Aki Meguri Shikoku
October 14th, 2001 (Sunday):
Temples 01, 02, 03, 04, 05 and (06)
Note: In the original Aki
Meguri pages, the Shikoku stage had no journal entries. Rather,
my thoughts and feelings were incorporated into the "Logbook,"
so you won't find separate journal entries here, as in the Old
Tokaido and Yamato stages.
|With my arrival on
Shikoku, I am drastically changing my prayer routine. Please read
about the new routine (along with a re-telling of a story from Tolstoy) here.
|First, the logistics
of my day.
Last night I stayed at Temple Number 2.
In the morning, we had a brief service at 6 a.m., followed immediately
After that, I published yesterday's
homepage, did some e-mail, and packed my bag. (I had spent all
evening writing a prayer book by hand, so I hadn't had time to finish my
Leaving my bag at Number 2, I walked
the 1.2 kilometers back to Temple Number 1 for my "official
Temple #1: Ryouzenji (The Temple of
Honzon: Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni Buddha)
Never trust the opinions of a guidebook
writer. Ed Readicker-Henderson, who is so great on facts, often
expresses opinions totally different from mine. Here's what he
says about this temple: "Architecturally, Temple 1 is a good
indication of things to come. There isn't much here."
Then he says that this pilgrimage is made up of little neighborhood
temples. "If you want stunning architecture," he says,
"the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage is a better choice."
Standing in the gateway, she's much
scarier than any nio
I agree with that last statement.
But stunning isn't everything. To say, "There isn't much
here" is to ignore a Niomon (Two Kings Gate) described by
Oliver Statler as "monumental." Statler writes,
"The gate is a symbol, summoning one from the secular world to the
sacred precincts within." Yes.
Ed also writes off this really precious tahoto,
or treasure stupa. Statler notes that it "symbolizes the
Let's be fair; Readicker-Henderson is
writing a guidebook; Statler is writing a hymn of praise. But
still, I'm with Olly.
I couldn't find much in the way of
legends for Ryouzenji. The Daishi had a vision here, at the site of a temple
founded by Gyogi, who lived about a hundred years before the Daishi, and
is the true founder of many temples now attributed to the Daishi.
In the Daishi's vision, he saw the historic Buddha preaching a
(non-historic) sermon on sacred Vulture's Peak. So he carved a
statue of "Shaka Nyorai"--the historic Sakyamuni Buddha--and
renamed Gyogi's foundation. Not all that exciting. Oliver
Statler writes, "Temple One purveys no legends, perhaps because as
its priest once said to me, 'Its position as Number One is sufficient
Perhaps. But "its position
as Number One" is a fluke. One can start the pilgrimage anywhere;
this is only "#1" because it's the first temple one reaches
when coming from the Daishi's tomb on Mount Koya.
A note for travelers: Number 1 has
apparently stopped providing lodging for pilgrims. Also, there
seems to be no sign of the "starting out ceremony" I had read
of; checking with the priest when I stopped in yesterday, I was told
that you can "come anytime" and just take off; there is no
longer a special ceremony. If anyone knows differently, please let
So I did "the
routine," and pushed on to Number 2. On the way, I had
a chance to practice something I learned from Statler: we carry
our walking sticks across bridges. This is allegedly because the
Daishi slept under a bridge. This is confusing. The stick is
the Daishi, so we don't hit the bridge with it 'cause we'll wake him up
as he sleeps under it? Omnipresence...?
No. This is a local example of
bridge lore, and my first chance to get Perennial on you. Remember
the "Three Billy Goats Gruff"? Ever lift your feet in a
car as a kid when you passed over a bridge? Ever listen to Simon
Bridges are enormously significant
worldwide. On the Tokaido, I had a chance to write about the
practical, military side of bridges. But now's the time to think
of their symbolic importance. They take us from here to there,
without touching what's in between. They make it possible for us
to walk on water. They save us boatfare.
