A Walk in the Countryside of Oyama District – Part 2
Forgotten Roads, Ancient thoroughfares
For hundreds if not thousands of years before the need for wider roads was brought about with the invention of powered vehicles, most roads were, what today we would call country lanes. As the famous American folk song by John Denver says it, “Country roads, take me home, to the place where I belong!”
With many of the new, wider, straighter roads bypassing the older lanes, these narrow roads that housed many important locations have become almost forgotten.
So, it is with the route the tour will take. In centuries past the road was a main thoroughfare dotted with many ryokans, temples and other interesting places. Due to loss of business, most of the ryokans eventually had to close or changed into private residences. The temples also struggle to cover maintenance and other costs with fewer members or visitors. There are quite a few of these places on the walk.
Japan’s Biggest Fir Tree
As we walk up-stream through the village we come to the ‘tree’. It lives in a small temple garden along with the biggest Ginkgo trees that I’ve seen in Japan. Located on what used to be the main road, this temple area has now become a quiet back street. That may be why I had no idea this treasure was there, until a year or two ago, when I first walked from my house to climb Mt Gold.
The tree itself is 7.8 meters in circumference, 34 meters tall, and is estimated to be around 1,000 years old.
The Otte Jinja
There is a legend as to why this shrine is called the ‘Otte’ Jinja.
The word otte (追手) in Japanese means ‘a pursuer’.
Long, long ago, there was a deity who was hurrying while carrying a certain bell in this area. There was another deity who mistakenly thought that the bell was his, so he pursued the deity with the bell.
The sun went down, so the pursuing deity went to sleep. The following morning, he woke up to the birds chirping and realized it was too late to pursue any further. So, the deity decided to stay where he was. That is why the shrine is called Otte Jinja or the Shrine of the Pursuer.
The deity with the bell, took a break on the top of the mountain. He was happy to see the moon come up and stood up to get going. However, a nut from a nearby beech tree fell and hit his eye. It hurt so bad that he couldn’t open his eye, so he left the bell and went to the other side of the mountain. He became the deity of the bell called, ‘Kane no Miya’. For that reason, the mountain is called Kinzan, gold mountain and the mountain slope is called Kane ga saka, the slope of the bell.
It is important to understand the play on words that is used here:
The sound used for the word ‘kane’ 金, (or kin), which means gold, that same sound, is also used for the word ‘kane’ 鐘, which means bell. Hence the switching between the words gold and bell in the myth.