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Aki Meguri Shikoku Logbook:

October 15th, 2001 (Monday):
Temples 06, 07, 08, 09 and 10

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.

 
Another remarkable day right from the beginning.

Kimiko's Gifts

At breakfast, I sat next to the same young lady I sat next to last night.  It seems we are the only two solo henro--not part of a group tour--so they put us together.  Kimiko is 30 years old, from Kanagawa. She speaks no English, but that didn't prevent her from showing me the greatest kindness.

As I mentioned yesterday, she is wrapping up her pilgrimage and heading home.  She offered two very special gifts to send "the new kid" on his way.

First, I guess there was a ceremony last night, but somehow I missed the announcement.  (Could it be my absolute lack of listening skills in Japanese?)  Those who attended received an omamori--a charm or amulet--for safe travel.  Kimiko did go to the service (her Japanese is much better than mine), and this morning she gave me her omamori.  This is simply a slip of paper printed with the appropriate words, but to give one up to a stranger was an act of uncalled-for kindness.

Gift #2 was even more amazing.  First some background.  Some people do the pilgrimage multiple times.  Every pilgrim leaves name slips at each temple, and the color of the name slip defines the pilgrim's experience.  According to Bishop Miyata, white is for those on treks 1-3; those on their 4th through 6th use green; 7-24 is red, 25-49 is silver, and 50-99 is gold. Above 100 times, the pilgrim uses a special gold brocade cloth--kinran--for his or her name slip.

Kimiko had met a 79-year-old pilgrim who was on trip number 156.  That pilgrim gave her a gold brocade name slip; Kimiko gave it to me.  I can't describe the impact of this.  Even the white paper ones given in thanks are considered a powerful amulet against misfortune.  Statler writes of a village who collected the slips every year in exchange for gifts of oranges to pilgrims.  When a fire swept their town, one family tied that year's slips to a straw rope (also a powerful talisman) and placed it around their house; the house was saved.  So Kimiko's gift was an act of great kindness both personally and supernaturally.  I'll be mailing home pamphlets and other things collected from time to time, but this one will stay with me.

Temple #6: Anrakuji (The Temple of Everlasting Joy)
Honzon: Yakushi Nyorai (Baisajya-guru)
Gallery

This is where I stayed last night; I said my prayers here yesterday after I arrived.

The Daishi established a spring here, and is said to have opened the baths that still operate today (even though it's well known that the temple was moved about a mile sometime between his time and ours).  Let's talk about the Perennial implications of this well-founding story.  Water is life; lack of water is death.  That's simple enough.  So a guy who wandered around bringing "life" to people would naturally be credited with establishing wells where they are needed.  Hit the ground with your staff and bam! instant water.

There's more to it than this, though.  Kobo Daishi was famous in later life for using his influence to organize and execute huge public works projects, including water works.  Near the end of the trip, I hope to see Manno-ike, a lake that is documented as being created under the Daishi's supervision (but I didn't see it after all).  Statler writes of it that it shows he had "an advanced knowledge of civil engineering."  He says the lake is 500 feet long, and the water level is 105 feet above the valley's floor.  It shoreline is nearly 13 miles long!

Famed for his ability to bring water--both spiritual and wet--it is no wonder that the Daishi gets credit for making water gush forth from the earth.

If you know your Bible, you know Moses got in big trouble for doing what the Daishi is praised for doing: striking the ground with a staff, and bringing forth a spring.  For doing the same thing, Moses was prevented from entering the Promised Land.  Why?

There is a welter of interpretations, but one that appeals to me is this: Moses was told to speak the water into existence, using the power of God's divine Word.  Instead, he used Aaron's rod, which from earlier chapters we know to be an instrument of magic (or a kind of holy anti-magic; it's a fine distinction).  In other words, Moses used magic instead of the power of God.  This is considered a sin.  For the same reason, the Judeo-Christian tradition reviles snakes.  Why?  Because they were thought to live forever--the shedding of skin was considered a kind of resurrection--without God's help.  Doing things on one's own power, or by magical aid, is against the laws of God.  In most other cultures, snakes are respected for this ability, even worshipped; in the West, they are cursed for it.

Eastern thinking is not so categorical.  If the Daishi did "magic," it is clear that he did so only through his own personal holiness--which concept is anathema in the West.  Holiness can only come from God, as can miracles.

Back to Number 6.  The main image, Yakushi Nyorai, is the Doctor of the Buddhas.  He is usually shown holding a medicine bottle, and is called on for healing.

The baths here are also a form of healing.