Pop quiz: The Pope is sometimes called
"The Supreme Pontiff." Know what it means? Time's
up. Pontiff comes from the Latin pontifex, which means
UPDATE: You can now read about my visit
to the bridge where the Daishi slept out. It happened on October
Along the way, I saw this startling
site. Wait, you mean I could do all this by scooter and
save my aching feet? (Those are pilgrims' sticks in the rack on
|Temple #2: Gokurakuji (The Temple of
the Pure Land)
Honzon: Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata)
It was like comin' home. (I slept
there last night.)
Unlike Number 1, I was able to learn a
couple of great legends about Gokurakuji .
One says that the hill shown behind
the building is man-made. It seems that the Light from the Amida
figure in the hondo was so bright that it scared away the fish in
the not-so-nearby sea. So the fishermen got together and built
this hill between the hondo and the sea to block the light, so
it's now called the Amida-Blocking Hill.
Whoa! Folk motifs abound.
Start with light as a symbol of holiness. (We'll leave that one
for later.) Another is the age-old game of Operator. Perhaps
this hill was man-made. But why? Is it a kofun
(burial mound)? A base for an ancient lighthouse? (Light
again.) Anyway, whyever it was built, the reason was lost, and
this interesting legend arose to fill the gap.
I like this idea (it's my own): perhaps
the fishing was poor for some reason or another, and somebody vowed to
build an earthen "altar" to appease the gods. Later, the
Amida story was derived from the garbled tradition of this enterprise.
By the way, the "Pure Land"
of the temple's name is the place prepared by Amida Buddha for those who
call on him for help. Believers go there after death, where
they have ideal conditions to continue working on their own
Number 2 also has a "longevity
cedar." This one's obvious: long-lived tree can transfer its
power if you touch it, so you can live a long time, too.
Much is made of this temple's wealth,
based on its income as a temple for safe childbirth--and the salvation
of aborted babies. I don't care; the jolly priest who painted my
hat (see yesterday's logbook) is a good
guy; I met him again at the end of my journey), and the temple is a
pleasant place. That's all one can ask for.
Picking up my big bag, I pushed on toward
Number 3. Along the way I passed a young lady henro
(pilgrim)--walking. This is said to be unusual, although
women far outnumber men on the pilgrimage in general (as they do in most
religious enterprises--stop into your local church sometime and ask who
carries the bulk of the effort, even though the men have all the titles.
It was ever thus.)
After a kilometer or so of playing
"Tortoise and Hare," we started
Aki is planning to get married next
year, and is doing this as preparation. (Sister, walking a
thousand kilometers is like a stroll in the park compared to the hard
work of being married!) Many people do this sort of thing: it's a
chance to think things over, be sure you're doing the right thing; and
also to align the "powers of the universe" on your side.
We walked and chatted together about
half the day.
|Temple #3: Konsenji (The Temple of
the Golden Spring)
Honzon: Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni Buddha)
This temple, too, has legends.
(Sorry, I rushed through this place, so I can't illustrate the legends;
I didn't want to keep Aki waiting!)
One is of a spring created by the
Daishi striking the ground with his staff. This one gives the
temple its name. However, as this is a really long logbook,
we'll consider the implications of this another day, as he did the same
feat many times.
Another is an association with a
historical character. Benkei was the companion of Minamoto
Yoshitsune; these two make up an early "buddy movie" in
Japanese history (though Yoshitsune was Benkei's master). Anyway,
Benkei is famous for his strength. The name for the front of the
shin in Japanese translates as "Benkei's Crying Place,"
meaning even the strongest man who ever lived would cry if struck there.
So at this temple, there's a rock about four feet long and two feet high
that he supposedly lifted to demonstrate his strength. I saw it,
but neither took a photograph--nor tried to lift it!
The Perennial connections of this one
are obvious too. Atlas, Samson, Superman--we love strong guys.
But each has a weakness too--like Benkei's shinbone.
Aki and I set off from Number 3 with a new
companion. Suzuki-san is a couple of years older than me, and was
actually on his way to a nearby "library" to study the Hannya
Shingyo. We had a good talk about the essence of the prayer:
"Form is emptiness, emptiness is form."
