. There are solar panels on the roof, a rainwater collection system used to supply the bathrooms, and double-pane windows and excellent insulation throughout to reduce heating and cooling demand. The entire building is also barrier-free and accessible to all visitors.

Daisen Nature and History Museum (Daisen Shizen Rekishi Kan)

Located just across the street from the information center, this free museum run by Tottori Prefecture features two floors of displays on Daisen’s history, culture, and natural environment (text is in Japanese only). Browse the exhibits of regional plants and animals to indentify what you noticed on the hiking trail, or check out the “Birth of Daisen” corner for a glimpse of geological history. Museum staff also lead free nature walks (no reservation needed), craft workshops for kids, and reservation-only outings to search for insects in summer and explore by snowshoe in winter.

Museum of Daisen Temple Treasures

Open from April through November, this storehouse of treasures from Daisen Temple gives visitors insight into the temple’s long history as well as a chance to view Buddhist artwork dating to the late 7th century, when lavish support from the imperial court led to a blossoming of religious scholarship, architecture, and art.

The Kadowaki Family Home

(0859-54-5212) is a traditional thatched-roof farmhouse open to the public for just one week each spring, summer, and fall. Displays of household goods and writings give a glimpse of life at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). Designated as a national important cultural asset. Admission is 500 yen for adults, 300 yen for high school students, and 200 yen for junior high and elementary school students.

Public Footbath

A footbath fed by a natural hot spring is scheduled to be built alongside the road leading to Daisen Temple in 2011.

7. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

Carry Up, Carry Down Program

Many national parks encourage visitors to “take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints.” Environmentalists around Daisen have come up with something a bit different: “Take a stone or a seedling, and bring down some sludge!”

Conservation has quite a long history on Daisen. Starting in the mid-1960’s, the mountain became a popular hiking destination. Visitors began to leave trash along the trails, and the mountain suffered severe erosion both from hikers and from wind and rain. In response, people who were worried about the situation started up the Society to Preserve Mt Daisen’s Summit. They encouraged hikers to bring along a seedling and a rock each time they climbed the mountain to help reverse the erosion problem, calling the project the “One tree, one rock campaign.”

Recently, volunteers have also started to help haul down sludge from the toilets at the summit rest area. If you’re interested in helping out with either project, contact the Daisen Nature and History Museum (0859-52-2327).

8. OTHER

Links
Sample Itineraries
Special Reports
Visitor Comments
Trivia
Archeology
Site Policy/Contact/Site Map

Daisen Sample Itineraries

1. Summer Outdoors Adventure (car recommended)

Morning

Arrive at Akamatsu Lake, a fifteen-minute drive from Daisen-ji Temple, for a kayaking lesson. The boathouse is operated by Daisen Seinen no Ie (0859-53-8030), a publically-run hostel, and the deals are unbelievable. 400 yen per person will get you unlimited time on the lake with a kayaking instructor; for 800 yen, you can camp or stay in the simple lodge three kilometers away AND enjoy unlimited kayaking. Students (through university) are free. The catch is that the deal is only available to groups of five or more and reservations are a must. But at these prices, the chance to enjoy an idyllic morning on the lake is well worth the trouble of recruiting a few friends or family members to join you. The lake is small and great for kids or those with no kayaking experience; boats for one, two, and three people are available. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to hear the tale of the snake-woman who lives in the lake, and make a wish at the little shrine on the far shore. Watch out for carp and tadpoles!

Mid-day

Pack a picnic to enjoy next to the lake, or head up to the Daisen town center for lunch. Only a few restaurants are open mid-day. If you like soba (buckwheat noodles), try the hand-made noodles at Tosa-ya or Misen-so, both near the post office. Another popular soba spot is Asagiri Sanso, which you’ll find by following the street that runs in front of the Daisen Information Center about five minutes east towards the ski slopes. For desert, pick up an ice-cream bar at the Iwata-ya souvenir shop, just beyond the post office. You might also want to stop in at the Daisen Information Center for an English-language map of town and some trail advice (go to the info desk on the second floor of the large post-and-beam building).

