Pardon me if my letters are jumbled, I am still a bit winded from yesterday's hike to the Japanese Shrine, nestled 1,200 meters above sea level on the foot of Mt. Talinis in Sagbang, Valencia.
The road to the Shrine was picturesque (Dumaguete, several towns, even Cebu island and the Tanon Straight were visible at some points), shady (plenty of trees along the way) and cliff-hugging as it twisted and turned around the mountainside. But it was still a road, so the experience felt more like trudging up an incline rather than a mountain.
After almost an hour of walking, we saw a local man shimmying down the side of the mountain and we asked him if the Shrine was still far. He said if we followed the road, it was still far, but if we went by the mountain path that he just came from, it was nearer. A mountain path! Now, that would be real mountain climbing.
Quickly we left the main road and clambered up the narrow footpath barely visible under lush vegetation. This was a steep climb up the wall of the mountain, and at some point I had to crawl on all fours, clinging to every root and vine available, to be very sure that I wouldn’t fall off the bakilid. I contemplated that if worse came to worst and I indeed lost my balance, my ample fats would cushion my hopefully-not-yet-osteoporotic bones from breaking on the rocks below. However, I was not very sure that the camera in my backpack would survive such a tumble unscathed. Needless to say, I climbed very, very carefully.
So, what is this Japanese Shrine?
The Dumaguete Info Website describes it this way:
Perched high atop the hilly ranges of Valencia is the historical monument called the Filipino - American - Japanese Amity Shrine (Fil-Am Japanese Shrine). It stands on a sacred battle ground where where an encounter during the World War II actually took place. It was built to remember the many lives taken by the vicious war. It was also to provide closure to a sad era and to mark the beginning of peace and friendship between the three countries.
The monument itself is a three-sided pillar rising high unto the sky, the three sides representing the Philippines, America and Japan. The park grounds are hilly and well manicured. There was a woman cutting grass with a manual grass cutter while her two young daughters milled around her. There were three sickly looking goats grazing under the canopy of the big trees. There was a hen and her chicks running about. Drinks and snacks were sold in a small sari-sari store where guests paid the ten-peso entrance fee. There was also an old wooden hut that was "skeletonized" as some of its walls were missing.
Quite frankly, I was disappointed with the Shrine. And irritated, too. Loud rock music blared from a portable stereo right at the foot of the three-sided pillar. There were several young adults who looked like they were camping, desecrating the shrine with their vulgar music and their shirts hanging all over the place to dry. Isn’t a shrine supposed to be a sacred place? Did they even know that on this very hill the blood of countless Filipinos was shed in the name of freedom, Filipinos who could have been our grandfathers had they not succumbed to wounds that were beyond medical succor? Any soldier wounded in these hills in a moderate to major way would have a hard time surviving as the hill was too far up the mountain and help would be a long ways off.
Yet how could I fault those young people if they thought the Shrine was just another cheap, clean picnic place not unlike the town parke? For nowhere, none at all, in the whole Fil-Am Japanese Shrine could one find a clue as to what he place was all about. I mean, there was not a word, a plaque, an etching on cement or marble, a brochure, no nothing, at all. Sure there was a big blank concrete wall, but that was just what it was. Blank.
The Japanese Shrine was a disappointment. But the trek was not. I would go there again. If only to practice my mountain climbing muscles. And to remember and honor the men who fought for my province and my country during World War II.