Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Gankake-iwa: The Lover’s Wishing Rock in Sai Village


Some weeks ago I introduced my new favourite reading spot for lazing on a Sunday afternoon. That spot was the peak of Gankake-iwa in Sai Village, about a half hour’s drive from our home in Kazamaura. Gankake (願掛け) is the Japanese word for either a Shinto or Buddhist prayer or invocation. Iwa (岩), of course, means “cliff” or “rock.” There seems to be no official translation of the proper noun “Gankake-iwa” but it could conceivably be rendered as “The Wishing Rock” or “Prayer Rock” or something along those lines. It rises roughly 100 metres over the Tairadate Strait connecting Mutsu Bay to the Tsugaru straight and affords a fantastic view of both Aomori’s Tsugaru Peninsula and Hokkaido’s Oshima Peninsula. The first literary reference to Gankake-iwa was made in 1792 by some person of consequence passing by on his way to Hokkaido. Apparently it was home to two shrines (one to Inari the fox god and one to Hachiman the god of war) and locals were already using the spot to hang up their love gankakes (prayer tags) together with cherry blossom “keys” in the hopes that their prayers would reach across the miles and unlock the hearts of their beloveds far away. Nowadays people attach padlocks to a wire mesh frame set up for that purpose between the two ciffs. Apparently the love connection stems from the popular opinion that from certain angles the two prongs of the rock look like a man and a woman embracing.

The photos I took with Mobile Man during my last visit to The Wishing Rock were of a dubious quality so on Monday while I was showing my Barlow cousins the local sites I took the opportunity to recreate those shots with Bear Runner.

I then proceeded to the highest peak and photographed my cousins exploring the official viewing area. Hopefully these photos adequately capture the dizzying sense of height one is rewarded with after the steep hike up from the coastal road.

Front row standing in the official viewing area, from left to right: Kristen Barlow (second cousin), Mabel Chow (short term missionary working with my parents in Ajigasawa), and Michelle Barlow (second cousin). Back row, standing on the forbidden peak: Luke Elliot a.k.a. me). Not pictured: camera woman Allison Barlow (second cousin).

Don’t jump!! Of course not, sillies, I’m not in high school anymore. But apparently some people do—100 metres down.

These cabins are called the Gankake Park Cabins on some of the official English language websites, but in Japanese they are called ケビンハウス (kebin hausu). Does that mean Kevin House? Cabin House? I guess the translators were wise to just call them the Gankake Park Cabins. Incidentally, the usual “Don’t feed the monkeys” signs are replaced by “Beware of monkeys” signs at Gankake Park. Whether there is a significant reason for this or not I have yet to find out.