By Kenichi Sato / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterMISASA, Tottori — Situated at the mouth of a cave on a steep mountain cliff, the Nageiredo hall of Mitokusan Sanbutsuji temple in Misasa, Tottori Prefecture, has been called the most dangerous place in the nation to reach.
The hall has been designated a national treasure by the government, and is located at the rear of the grounds of the temple, which is said to have been established in 706 by Enno Gyoja, the founder of the Shugendo sect of Buddhism.
Visitors must climb a steep mountain trail to see the hall close up.
After praying for safety at the temple’s main hall, I went to a reception area for climbers to enter Mt. Mitoku, a sacred place. The reception area is located in the rear of the temple.
Visitors must wear mountaineering boots or other hard-soled footwear to prevent slipping, and they cannot go to the hall alone. I wasn’t allowed to wear my sneakers, as the soles with their shallow grooves were not strong enough, so I bought straw sandals sold at the temple.
“In ordinary daily life, the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind become contaminated. Ascetic training involves going onto the mountain and getting in touch with nature to purify these six roots of perception,” said Ryojun Yoneda, 39, the deputy chief steward of Sanbutsuji temple. He accepted my special request to be guided to the hall.
We each wore wagesa, the stole of a Buddhist priest, bearing the words “rokkon shojo,” meaning purifying the six roots of perception.
Just before we left, an ascetic called a shugenja, in the garb of a yamabushi mountain priest, asked to join our party. Now we were a party of three. Fate meant for this to happen, I thought.
Shortly after we began our ascent, I was breathing hard as I climbed the steep Kazurazaka slope, scrambling up over bare tree roots. The trip to the Nageiredo hall is about 900 meters one way, and a round trip takes from 90 to 120 minutes. The difference in elevation is a daunting 200 meters.
It’s understandable that visitors are banned from climbing up to the small hall in case of rain or in winter, when the risk of falling is higher.
While walking, we chanted, “Sange, sange, rokkon shojo.” (Lotus petals, lotus petals, purify the six roots of perception.) When I followed Yoneda’s beautiful voice and spoke loudly from my belly, I felt strangely like I was gathering my strength.
Heartened by the sound of a yamabushi’s shell horn, I was able to make it through a rough part of the Kusarizaka slope of giant rocks by holding onto a metal chain hanging along the steep cliff face.
At a Monjudo hall corridor sticking out in the air, I timidly viewed Mt. Daisen far away in the distance, while trying to keep from falling. Then I heard the sound of a bell from a belfry hall.
After traveling between rocks as part of ascetic practices called “tainai kuguri,” or “crawling through the womb,” at the Kannondo hall, I saw an incredible landscape spread before us.
The Nageiredo hall stands on a sheer precipice — as if it’s stuck to the cave. The hall was built in the late Heian period (from the late eighth century to the late 12th century), but how it was built remains unknown.
“We inspected the temple after a powerful earthquake hit central Tottori Prefecture two years ago but found no problems. It was constructed with possible natural disasters in mind,” Yoneda said. “Accepting nature as it is — that’s the way a shugenja thinks.”
Later, to rest my tired legs, I went to Misasa Onsen hot spring.
With more than 850 years of history as a hot spring town, the area boasts hot spring water with one of the highest levels of radon in the world. I took a bath at the Kawaraburo public bath, an open-air bath giving the sense of space.
Nearby I could see a little egret watching the surface of a river to catch fish, an idyllic scene.
Onsenhon-dori street in the center of the town has a retro atmosphere of the Showa era (1926-1989), with such shops as a dagashiya mom-and-pop candy shop and a recreation hall.
A rakugo storytelling performance was held at one night at the New Lucky playhouse, which was a strip club until six years ago.
Futatsume-ranked rakugo storyteller Takigawa Rihaku, 36, who was born in Misasa, gives homecoming performances in June and November. When he was a child, his grandfather operated an inn near the town.
“I had a scary feeling about this place as it was an unknown adult world,” he said of the venue. “I didn’t think I would perform rakugo here 30 years later.”
Paintings of nude dancers remain on a side of the stage. This town has embraced the long years of its history regarding both the sacred and the secular.
Shows running June-September
At the Misasa hot spring town, local performances, Misasa rakugo and a silent film are held every night in rotation from June through September under the name of “Attaka-za.” The silent film, a tragic love story called “Misasa Kouta” (Misasa’s ballad), is shown with a moving-picture narrator. The movie was produced in 1929 based on a song of the same title. The lyrics are by Ujo Noguchi, with music by Shinpei Nakayama. The movie brought Misasa Onsen nationwide fame.
Flights from Haneda Airport to Tottori Airport take about 75 minutes. The bus ride from the airport to Kurayoshi Station takes about 45 minutes. From there, another bus to Misasa Onsen Kanko Shoko Center takes about 20 minutes, and it is 34 minutes to Mitokusan Sando Iriguchi. There is also a bus that shuttles between the airport and the hot spring.
For details, call the Misasa Onsen tourist association at (0858) 43-0431.
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