Finally, we reached our destination, Kurama Station. It was a small, old-fashioned station.
“…It’s like the train station in Poppoya1.”
Hang on, that was set in Hokkaido, right? Small, old stations are probably common everywhere. Even so, this station still felt like Kurama, since it was decorated a picture of Yoshitsune and Benkei2.
Upon exiting the station, an objet d’art of a gigantic Tengu3 face came into view.
“Wow, that’s such a large Tengu! And that’s just its face, too!”
It had a deep red face, eyes that stared sharply straight ahead and a long, stretched nose.
It gave off the exact feeling of Kurama, the mountain of Tengu.
“There are a lot of people taking commemorative photos here. Shall we take one too?”
“Ah, no, it’s fine.”
Hearing my immediate refusal, Holmes-san looked surprised.
“I don’t like being in photos. I like taking photos for commemoration, though.”
I gave a wry smile as I retrieved my smartphone and snapped a photo of the Tengu.
“What about Purikura4, then?”
“Hmm… I suppose I’m fine with Purikura.”
“I see. Are you the type to accidentally narrow your eyes when your photo is being taken?”
He was right on the mark, causing a flush to creep up on my face.
“H-How did you know?”
“You dislike photos, but you’re fine with Purikura. You can adjust the images in Purikura, so I thought that must be it.”
Holmes-san replied cheerfully.
“You don’t have to read into something like that,” I complained with a pout.
“Sorry. I don’t say such thoughts aloud in front of other people, though.”
Holmes-san spoke as if talking to himself. After hearing his words, I exclaimed “Eh?” in astonishment and stopped moving.
“Aoi-san, shall we head to Kurama Temple first, then?”
There were some souvenir shops lined up by the side of the station. There was even a banner with the words, “Ushikawa mochi5”, as well as a stack of Tengu masks, which left a lasting impression in my mind. By the way, Ushikawa mochi was named after Ushiwakamaru6. We were well and truly in Kurama.
As we walked along the hill road, Kurama Temple’s Niōmon came into view.
The faded vermillion of the tower gate really gave off the feeling of a mountain temple.
“This gate enshrines the Niō7 statues created by Tankei, a sculptor active in the Kamakura period, and serves as the boundary between the mundane world and sacred ground.”
“T-The boundary between the mundane world and sacred ground. So, past this gate is an area that has been purified?”
“Exactly. This place is quite a famous power spot, or so they say.”
“Yes, I’ve also heard about that.”
I nodded, and passed under the Niōmon with Holmes-san.
So it’s a sacred ground from here on out.
“The atmosphere is certainly different here.”
I said with a serious look on my face, but Holmes-san burst out laughing.
“Ah, you must think I’m very susceptible to autosuggestion.”
“I did think so, but I also believe that it’s a good thing. For example, crossing this Niōmon with and without knowledge about it will bring about different feelings. There might be some degree of autosuggestion, but I think that by appreciating this place after learning of its origins, you’re able to capture much better things in your mind.”
That’s true. I also think that since I’ve heard that ‘this place is a sacred ground’, I can gain a lot more value from going past the gate, compared to someone who hasn’t heard anything about it.
After walking a few steps past the gate, a small shrine known as the “Kiichi Hougen Shrine” came into view.
“This enshrines Kiichi Hougen, a martial arts expert who imparted the art of war to Ushiwakamaru.”
“There are stories of Ushiwakamaru being trained by the Tengu. Was he taught this way in reality?”
“It’s said that Kiichi Hougen is a fictitious person, though.”
“Yes. Minamoto no Yoshitsune is quite a mysterious person, in a lot of ways.”
“You’re right.” I replied with a nod.
“But do you think that the stories of him being trained at Mt. Kurama are true?”
I asked as we slowly ascended the hilly path.
“Well, Ushiwakamaru was born as the third son of the Minamoto clan’s head, Minamoto no Yoshitomo, and his concubine, Tokiwa Gozen. When Yoshitomo was defeated by the Taira clan, there was a high chance that his children would be executed, but Kiyomori8 showed them mercy and spared them, and so Yoshitsune was brought up at Mt. Kurama.”
“Why did Kiyomori spare them?”
This is something that I should have known if I’d properly studied history. But even though I’d forced the year numbers into my head, the detailed episodes associated with those numbers were only faint recollections. I apologize for being such a failure of a high school girl, really.
“According to one theory, Ushiwakamaru’s mother, Tokiwa Gozen, was a ravishing beauty. Entranced by her beauty, Kiyomori offered her to become his concubine, and she acceded with the condition that he spare her children.”
“Wh-What? Basically, Tokiwa Gozen became the concubine of the enemy general, the person that killed her husband, just to save her children?”
“That’s how it went.”
“And on top of that, Kiyomori was defeated by the very children he spared, right?”
“Yes. It’s all karma, don’t you think?”
Upon hearing those words, I sighed.
It was indeed karma.
“A person with as much power as Kiyomori would be surrounded by beautiful women, so why did he go out of his way to make his enemy’s wife a concubine? Was she that beautiful?”