Afternoon

Hiking time! Head across Daisen-ji Bashi Bridge, then follow the road as it curves around to Kongo-in Temple. The Summer Mountain Climbing Course starts to the left, with a steep road that passes a number of temple ruins before leading up through beautiful old beech and Japanese yew forests to Mt. Daisen’s summit. Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for woodpeckers, foxes, and other mountain critters. The round-trip course takes between four and five hours so make sure you get an early enough start. An easier option is the 2-hour-round-trip trail to the summit of Mt. Gouenzan, which starts on the other side of town and offers a great view of the Japan Sea as well as Mt. Daisen’s impressive north wall. If you’d prefer to have a local volunteer guide accompany you on your hike, call the Information Center (0859-52-2502) ahead of time to make arrangements. Tours in English are not available but the guides say they’re happy to show non-Japanese-speaking guests around. And if you do understand Japanese, a guided tour – either through the Information Center or the Natural History Museum across the street (0859-52-2327) - is a fantastic way to learn about local plants, animals, history, and folklore.

6:00 pm

Set up camp at Seinen no Ie (slightly removed from town) or the Shimoyama or Gouenzan Camp Grounds (0859-52-2165, both open July and August only). Evening restaurant options in town are limited, so if you’re not staying at a lodge that provides meals, you’ll want to make sure you bring outdoor cooking supplies.

2. Exploring Daisen’s History

Morning

Arrive at the Daisen Information Center and pick up an English-language map of town. Then head to the main street leading towards Daisen-ji temple. On the right side of the street, just before you reach the long temple staircase, you’ll see a boxy modern building. This is the Reihokan, a small museum displaying treasures from some of Daisen-ji’s many bygone sub-temples. Stop in for a look at the old scrolls and paintings, glowing golden religious statuary dating back to the eighth century, and Edo-period maps of Daisen. Then continue up to the main temple itself. As you climb the stone staircase and pass through the wooden gate, you’ll see many time-worn stone statues of Ojizo-sama, who is the center of worship at this temple. Ojizo-sama is said to be the special guardian of children and travelers, and often is dressed in a bright red bib and cap.

Halfway up the staircase, you’ll reach a landing with two small temples and a shop. To the left is a shrine for the bodhisattva Kannon (sometimes called the goddess of mercy in English); outside stand two stone statues of Kannon’s familiar spirit, a white fox that is nearly identical to the Shinto fox-messenger O-Inari-san – an interesting coincidence in light of Daisen’s long history of overlap between Buddhism and Shinto. To the right of the clearing is a rustic wooden structure housing a statue of the powerful, stern-faced Fudo Myo, patron deity of mountain ascetics and symbol of self-control (his name means “unmoving”). Continuing up the stairs, you’ll come to the main hall of worship, where a statue of Ojizo-sama is enshrined (it’s not available for viewing). There’s also a large bronze bell in the right-hand corner of the clearing, which you can strike with a wooden bar while making a wish.

Towards the back of Daisen-ji you’ll find a trail through the woods to Ogamiyama Shrine Oku-no-Miya (the structure actually used to house Daisen-ji – it was turned into a shrine in the late 19th century). Partway up the long stone-paved path, a smaller trail to the right leads towards Kinmon. Make sure you take it! A few dozen meters through the trees brings you to a clearing overlooking the rocky river bank, from which you can gaze straight up at the rocky north wall of Mt. Daisen. Looking downriver you’ll see Kinmon, a narrow gap formed by two rocky cliffs on either side of the river. It’s a lovely place to have a snack and wade in the cool water. Back on the main road, another ten minutes or so will bring you to the main shrine. For 300 yen you can enter the lavish main hall, notable for its elaborately painted ceiling and lacquered sandalwood posts that glow a beautiful red-gold color. You can also see the richly-decorated portable shrine used in Oku-no-Miya’s yearly festival.

A trail behind the shrine branches off into two mountain hiking courses, one leading through the Motodani Valley to the summit of Daisen, the other “Utopia Course” leading to an alpine meadow famous for its lovely displays of wildflowers. But if you want to stick to history, turn around at Oku-no-Miya and either head back on the same trail you came up on, or take a small loop trail through the woods starting to the left of the shrine and ending partway down to Daisen-ji.

Noon

At the base of the Daisen-ji staircase is the Tengu Chaya teahouse, a perfect spot for a light lunch of soba or a cup of tea. Try the “imo dango,” a fried potato cake that is a specialty of Hokkaido rather than Tottori - but tasty nevertheless.

