Monday, January 02, 2006

Communing With Nature

Day Seven.

I woke up under that kotatsu with a scratchy throat. Crap. I'm getting sick. This is not something I wanted to have to deal with while I was here. So, I put some water on the stove and heated it up, and just drank it straight. It helped.

I also kept reading "The Da Vinci Code". Good stuff.

After a bit of that, I decided I needed to get out of the apartment, so I drove over to Hirata and went to take a bath at Yurara Hot Springs. Yurara is a great onsen a little off the main road through Hirata. One fairly good-sized indoor bath, a huge outdoor bath, an indoor sauna, a cold water pool, three small tub baths outside, and the kicker, a salt sauna.

What is a salt sauna, you ask? I'm glad you did.

A salt sauna is a humidified sauna of slightly lower temperatures than your regular sauna. In the entryway, there's a pot full of salt. You grab a big handful of the stuff and rub it on your body, keeping mind to avoid any cuts, your eyes, or any other...orifices. Once inside, you sit down and let the sweating begin. Rubbing the salt on your body accelerates the sweating process, and since it's rough salt, it also takes dead skin off when you rub it on. So after you've left the sauna, your skin feels smoother. Good stuff.

I'm a big believer in the power of saunas. A sauna is a great place to fight off (i.e. sweat out) a hangover. That's not the only reason, but it's a good one.

After a good sweat and a soak, I drove off into the mountains.

Hirata is a strange city. It starts as flatland that stretches off to the north of Lake Shinji, then about three miles from the coast, you get these mountains that shoot straight up and form a pretty impressive ridge right before you reach the sea.

So while Hirata was officially classified as a city before it merged with Izumo last year, it was more of a central area in the flatland combined with little hamlets in the hills and fishing villages along the coast. No wonder the Izumo dialect spoken in Hirata is considered to be the strongest in the Izumo area. Until roads got put in to these areas, most of these places were effectively isolated from everywhere else. I'm not knocking on Hirata; I really like the landscape there. A drive along the Hirata coast is a heck of a lot of fun.

My reason for going up into the hills today was that I wanted to visit Kankama Shrine (good photos here). Kankama Shrine is a really cool shrine up in the hills. It's even off the paved road (which is a shock, considering some of the places they lay asphalt down in this country). You have to climb a REALLY steep stairway, and if you were to take one wrong step, you could really hurt yourself. If your luck was particularly bad, you could even die. When you get to the top of the stairs, you have to squeeze through a crack in the rocks to get to the shrine itself. The place feels ancient, and it's an incredible place to visit.

The shrine gate and staircase for Kankama Shrine.

Some more of that steep steep staircase.

The crack in the rock that you have to squeeze through to get to the shrine.

The guy praying at the shrine is my friend Mr. Yakabe. (See below.)

That's me, last summer, standing in front of the crack in the rocks.

A friend of mine in Hirata, Mr. Yakabe, took me up there right before I left Izumo. I was so impressed that I wanted to go back. The last time I went up there, the road was blocked off right past the space that passed for a parking lot. This time, it was open, and since I had wondered where that road led to, I decided to follow it for a while.

After a few minutes, I realized that taking Lisa's car way up in the mountains on a narrow, muddy road might not be the best of ideas. So I found a place where I could pull off to the side and not block the road, parked the car, got out and walked. It was a gorgeous walk. I found about three waterfalls as I was walking along. It was green and cool and quiet. Perfection.

Then, I came to the end of the road. There had been some construction equipment at an area where part of the road had washed out, but now it just came to a dead end. Apparently, it was a logging road that went up into the hills far enough for people to cut down trees, and then they decided they didn't need to go any further.

This was where I had a short conversation with God.

I'm not a big fan of organized religion anymore. I know that it has its positive aspects, but it is too easily perverted into a tool to control the masses. I lost a lot of faith in organized religion after I saw a certain national leader saying the same type of things that a certain Middle Eastern terrorist was saying. "The other side is evil." I don't think that it's our job to decide. Good vs. Bad? Sure. Good vs. Evil? That's not our decision to make. Using "evil" to give the whole 9/11/2001 incident a religious slant to get backing from the American people made said national leader, in my eyes, just as bad as said terrorist. Add to this my interest in Shinto, where the general idea is that religion is a one-on-one experience, and I gradually drifted away from organized religion. Jackass "religious leaders" like Pat Robertson also make it really hard to like organized religion anymore. I'm much more into the concept of finding God in nature. (Credit must be given where credit is dad is to thank for this idea.)

Anyway, I had found the perfect place to have a one-on-one talk with God. Again, I just asked for some sort of peace with all of the emotional turmoil I was going through, and possibly a happy result of my upcoming conversation with Crab Girl. Oh yeah, I also pleaded for a chance to have that conversation.

I felt a lot better after our talk, and walked back to the car. I then did a seven-point turn to get Lisa's car facing the other way, and drove back down to Kankama Shrine. I climbed the stairs and prayed at the shrine, took a look around at the gorgeous, if somewhat precipitous view, and then climbed back down, saying hello to a family that was climbing up.

Then I drove out towards Matsue, driving through the hills and making a stop at another shrine along the way. Hey, I like visiting shrines. What can I say?

My reason for going out to Matsue was to visit Kishimoto Sensei and his family. Kishimoto Sensei was my Japanese sensei my second year of studying in the Japanese program at CWU. He teaches at the Shimane Prefectural Shimane Women's College (woo-hoo!), which has a teacher exchange program with CWU. He came over with his family in the fall of 1997 and taught at CWU for half a year. During that time, I got to know him and his family really well. During winter quarter, after I had come back from my first trip to Japan, he even asked me to come over and tutor his two sons in English in exchange for dinner. Since his wife is an amazing cook, I was all over that deal.

Kishimoto Sensei is the embodiment of what an educator should be. He can take the smallest thing and turn it into a lesson on Japan, be it history, culture, or language. The funny thing is that his specialty is physical education. An amazing guy, and I love him and his family very much. They've helped me out on more occasions than I can recall.

Anyway, I went over and had dinner with them and chatted for a while. We watched some TV and talked, and he drank half a beer and fell asleep. So I decided it would be a good time to leave.

I said my goodbyes, got back into Lisa's car, and drove back to Izumo. I got back to Lisa's place and realized that I wasn't feeling that great. I debated heading out to Daikan-cho, but decided against it. Instead, I crawled under the kotatsu and passed out again. This time I was smart and put a blanket over myself first.

End Day Seven. One week left.


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