Spontaneous Travels in Holy Mie: Part Two
A tiny train station and trolley train that originally served miners seeking silver, gold, and bronze from the nearby mountain are unique attractions of Yunokuchi Onsen in Mie. Miners used to wash themselves with hot water from a natural spring. That spring became Yonokuchi Onsen.
It might be the only Japanese onsen with its own miniature train station. Nowadays, the train ferries guests. The sixty-one-centimeter-wide narrow gauge train runs through tunnels, between woods, and across brooks.
The train's roof just reached the shoulders of Nobuyuki Nakasu, the enthusiastic train conductor. We squeezed inside the green wooden train for its morning run. The wooden train clattered the entire ten-minute trip that alternated between verdant forest and dark tunnels to the next station of Koguchidani. Visitors arriving on buses from Kumano city board the train there.
Being early morning during the winter season, we were his only passengers; although, twelve thousand visitors ride his train each year. Nakasu-san talked ardently about Mie, the train, and Japanese history. The famous Buddha statue, at Todaiji Temple in Nara, had been built with bronze from Kiwa.
After riding the train, our next desire was to hike a section of an ancient pilgrimage route. The train conductor had recommended the nearby Tori-toge Pass Trail. The path was well-posted and easy to climb. An aura of antiquity embraced the trail. Centuries ago, laborers had tightly pressed thousands and thousands of flat stones together to make the route. Green moss grows thickly across the rocky route that flows up, down, and around the mountain.
Connecting and contrasting the past with the present, offerings of contemporary coins and plastic flowers lay at the base of eroded Jizo statues along the path.
Impulsively following a branch of the trail that veered to the right, we discovered a panoramic view of Maruyama Senmaida, one of many World Heritage Sites within Kumano Kodo. Over one thousand steeply terraced rice paddies that villagers still hoe and cultivate by hand comprise Maruyama Senmaida. From above, the contours of the paddies look like lines on a topographical map. In winter, the rice paddies were brown and dry, but in spring the fields are verdant, and in the fall, they are golden and glitter in the sun.
After hiking, we drove into Kiwa Town, where we found a sign that indicated waterfalls. Ascending a curving road, we found four sparkling waterfalls amidst trees and water-carved cliffs. Nunobiki Waterfall and Arataki Waterfall are included in a list of the 100 most beautiful Japanese waterfalls.
In Japan, waterfalls are traditionally categorized as masculine or feminine. Nunobiki Waterfall descends gently, so it is "feminine." In contrast, the rough descent of Arataki is "masculine." For centuries, followers of Shugendo, a Japanese religion, have mediated for spiritual development under these waterfalls, even in winter. Alas, we did not observe anyone meditating. Though there were more waterfalls to view, our holiday was ending, and it was time to return to our home.
Hana no Iwaya Shrine
As we were driving home northward parallel to Shichiri Mihama Shoreline, a roadside banner announced "World Heritage Site." Intrigued, we decided to investigate. A short trail brought us to a clearing at the base of a massive fifty-meter-high cliff of solid rock with twisted ropes dangling from the top. We had come to Hana no Iwaya Shrine. The cliff is the shrine. Local legends say it is the grave of Izanami, the female god, who along with her husband, Izanagi, created Earth.
Dating back to before shrines were constructed by human hands, it may be Japan's oldest natural shrine. Time-honored religious ceremonies that date back over thousands of years are still performed there every year in February and October. We had arrived in late December. We did, though, discover a remarkable custom.
At the bottom of the cliff and in small caves of the cliff were piles of whitish oval stones. Prayers for health, peace, happiness were written on the stones. For countless generations, visitors had been leaving such messages. Up-to-date prayers for safe driving and passing college entrance examinations were visible as were more customary expressions of hope for health and happiness.
We carefully balanced two stones on the cliff wall, silently said our prayers, and continued home. My prayer was to explore the rich area further during a future trip, and I will.
Getting To Mie Prefecture
Mie Prefecture does not have its own airport, and the Bullet Train doesn't go there. If you travel by mass transit from Nagoya, board the JR Rapid Mie. Change to the JR Kisei Main Line and get off in Kumano-City. The World Heritage Sites are spread out, so after deciding which ones you want to visit, contact the local bus or train stations for specific details. If driving from Nagoya, go to southern Mie. Many of the sites mentioned in the article are either along or close to Route 42.
Torokko trains leave Seiryu-so Onsen at:
8.50pm, 9.55am, 11.15am, 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm making the return journey from Yunokuchi Onsen at 9.30am, 10.55am, 12.35pm, 2.10pm, 3.40pm and 5.10pm.
The adult fare is 540 yen return or 270 yen single.
You can make the same journey on a "Rail Mountain Bike" a pair of battery powered mountain bikes attached to the railway line. The return fare is 1,300 yen per person.
The "Rail Mountain Bike" leaves Seiryu-so Onsen at 8.35pm, 9.40am, 11am, 12.45pm, 2.15pm and 3.45pm with rides from Yunokuchi Onsen at 9.20am, 10.45am, 12.25pm, 2pm, 3.30pm and 5pm.
The author of this article blogs about Japanese hot springs at hotspringaddict.blogspot.jp.
Japanese Bath Products
Purchase a range of wooden Japanese bath products made from the finest Japanese wood including original bath buckets, chairs and soap basins to give your bathroom that Japanese hot spring onsen feel.