By Sarah Chaney
The white lady lies about halfway between Inawashiro and downtown Aizu Wakamatsu, in the recreation park called Aizumura. Here she rises above the city and gazes benevolently out at the valley over the baby in her arms.
The Aizu Dai Jibo Kannon (会津慈母大観音) is not so old, the locals will say scornfully. Anything less than a few hundred years old doesn't really rate in Japan, and she was only built in the 1980s. Still, she's impressive, rising 57 meters into the air, hollow down the middle, with a spiral staircase and windows at intervals to look out into the surrounding hills. You can get up to shoulder height, peering out of porticoes in her spinal column. On the way up, peep the thousands of small golden Kannon likenesses representing donors that have helped the goddess to be built and remain on this serene piece of land. This Kannon is especially visited by those who want safe delivery of their babies, good love matches, and blessings for their newborns.
The grounds are beautiful, with terraced sculpted gardens stretching out far enough for a good stroll, with plenty of spots to pause with a picnic. A reclining Buddha reposes in another part of the grounds, and a three story pagoda peeks out above carefully shaped shrubbery. Artfully placed flowers are labeled, fragrant herbs line the paths, and a row of cherry trees await their brief annual performance. In the warmer months, this is an ideal place to relax with a book.
Koi bubble and undulate under the bridge that backbends over a pond with wandering canals, letting the carp meander around the park. Honor boxes are placed near the stream where you can buy fish food for a coin if you want to see the clear peaceful waters becoming a seething boiling writhing carp stew, thick enough to walk on. They swallow the food relentlessly, and it's easy to spend all your pocket change trying to appease them.
A small cafe serves old standards like soba, curry rice, and pork katsu. A few sweets and soft drinks are also available, and the requisite souvenir shop adjoins the parking area.
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