Up Uryu-zan, by the hillside with the zigzagging steps, residences here and there along the way half overgrown with bamboo and brush, to the top where the small nursery school is, then continuing on up the ridge from the roof of that extension of the range.
The nursery school was quiet, and I wondered if they were on summer break, but then a minute up the ridge path I heard the children's voices. I remembered the pool, and then in another minute found them, about twenty kids splashing about and several adults looking on. I'd always wondered who used the little wading pool, and have stepped down off the path a few times in the past few years to have a closer look. It faces south, overlooking the Baptist Hospital. Looks like a great place for kids to play, on the edge of a mountain forest.
Further up the ridge, a large swath of whiteness through the trees. Approaching, I realize it is the bleached face of a huge crag, a cliff. Near the top, I can make out some fallen rock at the bottom, a drop of 50 meters or so.
Strange, I thought I knew this trail. But usually I've taken the route from the other side of the hospital, past the site of the abode of the mountain hermit Hakuyushi (where there is a plaque mentioning his teachings to the more famous Zen master Hakuin). Skirting the top of the cliff, which was dangerously hard to make out due to the brush and trees, further up the steep trail. Swatting away mosquitos constantly, forgot the repellent. Accompanied by at least ten of them at all times, zipping excitedly around my sweaty head and neck.
A summit ahead, familiar, an intersection. I'd thought this was The summit before, but now realize I've never been that far. Voices ahead of me, I catch up, four or five people. I pass them, greeting briefly. Seeing where they are going, I take a different path. No idea where I'm going anyway.
Signs ahead indicating 三十六童子 the Thirty-Six Dohji. Soon encounter the first of them, or actually the last, as I'm coming from the opposite direction of the pilgrimage. They look like some kind of jizo statues, the local deities one finds enshrined all over town. It just happens to be time for our annual Jizo-bon observance tomorrow, so I decide not to give any of these unfamiliar statues anything more than a passing glance. Not a good idea to give local deities mixed messages regarding one's allegiance. Besides, the mosquitos keep me from dillydallying.
Each of the figures is a foot or two tall and housed in a small hut, open facing the path, and next to it a number marker and a message. One that I remember:
気のゆるみ、心のゆるみが大事を起こすwhich I take to mean something along the lines of "Lenience of the soul and lenience of the mind bring about great things."
Later, on another trail, I realize that the important word, yurumi, which is repeated, is not a desirable lenience but a negative looseness. "Slackness of attention and laxity of mind lead to grave consequences" might be a better translation.
Only later does it occur to me that I have not actual made it to the summit of Uryu-zan. Apparently there was a castle there five hundred years ago. Somewhere among the Thirty-Six Dohji enshrined one by one at various points along the trail, there must have been a side path to the summit. The trail was narrow, and along with the statues, had a feeling of not having been recently maintained, and I was keeping my attention on the ground ahead.
Finally, after a sharp turn, a set of mossy steps with water trickling through them, and at the bottom, a torii gate. The entrance to the pilgrimage course. At first glance, it seemed a bit decrepit, but then I noticed the gate was actually in dire condition. The two pillars had snapped near the base, and it was for the time being frozen in a half-toppled-over state. After snapping several shots of it, trying to get an agreeable angle, wondering if there might be anything inauspicious about it, I walked through.
On the other side of the gate, the backside of the main building of Tanukidani Fudoin Temple. Then a flight of concrete steps, the bottom of which is blocked by two folding chairs with a piece of paper. When I get to the bottom, I see that visitors are advised that the trail is closed due to the broken torii, and that prayers to the dohji are to be made from that point.
The Thirty-Six Dohji are the attendants of Fudo-son (Fudo-Myo-O), the Immovable One, which I believe is a manifestation of the Supreme Buddha in esoteric Japanese Buddhism.
Down the many steps of the temple, that I did not come up. Always bizarre to come out of the hills, finding more and more garbage left by humans as I return, and then to encounter some grandiose structure put up by a religious organization. There was something quiet and enticingly decrepit about Tanukidani, however. At the very bottom of the stone-inlaid concrete stairway, a low gurgling called my attention to a small break in the rock, a puddle the size of my hand at the base of first step, and bared inside it, the handsome culprit, a supple green-fleshed tree root.
Not wanting to go back to my bicycle by walking on the noisy main street, I remembered and found another path. It was a fine shortcut, taking me just behind Hachidai Shrine and letting out onto a dead-end road. But then I made an error of judgment to continue avoiding the city streets, and veered back up the mountain trails. Found out later that it was one of the hottest days of the year, nearly 38ºC (100ºF). Up another steep trail, starting to get sluggish, but okay.
Back to what I used to think was the summit, and down the familiar trail to the backside of the Baptist Hospital. On the way, not passing the site of Hakuyushi's residence somehow, but making it down to the main trail head regardless.
The main trail shares the course of a small stream, and goes back and forth across it. The course seemed wider in places than on my last visit, two month before. In one place, something that looked like cave-in, a few meters of a high bank collapsed at the edge of the stream. Maybe the result of the heavy rains a month ago.
My attempt at a map of the course, using Mapion's "rakugaki" Enlargeable