the Degree Confluence Project

Japan : Kinki

4.8 km (3.0 miles) SE of Shimo-ikehara, Kumano-shi, Mie-ken, Kinki, Japan
Approx. altitude: 298 m (977 ft)
([?] maps: Google MapQuest Multimap world confnav)
Antipode: 34°S 44°W

Accuracy: 570 m (623 yd)
Click on any of the images for the full-sized picture.

#2: 570 meters from the confluence #3: Road 425 #4: Entering  Omine-san #5: Getting some water #6: Short rest inside a hut #7: Prayers to the gods #8: Pulling ourselves up #9: Head first over a precipice

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  34°N 136°E (visit #1) (incomplete) 

#1: Kitayama River. View towards Confluence from the northeast

(visited by Fabrice Blocteur)

Japanese Narrative

27-Jul-2003 -- After visiting 34°N 135°W, I now had to cross the entire Kii Peninsula to find the confluence N34 E136. Derived from “ki no kuni” – province of trees – the name of the peninsula is apt, with its lush virgin forests of cypress, cedar, pine, and fir covering steep valleys and high peaks alike. Since ancient times the rugged mountains of the peninsula have been a sanctuary for mountain hermits and ascetics. But it was getting too late on that Saturday afternoon to cross the peninsula and Rie invited me to stay in her parents’ house in Katsuragi for the night. I left the next morning at 8:00 and drove east along the Kino River, crossed into Nara prefecture, went south on Road 168 and before entering Mie prefecture, turned east again on Road 425. That road took me across the deserted mountains of the southern part of Nara prefecture for almost two hours before finally crossing the Kitayama River that at this point divides the prefectures of Nara and Mie. This is also where the confluence N34 E136 is to be found.

By looking at the map before reaching the point, I knew that it wouldn’t be my easiest confluence. And in fact it turned out to be my first unsuccessful visit. It is located on the northwest side of a 445-meter mountain which is almost completely surrounded by the Kitayama River, forming a small triangular peninsula linked to the mainland by a 100-meter ridge. My first approach was from the northern side along the river but within meters I was completely hampered by dense vegetation. I then followed a dirt road on the eastern side of the mountain to the southern tip of the peninsula and up again to the other side. The end of that dirt road was still 900 meters away from the confluence. I found a small track used by loggers and climbed it to the top of the mountain where the track ended. In order to reach the confluence I now had to go half way down the western side of the mountain. Unfortunately the vegetation was again too thick to cover the remaining 570 meters through the unknown. I came back down.

A few weeks before, on Saturday June 7th, I had not been completely successful on another mountain 30 kilometers north of this confluence either. I was among the 30 members of a pilgrimage to Ômine-san. During the Heian period this pilgrimage became immensely popular with pilgrims. In his book Hiking In Japan, Paul Hunt points out that “the mountains of Ômine-san and Yoshino-yama came to be invested with much Buddhist symbolism after the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the sixth century. En no Ozunu, the greatest of Japan’s mountain ascetics, was the first climber of Ômine-san about 1,300 years ago. He was the founder of the Shugendô sect, which developed towards the end of the twelfth century. Ômine-san became associated with paradise in the early Heian period, possibly because the Kii Peninsula, on which it is situated, points toward India”. Shugendo, which may be roughly defined as the 'way of mastering magico-ascetic powers’ has lost its influence in modern Japan but some subtle aspects of the faith, such as its reverence for the mountains (although prior to its fondation), remain deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. Practitioners of Shugendo, called Yamabushi (mountain priests) train both body and spirit with arduous exercises in sacred mountains such as Ômine-san.

We had left Maizuru on Friday night by bus and arrived at the village of Dorogawa the next morning. We ate breakfast and at around 6:30 all the pilgrims, with the exception of some new recruits and two foreigners, my friend Tim and I, dressed up into white clothes, baggy pants, deer-skins, colorful beads and pendants with small black caps on their heads and carrying staffs. Bells attached to walking sticks tinkled as we headed for the trail which entrance is marked by a stone with an inscription reading 'No women allowed beyond this point'. Japan once had many such sacred mountain areas which were barred to women, but in 1872 the new 'democratic' regime of Japan demanded that women be allowed access to such places. The nationalist government even proscribed Shugendô itself, being an unacceptable hybrid of 'indigenous' Japanese shamanism – in its veneration of sacred mountains – Kannabe Shinko, Tantric Buddhism, Religious Taoism and Confucianism. The bar was generally lifted, except for Ômine-san and Kozan in Okayama Prefecture, which persist today.

On that morning of June 7th we were joined by hundreds of other men, pilgrims and Yamabushi, coming from all over Japan to celebrate the annual event of ‘Entering Mt. Ômine by the dean of Sanboin’. Many were here to climb up Ômine-san and devote themselves to austere practices at various places on the mountain. We got to the first place three hours after starting our ascent and the nine new “recruits” in our group, including Tim and I (although I had no idea yet that I had been recruited, I was only here for the hike) pulled ourselves up iron chains dangling from rocks to the top of a rock while some Shugendô priests below us were reading scriptures and pleading repentance. We were greeted at the top of that rock by another priest, were given a headband with some Buddhist Sutras stamped on it… and were asked to give a “voluntary” contribution of 800 yen.

