A San’in Road Trip From the Mountains and Onsen to the Sea ・ Part 3
The Yasugi Area
Gassantoda Castle Ruins
If you’ve ever played a Japanese video game that harkens back to history, particularly Nobunaga’s Ambition or Samurai Warriors, then you might know the name of the great commander Yamanaka Yukimori and the Amago clan, or even Gassantoda Castle itself, where they spent their time. The massive scale and strong defenses of Gassantoda Castle gave it a reputation as an impregnable fortress — an important stronghold for the Amago clan as they conquered the San’in and Sanyo regions during the Sengoku/Warring States period (1467–1568).
As the years passed, Gassantoda Castle eventually fell into ruin, leaving only remnants in its mountaintop clearing. But a road still leads up to where the castle once towered above its territory, 190m (623ft) above sea level. Looking out over the old castle walls, you can almost imagine yourself as part of the Amago clan during their battles for the San’in and Sanyo regions, fighting alongside Yamanaka Yukimori half a millennium ago. The area now has a statue commemorating the commander, and a memorial tower as well.
Yasugi-Kiyomizudera Temple is deep in the mountains, with a long path approaching the main temple building, and lush forest lends the grounds a calm, tranquil atmosphere. Walking along the quiet trails, it’s hard to believe that the temple was once a battleground for the war between the Amago and Mori clans during the Sengoku period. The temple has been around since long before those days, though, and can be traced back as far as the year 587, to the Kofun-era high priest Sonryu. According to legend, the temple’s 1420-year history began in a place where ancient pines grew thickly and towered overhead, and visitors to the area often found themselves uneasy in this remote wilderness. Once the temple monks built their first thatched huts and enshrined an image of the Buddha, they went on to search for a water source, despite water being rare on the mountain. Miraculously, they found a fresh spring right next to a hut, giving the temple the name “Kiyomizu,” which means pure water.
Back when the temple was constructed, it didn’t clearly belong to any particular Buddhist sect, but during the Heian period (794–1185) the priest Ennin (also called Jikaku Daishi) brought Tendai Buddhism to Yasugi-Kiyomizudera Temple from Mount Hiei in Kyoto. It’s now one of 33 sacred sites of the Kannon bodhisattva in the Chugoku Region. With its millennium-and-a-half history, and its grand but simple monastery architecture (the only one of its kind in the region), Yasugi Kiyomizudera Temple has a majestic atmosphere worth experiencing. The grounds also include a Shinto shrine to the god Inari, with all its many red gates, and beautiful hydrangeas that bloom nearby, in addition to an observation deck at the back of the temple with a fantastic view of the Nakaumi and Mount Daisen. Visitors can enjoy the beauty of Japan while visiting one of Chugoku’s sacred Kannons.
The Daisen Area
Mount Daisen has been a sacred place since ancient times, and there’s evidence of worship going back 1,300 years, but the Buddhist priest Konren officially established Daisenji Temple in Japan’s Nara period (710–794). The temple later became part of the Tendai sect in the Heian period, and through the Kamakura period (1192–1333) and Muromachi period (1336–1573), the temple saw peace and prosperity. As a result, Daisenji Temple was compared to Kongobuji Temple on Mount Koya in Wakayama, or Mount Hiei’s Enryakuji, and said to be home to 3,000 warrior monks.
Daisenji isn’t quite so lively these days, and the temple has been trimmed down to just four worship halls and ten courtyards, but the venerable grounds and ancient atmosphere remain. The huge gate remains scarred but standing on the temple approach, and many visitors also come to enjoy the surrounding mountain greenery, and the neighboring Ogamiyama Shrine. In the fall, the spot is known for its beautifully colorful foliage!
Ogamiyama Shrine Okunomiya
Mount Daisen has been a sacred mountain for the people of San’in for as long as anyone can remember, so Ogamiyama Shrine was established to honor the “great god mountain.” The shrine’s two major shrine halls are both dedicated to the god Okuninushi, a god of industry and prosperity, abundant harvests, horses, cattle, magic, medicine, and warding off evil as well.
The main shrine hall at the foot of the mountain is a famous spot for hydrangea viewing in June, while the okunomiya (inner or rear shrine) is hidden away deeper in the mountain, although people make the trek to visit this famous power spot. The 700m approach, set with stone, is the longest of its kind in Japan, but towering trees make the hike a pleasant one, and at the end of the path an ancient gate leads to a grand set of steps, and the largest gongenzukuri-style shrine building in Japan. Ogamiyama Shrine also has ceilings covered in beautiful circular paintings, and the largest scale work of sandalwood lacquer in Japan. The natural stone road, the grand gongenzukuri-style shrine hall, and the sandalwood lacquer work are said to be “the three #1s” of Ogamiyama Shrine.
Travelers considering a trip to the shrine should keep in mind that the mountain weather is prone to change, which can make the area inaccessible. Always check the Daisen Drive Navi to check conditions before heading out!
After a day hiking through Yasugi or Daisen, Yonago’s Kaike Onsen is the perfect area to spend the night, thanks to the ultra-relaxing resorts of this seaside hot springs zone. The onsen baths of Kaike Onsen are particularly hot and high in sulfur, making them good for relieving aching feet, but locals also swear by the waters for more chronic pain. There’s nothing more relaxing than soaking away in the steaming waters of an outdoor onsen, looking out at the blue ocean waters, and listening to the waves crash below.
Even if the luxurious ocean-view baths of an upscale seaside onsen ryokan are out of your budget for this trip, Kaike Onsen still offers the simple pleasures of a good onsen bath, a comfy hotel yukata, and a walk along the beach! On this trip the San’in, the Japankuru team stayed in the cozy Ikoitei Kikuman Ryokan, which has a modern Japanese-style lobby, and massage chairs inside the Japanese rooms. Unlike many ryokan, the hotel yukata at Ikoitei Kikuman come in a variety of designs, and you can wear your favorite while you relax around the hotel.
Kaike Onsen is full of luxurious baths, and the sandy beaches glow as the sun sets, glitter under a starry sky, and provide a perfect place for early-morning walks as the sun rises. A handful of restaurants by the beach also offer outdoor seating, perfect for enjoying the warm summer weather and a cool sea breeze.