Occupying one quarter of a Full region leveraging the private region Land Capacity bonus, lies The Last Aokigahara Souls. A highly photogenic setting cast beneath a night sky, this is a place designed primarily designed by Eddie Takeda and Clair Wolf Takeda (Kajda1610) which is open to the public, and is described as a piece of Japanese nature where visitors can relax and enjoy a good cup of tea.
The name appears to have been taken from Aokigahara, the Blue Tree Meadow (also known as the Sea of Trees); a rich forest which has grown on some 30 square kilometres of lava laid down by the last major eruption of Mount Fuji in 864 CE. Located on the volcano’s north-west flank, the forest is a popular tourist destination, and has a historical reputation as a home to yūrei, the ghosts of the dead – something which might again be perhaps reflected in the parcel’s name.
Like its namesake, The Last Aokigahara Souls is a place where volcanic rock can be found – notably in the curtain cliffs which bound this sky-based location, and in the multiple basalt columns and outcrops found throughout. Also like its namesake, this is a richly wooded setting, home to both streams and pools of water, where exploration is encouraged along paths and trails.
The landing point sits within the outer courtyard of a large traditional-styles Japanese house, a smaller guest house facing it from across the gravel floor of the courtyard. Information boards to one side avail themselves to visitors, as does the seating located within the courtyard. Access to the house is via a set of inner courtyards, and once inside, visitors can make their way through the inner courtyards to where coffee awaits thirsty folk at the back of the house, or those wishing to unwind a little more can partake of sake in one of the two side rooms of the lower floor.
There are two exits from the landing point. The first is a gravel footpath marked by a red Torii gate to one side of the main courtyard or by crossing a simply log bridge which spans the stream paralleling the courtyard beyond the screen of bamboo running alongside the guest house. This to another Torii gate on the far side of the stream and a short gravel path alive with local wildlife, which provides access to a romantic little gazebo where couple might enjoy a dance or two.
The main path, meanwhile point the way to a little outdoor eatery, complete with its own little lantern-strung courtyard eating area. Here the path splits the two arms each bordering a side of a large pond fed by low waterfalls. Pointing away from the eatery, the first arm of the path directs explorers between the pond and more bamboo to where a further Torii gate guards stone steps as they start a curving climb up a hill whose flanks are hidden under the drooping cover of the trees. The second arm of the path runs onward past the eatery to joint to be cross by another path running down from the hills via a further – and straight – stair, which is again marked at its base by the presence of a Torii gate.
Both of the paths up the hill lead to the same destination: a temple and shrine. Illuminated by lanterns and sitting within a small garden space, the temple presents visitors with the options of spending time in quiet contemplation or sitting before Buddha whilst awaiting enlightenment as the heavens turn overhead. That the two paths both lead up to and down from the temple means they offer a tidy loop around this part of the setting without the need to retrace steps.
The path at the foot of the straight stairway not only crosses the one leading outward from the landing point, it continues on to where a small red bridge arches over the stream as it is beautifully lit by floating lanterns sitting on rafts clearly anchored against the swift flow of its current. Across the bridge, the path enters a Zen garden offering multiple points of interest to explore and in which to spend time.
Within this corner of the setting can be found a further shrine, a small watermill sharing its space with a family of pandas (a typical inclusion within many Japanese-themed settings, despite the fact the panda is not native to that land – although it is beloved of Japanese people); a garden marked by the presence of a huge tree in Sakura-like bloom where a couple might enjoy cuddles under a smaller tree, watched over by both Buddha and Japanese cranes; and a gravel-floored space beyond the latter garden, which can also reached by a separate path running from the Zen garden, providing the home for a small teahouse where a rather talent kitty is available to entertain visitors.
In addition, for those passing by the watermill, a further pair of bridges cross over the water channel cut to turn the mill’s wheel and (again) over the stream. These connect with a further path running under the lee of one of the boundary cliffs, climbing a set of steps as it does so to reach a little hideaway overlooking a rounded pond. Fed on one side by falls dropping from the cliffs and with its own falls tumbling to feed both mill and stream below, the pond is home to dancing crane, koi that calmly swim under the surface and lanterns which float above, lilies and basalt outcrops completing this near-idyllic spot where tea might again be enjoyed.
Set as it is within a sky platform, The Last Aokigahara Souls is beautifully presented; the space has been wisely used to give a sense of a location larger than its actual size, allowing for plenty of exploration without immediately feeling one is simply retracing steps. There are also multiple opportunities throughout for photography, whilst the setting gives people a chance to get away from others and enjoy a little time alone and in peace.
As noted, The Last Aokigahara Souls does sit under a (quite glorious) night sky by default, but it also lends itself to other EEP settings for photography, as I hope a couple of the images here demonstrate.
Definitely a place to be visited, and my thanks to Shawn Shakespeare for pointing me to it.
- The Last Aokigahara Souls (Lam, rated Moderate)