Whew, what a month. Actually, it was a fairly quiet few weeks until I ended up with two trips back-to-back at the end of January. One trip was up to the mountaintop temple complex of Koyasan, which I’ll be blogging about in greater detail in the next week or two.
The other trip was to neighboring Saga Prefecture, a prefecture I drive through often but don’t ever actually stop in very much. (Except to buy melon pan at the Kinryu Service Area … their version of that popular bread is amazing.) But on this trip, I was taken to around 17 or 18 different places, fed oodles of food and put up in some lovely accommodations. Tough life, right?
While the entire trip was memorable, one of my favorite places was the Yutoku Inari Shrine, one of Japan’s three famous Inari Shrines. Most people know of or have visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto (with its thousands of vermillion torii running up the mountain) but rare is the visitors who makes it down to Saga, a rural Saga to boot. As this was essentially a press trip, I was allowed access to the main hall of the shrine, something few worshippers get to see:
And what a shame that is. The glitter, the shine, the detail of the inner shrine … it’s a breathtaking sight. The ceiling is painted with individual panels that show different local flora and in the center of the ceiling is a painted dragon. A drum used in the yearly festivals sits off to the side. Intricate carvings adorn the support pillars. I was even allowed to interview a miko-san, one of the teenaged shrine maidens.
The shrine is set up on the hillside, so you have to climb a few flights of steps to reach the main hall. But in front of the main hall, there is a porch area, much like the one at Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizu Temple. From here, you can see clear views of the mountains or look down on the autumn foliage of the shrine’s inner garden. How could I not have known this was here? Now, I am counting the days until I can return for the spring festival in early April. Six years of living in Japan, and there is still so much to discover …