Suzuki-san left us well before Number
4, which is too bad, because we kind of got lost after he left. Not really lost,
just--kind of. Finally veering back onto the course, we had our
first "challenge"--a gentle climb to the foothill location of
|Temple #4: Dainichiji (The Temple of
the Great Sun)
Honzon: Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana Buddha)
Dainichiji's main gate
I like this place, because I like this honzon.
The "Great Sun" Buddha is--appropriately--the guardian Buddha
of July, which is my birth month. And believe me, I could write
twenty pages about the idea of Sun Gods--without pausing. Here's
just a tidbit: ever wonder why Jesus' birthday is December 25th?
We don't actually know his birthday, but we put it on a Roman sun
holiday--near the Winter Solstice. Why? And why did he have twelve
Apostles--the same as the number of months in the year--or
constellations in the zodiac? It goes on. But think about it.
She dumped me. Aki was planning to stay at
Temple Number 8, two temples beyond where I was stopping. She was
worried about getting there, and since my prayers are lengthy, she
decided to go it alone. A good decision, I think. It was nice
while it lasted. (Read on; we met several more times.)
Several interesting things as I headed
down the hill: some domesticated inoshishi, or wild boars, in a
pen off to the side of the road...
...a rather confusing trail marker...
Shinto festival! A crew of revelers went by rolling a dashi,
or float. Not a parade, mind you; just one float. This is a
common neighborhood occurrence. My neighbors used to take out the dashi
once a year and cover every street in the area. You'll see this
practice again below.
|Temple #5: Jizoji (The Temple of the
Honzon: Jizo Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva)
The real attraction here is on a hill behind
the temple. And if you're paying attention, you can save yourself
a climb, since the road descends from that way and you can enter the
temple from the back way.
It's a massive
hall--I've just shown you the central entryway, but there are three
wings--filled with statues of the historic Buddha's 500 disciples or
"arhats" (known in Japanese as the gohyaku rakkan).
They're life-sized and cartoonish. (Sorry, no pictures were
allowed.) A little creepy. But fun. It cost 200 yen to
get in, but it was well worth it.
The temple itself has no stunning
traits. But I did enjoy this little imp carved under the gable of
one hall. He's a devil's child, called by a Japanese name (which I
can't remember) which is also used as a
reference to brats. (Anyone know what I mean? Maybe amanojakko?)
I also caught this group of
(What is the collective noun: a gaggle of pilgrims? A group of
lions is called a pride; could it be "a humility of
I left Jizoji (like Dainichiji, it's named for its honzon)
with the sinking feeling that I didn't have enough cash to pay for
tonight's room. (Where does it go?) So I stopped at a gas
station, and the gentleman inside spent nearly 15 minutes drawing an
accurate map of the area, with clear landmarks. It worked.
The bank was (almost) on my way, and the ATM was actually open!
Sometimes Murphy loses.
The gas station
owner ponies up...
the kids take the money and run
While we were discussing the details, a
group of gangsters stopped by. Apparently, the local god runs a
protection racket. These kids came into the gas station; I had
seem them stop at several other local businesses earlier, and every time
they did, the proprietor came out. Well, the gas station guy
hurriedly shoved some money in an envelope and went out to meet the
yutes. Bowing, he put the money on the palanquin, which the kids
then lifted and took off with.
Before arriving at Number 6--my
stopping place for the night--I received my first o-settai
since becoming an official pilgrim. A slightly daft little lady
stopped me just a few hundred yards from the temple, and ran into her
house. She came out again with a banana and a persimmon.
(The persimmon still had the price sticker on it--90 yen.)
Near her house I saw this beautifully
carved--and not confusing--trail marker.
I reached the temple--pretty
exhausted--and said my prayers. However, because the light was
coming from behind the gate and buildings, I decided to shoot it
tomorrow morning. It's quite a pretty place, but I'll tell you all
about it tomorrow.
At dinner I sat next to another
lady walking henro. This one, however, is nearly finished.
She walked from 1 to 88, and is bussing back toward 1--stopping here for
the night. Then she'll go back to Mount Koya to tag up with the
Daishi--a very proper pilgrimage.
So despite the statistics, the only two
people I met today who are walking (or have walked) the entire
pilgrimage--are women. Things are changing in Japan.
Tomorrow--Number 6 and beyond.