I have a very fitful night’s rest and wake up to a warm breeze blowing into the room. It’s twenty-five degrees. I’m tempted to sleep in some more but there’s too much to do! I’m fully refreshed and pumped to get going to Osorezan.
Caption: I didn’t think to get a photo before I started eating, but Nakagawa-san has put on a huge spread for breakfast: toast with jam and butter, yoghurt and what I think is a fruit coulis, tea, coffee, water and corn potage, which are all accompaniments for the main plate of meats, a salad (with dressing) and omelette. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t eaten so well in ages, but that’s how it happens when you’re focused on other efficiencies over culinary merits.
It probably sounds weird, but I can’t get enough of the water here. Nakagawa-san notices this and asks me if it’s good; it is! It’s cool and refreshing and tastes a little bit sweet. He tells me that it’s all local, the term he used is wakimizu; I chuckled for a moment thanks to a certain lazy shrine maiden, but it means it’s spring water. I expected that perhaps it’d be sour or acidic due to the volcanic activity, but that’s absolutely not the case.
Nakagawa-san and I don’t really talk much over breakfast, but seeing as I showed an interest in Mizuki Nana while we were driving last night, he puts on a concert DVD from an idol that I haven’t heard of before, Nishino Kana (affectionately known as Kanayan). It’s pretty easy to get into, though I notice her voice sounds kinda interesting, like she’s a foreigner or something. The way she intonates and pronounces some things is a little odd. Haphazardly asking Nakagawa-san, he explains that she’s from over Osaka/Kyoto way, that probably explains it. I make a note to look her up later, she seems interesting.
I finish breakfast and it’s time to head off. I already don’t want to go, Muu is such a lovely and homely place. I can’t imagine how great it’d be in the winter, nice and cosy inside a log cabin while it snows outside. I can’t recommend the place enough, it’s such a difference from the rush of the cities.
Caption: The road towards Osorezan is windy, so even though it’s not very far, it’ll take a little while. I wanted to time trial myself on the stretch, but of course there were other people on the road so I couldn’t put the pressure on for more than about a minute or so before having to slow down.
The road is windy and only a single lane in each direction, but it doesn’t take too long to get there. I know I’m getting close when I pick up the tinge of sulphur in the air. It’s something I haven’t smelt since high school so many years ago.
They’re well equipped to handle tourists. The carpark comes into view as I round the final bend near the top of the mountain and the road flattens out. It’s all light grey gravel instead of tarmac, a local product no doubt, with parking bays marked-out by lengths of rope. In the distance, closest to the entrance, are two big tour buses offloading what looks like Chinese tourists.
Osorezan is a Buddhist temple built on a volcanic mountain renowned for its sulphur vents at the surface. Stepping out of the car it’s dry and hot, and I can see why it earnt the nickname of Hell. It sounds silly now, but I’m a bit nervous about being prepared before going in. Just how badass is this place going to be? I’ve prepared by bringing a couple bottles of water, and I slather on some sunscreen before leaving the cool safety of the car.
Caption: Statues line the entrance to the temple.
As I walk inside the temple gates the smell of sulphur gets noticeably stronger. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s that cloying eggy smell that sits at the forefront of your senses and refuses to leave.
Caption: The grounds of the temple are generous, as you’d expect from a place with plenty of room.
Caption: You can walk around inside the halls of the temple, after removing your shoes.
Caption: Numerous Jizou statues like this one, placed on piles of rocks, are dotted around the grounds of the temple. You’ll notice the yellow sulphur deposition is fairly minimal, but there’s a few of the colourful pinwheels that are common on these sites.
Caption: This is one of the little statues that are placed around the base of the big ones, it kinda reminds me of a chess piece. Not sure what’s written on the rocks in texta, but interestingly they appear to be riverbed rocks, not the jagged broken-up ones that are everywhere.
Caption: The 10 yen coins that people donate have turned a brilliant blue! I’m pretty sure that the copper or copper oxide on the surface is reacting with sulphuric acid, producing copper sulfate on the surface.
My first encounter with a sulphur vent is not far from the entrance, down a little side path off to the left of the main compound. It’s up a small gravelly incline with evidence of a sulphurous stream flowing down a gully in the middle. It’s hard to say, what with me being unable to read anything, but it feels like a small personal burial spot isolated from the rest. I can see the vapour puffing from a crevice in the rocks, depositing a powdery yellow residue on the surroundings.
Caption: Wow, they form perfectly as fine crystals! My mum used to be a science teacher and I remember making my own copper sulphate crystals in dishes from saturated solutions. Copper sulphate tended to make jagged blocky shapes, while the sulphur here makes a fuzz of fine needles, probably because of the slow vapour deposition. You’ll notice a couple of drops of water hanging from the crystals, as the condensed steam.
Caption: Kneeling with one knee on the ground I notice one thing - it’s hot! The IR thermometer measures the rocks under my D800 at 74 degrees, whew!