The second place was reached 30 minutes later. Here we had to be tied up by a rope around our shoulders, held by our feet and dangled headfirst over a sheer precipice to confess our sins. The contribution had to be given before being hanged upside down… just in case. I let the first eight other men go first and when my turn came I decided that I had no sins to confess and no trust in the rope. I gave up. By the look all the other pilgrims gave me, I was now facing the risk of being thrown down the precipice and dashed to pieces without having the time to confess anything. This is what used to be done to pilgrims breaking the rules a few decades ago. But Japan is now a full member of the UN and its citizens under international laws and human rights are not allowed to perform that kind of sacrifice anymore, even on foreigners.

We reached the 1719 meters summit at around noon through the third and last trial. Here we had to walk on narrow ledges and again pulled ourselves up iron chains dangling from rocks. And here again I broke the rules by taking some shortcuts to avoid the precipices. I was definitely not worthy of being a member of the Shugendô sect but I nevertheless had to give a last donation. Finally the entire group got together and we had lunch inside a hut. At around 13:00 the group split in two parts to start the descent. The majority of the participants joined the first group that was supposed to walk all the way to Yoshino where we would all be reunited to have dinner and spend the night. A five to six hours hike. The second group of half a dozen people was to hike its way back to the foot of the mountain where a bus was waiting to take them to Yoshino. An easy two to three hours hike. The weather had been clear so far but the forecast didn’t look too good for the afternoon. I decided to join the second group. We left and ten minutes later the rain started.

It was one of the worst thunderstorms this area had had for years. It made the headlines for the national TV evening news. The trail was soon transformed into a torrent. Within seconds all the people on the trail without rain gear were soaked to the skin. The temperature dropped from 19°C to 12°C in less than thirty minutes. The huts along the trail became packed with pilgrims shivering in their dripping muddy white clothes. Lightening flashed above the trees and thunder echoed against the rocks. The mountain gods and goddesses were in a furry. The first group never made it to Yoshino and was picked up by a bus along the road. Our group was trying to go down as fast as it could without stopping. I was ahead and running. At the second hut down the trail I stopped and decided to wait for the rain to do the same. The rest of the group passed soon after without seeing me. I waited for more than an hour. After reaching the foot of the mountain the people in my group got worried about me and an hour later they sent a search party to look for me. We came across each other on the trail near the sign forbidding women to climb Ômine-san.

The next day on the bus, as we were heading back to Maizuru, the man in charge of that pilgrimage made a brief speech. He said he was sorry that we had come across a storm. It was the first time since he had been organizing this kind of trip to Ômine-san. The only reason he could think of for such a big storm was probably that some pilgrims among us had too many sins. Thirty pair of eyes turned into my direction.

Japanese Narrative

27-Jul-2003 -- 北緯34度東経135度を訪れた後、confluence北緯34度東経136度を探すには、紀伊半島を横断する必要があった。半島の名が『紀伊の国』-木々の国-の由来をもつというのは、険しい谷や高い頂を覆うイトスギ、ヒマラヤスギ、松やモミが青々と茂る未開の森を見ても頷ける。古代からこの半島の起伏に富んだ山々は隠者や修行僧たちにとっての聖域であった。しかし、土曜日の午後、半島を横断するには時間が遅すぎたので、リエはその夜葛城にある両親の家へと私を招いてくれた。翌朝8時に出発し、紀ノ川沿いを西へ。奈良県を通り、168号線を南へ向かう。三重県に入る手前で再び425号線を東へ。最終的に奈良県と三重県とを分けるポイントである北山川を越える前、奈良県南部のひと気のない山々を通り抜けるのに2時間ほど要した。ここはConfluence北緯34度東経136度を見出せる場所でもある。


数週間前の6月7日土曜日、私はこのConfluenceの30キロメートル北にある別の山でも思うように成功を収めることができなかった。大峰山行脚のメンバー30人の中に私はいた。平安時代、この行脚は巡礼者たちの間で大変な人気となっていた。ポール・ハントは『Hiking In Japan』という著書の中で、「6世紀日本に仏教が伝来した後、大峰山と吉野山は仏教的な象徴主義の役割をより担うようになった。日本の修験道の第一人者、役小角(えんのおずぬ)は、約1300年前大峰山に初登山した人であった。彼は、12世紀末にかけて発展を遂げた修験道の祖だった。大峰山は、おそらく紀伊半島がインドの方角を指す位置にあるということから、平安時代初期には天国と結び付けられるようになった。」と指摘している。『魔力を会得する方法』として大まかに定義された修験道は、現代の日本にあってはその影響力を失いつつある。しかし、山への畏敬の念(修験道確立より前から存在していたのであるが)といった、信仰に関わるわずかな部分が、日本文化の中に依然根深く残っていたりもする。山伏と呼ばれる修験道の行者たちは、大峰山のような神聖な山々での辛い修行によりその肉体と精神を鍛えるのである。







Translated by Yoshimi Ishida

 All pictures
#1: Kitayama River. View towards Confluence from the northeast
#2: 570 meters from the confluence
#3: Road 425
#4: Entering Omine-san
#5: Getting some water
#6: Short rest inside a hut
#7: Prayers to the gods
#8: Pulling ourselves up
#9: Head first over a precipice
ALL: All pictures on one page (broadband access recommended)