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The hydrangea hill at Takahata Fudōson

I knew it was too early in the season, and I knew I would get irritable, and I knew it might start raining … but I went anyway. I'm stubborn that way.

The destination was Takahata Fudōson Kongō-ji (高幡不動尊金剛寺), a temple in Hino that's famous for its hydrangeas. It was an impulsive decision, taken after a corporation cancelled their morning lessons at the last minute and I unexpectedly had a few free hours. I calculated that if I moved my butt, I'd get there and back in time for my evening classes.

So butt and I took off on a heavily overcast morning, dreading the crowds of seniors that would also flock to the temple. I'm allowed to say this because I'm firmly entrenched in middle age myself, and can therefore make unflattering comments about gray hair, but …

There. Are. Too. Many. Old. Folk. In. Japan.

I happen to think there are too many people in Tokyo – I can never understand this panic about the declining birthrate – I mean, come on, we can't multiply indefinitely! Earth is only so big! (I know the declining birthrate is why we have proportionately too many old folk, but don't interrupt my rant with logic.)

Anyway. There are too many old folk in Japan and on this particular morning they were all at Takahata Fudōson, not necessarily looking at the flowers, but sitting under trees and eating onigiri and chattering up a migraine-inducing storm. I got claustrophobic, impatient and tetchy within ten minutes flat, but I suspected the hill behind the temple might be quieter, and I was right. Thus it came to pass that I discovered another top spot for hydrangeas in Tokyo. (If you want to see my list of recommended hydrangea gardens, here you go.)

Temples, hydrangea and photographers at Takahata Fudōson.
Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Various websites say Takahata is one of the three main Fudōson in Tokyo, but nobody could tell me where the other two are. My guess? Narita-san Shinshō-ji (成田山新勝寺) and Meguro Fudōson (目黒不動尊), also known as Ryūsen-ji. I've visited the latter more than once, but I've never written about it. Too much to see in Tokyo, too little time to describe it.

What is a Fudōson? It's a temple that honours the "immovable wisdom king", a deity called Fudō Myōō (Ācalanātha in Sanskrit). That "immovable" refers to his ability to remain unmoved by temptation, and his role is to teach self-control. He's also called the destroyer of delusion. He usually holds a sword, and has one fang pointing up and another pointing down. His statues are generally placed near waterfalls or deep in the mountains.

He's supposed to look very fierce, but I always grin when I see his toothy scowl. His dentures are too cute.

I did pause to take a photo of Takahata Fudōson's
famous five-storied pagoda.

I'm afraid I didn't take his photo at Takahata; as a matter of fact, I barely took pictures of any buildings. I leopard-crawled through the crowds and scampered up the hill next to the temple, where you can follow a trail that's supposed to be a miniature Shikoku pilgrimage: it has 88 Jizō statues, each representing one of the Shikoku temples. It was much quieter than the temple itself, except that you're periodically inundated by a gang of marauding obachan. They hunt in packs. They're super-scary.

Then it started raining, and I got lost. It's a big hill with many forks in the trail, and I fled in a panic whenever I encountered a mob of seniors without really looking where I was going.

Look, for the record, I have a huge soft spot for old folk, but not a prattling female posse. I like the mavericks who travel alone, like the ojiisan who called me over to a Jizō that was half-hidden behind hydrangeas. He proudly shared his discovery with me, and instructed me where to stand to get the best shot. We looked at each other's cameras (his a Nikon, mine a Canon), playfully scoffed at our mutual choices, agreed that the flowers were sugoi and the rain was zannen but necessary, and then we went our lonesome way.

Very civilized.

Lest you accuse me of gerontophobia, no, my real phobia is demophobia, ochlophobia, enochlophobia. Clearly I'm not the only person who loathes crowds; why else would this particular fear have three different names?

So there I was, lost on a mountain, feeling thoroughly disgruntled and muttering Afrikaans four-letter words. Then common sense, that scarcest of commodities, prevailed. I stopped, slapped myself on the wrist … it's mosquito season … and told myself to grow up and get a life. I was in a gorgeous hydrangea forest, covered in rain so soft it was actually just very wet mist, and almost alone because the rain had chased most visitors away. I wrapped a small towel around my camera, turned my face up to the rain and smiled.

Life was good, after all.

How to get there

Take a Keio Line Special Express from Shinjuku Station, but make sure your train is bound for Keio-Hachiōji, not Hashimoto. It takes only 30 minutes to Takahatafudō Station, and the temple is a five-minute walk from the station. 

The hydrangea hill next to the temple. It was raining at this point,
and I was blessedly alone.

Well, almost.
Lacecap hydrangea

Lacecap hydrangea

Lacecap hydrangea

The face of one of the Jizō statues. They all have different expressions.

This guy is my favourite: he has a Japanese apricot (or plum) in his hand.

Close-up of plum and grains of rice in his hand. It's left as an offering.

Origami crane and one-yen coin left as offerings

Kitsune at a small Inari shrine on the premises

There's a statue of Hijikata Toshizō (土方 歳三), vice-commander
of the Shinsengumi, at Takahata Fudōson. He was born in this area.

Ema at Takahata Fudōson

Ema at Takahata Fudōson

Manhole cover with kingfishers

Statue of Fudō Myōō at Shiofune Kannon-ji in Ōme

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