Japan (October 2018): Hiwasa, Mugi, and Wakimachi


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Hiwasa and Mugi are two small coastal towns south of Tokushima on the eastern side of Shikoku. Both are pretty laid-back fishing ports offering nice walking trails along the coast. But the main reason for going there is to visit Yakuo-ji (Temple #23 of the Shikoku Henro), located in Hiwasa. The temple is reputed as a place to pray for protection from unlucky years (age 42 for men and 33 for women). Kobo Baishi is believed to have visited the place in 815 at the age of 42. There are two distinct stone stairs to the temple, one for men with 42 steps, and one for women with 33 steps.


In contrast, Wakimachi is an inland town in the Yoshino-gawa valley west of Tokushima. It is part of a sprawling urban environment that would probably be of moderate interest for a visitor if it were not for a 400m-long street, the Udatsu street. This street is lined up on both sides with well-preserved/renovated merchant houses from the Edo (1603-1867), Meiji (1868-1912), and Taisyo (1912-1926) periods, when the culture of indigo plants in the Yoshino-gawa valley produced the best indigo dye in Japan. Some of these houses are still private homes; others are small shops, many selling indigo-dyed clothes.





Yakuo-ji is a complex of several halls and structures built on three successive terraces on a mountain flank behind Hiwasa.


Entrance gate of Yakuo-ji at the base of the complex.


Roofs of buildings on the first terrace.




The Daishi-do (the hall venerating Kubo Daishi), located on the second terrace that it shares with other halls.


Typical Shikoku Hendo pilgrims visiting Yakuo-ji.


Statues near the Daishi-do, including a beautiful one of Kannon, the goddess of Mercy (first photo on the left).


Lanterns along the stairs leading to third terrace.


Pagoda built in 1963 on the third terrace. It is bright red and somewhat unusual in style, although it bears similarities with the pagoda of Honmon-ji in Tokyo. The views over Hiwasa are spectacular.


Views over Hiwasa from Yakuo-ji. Note the Hiwasa castle on top of a hill on the right-hand side of the two photos below.



Left: Canal in Hiwasa. Right: Tiny rice ″plantation″ seen in the front yard of a house.


Fishing boats. The pagoda of Yakuo-ji is visible in the second photo below.



Hiwasa castle. The original castle was built in the late 16th century, but the present one is a recent reconstruction completed in 1978.


Hiwasa and Yakuo-ji seen from the castle hill.


View over the small bay of Hiwasa, with the red and white lighthouses that mark the port′s entrance.


One among the many land red crabs that populate the area around the castle.


Along the pleasant hiking trail that starts near the castle and follows the coast. I believe this trail is part of the Shikoku no Michi, a walking route around the island that is distinct from the Henro route, but overlaps some portions of it.




It is another laid-back fishing town a few minute train ride south of Hiwasa, with no Henro temple or castle.






Mantoku-ji (Buddhist temple) in Mugi.


Udatsu Street (Wakimachi):


In the past there were no dams or levees along the Yoshino-gawa and frequent flooding used to bring much natural fertilizer into the valley. Starting during the Edo period, Wakimachi flourished as a place where high-quality indigo plants were grown and indigo-dyed fabrics were made and transported to Tokushima by boats on the Yoshino-gawa. The Udatsu street with its merchant houses from the Edo, Meiji, and Taisyo periods is a witness of that time. The name ″udatsu″ actually refers to wall extensions built on both sides of a house to prevent fire from propagating from one house to the next. Over time these extensions have been increasingly used for adding wealth-symbol embellishments. This architectural element used to be quite widespread across Japan, but it has gradually disappeared and today it survives only in a few locations. Udatsu street in Wakimachi is one of them.


Example of udatsu wall extensions between two houses.


The Udatsu street has an east-west orientation. Most houses on the south side are from the Edo period, whereas most on the north side are from the Meiji period. During my visit the street was surprisingly quiet, almost empty of people.


Views of the street toward the west.





Views of the street toward the east.



Selected houses along the street.






House with a garden, slightly off the Udatsu street.


Onigawara on a roof crest. Onigawara are ornamentations representing a Japanese ogre or demon. Their spiritual function is to guard houses against evil, somewhat like gargoyles in European Gothic architecture. They also protect roof edges and corners against bad weather. They are usually made of ceramics.


Well at the eastern end of the street (first photo below) and a drawing posted in the nearby Aigura cafe (second photo).




Creator of figurines made out of bamboo in one of the shops.


Old Wakimachi theater Odeon-za built in 1934, facing the eastern end of the Udatsu street on the other side of the Otani-gawa (a small affluent of the Yushino-gawa). Aftern WW II the theater was turned into a cinema, which closed in 1995. While scheduled for demolition, it served as the setting for a movie on run-down rural Japan. The success of this movie saved the theater, which now carries its movie′s name, Odeon-za. Performances still occasionally take place in it.



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