First days in Gunma Prefecture

This week I have accompanied Logan to his other workplace, in the city of Takasaki in Gunma prefecture. This area is quite a distance to the west of Tokai, but it doesn't take too long to get to since we are able to take the train via Tokyo (not stopping this time). It is nestled in the mountains and surrounded by beautiful hot springs, or "onsen". We have booked ourselves a stay at a traditional Japanese inn ("ryokan") in the mountains for the coming weekend, so that we can experience the delights of bathing in hot springs and eating the traditional banquet meal in the evening. Rather looking forward to that!
Since I last wrote, the weather has taken a huge turn for the better, although it is now almost too hot to be bearable for a little pale-skinned English girl! Every day now starts with a delightful sun-cream and insect-repellant ritual to protect me against the day. But having said that, of course it is wonderful to have sunshine; it is my summer holiday after all. Yesterday I went out to explore Takasaki on foot and spent quite a lot of time sheltering from the heat in shady parks. I saw lots of butterflies, some of them absolutely huge, and all beautifully colourful. I visited a small Buddhist temple, walked along the river and discovered a number of lovely little parks dotted about. They are all very well tended, and one of them even had a pond full of gorgeous white and orange carp in the middle, along with a very Japanese looking low wooden bridge and a fountain adorned with sculptures of egrets.
Today I decided to venture a little bit further afield and so I took the bus up into the mountains to visit the Daruma-ji temple. A Daruma doll is a little round, angry-faced red doll made of papier mache, or sometimes carved out of wood. They were orignally designed to represent a particular Buddhist monk who founded a temple and Zen Buddhist school in this region of Japan, but are now used as offerings in the adjoined Shinto-Buddhist religion. When they are made, their eyes are both white; the owner then entrusts their wish the the doll by drawing in a black pupil in the left eye. When their wish is fulfilled, the other eye is drawn in and the doll is given as an offering at the shrine.
Japanese temples and shrines seem to be always set in an area of beautiful parkland or natural woodland, making them very lovely places to visit on a hot sunny day. In this case, the shrine is also set near the top of a mountain, which made for some glorious views across the valley.
Next stop hot springs!


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