Chasing a Recluse: Kamo no Chōmei

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12th century Japanese author Kamo no Chōmei (鴨長明) is most famous for the Hōjōki (方丈記), a classic work in which he describes his retreat from the world and subsequent experience living in a hōjō – a ten foot square hut – in the wilderness of Hino (日野山), a mountain outside of Kyoto. Chōmei’s Hōjōki is thus often compared with Thoreau’s Walden.

After having recently completed reading the Hōjōki, I set off on an attempt to visit the alleged site of Chōmei’s famous hut. Hōjōki ArrowAs I began to climb towards the mountains of eastern Kyoto from the nearest station, signs marking the way to Chōmei’s hut began to appear every few hundreds of meters. Slowly, the ubiquitous convenience stores, apartment blocks, and vending machines that characterize urban and suburban Japan began to gave way to rice fields and small single-family homes.

After hiking a few kilometers, past bemused locals – why is there a foreigner out here? – and an abandoned public sports complex, I arrived at the foot of Mt. Hino. Traces of civilization abruptly disappeared, replaced only by worn markers reassuring visitors that the overgrown dirt path ahead of them was indeed the way to Chōmei’s hut. After scrambling up slippery hillsides, past several suspicious-looking giant centipedes, and being feasted upon by several dozen mosquitoes, I finally arrived at the site of Chōmei’s famed hōjō. Hōjōki Marker

I’m not sure what I was expecting. I was, after all, traveling to the site of a tiny, wooden hut from the 12th century. But in Japan, almost anything with the slightest potential appeal is readily converted to at least some form of a tourist attraction. Buildings from past centuries are frequently reconstructed, complete with the requisite souvenir shops and dining opportunities. Surely there would be something interesting to mark the site at which one of the most famous pieces of classical Japanese literature was written?

Instead, I found nothing more than a faded signpost resting askew against some rocks. I snapped the requisite picture (at right), and turned to stumble back down the trail before Mt. Hino’s insect population could inflict any more damage.

If for some reason you would like to repeat my journey, take the Tōzai Line (東西線) of the Kyoto City subway to Ishida (石田駅) and head southeast from the exit, passing a Seven-Eleven and following the turns indicated on the signs along the way. More detailed information on Mt. Hino and the surrounding area can be found (in Japanese) here.

The Author

Alex Warofka works at the intersection of human rights and technology, with a focus on content regulation and the role of social media in conflict. He is currently Product Policy Manager for Human Rights at Facebook.

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