I bought this little infrared thermometer from King Of Knives in the QVB for exactly this purpose, it was about 20 bucks and it’s voodoo as far as I’m concerned. While perhaps open pools of bubbling brimstone might be a bit much to expect (especially in safety-conscious Japan), this is pretty awesome as things go. (Honestly, if you’ve read about something in Japan it’s guaranteed to have been cordoned, made safe and managed. “You probably haven’t heard of it” is a legit indicator of something a untamed and a bit wild.)
I make a couple more readings and manage to get 80 degrees from the mouth of the vent before a gust of wind blows the steam over my fingers, causing me to drop the thermometer momentarily.
Caption: An auspicious turtle? It’s a really nice piece of carving work, the turtle is actually carved into its stony cave.
Caption: The kanji is a bit beyond me, but to the right is a small climb up the mountain to a shaky Buddhist monument, while the left leads to more rocks and Lake Usori.
Caption: The landscape really reminds me of a quarry with its broken-down rock everywhere.
Caption: Pinwheels and what I assume are two gravestones.
These particular gravestones are at the end of a small path off the well-worn track. Aside from the clicking of the pinwheels it’s very quiet, and the perfect place to rest and meditate. A cool breeze rolls in occasionally, whisking away the lingering humidity on my skin and giving me goosebumps.
Caption: From up here I can see down to the water’s edge, Lake Usori is pretty big.
Caption: Everything is yellow from the sulphur, it looks like rust stains and contamination.
As I make my way down towards the lake I pass a water course down from the surrounding mountains. While the rest of the rocky environment is bleak and grey, the edges of the water course are a sickly yellow and orange, sulphur deposited from the runoff. I don’t think there’s anything bubbling up here, but I do a quick check of the water temperature anyway, it’s about 41 degrees.
Caption: The rock piles are said to be built as penance by souls that are unable to pass on to the afterlife, and there are many of them as the ground flattens out and I approach the lake.
Caption: Sandals in a tree.
There’s definitely more insects down here, and a lot more greenery. It looks like there’s a few small pools just on the shore that probably meet up with the lake when rains cover the sandbars. One in particular has a steep drop-off after about half a metre, and then the water quickly becomes too cloudy to gauge the depth. Small bubbles of gas are popping up to the surface.
Caption: I caught this dragonfly sitting on a stick at the very edge of the lake, it’s a beauty. I didn’t want to get too close to avoid scaring it off, so I’m still hurting for pixels on this thing with the 24-70mm attached. If you listen carefully you can hear gas bubbling out at the edge of the water. I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but it’s somewhere below the sand.
Caption: From the shore of the lake, you can spot where it gets deep and the colour changes to a dark blue. I’d love to go swimming but I’m not equipped for it. And I might be gaijin-smashing a little.
It really looks like anything but Hell at the water’s edge. The sands are clean and white, and the water is sparkly and clear. It’s like paradise with a funny smell. Actually, the smell is different down here, too. It still smells like sulphur, but it’s joined by what smells like… burning matches. It’s the smell of fresh light-brown wood being lit.
Caption: The shoreline curves gently away into the distance~
Caption: I’m not quite sure of the symbolism here, but this looks like another Jizou statue, this time inside a lotus-shaped cocoon with an altar in front. This is part of a memorial to the many victims of the great earthquake in 2011.
The quietness of the lake is punctuated by the sharp peal of a bell next to the lotus statue where people come to pray. In Japanese Buddhism, Jizou is a guardian of lost souls, particularly those of children who died before their parents or were stillborn. There’s not a lot of people here, but it mostly looks like families, and the kids are more than happy to ring the bell. It’s a pure and crystal clear sound, just like the waters.
As I make my way back up from the lake I notice a little path off to the northwest. It’s not heavily trodden but it’s definitely a thing. I’m curious, so I decide to follow it for a bit. Around some bushes it opens into a small shady spot under the overhanging branches of a big tree. There’s a bit of refuse scattered around and it’s obvious it’s too out-of-the-way to get cleaned up very much, but it’s a nice place. A lazy breeze rolls through from across the lake and the sound of a bubbling stream fills the air.
I decide to take the path back up to the highest Jizou status in the area, a lone guardian against the jagged rocks and gravel. The thermometer tells me it’s also about 80 degrees up here on the rocks.
Caption: Heehee, it looks like a miniature from up here on the hill if I do a little bit of tilt-shift fakery. That corridor is really long! The black and white building behind it looks a lot more modern, with glass doors and a much more streamlined design. I think it’s where guests can stay and use the onsen. It’s pretty dear though, so you’d have to be a serious traveller to take advantage of it.
Caption: Yup, otaku have been here. You can get a rough feel for the number of visitors they get by the age of the ema. Hardly any in this case, because the stacks are shallow and there’s a couple dated from two years ago.
It’s 14:00 now, probably time for me to get moving. There’s not a great deal more for me to see here, and I’m eager to get out into Yagen valley and find me some onsen!
Caption: Lunch is udon and apple juice, 500 yen and 300 yen respectively. Service is friendly and very attentive (order at the table), and the food is just right, nice and tasty without being too heavy.
Caption: The remains of an old pier just near the entrance bridge to Osorezan.