Today we got up at 4:30am to drive to kagami ike (mirror lake) near Nagano city. The lake is almost perfectly reflective right after sunrise and it was peak time for koyo (autumn leaves), so the place was pretty spectacular (as confirmed by the photographers lining the banks of the lake).
After that we walked up the mountain to the togakushi (a door behind which something is hidden) shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess – according to my hosts, the most important deity in Shinto.
The walk up to the shrine is about 40 minutes – about halfway you reach a giant gate, with a straw roof that is overgrown with plants and vines. As you pass through the gate, the sea of red and orange leaves gives way to giant green cedar trees and mossy stones lining the path. It feels like you are passing into a different world.
Places like this are why I love Japan – nature and man-made structures melt into one inseparable and magical whole and I am filled with a deep sense of awe and respect that no man-made structure alone has ever inspired in me.