Togakushi– Ground with History and Mystery

August 24th, 2009 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Sightseeing
Some of you may have heard about the area called Togakushi. It is in the outskirts of Nagano city proper and is famous for its mysterious ninja history.

BUT, ninja up there it is not only in the history but in modern days. You can experience real ninja training up there. I will tell you about this sometime later.

Togakushi will be most associated with its buckwheat noodles, soba. For most Japanese,
the mere name of it ‘Togakushi soba‘ would make their mouth water.
Surely, soba they produce here is something special :buckwheat flour kneaded with some wheat
flour — about 20 percent of the buckwheat flour, and fresh cold mountain water is of the top quality
in Japan.

We, tour guides in Nagano, had a small inspection tour up there, escaping from the summer heat.

Togakushi— a mysterious mountain site with abundant nature and history of hermits, Buddhists, and
We had known it is such a spiritual area with abundant nature and history of hermits, Buddhists, and Shintoists,
that everyone would be struck with its spirituality, but our actual walk took us much further.

After about 15 min walk from our starting point, we came across a small temple with new buildings–which we had paid no attention first, but in its backyard, we stood aghast!

It was a small ground but with several weird stone statues– statues with wings! We guessed they had something to do with the region’s worship, but we could not even figure out whether they belong to Shintoism or Buddhism, or something else. Togakushi has been fringed with so long a history.

Then, we came across this board.

This reads as follows (excerpt) :
Shaku Chomei Kajo-no-tokoro

Shaku Chomei who had been leading a harsh training life as a hermit in Togakushi mountains, in the year of Emperor Murakami in 966 AD, entered Kajo here at this place and went to heaven .
We did not understand the word ‘kajo‘ and so did not pay much attention to this small plaque and continued on our way, wondering what this mysterious place was for. None of us would wish to enter there alone.

It was not until that night when I was looking the word ‘kajo‘ in the dictionary and on theInternet, when I felt a chill run down my spine. I learned what he had done to attain the greatest devotion to his belief, an unbelievable sacrifice — burn himself to death.
I have learned there have been more people, they all seem to be Buddhist priests, who killed themselves this way: apply oil all over his body, sit on/in a pile of firewood, set a fire while chanting sutras (Buddhist scriptures) . It is believed to be the most painful, agonal way of killing oneself. Ah, what great sacrifice they chose to seek after the truth or to save people!
That night, I ruminated over the image again and again — so sad, but would have been so meaningful for them. It is still beyond my understanding.

I have learned anther story of a Buddhist priest who killed himself this way in Ueda, Nagano prefecture. He burned himself to save villages from a fierce epidemic that killed many children.

Our walk went on without much knowing this event in history.

History of Togakushi —–excerpts from the official pamphlet of Togakushi
Togakushi is a major center for Japan’s native religion, Shintoism, as well as for Buddhism. Japanese people have found their peace of mind and spirituality here for more than 1,000 years. Hermits lived an ascetic life of training and meditation far away from the world with earthly desires.They sought after the truth and the enlightenment in a total of 33 caverns discovered in the steep Togakushi mountain range.

Any idea what this gadget is for?

You have to be careful when you go into the woods! It is advised you wear something that makes noises such as bells and radios.

Chusha (Main Hall)
One of the five Shinto shrines of Togakushi, which for many centuries have been a focus of pilgrimage. The surrounding forests is still seen as a sacred treasure.

One of the sacred trees
This creptromeria tree just in front of the shrne is 700 years old.

Soba — buckwheat fields just started to bud.;jsessionid=E78355A65186CDD172EF29763AE6AF6A?DISPLAY_ID=DIRECT&NEXT_DISPLAY_ID=U000004&CONTENTS_ID=8053

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