Enjoy Viewing National Heritage Temple And Great Nature Situated In Secret Hot Spring in Okinawa (Part 1)

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Enjoy Viewing National Heritage Temple And Great Nature Situated In Secret Hot Spring in Okinawa (Part 1)

As the waterfall can’t be reached easily, you will need to engage a professional guide to take you there. However, very few locals are able to lead the way to Kyukai no Taki as the trail is extremely harsh. In fact, it takes six hours to reach there by foot!

Let’s begin our journey from Odate-Noshiro Airport. If you can’t find information about the waterfall at the airport, make your way to Odate Station, which is nearby. Odate is the birthplace of the Akita breed of dogs. There is a bronze statue of the famous and faithful Akita dog Hachiko in front of the station. Go to the tourist centre to gather information about Kyukai no Taki. The waterfall is said to be near Sankai no Taki, which is located at the foot of Mt. Moriyoshi. So travel by train to Animaeda, which is near Mt. Moriyoshi.

Stay the night at a spa inn – Soma Onsen Ryokan - situated near the trail leading up to Mt. Moriyoshi. Soak in the inn’s refreshing bath which is surrounded by nature. Then, enjoy a dinner featuring vegetables picked from the mountains nearby. Feast on Aiko – which tastes like and has the texture of butterbur – and kiritanbo in Hinai chicken stock.

Set off the next day at 4am. Accompanied by a professional guide, you will have to first walk through a Japanese beech forest, where the path is clear. After an hour of walking, the path narrows. As you hike deeper into the mountains, look out for claw scratches made by bears. After this, you’ll have to try out “water trekking”, which requires you to “climb” along a river. It is a dangerous route with steep slopes, and as you climb higher, the flow of the water becomes swifter. Along the way, you will see hardened snow which forms a snow valley, with water flowing underneath. Watch your step and avoid walking on the edge, which can be dangerous. By the time you pass through the river and snow valley, about four hours would have passed.

The route gets even harsher from here and involves climbing a mountain for 500m. You will have to climb the steep slopes using ropes. As you climb the precipitous cliff, hold on to whatever you can grab, even branches. After an hour or so, you will reach the summit. From Tengu-no-nozoki, you can enjoy a full view of the mysterious Kyukai no Taki. Next, make your way down to the basin to get a feel of how high the waterfall is. Climb down the precipice with the help of a rope, and hold your body perpendicular to the slope. Once you reach the valley, admire the gorgeous waterfall right in front of your eyes. It is a breathtaking sight indeed and makes the six-hour trip totally worth it!

For our next challenging adventure, we will be going to a national treasure on Mr. Mitoku, a temple hall called Nageire-do. It is located in a dangerous place, a hollow halfway up a precipitous cliff. We begin in Kurayoshi, known as the Little Kyoto of Tottori. It was a castle town during the Edo period. From Kurayoshi Station, take a 20-minute bus ride to a place where you can get a glimpse of the Nageire-do hall on the cliff. As it is hidden in the mountains, only part of it is visible. After this, head to Mt. Mitoku, a national historical site. Do note that the reception here closes at 3pm so if you reach after that, you’ll be unable to climb the mountain on that particular day. As Mt. Mitoku has been a sacred spot for ascetic training for over 1,300 years, you can make use of the time to try out meditation or “waterfall” training.

The chief priest will lead you to the main hall to first do a type of meditation called susokukan. It lasts for 30 minutes. Then, you will have to change into some white robes and will be led to a waterfall for the next part of the training. This “waterfall” training is said to purify you before you worship the national treasure. Stand under the waterfall for five minutes, during which the water – which is actually melted snow – pounds on you.

Following this, travel by bus for 15 minutes to Misasa Onsen. Ryokan Ohashi, founded 80 years ago, provides day bath facilities for visitors. Its bath boasts a splendid view of Mitoku River and the surrounding mountains. The spa relieves your fatigue after training. You can stay the night at Mt. Mitoku's lodge. It provides two meals featuring vegetarian dishes made of local ingredients. Its specialty is Mitoku tofu, which is made from soybean, bittern and water from the mountains. The cooking method has remained the same for 115 years. Other creative and healthy dishes include rice cakes made of Mitoku's Japanese horse chestnut; the popular fried tochimochi, which is served with kelp and shiitake stock; squid-like raw konjac; and vinegared butterbur wrapped in wakame.

The next morning, set off early. Pray for a safe trip before going into the mountains. Your clothes and shoes will be checked first to make sure they are appropriate, as the trail to Nageire-do is unpaved. For example, shoulder bags are forbidden while straw sandals are the recommended footwear. The latter can be bought for 500 yen (S$7.30) if you haven’t brought your own pair. The route to Nageire-do is 200m high and 1km long. Almost the whole route is harsh for training purposes. The entrance of Mt. Mitoku (Yadoiribashi) has a red gate, after which is believed to be the “spirit world”. The national treasure of Nageire-do is thus revered as a sacred place.

Begin climbing towards Nageire-do. Be careful as the path is slippery. You will find yourself climbing up roots, so this is when straw sandals come into handy, as they have a good grip. The slope is almost vertical so at times, you will have no choice but to crawl. After a while, you will reach a giant building, Monju-do. It is 500m away from the starting point. Beyond Monju-do, hold on to chains to help you climb the chain slope, Kusarizaka. Soon, you will be able to enjoy a 270-degree panoramic view of Mt. Mitoku. After an hour, you will reach a giant bell, Shoro-do. It weighs two tonnes and up till today, how this bell was brought up the mountain remains a mystery.

Next, you will reach Ushinose-umanose. The width of the path here is only 50cm, so be careful not to trip. The last checkpoint before Nageire-do is Kannon-do, which was built in a cave. You can walk around it. The cave is said to represent the uterus of mother and is called Tainai Kuguri. After 1.5 hours, the mysterious Nageire-do comes into sight. Built at the end of the Heian period, and standing on a precipitous cliff, the building is supported by 18 wooden poles. It is not known who built it or how it was built at such a unique location.

THIS WEEK'S TIPS:

  • You will need a professional guide to lead you to the hidden Kyukai no Taki waterfall
  • Proper clothes and footwear are needed when going to the national treasure Nageire-do

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