Deborah Howell’s Japan Journey: The Back Roads of Ancient Japan Must See Attractions

Back on the back roads of Japan, and loving every image out the window. Drove around the end of the island of Japan and stopped for a walk at the rugged seaside near Kumano City. Breathtaking does not even begin to describe it.

PHOTOS: The Back Roads of Ancient Japan Must See Attractions

Two tectonic plates merge here, lifting the sandstone rock into a vertical shelf called The Devil’s Castle just perfect for walking above the rocky shore. There we also saw the famous rock formation called Onigajyo–which looks like a hawk or a gargoyle or g. depending upon your interpretation.

After this refreshing stroll we were whisked off to Nachi Katsuura where we had an experience so holy I’m almost thinking we dreamed it. But we have the photos to prove we were there, so I guess it was real. On a sacred mountain there is a temple next to a shrine at Nachi where a thousand years ago white robed monks used to test their mettle and their faith by running up and down 800 meters of steep stone stairs in the complete darkness. We climbed these slippery stairs slowly and lost our footing more than once in our sturdy sneakers–in broad daylight. I can’t fathom running up and down them in whatever footwear they had a thousand years ago without seeing a thing. This is how they demonstrated their faith–that somehow, against all odds, their foot would find the next step just by believing it would.

Once a year there’s a fire festival here where young men don white robes and run these stairs with fiery torches to honor the original monks of this mountain. Something that would be incredible to witness some day. Just imagine the Santa Monica stairs or the Baldwin Hills stairs multiplied by 500 and that’s about right.

We then walked to a bright orange shrine and asked about its color. The paint is infused with oxidized Mercury to somehow wind up that particularly Japanese shrine shade of orange. The dark red colors you also in in holy places here is achieved with iron.

Beyond this gorgeous shrine runs Japan’s second longest waterfall–Natchi Fall, and it inspired a sense of wonder I can’t easily describe. We were so lucky to be there near the end of the day when the sunlight bathed the mountains in gold and there were only 2 or 3 other people enjoying the holy site, so it was incredibly quiet and peaceful. The photos tell only half the story–the hallowed atmosphere cannot be captured on film, only felt with the heart.

See more of my adventures through Japan here.

More from Deborah Howell
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