Afternoon

After lunch, head to the far side of the river to explore a few of Daisen-ji’s remaining sub-temples and the ruins of many more. Cross the Daisen-ji Bashi Bridge, then follow the road a hundred meters or so around the curve of the mountain. Turn to your left up a steep road leading past the sites of dozens of sub-temples, marked by gaps in the stone wall lining the road. At the end of the paved road turn right and you’ll come to the 500-year-old Amida-do Hall, a small wooden building housing a renowned sculpture of the Amida buddha carved by Ryoen in 1131. The statue may be viewed on the 16th of each month, or for a fee by appointment (call 0859-52-2158). But even if you don’t get a glimpse of Amida, you can still explore the eerie, overgrown monk’s cemetery to the right of the hall. Then head downhill on the path directly in front of the Amida-do.

On the left you’ll find the newly re-built Enryu-in Temple. Manga fans will definitely want to make a stop here – the ceiling of the main hall is adorned with dozens of crazily imaginative spirits painted by Shigery Mizuki, author of the popular comic series GeGeGe no Kitaro. On the second floor of the handsome wooden building is a lovely little library where you can flip through books of religious artwork and photographs. Then head back across Daisen-ji Bashi Bridge, and if you’ve still got energy pop into the Daisen Nature and History Museum – although be forewarned that nearly all the explanations are written in Japanese only. Alternately, check out the affordable antiques, locally-made crafts, and clothes made from recycled kimonos on sale at Inakaya (ask for directions at the Information Center – it’s on a slightly hard-to-find side street).

Evening

Return to the base of the Daisen-ji staircase and check into Sanraku-so, the only remaining temple-lodge in town (reservations required, 0859-52-2006). The temple, called Kansho-in, was established at least 350 years ago, although the lodge is a more recent addition. Cozy retro-Japanese-style rooms feature stunning views of Daisen’s north wall. Have a soak in the shared bath, slip into the cotton yukata robe provided by the lodge, and get ready for a terrific vegetarian dinner prepared by Mr. and Mrs. Shimizu, the monk and his wife who run the lodge. The elaborate meals feature dishes made almost exclusively with wild mountain vegetables (Daisen is too cold and high for much gardening – but the forests are a treasure trove of food). In spring you might get to try tempura-fried irises, fiddlehead ferns in sesame sauce, a steaming tofu hotpot, or spicy blanched wasabi leaves; in the fall, look forward to dishes featuring wild mushrooms and chestnuts. Then curl up in your futon for a good night’s sleep – Daisen stays pleasantly cool even on summer nights.

