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Ooooh - "Mount Fear"!!!!

Written on: Friday August 14th, 2009

A journal entry from: Japan

When we arrived at Osore-zan, it was drizzly and dark, late into the afternoon. Which seemed like the right weather to visit the gateway to the otherworld. The place was full of greys; within the grounds, the earth was patchy with grey soil on which, for the most part, green things didn't grow. The lake next to the temple grounds is apparently too toxic to sustain life. Little traces of sulphur here and there showed in greenish and yellow tinges in the grey. You can't deny that it had a certain feel about it. 

Osore-zan can be translated as "Mount Fear". The temple is built on a volcanic area; the eeriness of the grey ground where nothing grows inspired a feeling that this was an unusual place - hence the temple and the legend of it being the boundary between our world and the next. There is an old belief that children who die before their parents are stuck here, unable to cross the river to the other side. They are doomed to spend every day building piles of little pebbles, so many people who visit add pebbles to the little piles scattered around on the ground to help them out. There are lots of Jizou statues. Jizou is seen as a guardian of children, especially children who have died and babies who were miscarried or aborted. These statues are a common sight all over Japan, especially along roadways as he also protects travellers. He helps the children by (if I have my story straight) protecting or hiding them from demons among other things.

Another thing Osore-zan is famous for are the legendary blind women who serve as mediums or oracles. They are supposed to channel the spirits of the dead. There is an annual festival in the summer where people come to speak to them - and the dearly departed, of course. We didn't go visit them; I don't know if they were even there at the time, but I did see a building that looked like it might be where they operated. People seemed to be going in and waiting, so I was just guessing. I think, on reflection, that it would be strange to see something similar back in the western world. A fortune teller at a Christian church, for example. And I haven't heard of anything like that anywhere else here. I don't think there's anything particularly "Buddhist", so to speak, about what the mediums do; but people in Japan are pretty comfortable with mixing different beliefs, so I think that they all share the site and the temple grounds because the place is what it is, not because the mediums' work is especially related to the monks'.   

We didn't have long to spend at Osore-zan as they were closing about an hour and a half after we arrived. Kelly was really looking forward to driving around part of the peninsula's coastline, and we saw a little bit of the sunset - obscured by some of the clouds, but the sky had already cleared up a little as we were leaving the volcanic, ashy grounds.