Episode 19.2: Hedonistic Zen Monk -- Kinkazan
  The shrine was at the top of a long flight of stone steps, and
  its vermilion lacquered fence was brilliant in the morning
  sunlight.  How wonderful it is in this land of ours, I thought,
  that even in remote and unfrequented places such as this,
  the divine power of the gods is omnipresent.
                                                   Basho, TNRttDN    

  石の階九仞に重り、朝日朱の玉垣をかかやかす。 かかる道の果、塵士の


Basho was actually talking about the Shiogama Shrine, but he might as
well have meant my destination, the Koganeyama Shrine of Kinkazan
Island.  I fled Matsushima early in the morning, first catching
a train to Ishinomaki, where I ran into James & Chris, two English
teachers from Sendai heading my way as well.  We took a scenic
90-minute bus trip down the Oshika Peninsula, up and down twisty
little mountain roads winding their way around the bays and valleys
of this remote fishing area, all the way to the whaling port Ayukawa.
Japan is notorious for its whaling, and even these days it catches
some 300 whales a year for "research purposes", one of which ended up
as my lunch.  Not bad at all, really, a strong meaty flavor, albeit
one slightly too disguised by spicy marinade.

<META environmentalist_flame_mode=ON>
Some treehugger-types will likely object to me eating an
endangered species, saying that whales should be protected from
all hunting.  That, in my arrogant opinion, would be the worst
possible thing for the whale population.  As long as whales have
commercial value -- that is, tourists like me willing to fork out
1500 yen per slice -- fishermen and politicians have an interest
in maintaining the whale population.  If whales were entirely
protected, their legal value would drop to zero (meaning that
fishermen would start to kill them just to eliminate the competition)
and their illegal value would skyrocket (meaning that poachers
would ensure the decimation of the rest).  So eat some whale today!
<META environmentalist_flame_mode=OFF>

Anyway, after eating Willy, it was time to proceed to Kinkazan
Island itself, a 25-minute hop by ferry.  It had been drizzling
all morning and Kinkazan was shrouded by mist, but when we landed
the sun came out and it instantly turned into a beautiful summer day.
Upon disembarking we were greeted by some deer, the first of many
to come.  The island is full of the critters, totally tame and
always waiting for goodies.  The island's other major inhabitant
group, wild monkeys, were nowhere to be seen.
Other travelers
One of many shrines

A clone of Bambi
The "-zan" of Kinkazan means mountain, so after checking in to my
lodgings it was time to hit the trails.  The peak is at a height
of precisely 444.9 meters, some 2.5 km away from the dock on foot,
along some occasionally very dodgy trails going through and within
streams, forests, fields, swamps...  It was a very hot, sunny day,
but the top was shrouded with clouds, wisps of mist wafting through
the gigantic hulks of trees, steep drops on all sides.  Getting to
the top took only an hour, but just the same I was exhausted --
I honestly wonder if my health is up to tackling the considerably
higher mountains of Dewa Sanzan.  The scene at the top was a bit
of an anticlimax, the usual great views (or so they say) were
entirely obscured by the thick blanket of fog.  I managed a few
shots before my camera's batteries died completely, paid my respects
to the gods at the shrine, and then started on my way down.  I had
just had enough time to wonder why there were so few biting insects
around, when I felt a tingle in my left leg.  I took a peek and
found not a mosquito, but a big fat leech sucking my blood.
I instinctively grabbed the slimy vampire, yanked it off and
chucked it into the forest.  I promptly stuffed my pant legs into
my boots (I still don't know how the slug managed to navigate its
way up my 20-cm combat boots and onto my leg), only to find another
leech just starting its meal on my right leg.  Yank, schlup, whee,
splat.  Later, I remembered that you're supposed to burn leeches to
get them to leave gracefully without leaving body parts behind, but I
didn't have much choice in the matter and they seemed to give up
without much of a fight.
And I have proof!
Moments of beauty

Shrouded by mist
My accommodations deserve a few words.  I'm staying at Koganeyama
Shrine, a large and functioning Shinto complex with a sideline
in accommodating pilgrims and curious gaijin.  At 9000 yen/night,
it's not exactly cheap, even if the price does include two meals.
The lodgings themselves are in a modern and rather ugly concrete
building, and while the rooms are Japanese-style and nicely/minimally
decorated as always, the place has seen better days.  The ofuro
is quite nice though, a gigantic steel(!) pool with a great view
of the shoreline, the bay and the mainland.  The water was nice and
warm too, although I would still have liked it to be just a tiny bit
hotter.  Next time...  Yesterday the shrine held a festival and
the place was packed, but today the only visitors in the entire
place were me and another gaijin, whom I had already met at
the Matsushima youth hostel.  (My earlier acquaintances, James and
Chris, selected a cheaper option and camped out in the woods.)

The food was good but not extraordinary, and in all there might be
better deals to be had elsewhere if not for one catch: Koganeyama
Jinja offers all guests a special Shinto service for pilgrims in
the morning.  OK, I may not be a pilgrim but I play one on J2J,
so I woke up at the ungodly hour of 6 AM in time for the 6:30
service.  Since the other gaijin chickened out, I was the only one!
So for some 15 minutes the priests waved paper pom-poms and sakaki
branches while chanting in that peculiar Shinto-priest style of
theirs, impossible to follow even with the little transcription
booklet.  I sat seiza and bowed along with them, the fun part came
when I was supposed to sanctify a branch of my own.  The priest
gave me an instruction booklet (in incomprehensible Japanese) and
I had seen the rite before, so I muddled along following the priest's
cues and managed to complete it without getting struck down by
lightning.  A final ceremonial cup of sake and it was over.
The biggest ordeal came afterward when it was time to face a
Japanese breakfast of raw egg, cold fish cake and seaweed...

And now it's time to return from this little deviation to the
Basho Mainline.  Up next, Hiraizumi.


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