Back to Contents of Issue: April 2005

Rejuvenating Spirit and Mind

by Bonnie Lee La Madeleine

Home to Japan's largest reclining Buddha, a modern bronze statute with gaudy red carpeting inside, Sasaguri's charms are not obvious. Wedged between Iisuka, a declining coal mining town, and Fukuoka, a rising international metropolis, this popular pilgrimage destination looks like a simple, sleepy rice farming town with one roadside wonder: that Buddha. Yet, each year busloads of white-clad pilgrims visit the 88 shrines hidden away off of Sasaguri's mountain paths.

A perilous drive to reach an old-fashion kiln, which produces whimsical pottery pieces in dark earthy tones, provides breathtaking views of the town below. However, walking to any of the shrines along the wooded paths is more rewarding. Tiny stone and wooden statues of animals or gods are scattered along these paths to greet, comfort and encourage passersby. These woodland guides can connect the hiker to a part of Japan rarely seen in Tokyo. Any pleasant afternoon ends well with a glass of sake, yamaimo suteeki, and ika-sashi at Yumeya -- a friendly izakaya that occupies a 100-year-old pawnbroker shop. Life in Sasaguri offers a delightful routine accented with rare moments.

Japan's nature-rich southern island still claims my heart. Hagi, Yamaguchi, Satsuma and other historically rich places are easy, beautiful day trips from Fukuoka and hiking in Sasaguri, to visit one of the shrines along the wooded mountain paths, rejuvenates spirit and mind.

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