Friday, 4 May 2012

Stops Five and Six

(pictures to follow when we get home and I can upload them from the camera, but I wanted to get this story down while it was fresh in my mind)

It really shouldn't be any surprise that our next two stops were Toshogu shrines!

Our book listed two in a town just outside Nagano city. One was listed as within the grounds of a large and well-known shrine, Takemizuwake jinja. The Toshogu was a small, nondescript and unmarked stone monument behind the main shrine. If it hadn't been for the metal sign in front there would have been no way to tell it apart from the stone monument to a different god next to it.

The second Toshogu was more problematic. It was listed as having been combined into a different shrine, Takahara jinja (or Kogen jinja, we aren't sure how to read the characters). But we couldn't find said shrine on the car navi or Google maps. A quick google search found a 2011 Nagano shrine and temple association list (a PDF of well over 100 pages) gave us an address for Takahara/Kogen jinja - an address that we couldn't find on the maps but appeared to be close to the town's library.

We decided to check out the library, hoping they would have a better local map. They did but the address wasn't on it, nor was there a Takahara/Kogen jinja. We were, however, able to narrow down the area, and the librarians ran about consulting volumes of town histories to discover that the shrine had existed, and hadn't been combined into the larger local shrine when a number of other small shrines had been. But that was all we could find. One of the librarians called the director of the library who came out and poured over the map with us. With the library five minutes from closing and us still without an answer the director picked up the phone and called an older man who lived near the area we thought the shrine might be. After a lengthy explanation (repeated multiple times) he finally got an answer - yes, the shrine existed, between Mr. So-and-so's house and the storehouse next door. The detailed local map was photocopied, the route highlighted in bright pink, and we were on our way just as the last strains of "Auld Lange Syne" sounded through the library.

Following our map it was no problem - turn at the JA, walk along the stream, turn at the fish feed company (lost U for a few minutes there), turn at Mr Such-and-such, and there it was, just as the man on the phone had said.

There was no torii gate, no wooden shrine building, just a small stone shrine beside a very dilapidated mini wooden shrine that was half collapsed into the flower garden on the other side. The sign that would have once hung from the torii was propped up against the stone shrine but still read "Takahara/Kogen jinja." And the lettering inside the stone shrine had what looked like a fresh coat of red paint, clearly showing the gods enshrined... including Tosho-daigongen, of course!!

We had just finished taking pictures when an old man appeared - our friend from the phone. He brandished a book on the shrines of Nagano but wasn't able to tell us anything about the shrine beyond the fact that although there had been a larger wooden building, it had disappeared (burnt down?) "a long time ago." But the family of Mr S down the road had nominally been in charge of caring for the shrine, so Mr S might be able to answer our questions. Down the road we all went, to Mr S's house. The neighbour's dog, barked at us enthusiastically and unendingly, but Mr S was less responsive - there was no answer when our friend opened the front door and called in. No answer until I noticed a movement and what appeared to be a bare arm closing a door on what I had taken to be the storehouse in the garden. Not a storehouse! Mr S was in the bath! And despite our friend's repeated questions through the closed door, was silent.

We repeated our thanks to our friend, who was very disappointed to hear we would not be returning the following day, and headed back to the library parking lot to the car. As we entered the parking lot and walked by the now dark parking lot, U slipped his hand into mine and said "libraries really are important to small communities!" Or at least to two travellers with very particular interests!


  1. Another lovely story. I think libraries are important everywhere.

    PS: So your idea of heaven would be a Toshogu shrine with its own rhuburb shop?

    1. I agree wholeheartedly on the importance of public libraries. U's comment was all the more timely Astor me as the Canadian government has just announced sweeping cuts - including deep ones to libraries and archives. Sigh.

      I'm not sure one Toshogu would be enough for me! Sure I love Nikko and Kunozan (see?! two!) but I love searching out the small ones, going to areas I never would elsewise, talking with random ojiisans, and the thrill of finding a new and different Toshogu!

  2. I agree about the importance of libraries.

    The man in the bath was probably mortified. I love small towns.

    1. I don't want to get into a political debate, but given the timing of U's comment and the recent Harper cuts... Libraries are very important places!

      I was really worried the old guy was going to come out holding a towel as his friend hadn't annouved our presence. I was trying to figure out were best to stand so I COULDN'T see him if he came out!