I decided to do some exploring on my own, instead of spending the day at home in my dorm room. I read about a walking trail from Ikoma Station to Ishikiri Station. I took a train to Ikoma station, and started on my way. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any maps or specific directions online, so I decided to wing it. Which turned out to be...pretty...wingy. I had no idea where I was going. But with the help (again) of some very nice people, lots of pointing and incomprehensible Japanese, I managed to find my way to the walking trail. I'm not sure I went the right way, because it turned out to be more of a hike....with my pretty new shirt, purse, and sandals, I wasn't dressed for hiking. But the trail was nice and it was so beautiful, I went anyways.
On the (fun) cable car on the way up the mountain...turns out there's also a kids amusement park at the top!
This is my fancy new 'Japanese Shirt' that I spoke of...
I met a few people on the trail, but not many. We exchanged nods and 'Konnichi-wa's, and occasionally I asked to make sure I was still heading towards Ishikiri. They all thought it was just delightful that I was walking by myself, in my sandals. One guy asked if I was alone, another woman wasn't sure I should continue in my sandals. Everyone was very friendly, albeit giggling and smiling a lot when they saw me, and watching me until I was out of sight.
The trail was in large part big stone steps and staircases, interluded by rocky paths and dirt trail. There was a light and cool breeze, and overhead the path was shaded by brush and trees of all kinds. The birds chirped and sang, and from time to time I could hear water in the distance. It was so beautiful and serene; I sat, from time to time, just to take it all in and imprint it in my memory. I walked slowly, partially due to my footwear (or lack thereof), but mostly because I wished I could walk forever. About halfway through, I came to a shrine - perfectly situated in the trees. Made of stone and faded wood, it didn't look at all out of place. I washed my hands in the fountain and stepped inside to look around. There were several statues and buildings, but most of the buildings were closed. One was open - so I stepped up to the door and peeked around the corner. It was beautifully decorated, and there was a lady sitting inside at a desk. I quickly stepped away from the door and back down the steps, but then decided to go inside and look around. I always find myself hesitant to enter such a holy and revered place - lest I do something to embarass myself or offend other visitors. But everyone is very forgiving and friendly, and I knew I would regret it if I didn't go inside.
As I expected, she just smiled at me as I looked around . . . I never tire of the ornate gold carvings and beautiful flowing paintings. Just before I reached the door to leave, the woman offered me some tea. I accepted and she laid out a cushion, then poured me some tea and ran into the back - coming back with a packaged cookie. The gesture was so kindhearted and genuine, it made me feel as welcome as if I was an honored guest and friend. We chatted a bit - with some difficulty as my Japanese is somewhat lacking - about where I was from, what I was doing in Japan, and her trip to Canada some years ago. As I had finished my tea and we had finished talking, I heard several people coming and decided to leave so they could pray and worship. I thanked her from the bottom of my heart, conveying my gratitude as best I could - because it really did mean a lot to me that she had taken the time to talk to me and give me tea and a cookie.
The rest of the trail was downhill - every couple hundred feet were statues, often with incense or flowers or candles in front of them. I found a waterfall to the side of the path and sat for a few minutes - all I could hear were the birds and the water; all I could see was greens and natural browns, and the wet rock wall.
The trail turned into a paved road, with neat little houses on both sides. As I was walking, I heard a clackety-clack noise, and saw a big water wheel to my right. Set up under a covered area was a smaller water wheel with big wooden hammers that made the noise I had heard. Beside it was the larger water wheel - still functioning, but looking as though it had seen generations come and go more than once or twice. There was a little information board with old pieces of similar equipment, and pictures and captions (none of which I could read).
There was a map of the area, once the road got closer to town. I almost headed to the train station, but I noticed pictures for another temple off to the side. Of course - I had to go see it. I wasn't disappointed - again, it was beautiful and as tranquil as any place I've been. There were some more small ones that I visited as well - one had over 700 small statues in glass cases. Every temple and shrine was neat and well cared for, with small offerings and prayer requests on and around it.
When I was satisfied that I hadn't missed anything, I continued into town, and explored a short shopping street. I had a delicious (and well-deserved) lunch before I headed back to the train station.
I spend a lot of my time alone - but the solitude of being in the green forest, just with the birds, the running water, and the timeworn statues...it was different. A sanctuary of solitude that released all but peace and joy from my heart and soul.