Asama Shrine is a pocket of civilisation amongst the serenity of towering trees and natural rock formations. It is a refreshing reminder of life outside of the grey, cement offices of Nagoya.
While coupled with the legend of the Princess Route, Asama Shrine alone is a formidable presence in the world of urban legends with its own stories of barbaric, head-hunting bandits and horrific curses. The shrine is nicknamed 'head-hunting shrine' in reference to the supposed legend of decapitated heads being found marking the trails leading to the tallest point of the mountain (the 'head' of the shrine).
Upon arrival, we discovered another horror we had been avoiding most of the winter: exercise.
There were roughly 240 steps from the road to the base of the shrine, and according to sources at least one of the steps was cursed (though some quote up to three or four steps carry a punishment of death).
At the 'body' part of the shrine, we encountered an elderly gentleman who was keen to share knowledge of the shrine once realising we could speak Japanese. He explained the significance of foot, body, and head in relation to the distance between each shrine area.
When we asked if it was difficult to reach the head part of the shrine, he hesitated before admitting it was, "まあまあです。/ About the same." (referring to the steps we had just climbed).
Forty minutes of trudging up raw terrain later, it was very apparent he had understated the difficulty of reaching the topmost part of the shrine, and we passed the time by joking about installing an elevator, hiring a helicopter, or taking a wrong turn and ending up at Old Honsaka Tunnel.
As an isolated place surrounded by gorgeous views, ancient trees, and an intriguing toilet, the fear factor of the infamous 'Head-Hunting Shrine' seemed somewhat insignificant.
Our journey wrapped to a close with disbelieving groans that he had to trudge down the path we had struggled up.
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