Journey to the Past: Religion and politics on a sacred
mountain Winifred Bird

■As a child, I loved to imagine I had slipped into an older era, and that if I were to open my front door I would find ladies in Victorian dresses riding carriages down the street. Although it’s been years since I’ve played that game, there are still moments when the veil between the past and present seems to lift around me. The day I came to the little mountain village of Daisen was a day like that. Spring was everywhere. The river rushed with snowmelt, the forests gleamed green, and the woodpeckers and wrens were bursting with excitement over the end of the long winter. Aside from a handful of mid-week hikers, however, the stone streets were empty. 1300 years of history seemed to echo between the buildings.
■Earlier in the morning a friend had picked me up in the nearby city of Yonago and driven me up the mountain to Sanrakuso, the temple-lodge where I planned to stay the night. Now, bags in hand, I climbed the staircase to the cool, dark entryway of the inn. A woman in an apron kneeled down to greet me with a shy smile, and a moment later a man in a purple wrap-around jacket and loose black pants emerged as well. He introduced himself as Mr. Shimizu, one of five monks remaining in town, and the woman as his wife. After chatting for a few minutes, the couple went back to their chores, and I perched on the entryway step sipping a cup of coffee and gazing at the tangle of green outside. This was no Koyasan, I thought. Several years earlier I had spent a night at a similar shukubo, or temple-lodge, in that ancient seat of Buddhism south of Osaka. A popular tourist destination, Koyasan boasts over 100 still-thriving temples, many of which welcome guests and serve the elaborate vegetarian cuisine known as shojin ryori. Once, Daisen had rivaled Koyasan as a center of religious study, power, and wealth. But now just two halls of worship and eight temples remained standing. Only one of them took guests, and I was the single guest at that lone temple. The floors were covered in orange linoleum, the metal sheeting on the roof was flaking off, and in the cozy little room where Mrs. Shimizu deposited my bags, the brown armchairs were upholstered in pleather. No, this was no Koyasan.
■I said a temporary goodbye to the Shimizus and climbed down the long stone staircase to the street. Across the way stood a blocky concrete building labeled “Reihokaku,” or religious treasure storehouse. I decided to have a look around. Inside, glass cases displayed a handful of treasures salvaged from bygone temples: a black lacquer box painted with swirling golden waves, a row of gilt-bronze Kannon Bosatsus from the Song dynasty, a golden statue of the Buddha seated peacefully on a lotus-flower pedestal. Near the door, I spotted an Edo-period map of Daisen. There near the summit was the main temple, and spread out below it, where ski lodges and homes now stood, were dozens of sub-temples and monasteries. Shimizu’s words came back to me: five monks. What had happened? What wrenching decline had transformed the Daisen I saw in the map – and the one I could envision from the riches in the glass cases - into the one I had arrived at this morning?
■In the broadest of terms, I already knew the answer to that question. Since the dawn of Japan’s recorded history and likely even longer, local people had worshipped Daisen as a sacred mountain. Then in the eighth century, soon after Buddhism arrived in Japan from the Asian mainland, followers of the new religion began entering the rugged, uninhabited peaks to search for enlightenment. At first they lived in simple huts and spent time meditating deep in the forest. But by about the 11th century, back-woods asceticism had been replaced by a more formalized version of Buddhism. Through the 1800s, Daisen was a flourishing religious center where – as in many parts of Japan - Buddhist and Shinto practice blended together. Generations of pilgrims traveled to the monastery town to worship at the temples and pray to the mountain, itself considered an embodiment of the gods. But towards the end of the 1800s the Meiji government declared Shinto the nation’s official religion and launched a campaign to separate it from Buddhism. Power shifted to Daisen’s Shinto shrine, Ogamiyama Oku-no-Miya, and its temples fell into decline. That was the rough outline of Daisen’s story. But gazing at that old map in the Reihokaku, I couldn’t help but wonder – what twists and turns of human experience did those broad strokes of history conceal?
***********
■I stepped out of the cool, dim Reihokaku and into the sunlight. Just to the west, the street ended and a long stone staircase lined in cedar trees began, leading to Daisen-ji, the main temple. I climbed upwards. Birds called back and forth, their song broken occasionally by the deep echoing of the temple’s bronze bell being struck by a visitor making a wish. Beyond the treetops, the rocky north wall of the mountain rose impassive against the bright blue sky. Breathing in the cool cedar-scented air, I thought that perhaps I understood why so many shamans, ascetics, monks and priests had sought out this place over the centuries. Here, far above the ocean and farmland, the rocks and clouds and trees seemed as finely-chiseled and worthy of reverence as any deities enshrined in a temple.
■At the top of the stairs, the forest opened onto a large sandy clearing where the Daisen-ji stood. Yellow flowers sprouted from the cracks between the foundation stones, a rusted wheelbarrow leaning against them. On the far side of the clearing, a single monk with salt-and-pepper stubble and darting eyes stood in a smaller building, holding a cell-phone and talking animatedly. As soon as he put down the phone, I knocked on the window.
■“Can you tell me the story of this temple?” I asked. Later, I asked Mr. Shimizu the same question. This is what they told me.
********
■Once, there were over 100 sub-temples and monasteries in this town, and perhaps 500 monks. They belonged to three groups; each group worshipped at a separate hall, joining together for festivals and services at Daisen-ji, the main temple highest on the mountain. In those days, Shintoism and Buddhism were one. Both monks and Shinto priests performed services at Daisenji. It was an entirely religious community. The only exceptions were the three town tofu-makers, who provided an important part of the monks’ vegetarian diet.