“Well, Tokiwa Gozen was said to be the best out of a thousand beauties. She was the first woman to win a beauty contest in Japan.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“At that time, the empress consort… or in other words, the reigning emperor’s wife, loved beautiful things. When she was hiring servants, she wanted to hire someone more beautiful, so she gathered a thousand beautiful girls in the capital, and in the end, Tokiwa Gozen was selected. She was indeed an unparalleled beauty in the capital.
“I’m not sure how much of that is true, though.”
“Oh, wow, that’s interesting.”
As we had that conversation, we finally reached Kurama Temple.
The temple, which was built solitarily on a mountain, had a much more frugal and simple bearing than I thought.
It certainly gave off the impression of a “mountain temple”. The interesting thing about it was that there weren’t Komainu9, but…
“Those are tigers, right?”
“Yes, they use tigers here.”
And the thing that drew my attention more than anything else was a gigantic hexagram which had been drawn on the ground in front of the main shrine.
“This exact place is said to be a power spot.”
“Ah, I’ve seen it on TV! They say the energy from the universe pours into this area! I’ll try standing there for a while.”
Like a typical trend follower, I walked into the hexagram and stood on a triangular piece of stone in the center. At that moment, I felt a shock in my right hand, as if static electricity were being passed through it.
“!” I hurriedly clenched my hand into a fist.
Wait, what was that?
In my bewilderment, I softly left the hexagram and stepped into it again, but I didn’t feel anything this time.
“Did something happen?”
If I said that I felt a shock on my hand, I would feel totally embarrassed.
It’s just a simple mountain temple, but it’s actually amazing, isn’t it?
“Ushiwakamaru used to live here, right?”
Looking at the temple, I changed the subject of our conversation. In response, Holmes-san nodded.
“Yes. He was brought up on this mountain, so you can tell that he was destined to be more powerful than others, in many ways.”
“That might be true,” I said with a chuckle.
He was born to a mother who was a one-in-a-thousand beauty, lived on thanks to his mother’s wishes, and was brought up in this temple. After that, he descended to the city and met Benkei at Gojo Bridge.
He was a delicate, nimble, handsome youth who fought as if he were dancing lightly under a moonlit night.
I don’t know how much of that is true, but I can feel the majesty and romance of that era.
After that, we walked on the Tree Root Pilgrim Path, then headed towards Kibune10.
The weather here was great, as expected of a mountain.
The cool wind, which was unthinkable for the first third of July, soothed my heart.
It was certainly the perfect weather for a hike.
Finally, I could see Kifune Shrine with its beautiful vermillion archway. The lanterns lined up on both sides of the stone staircase left a deep impression on me. Apparently, this is where the god of water is worshipped, a practice that was carried over from a long time ago.
A lot of bamboo plants were placed within the compounds, and tanzaku11 of variable colors were hung on the leaves.
“Right, it’s almost Tanabata12, huh.”
“It seems that you can write your wishes and hang them here. Would you like to do it?”
Holmes-san asked with a smile on his face.
“I hope that I can always be lovey-dovey with my boyfriend.”
After spotting such a tanzaku, I instantly averted my eyes.
“I’ll pass this time.”
“I see. Shall we go, then?”
The two of us paid homage at the shrine, then decided to try the “Mizuura Mikuji”.
To the right of the main shrine is the Mizuurayu Garden, and if you place the omikuji13 in the holy water there, the spiritual power of the water will cause characters to appear. That strange way of fortune telling is Mizuura Mikuji.
“This is quite interesting, isn’t it?”
We bought the fortune-telling papers and let them float in the water.
Eventually, the words “Great Fortune” appeared on my paper.
“Wow! Great Blessing! Yay!”
“Mine’s a Middle Blessing.”
“You said it.”
With the fortunes in our hands, the two of us laughed.
“Shall we go for lunch, then?”
Holmes-san asked as he checked the time.
“Ah, yes. I’m actually starting to feel hungry.”
I nodded with a light smile.
We were finally going to the rumored Kawadoko. My heart thumped with
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- A 1999 film about a railway station master at a dying end-of-the-line village in Hokkaido.
- Minamoto no Yoshitsune was a warrior who fought for his brother Yorimoto in the Heian Period, eventually leading to the establishment of the first shogunate in Japan and start of the Kamakura Period. Benkei was a Japanese warrior monk who lived in the later years of the Heian Period; he later came to respect and serve Minamoto no Yoshitsune.
- Tengu are a type of legendary creature found in Japanese folk religion, originally believed to take the form of birds of prey, but are now depicted humanoids with extraordinarily long noses.
- A photo booth machine where you can take photos with your friends and the get a printout of it afterwards.
- Mochi with horse chestnut and savory bean paste filling.
- Minamoto no Yoshitsune’s childhood name.
- Two wrathful and muscular guardians of the Buddha that usually stand at the entrances of Buddhist temples.
- A military leader and head of the Taira clan, who established the first samurai-dominated administrative government in Japan.
- Statue pairs of lion-like creatures typically guarding the entrance of shrines and temples.
- A small town in a forested valley in the northern mountains of Kyoto City, which developed around Kifune Shrine. Why the town and the shrine names are written the same but pronounced differently, I have no idea.
- Small pieces of colored paper on which wishes are written.
- A festival that celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by Vega and Altair respectively), who can only meet once every year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. It is usually celebrated on July 7th, by hanging tanzaku on bamboo.
- This usually means a slip of paper for fortune telling.