Noilly Prattle: San-in 山陰 (Shady Side of the Divide)

Friday, November 6, 2015

San-in 山陰 (Shady Side of the Divide)

 at Ningyo Toge pass on the divide
     Japan, being an island nation, has something of a non-continental divide between the Pacific Ocean, the Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan, especially on the main island of Honshu. There is a special designation for either side of this divide. Here in Okayama in the south, the region is called San-yo 山陽 (the sunny side); in our northern Prefectural neighbor, Tottori, it is called San-in (the shady side). To go from one side to the other you have to cross the divide through various mountain passes. The actual distance is not so long and you can traverse from coast to coast in two to three hours. In the winter, it can be sunny when you leave home in the southern coastal lowlands and after driving for an hour or so you can find yourself in need of tire chains (if you have them) to cross the mountain pass before descending to the northern coastal lowlands. In the fall, autumn color is more dramatic and comes earlier in the highlands and it is a great time for a little overnight getaway to the San-in region--and you don't yet need tire chains. So we decided to stay at an old hot spring ryokan in Tottori Prefecture not too far from the Sea of Japan.

programming the route with "Demi"
       The two-day road trip was our first excursion with our Mazda Demio (outside of the local area) since she was returned to us from an auto body shop in Hokkaido after being repaired from a collision. (I related that story in a recent post here on Noilly Prattle.) Demi, as we have nicknamed the car, performed beautifully and seemed to enjoy being on the road again as much as we did.

picnic lunch at Ningyo Toge
       There were a lot of clouds lingering around the high peaks of the divide when we stopped for a picnic lunch of chicken rolls, potato chips and tea at a small rest area just outside the Ningyo Toge (Doll Pass) tunnel that crosses the divide. There are a couple of legends about the strange name of the pass. My favorite one (because I could imagine the atmosphere) is a kaidan 怪談 (ghost story). It goes like this: Long, long ago a mother and her daughter were crossing the pass on a dark foggy night when they got separated. They could hear but not see each other. After a while the mother could no longer hear the girl so she backtracked to find her, but all she found was a doll lying on the ground.

typical road frontage...
... of merchant establishments
       After crossing the pass, the road descends quickly into the lowlands and our first stop was in Kurayoshi City, Tottori Prefecture, which has a preserved merchant area of town from the Edo and Meiji (17 to 19 Century) Period. The preservation area is not without interest, however the area is not aesthetically charming, not because of the old buildings, but of the modern, unsightly forest of utility poles and electrical wires that mar the overall effect of what you would like to imagine the town had looked like in the era in question.

unusual 3-story building with unsightly
utility poles and electrical wiring
typical red tile roofs of the old houses

long canal spanned by stone bridges
to rear entrance of shops 

beautiful woodwork ceilings inside

fire brigade display

       What would a preservation district be without beautiful Japanese paper kites?


Shichifukujin - the seven good luck gods

on a stone slab bridge
 in front of the main temple gate
       There was an unusual Buddhist temple on a little side street running along an irrigation canal. The gate to the temple was traditional, however, the main temple was unusual for a Japanese temple. It was painted a rather bright yellow color and had lines reminiscent of India, especially in the arches, quite in contrast to a typical Japanese main temple. It seemed appropriate in a way since Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama—in India. I found that there is great variety in the design of Buddhist temples, depending on the region and/or inspiration of the architectural designer.

traditional temple gate 

 unusual (in Japan) main temple

Buddhist temple in India
 (Google images)
very modern Buddhist temple in China
(Google images)

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