Sunday, April 28, 2013

Yoro: Reversed Destinies and Gourd Swag

Hipsters, keep this on the DL but gourds had a major heyday back in the 1970s and most people have forgotten them by now, so they are just that ripe shade of vintage irony that has super potential to be uncool, but awesome. Now is your chance! ^_^ The secret Mecca to pilgrim to is a sleepy town in central Japan: Yoro, Gifu prefecture.

A couple of weeks ago, I too made this journey. Me and a friend (August! She's come back to Japan!) both had the time off work, so decided to take a tiny short trip. To find an interesting place that fit our time constraints, August started looking for patches of green on Google maps that were nearby accessible train stations. Using this original trip-planning technique, we found some patches in Gifu prefecture around Yoro station. There were tales of luscious onsens and shimmering waterfalls in those green clumps, so we took a risk with fortune and set our course for the north.  

We got off the small private train line at a station strung with gourds. Gourds everywhere.

We wondered around at some little shops--filled with every kind of painted and carved gourd and gourd souvenirs... still no idea why gourds were a big deal. On the second floor of one of the gift shops was a gourd museum. Of course we dropped the requested hundred yen in the gourd bucket and went it. It was filled with antique gourds (who knew?) from Edo period, and life-size dioramas demonstrating the gourd-growing process. There were also letters from people who had visited. One was in English, from a woman named Kathrine, who, it seems, came to Japan back in the 70's especially to see the gourds in Yoro. She appeared to be an artist of some kind. I wondered if she knew that her letter was still in this dusty museum, and whether she still was interested in gourd arts. 

We made our way to the onsen hotel that we had reserved and enjoyed a luxurious evening of bath
after bath after bath. And this place had extra fun features to enjoy like a Korean sauna that looked like a stone rocket ship, a whirlpool bath, standing sauna boxes, and a mixed bathing area where we wore swim suits.

Later we enjoyed a snack of some omiyage we had bought at a gift shop and some lotus wine, along with an onsen egg (an egg hard boiled in the hot spring water, so that it soaks up the water's minerals). Then later we feasted on a seven-course, all-natural, extremely delicious dinner. Extremely delicious. After dinner we enjoyed the baths again until closing and then played MASH in our room until we fell asleep.

In the morning, we enjoyed another healthy and luxurious breakfast, another bath, and then headed out to find the green patches, extremely relaxed, refreshed, and clean. Walking through the town, we found some big closed shops and everything thing seemed a bit old... we wondered if the town had had its day back around the time that Kathrine visited, and now was just a little worn out.

We asked our favorite old lady at the souvenir shop across from the station about the gourds. Finally, we got the low down. Turns out, gourds have been a Yoro Tradition for 1300 years.... there is a legend about a man and a gourd, and how he became lord of the area.

The Legend: Once there was a man named Genjonai  His father was very sick, to the point of death, but he just wanted a drink of sake. Genjonai went out to find something to heal his father, and exhausted himself in his search, finally collapsing from weariness. But as he lay there on the ground, he smelled the strong scent of sake. Enheartened, he renewed his quest, following the scent, until he reached a small spring, brimming with water, into which he dipped his guard, and rushed back to his father, who drank the water, and jumped up, healed. When Genjonai returned to the spring later to pay his respects to the spirit of the spring, a Bodhisattva appeared to him and commended him for his selfless acts toward his father, and calling him as the lord of the area. The empress of Japan heard tell of this dutiful son and this rejuvenating spring water, and came herself to taste it. She felt the years fall away, making her more youthful and so called it the "spring of youth" and renamed the year Yoro, the Year of Rejuvenation, and gave gifts to people across Japan over eighty years old. Also, she exempted the people of the Yoro area from taxes. Thus Yoro gained its heritage of youthful water, with gourds at the center.

From there we found new respect for the gourd and were excited to quest for the sake spring and the waterfalls that fell above it.

We enjoyed the huge children's park on the way up.

And stopped for a picnic lunch, complimented by special beers from a local brewery.

We found his grave and the spring, and finally, the beautiful waterfall.

We decided to take the chairlift down, and ended up back in the main park.... where we decided to enter a curious and potentially life-changing parcel of land: The Site of Reversible Destiny. Who wouldn't want to get their destiny reversed? Here is an airplane overview of the whole park:

This was an art exhibit built in the 90's, but still available to those in need of a destiny reversal. The park was a jumble of things--a house with rooms and furniture and walls all mixed up and upside down and on top of each other... streets with names like "However Street," "Not to Die Street," "Fight For Your Life Street," and "Bad Cough Street"..... maps from Japan and cities around the world all mixed up together... slabs of rock in the shapes of Japan slapped onto the concave sides of the huge bowl of the exhibit.... very very curious.

After a fresh destiny reversal, we made our way back to the station, which turns out is actually one of the oldest in Japan, being the original station from the Meiji Period. Very lovely when the cherry blossoms bloom, we were told.

From there we made our way back to Aichi, refreshed and redestined and gourded up. And with extra bottles of the local brews for friends.

P.S. You'll remember August from posts from 2011 in Nishio. She went home for about a year and a half and lived in San Francisco, but she recently accepted a job in Gifu city in Gifu prefecture, just north of me in Aichi prefecture, and stayed at our apartment for about three weeks! She's now settling into her new apartment up in Gifu. We expect lots of hiking and camping adventures to come! 

1 comment:

Becky said...

Loving my re-reads.
Hello to Autumn and of course to Summer and Stacy...

free hit counter
can you count?
get hit counter html code
a new way to say i like origami fish japan is pretty great i'm glad you like to read. and choose this blog to read.