Kasagi 笠置 to Yagyū 柳生

Flying in over the mountainous spine of the Chugoku region had made me long to get walking again. It took only a few days for me to lace up my boots and head upward. Miki and I picked up the TSH at Kasagi following the road through the village, then climbing the path to Kasagi Temple. There were quite a few folks about, braving the chill wind while picnicking under momiji full blown with color. We walked past the ancient temple buildings, beneath tremendous rocks cut with Buddhist deities. You had to feel a little sorry for the men--presumably men, in those days-- who had carved these figures, since their labours inevitably go unrewarded. As if often the case in Asia, such incredible feats are often labelled with mythological hyperbole. "Kobo Daishi rested here for a meal, then using his toothpick, carved these Buddhas in a single afternoon" and the like. Miki and I too rested for a meal, sitting on a boulder at the highest point of the trail. But the only feats we did were to take somebodies photo.

We headed on along the ridge to Yagyu Village. I hadn't been out here for years, since the summer of 2003 when NHK was showing that "Musashi" program in which the Yagyu family played a prominent part. We poked around the old manor awhile. I was especially taken with the old wooden bokken and kenjutsu gear, the ancestors of today's kendo bogu. In one room were a series of photos of the village, comparing shots of certain locations taken both recently and back in the day. As usual, the newer came off the poorer. We walked up to the old dojo next, and sat on the steps to have tea and rice crackers. The Yagyu graves looked much as I remembered them, though I hadn't then noticed that Munenori's grave marker (teacher to the Shogun) was bigger than his father's (founder of the school of swordsmanship ). Typical how people with political clout are often more rewarded than those who create. We followed the trail past the tea fields to the mysterious grove where I'd had my bizarre encounter with a serpent. This time too I was mesmerized, at the stones and the trees and the silence. This is a magic place still. And a magic still place. Miki pointed out a carved Tengu on the hillside which I hadn't noticed before. This is easily one of the most amazing places in this country.

We wanted to follow the mountains back to Kasagi station, but found that the trail was closed. We went anyway, with the agreement that if we encountered any true peril we'd immediately double back. It was a mere twenty minutes until we met open trail again, but my mind reeled the entire duration. From the practical (a landslide) to the impractical (this is a forest thick with bears or boars) to the supernatural (this is the realm of ghosts or other beings of which the villagers know but we don't). We crossed a small area that looked to have had a landslide a few years ago, but was passable today. That was probably the reason for the closure. Not long after, near a thicket of high grass, we heard the sound of some animal moving just off trail, which gave Miki and I a good spook, both of us repeatedly looking back over our shoulders. Basically, this was a lovely stretch of mountain that seemed untouched and pure somehow. Back onto the road, which we followed alongside a stream which fed a few small yet impressive waterfalls. In fear of missing our train (A modern fear of the lack of control over that man-made construct, time), we hitched a ride with a surly middle-aged couple smelling strongly of the hot springs they'd just taken, though had apparently not enjoyed.

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