.. My next stop was Ryuou-kyo (Dragon King Gorge) in Tochigi Prefecture. I got off the luxury train at a small station perched between two tunnels. Fortunately, I spotted a row of lockers on the platform, and placing all my belongings in one of them, climbed to the exit. There were two or three souvenir shops, but no sign to show me the way to the Gorge. I spied a stone torii (shrine gateway) beyond the shops, and believing it to be the entrance to the Dragon King Shrine, I began to descend a steep, tricky trail. My original intention had been to hike all the way down to the river, but I found it dangerous to walk on the trail in half-light. Although still only about four o’clock, the foliage above my head was so thick that everything was dimmed. At a certain point, from where I could see the shadow of the shrine and a cascade coming down from a rock nearby, I decided to turn back.
.. Before I did so though, for a few moments, I stood there thinking about the fate of the Dragon King. The story is that his shrine had originally been at Lake Benten, high on Mt. Keicho, but leaving that place, that he had then wandered for some years … before he came to be enshrined at the present location. It is said that a rainbow can be seen at the waterfall on fine days, but there was no sunshine when I saw it.
Standing in darkness —
The roar of the waterfall
Sinks into my guts.
“Show me a rainbow,”
I howl to the Dragon King —
There is no reply.
.. Returning to the station, I took a local train to Kinugawa Onsen. This was another comfortable one, with large red seats, which enabled me to stretch out my tired legs. When I reached my hotel, I had another surprise. Although I had booked a single room, I was given a ten-mat room with two beds placed in an anteroom attached to it. It seemed to me that a group of ten people would have easily been able to sleep there! Perhaps this says something about the changing styles of travel in Japan? Formerly, people used to travel in groups on company excursions, but nowadays they tend to travel as small family units. The number of solitary travellers like me has also been increasing.
.. After enjoying a pleasant dip in the hot spring, and a buffet dinner (known as a ‘Viking’ dinner in Japan, perhaps originating from smorgasbord), I selected my bed and fell soundly asleep. In my dream, though, the Dragon King appeared, and spoke to me:
“As a river god
I love blue, but in anger
Become reddish brown!”
.. I prayed to him, “Kindly pacify your anger by tomorrow and show me a beautiful contrast between your true blue and the flamboyancy of the autumn leaves.”
To be continued …