Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

May 28, 2012

The Ausaka Barrier - Semimaru (Walking Waka Tracks)

The Ausaka Barrier ("Meeting Slope", also pronounced "Osaka" but not connected with the city of that name) forms the border between Yamashiro and the old capital Heiankyo (now Kyoto) and the province of Omi (now Shiga Prefecture) where the road to eastern Japan starts. It formed the entrance to the capital (the Tokaido also passed through it) and was a crucial traffic artery.

Today it still is, as both Highway No. 1, the Shinkansen, and the JR and Keihan lines struggle for space in the narrow valley. The only difference is that people on foot are seldom now, you only see cars swishing by...

Semimaru, the purported poet, is a legendary figure who may have been based on a blind musician who lived in the second half of the 9th c. He was a skilled biwa player and rumor has it that he even was of royal birth... but such is indeed the stuff of legend. The recluse who lived in a hut near the Ausaka Barrier also figures in several Noh plays.

Semimaru Jinja (Shimosha), Otsu
[Semimaru Shrine, Otsu - Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

this is that place
of going away and coming back
of parting time and again
both friends and strangers:
the Osaka Barrier

kore ya kono | yuku mo kaeru mo | wakarete wa | shiru mo shiranu mo | Osaka no Seki
The poem aptly paints the hustle and bustle of the Barrier by use of contrast: people setting out on a journey and others who are coming back, the many farewells but also meetings (as indicated by the name Meeting Slope), the passing by of people who know each other and those who are complete stangers. One meets in order to part and says goodbye in order to meet again... the world is in a constant flux.
Seki-no-Semimaru Shrine: There are three shrines dedicated to Semimaru in the area. The Shimo-Sha Shrine is the largest and stands closest to Otsu. 
Access: 10 min walk from Otsu St. Grounds freely accessible. 
The poetry stone (kahi) stands to the right of the entrance to the shrine. 
The Ausaka Barrier was located somewhat closer to Kyoto, near Otani St on the Keihan line, where Highway 1 and the railway lines pass through a narrow valley.