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Where The Day Takes You

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This was last sunday. I was driving home from the city of Ota in Gunma prefecture where I'd gone to buy some Kimchee. It was about 4:30pm and the weather was overcast.

I always listen to music while driving and that day was no exception. I have about 800 tunes in my i-Pod and I have it on "random". As I was about to turn the corner onto my street, I Feel Fine by The Sundays came on the stereo. My house is the second one from the corner so I was practically home but I wanted to listen to that song. So, instead of pulling into my driveway, I just kept going. I thought, "OK, I will just drive to the foot of Ooiwa Mountain and back so I can listen to this one." but it was too perfect. I mean, the weather, the music, the mountains... the airy guitars and that ethereal voice of Harriet Wheeler matched the damp air of a quiet June late afternoon perfectly.

I drove past the small parking lot right above the very last house on this narrow street. Up on the mountain near the top is Saishouji*, a temple.
*when the window opens, click on "Oiwa(Ooiwa) Bisyamonten / Saishoji" that appears on the menu on the left hand side.

There is a path that starts near the parking lot that leads you all the way to the temple. the slope is quite steep and the ground surface is basically just dirt and exposed rocks, so, walking up is mighty tough. We would climb up this path when we were kids to see who could reach the top first. That was some 30 years ago and there is no way in hell I would attempt the climb now.

Luckily, there is a paved road that those of us who are less athletically inclined can drive on. Although... the road is really narrow and winding you have to drive very slow, it might be faster if you just walked it.
Despite its historical significance, Saishouji is not a big tourist attraction (mostly because it is kind of hard to get to, I think), so I did not pass a single car coming down the road, which was good because the road is so narrow two cars cannot pass each other in most parts except for a couple of spots where it becomes slightly wider. Let us just say that if you drive a big SUV, park at the bottom and walk up.

As you slowly drive up the winding road, you see little glimpses of the world below from the breaks in the trees that line the road. You look to the sides and there are ridges of the neighboring mountains that stretches all the way to the northern parts of Tochigi. It was hard to believe that I had been driving in the city just half an hour ago. The view was spectacular. I can see these mountains from the window of my bedroom where my computer is, and now, I was there IN the mountains.

There is a little spot where 2 or 3 cars can be parked at the foot of the stone steps that leads to the temple. As I started up the stairs, I saw a mini-van driving up the road below. It turned out it was being driven by the wife of the caretaker of the temple coming home from the city. The elderly couple lives in a hut next to the temple. I met the woman at the top of the stairs and we exchanged greetings. I stayed there for a few minutes, then climbed down the stairs so narrow and steep it was a bit scary for my size 14 shoes, got back in my car and drove back down.

By the time I got back home it was about 5:30. So the whole thing took me only an hour. Yet, that was the highlight of my weekend.

Lately, I do this kind of things a lot more often than when I was younger. Like... when you're driving home from work. You always take the same route. On it, there is this one side street that you see everyday. You don't know where it leads to. For all you know, it could be a dead end beyond the spot where the street veers left around that old house. Then, one day, you just turn onto that side street. It's almost magic when it is a short-cut to another street that you're familiar with, or you find yourself in a part of town you have never been before, or maybe find a backstreet with rows of old-fashioned houses where it looks like the time has been suspended since the 70s. And this can happen right in your neighborhood.

A few weeks ago, I was driving to the city of Sano to get a sub from a Subway restaurant in a shopping mall there. Usually, I take the route 50, but on this day, I decided to take the scenic route and took the 293. I had taken this road many times before. After entering Sano, you drive for about 10 minutes and there is a Seven Eleven at an intersection where I sometimes stop for a soda. One of the roads that feed into this intersection takes you to the downtown Sano another one goes all the way to Utsumoniya, the prefecture's capital. And the other one stretches through rice paddies and into the mountains beyond. I had laways been curious where the road let to, and this day, I made the turn. After about 20 minutes, I was up in the mountains surrounded by nothing but trees, and within an hour or so, I ended up on the other side of the mountains. When I turned a corner, what came into view was Umeda Dam. Somehow, I had ended up in the city of Kiryu, Gunma! I had made the trips up to the dam several times before but never had I realised it was accessible from Sano. I came out of the narrow road that disappears into the mountains across the dam that I had only seen from the other side of the dam. It was so surreal. It was as if I had come out of a Lewis Carroll rabbit hole.

Maybe one day, one of these roads will finally take me away from my life in Ashikaga for good....
OK, I wrote that just because it sounded like a cool thing to say. In reality, I am quite happy with my life here. But why, then, do those mountains call out to me and tell me to go see what's beyond them? Is my true happiness right around that bend in the road and all I have to do is turn the steering wheel and step on the gas? Or is it that my promised land can only be reached by chance and I will never know until I actually get there? When will the caged bird that is my soul sing again!?

I guess this is why people don't take what I say seriously. :worried: Anyway, I truly enjoy these excursions and I can't wait until next sunday to see where the spirits may take me next.



そう言われてみると確かに多いかも。 知り合いの奥様が佐野のゴルフ場で働いてますが、やはり東京あたりから来るお客さん多いそうです。

個人的にはゴルフってやってみたいと思わないなぁ。 ちなみに家の近くの山の側面に練習場があって、夜の11時ごろまで灯りが点いてて奇麗ですw

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