It was a beautiful sunny day for the final Path of Prayer walk on February 19th in Nachi. About twenty people participated, so we split into two groups. Kayoko Shiba provided English and Japanese guiding for the second group.
The tour started at 11:00 at Fudarakusan-ji Temple. We found out about ancient ritual suicide, in which a small number of priests between the 700s and 1700s sacrificed themselves for the salvation of others. A small boat was prepared, in which the priest was sealed inside with a bit of food and water, and he set sail alone, hoping to arrive in the southern paradise. In all likelihood, though, he was carried northward on the Japanese current.
After eating lunch in the temple grounds and seeing some wooden statues nearly 1000 years old, we drove up the valley to the Daimon-zaka parking lot and started our hike. Daimon-zaka means Hill to the Big Gate. It’s a 600-meter-long stone staircase through ancient cryptomeria and camphor trees. Although 600 meters is not so long, there is a lot to see so the hike takes a good amount of time.
Emerging at the top of the staircase, we walked by some gift stores on the way to the temple and shrine complex. The most interesting one specializes in Nachi Guro, or Nachi Blackstone, a kind of slate with an excellent texture both rough and polished. It is popular for use as the black Go pieces and also as inkstones as its rough texture is perfect for rubbing ink sticks on.
At the top of the hill are the Nachi Grand Shrine and Seiganto-ji Temple. Seiganto-ji is the first temple of the 33-temple Kannon Bodhisattva pilgrimage route in western Japan. The Nachi Grand Shrine worships the waterfall kami as its god, but Thousand-Hand Kannon is associated with the shrine in Shinto/Buddhist syncretism and worshipped as a Gongen, essentially an avatar of the kami of the waterfall.
The shrine and temple grounds are fairly large. Ancient trees, expanses of old-growth forest, and a wide valley view including the waterfall make an excellent setting for these historical buildings.
Just downhill from the temple is the entrance to the waterfall area, with 13 steps up (one for every meter of the fall’s width) and then 133 steps down (one for every meter of its height). We paid a little extra for access to the closest viewpoint, and along the way enjoyed a drink of waterfall water—this will grant us a longer life, but no one could tell us exactly how much extra time we gained.
Although it’s possible to take a bus back to the parking lot most of our group walked, making it down by 3:30. At four and a half hours including lunch, this tour did not take too long, but it was very full of information and great sightseeing.