The obelisk atop Mt. Jizo, one of the three peaks comprising Mt. Ho-o-san-zan, in the southern Alps.
We started our hike at Aoki Kosen Onsen, a little under three hours from Shizuoka City by car. The last thirty minutes of the drive was along a sometimes dirt road that was sometimes a dirt road with a lot of potholes and ruts. Unless you have a 4-wheel drive, high-sitting vehicle, go slow.
We Hearty Hikers had known the fall colors would be lovely, and we’d tried to wait for a blue-sky day, but the weather, especially in the mountains, is difficult to predict, and after an hour or two of walking and hoping that the mist would blow off, we accepted the fact that the day was meant to be grey—and shifted gears mentally. We reminded ourselves that a grey day has its own beauty.
Of course, it helped to hum to ourselves those lyrics of NDuaDuo:
Grey is our play / On a day like today / Grey is just grey / As we go on our way.
And the grey was beautiful—and we could, as NDuaDuo suggests, “recognize a fallen leaf’s equal worth.”
The guidebook said it was a six-hour walk up to the Ho-o-san-zan Lodge, but it only took us about five. Sometimes our times are right about at what the book says is average, and sometimes not—and it’s all fairly random . . . all to say that posted times serve as a rough estimate at best.
The climb from the onsen to the summit of the first peak, Mt. Jizo, takes you up about 1700 meters, so it’s a pretty good haul.
There are a lot of waterfalls along the way, all very lovely, though on this day the mist made it difficult to get a clear picture.
Up, up we went.
The lodge is situated at 2382 meters. As you approach it, you move into the area that the larch trees like.
They are magnificent.
We had a quick lunch at the lodge, then set off on the final kilometer, in distance, to the top of Mt. Jizo.
The first half of this last kilometer is still in the woods and not so, so steep, but once you’re out of the woods and onto the sandy slope, it gets steep indeed. Overall, that last 1 km of walking rises about 400 meters.
I think the body language explains it pretty well. A tough thirty minutes.
I got myself plum tuckered out.
Half of the Hearty Hiking team, though, did just fine—had energy to spare.
The rocks, in the photo above, comprise the Mt. Jizo summit, at 2764 meters. Some say the obelisk is shaped like a bird’s beak, and thus the three-peak range was named Ho-o, the “Phoenix” Mountain. The obelisk is also said to be shaped like a Jizo, and thus the name Mt. Jizo . . .
. . . and that also helps explain the large number of Jizo statues on the top.
What’s a Jizo? Here’s a quotation from a book I’m writing now. The narrator is not any sort of expert on religion or Buddhism, but his description is fairly straightforward, easy to understand, an not too inaccurate, I think.
A Jizo is a bodhisattva—that is, a Buddha in the making. But she, or he, has chosen freely (using her or his very own free will) to postpone the final leg of her spiritual journey in order to offer comfort and support to those souls struggling here in this earthly vale of tears. She especially takes pride in protecting children—and has an even more special interest in looking out for children who have been lost in childbirth or miscarriages. Basically, though, she, or he, is looking out for everyone. You’ll find her representation all over Japan, but primarily in Buddhist temples.
. . . If you tried to describe the appearance of the majority of Jizo statues with a single word, I think you’d have to choose ROUND.
These Jizo statues make me very happy. I do feel like their spirits are looking out for me—and they make me want to look out for others.
Some of you know, I’ve got a Jizo in my back yard.
And in the book I’m writing now, the Jizo at Enkoji Temple in Kyoto and the Jizo at the Mt. Aozasa trailhead make cameo appearances.
Just below the rocky summit with its couple dozen jizos, just down from the larches . . .
. . . very beautiful larches . . .
. . . down in a sandy field . . . is an entire village of Jizos.
They are watching out for all of us.
Under blue skies. Under grey. Always.
We walked back down and spent the night in the lodge. The next morning, we climbed back up, about an hour, along a different trail, and hit the ridge about a 45-minutes walk past Mt. Jizo. In the above photo, we’re looking back toward Mt. Jizo.
Larches just below the Mt. Jizo summit.
Once we were back on the ridge, it was another hour or so to the top of Mt. Kannon, the highest point on Ho-o-san-zan, at 2841 meters.
It was snowing much of the time.
And absolutely lovely all the time.
From Mt. Kannon to Mt. Yakushi, it’s an easy and beautiful walk, slightly downhill. The top of Mt. Yakushi is at 2780 meters.
Sometimes, on a grey day, if the sun works its way partially out from the mist, you’ll see a rainbow.
That’ll make you feel pretty good as you zero in on Mt. Yakushi.
Then it’s four hours down through the woods.
NDuaDuo: When your eyes are on the ground / There really is so much to be found.
Wouldn’t you know it. Get back in the car and drive thirty minutes and you’re back in the land of blue skies. We were sitting out on the porch of the Nirisaki Asahi Hot Springs (carbinated water) when I took the picture below.