Every place has a story, sometimes the story is ancient and tied to the land. When we arrived at our mountain mansion we knew little of the far reaching history of Tateyama and the mountain.
Tuesday morning we stepped out the door, ready to explore, and our attention was captured by another beautiful shrine. Before us were towering ceders, serene green spaces, and dai-doro stone lanterns lining the path; it’s no wonder we are attracted to these spaces!
Next we came upon the Tateyama Toyama Museum. You may think we had our fill of places like this. Well almost, but we naively thought there was not much else to see in this location, so in we went. This turned out to be a brilliant move because the museum gave us a framework for understanding more of what we saw the rest of this day and the next.
The first exhibits gave us the usual explanation of the geology of the area, showing how volcanoes occur, and telling that Tateyama is a volcanic mountain. It was after this, that things got interesting, and puzzling too. We viewed displays with short captions in English and detailed explanations in Japanese. We tried to make sense of the exhibits that explained the faith that had grown and developed around this volcano, a Buddhist faith that included the concepts of heaven and hell. Both concepts were tied to the activity of the mountain, the beautiful green heights on one side of the valley and the sulphurous springs and odors so prominent on the other side.
This painting on silk, striking in its color and detail, is actually a frightening picture, showing people burning in flames trying to get away. And other people or beings in the sky above, whether they had escaped or were there to rescue the others I am not sure.
A carefully constructed diorama of the mountains, the valley, the shrines, and a beautiful red bridge caught our attention and next to it was a video showing a present day ceremony showing women sitting, listening meditativly to a priest performing ceremonies. Then the women dressed in white gowns, with their hands tied together were blindfolded, and walked together at a steady pace over a beautiful red bridge following priests or monks in deep blue gowns. The women were walking 3 by 3 on white cloths that guided them down the hill from the shrine over a red bridge. I found the imagery disturbing, mostly because the women were completely vulnerable and because of my own lack of understanding about what all this meant. (A Google search helped: Tateyama UNESCO Ceremony)
After the museum we continued walking down the forested road when unexpectedly we came upon the very red bridge we viewed in the video and in the diorama! “This is it, the red bridge!”, we exclaimed. All the places we had visited today helped us understand a little more of the faith expression that developed as a result of the volcano and the local religion. This beautiful bridge, over a deep gorge surrounded by green forest, was also part of the religious significance of this area. We were beginning to grasp the story around Mount Tateyama and the surrounding area. Little did we know there was more to discover the next day.
*Photography is not allowed in the museum, when I snapped this image I was told – no pictures! I offered to delete the photo but was told that I could keep it, soI felt free to share it here.