Day 5: Yutoku Inari Shrine (祐徳稲荷神社) --> Yangawa Canal Boat Ride --> Tosu Premium Outlet --> Hotel
Day 5 saw us winding down a little on the itinerary. I was pretty ill by day 5 and I could also tell that mom was exhausted from all the walking around yesterday.
The thing with bringing elderly parents around, is that you need to watch out for their physical activities and limitations. My dad's almost 70 years old and yet he's still raring to go most times. In fact, I'm the one who usually holds him back in fear of him exceeding his limits unconsciously. On the other hand, my mom's almost a decade younger than dad, but she's the one with all the leg, knees and walking difficulties. Mom actually needs help standing up after she's seated for a long time and all that.
So I had a little discussion with our driver-guide, and we decided to amend our itinerary to something a little more relaxing for my parents.
Hence, our first stop of the day, Yutoku Inari Shrine (back towards Saga). Our driver-guide assured me that mom would be able to deal with this one as part of their recent restoration, they had added a lift to their main structure!
Even then, mom was quite apprehensive when we first set eyes on the shrine from across the road. I don't blame her really. The place does look impressive! All that red that's set against the green mountains! It feels like the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto all over. Even if there were no lifts and we couldn't climb, the view from below would have been well-worth a trip out!
The Yutoku Inari Shrine, affectionately known to the locals as Yutoku-san, is apparently considered to be one of the top three Inari shrines. Pretty easy to see why actually. The Inari is apparently one of Shinto's most popular deities and is associated with rice, prosperity and foxes.
The newly revamped side hall (photo below) is now air-conditioned and has lift access. I could hear my mom's sigh of relief when she finally caught sight of the lift. She was actually prepared to forgo and just wait inside the car for us. Well, the main and side halls stand on tall wooden beams 18 meters above the valley floor. If there were no lift, I would still climb, but it sure as hell would be done with a sigh of resignation.
For the fitness buffs, if you eschew technological conveniences such as the lift, stairs are plenty around for you to reach your goal too.
Do note though that the lift ride does cost a little. It also comes with a little good luck charm (photo below). So if you don't think you want to pay a little for a bit of convenience, stairs are always available.
I've got to say though. While we were there, there were many (and I do mean many!) elderly locals who were climbing the stairs up and down. Unaided and looking as if they weren't breaking any sweat over it! There were even a pair of grandparents (and I do mean grandparents with white hair and all!) jogging after their grandkids! Seriously! What's their secret?! Is that why people always say that the Japanese have longer life span?!
I was so completely ashamed of myself huffing and puffing up the trails that these seniors were bounding up and down on...
Anyway, the view once you get to the level of the main hall is pretty good. What was more amazing was that the place was done in such a way that it's quite wheelchair-friendly on that level! However, any further exploration would be limited. The rest of the walking trails are as called; a lot of walking and stair climbing needed.
Still, the main level provided for some architectural eye-candy. My mom got exasperated waiting for me to get my pictures of the gorgeous wall paintings and all.
The Yutoku Inari Shrine was really perfect for my parents. Dad was soon raring to go explore some of the trails. So I left my mom on the main hall level (she was so glad there was air-conditioning!) with our driver-guide and followed my dad for his morning-exercise of the day.
The walking trail leads from the main level further into the wooded hill. Sections along the trails were also covered by tori gates (according to our driver-guide, donated by persons and corporations for good luck and prosperity). There were also smaller shrines along the way that were dedicated to foxes.
To be honest, while I was huffing and puffing away, it really didn't feel like a pain walking that trail at all. Firstly, there were too many Instagram-worthy pictures to be had. It's just too bad my dad isn't the best model.
Secondly, I was also too busy trying to keep an eye out for dad. Do note that sections of the trail are paved with stones and some parts were wet the day we visited. Not the best combination; wet stone paths can get slippery-dangerous. I know since I fell a couple of times before on those. I didn't want dad to fall and I sure as hell didn't want to myself. Plus I was carrying my newish (then) expensive camera.
Dad and I spent some time climbing the trail until we reach a point where the paths were just stones (photo above). I refused to let dad climb further and we both headed back. Would have been interesting though to continue on just to see if the shrines also got more primitive further in.
For those of you who are interested in visiting the Yutoku Inari Shrine, do also note that there is a small traditional Japanese garden at the base of the hill. It was quite a tranquil place with flowing streams, low-arched bridges, sitting areas and lovely flowers in bloom. The garden is supposedly famed for its peonies blooms as well. Unfortunately, we missed the season. Instead, we saw some pretty azaleas instead.
However, there is an admission fee to the garden. I personally thought that it was quite small for the price we paid. So if you're not into the flower scene, you may want to consider skipping this altogether.
Do note also that there is a small snack stall open at the side of the entrance to the Yutoku Inari Shrine. My dad got himself a well-deserved matcha soft-serve which he happily declared to be one of the best after a morning climb.
Yutoku Inari Shrine
Address: 1855 Furueda, Kashima 849-1321, Saga Prefecture
Local Address: 〒849-1321古枝乙1855
DID: +81 954-62-2151
No closing time
Admission to shrine is free
Admission fee: 200 yen
Opening hours: 9 am to 4:30 pm