Hotokegaura - Buddha's Beach
SAI-MURA, Japan -- During the week, I write stories that highlight Airmen, airpower and advancements to quality of life made here at Misawa Air Base. As a junior-enlisted member, my weekends and any free time are very important, so once the weekend comes, I high-tail it off base to explore new and interesting parts of Japan.
My latest excursion took two of my friends and I to the mountain Nuidoshiyama up in the Shimokita peninsula. After following our map into the northern-most part of the Aomori Prefecture, we stumbled upon something completely unexpected.
Our target was a mountain near the village of Sai, located approximately three-and-a-half hours from Misawa Air Base. Because of the harsh economic climate, we opted to take the cheaper, scenic route up through Mutsu and avoid the toll road entirely.
We started our morning at 6 a.m., roughly the same time the sun was rising, which meant two things were necessary: an immediate energy drink and - because it's winter time in Misawa - three layers of jackets.
After leaving base, we stopped for some travel snacks and continued on Route 338 toward our destination.
The road that leads to the city of Mutsu and beyond is one that is, you guessed it, surrounded by the countryside. With fall season near its end, our drive was filled with some vibrant reds and oranges to view as we drove along.
Jamming out to a playlist that would make the enlisted club jealous, our drive consisted of personal stories, talk about work and loads of jokes in between.
Passing by several fishing villages, we expressed a combination of envy and worry for the fishermen who had to deal with the steadily biting cold.
Our car resonated with laughs as we continued up the coastline when suddenly silence cut in.
Sure enough, as we rounded a corner, we encountered a family of Japanese macaques (indigenous to the area) along the road. Red-faced and nimble, using our quick-draw photo-taking ability, we made sure to snap some photos before they faded into the wilderness.
Passing by a few more rest stops, small villages and an upward drive rivalling a roller coaster, we finally reached what we thought was our destination. Only, it wasn't quite that simple.
Our maps routed us to the base of the mountain, which was fine...except there was no entry point. What we found was simply a sign written in kanji warning us of potential bears accompanied by some auspicious looking exclamation points.
Although I ensured my friends I could "take on a bear," they seemed unsure and so we turned back, slightly defeated that we were unable to climb our mountain.
As we drove back along the same route, we consoled ourselves with the notion our day wasn't wasted, despite not achieving our primary goal. Deciding to stop along what we thought was an ordinary rest stop, we discovered what turned out to be a very well-known tourist attraction - Hotokegaura, or Buddha's Inlet.
We ventured into the thicket of trees and descended a staircase not even Rocky would attempt to climb and emerged onto a beach surrounded by towering rock structures, shaped and carved by centuries of water and wind.
This coastline beach features gigantic rock walls that frame the peninsula and as such, makes one feel quite small.
These rock formations were named for their likeness to statues of the Buddha and other figures from Buddhist teachings. Appropriately, the most prominent structure is named the Gohyaku-Rakan, or 500 disciples of Buddha. This jagged, rock face looms above a pier that allows you to stroll out into the water.
After exploring the craggy terrain and attaining a temporary nirvana, we left satisfied that we found an amazing new part of Japan and headed back toward Misawa.
We closed our journey with the travel-traditional bowl of ramen at a shop in Mutsu, and arrived back in town approximately 6 p.m., our bellies and day, full.
My experiences thus far with traveling in Japan have always been positive. With anything in life, keep an open mind and don't be disappointed if something doesn't work out the way you planned. You might end up finding something really amazing in its place.