Ishikiri, outside of Osaka, is a great small town to walk through, beginning at Ishikiri Station, and then walk downhill to a bustling marketplace of shops both old and new. I had been to many cities in Japan and this one felt the most old-fashioned and untouched by modernization. I didn’t even see a convenient store within plain sight and it was a bustling little metropolis. The place is perfect for a stroll and can offer a nostalgic view of Japanese culture. Friendly faces are everywhere greeting new visitors and offering them traditional things like ancient snacks and artifacts.
The road begins off the station you see a row of wooden red lanterns and onto the thin street leading to Ishikiri Tsurugiya shrine. I was not sure which direction to go so I followed everybody else. At first I saw some markets selling traditional Japanese kitchen goods and clothes. Then I saw one of the most famous parts of the town, the Great Buddha Statue of Ishikiri. It was a splendid sculptor with hands folded and the thumbs facing together. I knew Ishikiri would be a religious place, so I picked up the pace to see what was next.
Ishikiri was not an easy walk to say the least because the crowds filled the street easily. You could not see all of the unique shops that were around due to the many twists and turns but everywhere there was a new one. There were coffee shops, traditional medicine and massage parlors, pickles, jewelry and the most common shop available was “uranai”, which means palm reading. Different palm readers all claiming to have the ability to tell your future by what your hand says. It seems the goal of the neighborhood is to make any visitor feel as relaxed as possible.
There was also plenty to eat. Along the downhill street there was lines of traditional snack shops clenched together serving Japanese old-fashioned treats. One stall sold fresh-grilled sweet senbei with the Ishikiri kanji pressed into it. There were senbei as small as a credit card or as big as my hand delicately cut and not overcooked. After I bought some of these, the nice owner gave me one for free. It is so wonderful to have people share their culture with you.
There were crowded restaurants too. Stalls were even selling rice with assorted mountain vegetables. They looked too good to pass up so I bought a rice dish myself. I also found a place selling fortune cookies. I had never seen a Japanese fortune cookie.
The Ishikiri Tsurugiya temple came last and I could see why all of the crowds had come here. It is one of the oldest shrines in Japan dating back to 659 B.C. The word “tsurugi” means sword and the word “ya” means arrow. With both of these, it was believed, there is the power to break through almost anything including rock and Ishikiri means, “cut rock”. It was very crowded when I went there; people were circling around two tiny, cylindrical poles patting them with their hands. It turns out that this is called the O-hyakudomairi (100th visit). When you have prayed in that spot 100 times, any wish you grant will come true.
Ishikiri Tsurugiya had a unique style to it that I had not seen in most temples; there was a small bridge in the center connecting two different buildings. There was a museum displaying swords and remnants of the ancient architecture.
Ishikiri is a town where tradition reigns supreme. After I walked through the town and went home, I felt a strong sense of tradition and nostalgia that I do not feel usually in a Japanese city. Most cities I had been to are filled with modern delights but Ishikiri looked like it had remained untouched for centuries. This town is important to Japanese history and I got a sense that I had walked through a part of what Japan was.