The temple held formidable political power. Like a castle and its lords, Daisenji and its monks controlled a wide skirt of farmland at the base of the mountain; the villagers who lived there paid taxes to the temple in the form of rice and vegetables. In exchange, Daisen-ji raised an army of 3,000 warriors to protect its territory and the people who lived within it. The members of this army were called sohei, or monk warriors, although many were in fact farmers who lived within the temple territory. Every so often, the sohei would be forced to defend their territory; sometimes they launched offensive attacks as well. In one instance about 1,000 years ago Daisen-ji became caught in a power struggle with Sanbutsuji, a nearby temple. One year the Daisen sohei burned Sanbtsuji to the ground; the next year, the monks of Sanbutsuji burned the temples of Daisen. Even the local lords had no power within the temple territory.
■Life was no doubt harsh for those monks in their snowy enclave. Apprentices would arrive at Daisen as little more than children, and would be charged with intense religious study along with cleaning and other temple chores. Marriage was not allowed, and – at least officially – neither was drinking, game-playing, or other forms of light entertainment. But with age and experience a monk could rise in prestige and live an easier life. There are signs too, that at some monasteries customs were less than ascetic. Archaeological excavations at the sites of sub-temples have unearthed go boards, large numbers of sake cups, and cups for serving the thick, frothy green tea of the tea ceremony.
■By the Edo period the number of temples on the mountain had fallen to 42, but well into the 19th century Daisen-ji continued to hold formidable riches and power. Then in 1875 it all came to an end. The Meiji government, having declared Shintoism the state religion, handed down an order abolishing Daisen-ji. Some say the local rulers had been waiting for this moment to squelch the powerful religious enclave in their midst. The structure that had housed Daisen-ji could remain – but it was to become a shrine. So was born Oku-no-Miya, a branch of the nearby Ogamiyama Shrine. Sub-temples were shut down, temple territory seized by the government, and monks scattered. Over the years many of the monasteries and temples fell into disrepair, burned, or were torn down, and much of the religious artwork was lost. Just 12 structures remained in use: two halls of worship that were officially transformed into storage sheds, and ten temples that became guesthouses to serve the pilgrims who still traveled to the sacred mountain.
■In 1904 Daisen-ji was re-established in a different building lower down the hill (the original Daisen-ji stayed a shrine), but with its wealth and land-base gone the Buddhist establishment never regained its former power. Now there are just us five monks left, and we don’t know if our children will carry on our work . . .
***********
■From the far back corner of the temple grounds, I followed a trail that fed into a wide stone-paved road running up the mountain towards Oku-no-Miya. By now clouds had crept down over the face of Daisen and thunder rolled in the distance, though only a few drops of rain fell between the thick branches overhead. I passed through a series of temple gates, past a pair of leering stone dogs, up a broad stone staircase, and found myself facing the temple-turned-shrine that the monk had just told me about. The rambling wooden building stood regally before a stand of deep green cedars, a breeze gently lifting and twisting the white paper chains hanging over its doorway. Inside, a young priest sat cross-legged in a small office near the entryway. After having a quick look at the brilliantly-painted main hall, I approached the priest.
■“Excuse me,” I said, leaning over the wooden display shelf outside the office. “I’ve been told that long ago Shinto and Buddhism were one and the same here on Daisen. But I’m afraid I don’t understand - what does it mean to say they were one?”
■The priest looked up from his pile of charms. “Long ago only the Shinto gods were worshiped on this mountain,” he said. “It was in the Nara era that Buddhism arrived here. When the monks came, they claimed that Shinto gods were the same as the Buddha, that they were the Buddha in an alternate form,” the priest said.
■To explain this, the priest used the word “shimatta,” a grammatical form used to express an undesirable event. For the priest, the centuries-long entwining of Shinto and Buddhism was not a harmonious coexistence but a usurpation and a falsehood. The Buddhists had incorporated worship of the older Shinto gods simply to gain the support of local people who had long prayed to the sacred mountain and would not give up those beliefs easily. “In the Meiji period, a purer form of worship was restored,” he said.
■“But I’ve heard that at one point Buddhism was quite powerful here,” I pushed on.
■“The temples arose here only because of the older Shinto worship. The shrines were always central,” he replied. It was clear the conversation had come to an end.
■Walking slowly down the mountain towards the village, I puzzled over the opposing views of history I had just been showed. I was not surprised that such a split existed between the shrine and temple, for religious groups all over the world fight over their interpretations of the past. Yet I was caught off guard by the depth of the feelings that lay beneath the surface of such a seemingly-tranquil community. Over a century had passed since Daisen-ji was abolished and then re-established, but the wounds of that era seemed unhealed. The temple and shrine were like severed Siamese twins, sitting high and lonely on their sacred mountain.
■The rest of the evening and the following day I spent more in the present than the past. I walked through the forest with a guide who explained the wildflowers and edible herbs carpeting its floor, ate a feast of vegetarian temple cookery at the lodge, and glided on a kayak around a sun-warmed lake. But all that time and for days afterwards the strange history of Daisen lingered in my mind. The rise and fall of the temples and shrines seemed a perfect parable of how religion and politics creep over one another, religion using politics for its own gain and then finding itself used in turn. Yet underlying that pragmatist history there was something more - something in the jagged play of light on the summit, the peaceful sway of trees along the riverbanks, and the swish of a bird’s wings slicing the otherwise silent air. All this, too, was central to the lives of the religious men who had spent their lives on Daisen. Call it, if you will, the spirit of the mountain.
〒689-3318 鳥取県西伯郡大山町大山40-33
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