Saturday, May 3, 2008

Akazawa 赤沢

I’m in Kyoto now. It’s still the “golden” week and so everyone’s out for BBQs, sightseeing, and what not. I also have to check in at the university and sign for some money. . .well stipend. . .David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap once explained that: “a stipend is like money; only it’s such a small amount that they call it a stipend”—I concur.

Anyway, don’t wanna bore with details of that sort. Rather, I wanted to write a bit about a little fieldtrip Aki and I took a few days ago. We visited the 赤沢自然休養 (aka-zawa-shizen-kyuuyou-rin) in Agematsu; one town over from Otaki. 赤沢自然休養林 is translated as “Akasawa Natural Recreational Forest” on the official pamphlet—but you also see a lot of references to fo-resuto serapi- (forest therapy). Not totally sure why one forest is more capable of therapy than another, but. . .

Driving from Otaki we turned to the south from Mitake and headed along the Otaki river until we reached Agematsu. From there we turned back west towards the mountains, following a small river littered with large granite boulders. A few terraced fields, cradled within walls of rounded river rocks, gave way to steep rock cliffs and stands of hinoki (cypress) and karamatsu (larch).

The road continued into forest, absent of much apparent human intervention compared to other areas in Japan. By this I mean river channeling, terracing, homes, etc. The trees in the area, however, I would imagine, were planted in the post-war area; though some areas may have more history than that.

Rounding a bend we saw a section of river channeled naturally by large slabs of granite—too beautiful not to stop. I parked the car and we descended from the road for a brief look—we both giggled as we took in the scene around us. Mountain water, clear as gin, ran over granite sculpted in abstract waves, troughs, and abatements. The river tumbled in places down the steeper slopes, but also took time to pool and eddy, allowing Aki and I to spot fish. I placed my hand in the cool water and waved it upstream to feel the tension of the current. As they often do when I kneel at a river, the words of Barry Lopez popped into my mind—his ponderings on the mathematical impossibilities of charting the course of flowing water.

Back in the car and another few kilometers of winding road brought us to the 赤沢自然休養林. A guard shack met us at the entrance to the forest; 600 yen to park . . . we asked if we could just use the restroom. On our way out we requested pamphlets so that we could come again as soon as I could figured out where to park for free. The forest’s main “attraction” is a forest railroad that visitors can ride—one of many 林道, or “forest railroads” that used to carry timber instead of tourists.

After exiting the forest we drove back down the road and stopped at a shrine that we had noticed on our way up. The shrine is called hime-buchi 姫渕 and is dedicated to the soul of a princess who fled to the local town some 800 years ago after her family lost power in Kyoto. The local villagers did not protect the princess when soldiers came looking for her, so she fled to the area where the shrine stands and killed herself. We crossed a small wooden bridge hung over the river and turned to the right under a torii gate. A small mountain path continued about a quarter of a kilometer leading to a small shrine. Another torii stood before a covered stage area made of wood. Behind was the main shrine that held a small alter with a mirror. Aki and I bowed and prayed—I gave thanks for the day and all that was around.

Aki and I returned to where we had stopped before, having both secretly promised we would . . . promised to each other? the river? the rocks? Descending back to the river’s edge we took a seat on the rocks next to the clear, green-hued water that continued to slip over the stone riverbed like a set of silk sheets. We ate cookies and chips, and drank coffee we had prepared at home and brought with us. I pulled out my Wild Birds of Japan book and began searching for birds I had seen in the past few days.

The sun began to climb into the trees, sending a warm arc of sunlight onto the canyon slope opposite Aki and I, and a cool breeze began to flow down mountain. We packed up our things, and also grabbed some mementos of rocks and tree branches.

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