A thatched bathroom, designated a
"model toilet" by a pilgrimage association
A most unusual Niomon; the kings are in the 
two separate buildings on either side

This morning I took a few shots, did my stretches, and set off for the long 1.2 kilometer walk to Number 7.

Temple #7: Jurakuji (The Temple of Ten Joys)
Honzon: Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata)
Gallery

Sometimes when you seek you don't find.

This temple was supposed to have two features worth seeing.  One was a "grave" for books burned in a 16th-century raid.  The other is a "parent-and-child" pine.

The woman in the stamp office knew of neither.  Pushing, I interrupted a monk who was running a Weed Whacker on the grounds.  Visibly miffed at being disturbed, he told me the grave mound was himitsu--secret or hidden.  (Then why is it in the guide books?)  I decided not to bug him about the pine.

Hibutsu--hidden Buddhas--are practically the norm in most temples.  Unlike a church where the cross or crucifix is a focus for worship, or a Shinto shrine where one can often see the mirror that holds the central place, temples generally hide their main figures, or make them very hard to see.  Some are revealed cyclically--once a year, say, or once in 3, 7, 33, or even 60 years.  This creates a mystique that I find quite appealing.  I have never been sorry that I couldn't see a honzon.  But why hide a grave for books?

The picture above isn't a pine, but it is a tree split in a parent-and-child motif; I had to show you something.

Also, the inner gate shown here has a small worship area--and a nice view of the valley--in a second-floor room.

After a nice chat with a monk leading a tour from Tottori--he had driven from there this morning--I moved on toward Number 8.

On the way, I saw this hatted Jizo sitting among several other stones.  It reminded me of Kasa Jizo, one of my favorite stories about kindness and its rewards.

Temple #8: Kumadaniji (Bear Valley Temple)
Honzon: Senju Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara with a thousand arms)
Gallery

I have read that Number 8 is "the largest" of the 88 temples.  But Number 10 seemed larger.  I have read that it has "the largest gate" of all 88; but it seemed no larger than that at Number 1.  What gives?  Why all this extra credit?  Does Number 8 have a well-oiled PR machine?

In any case, the temple is quite beautiful without all this hyperbole.  The Tahoto (treasure hall) is particularly fine.  

The PR machine failed here: while Number 10 is called the first "mountain" temple--up off the valley floor--the view from Number 8's Daishido proves otherwise.

I had a nice chat with a very pretty lady--who speaks excellent English--who was sitting in front of the hondo.  She was not wearing pilgrim's garb, and frankly looked a bit bored.  As it turns out, Miho is from Kobe and was driving her mother and aunts around on the circuit; she herself is a Catholic!

Temple #9: Horinji (The Temple of the Dharma Wheel)
Honzon: Shaka Nyorai (Sakyamuni Buddha)
Gallery


Pilgrims on break at Number 9

It's an easy downhill walk to Number 9.  Situated in the flats of the valley, this small temple is famous for having the only "reclining Buddha" on the circuit (not on view, of course).  I have seen a few in Japan--notably at Tsubosakadera near Asuka--and have seen pictures of others in Asia.  But I never realized the significance.  According to Bishop Miyata, this is the position the historic Buddha was in when he entered final nirvana--that is, he died.  Wow!  A guy who died lying down!  That deserves to be commemorated by statues forever.

Next to the temple is a small noodle shop.  I stopped in for one of my favorites--sansai udon.  Udon is a pencil-thick noodle.  Sansai is interesting.  The usual word for "vegetable" is yasai.  The character for ya is the same as the no in "Ueno" and many other place names; it means open field, or natural clearing.  The "Koya" of Koyasan means "high field" (san means mountain.)

But sansai is different.  Remember, san means mountain.  So yasai are field vegetables, and sansai are mountain vegetables--that is, wild, uncultivated things, like mushrooms and wild herbs.

So I went in, told the lady I was vegetarian, and ordered the sansai udon.  While she prepared it I set to work copying some prayers.  The food came, she set the bowl in front of me, I said the usually thank you, then turned to the bowl and said "itadakimasu"--the standard word one says before eating.  (It's a kind of universal thanks to all who brought the food to you, from nature and the gods to the cook and the waiter--or your mom at home.)  And as the lady walked away I started to cry.

What is this?  Am I losing my mind?  (As one student told me, "That train has left the station.")  I was momentarily overcome with gratefulness.  This is simple food, in a rough bowl, in a flyspecked little shop.  And Martha Stewart has never appreciated a meal more than I did that bowl of noodles and vegetables. One thing this journey has done to me is made me a lot more sensitive to such things.

After I dried my eyes and wiped my mouth, I took off for Number 10.

Temple #10: Kirihataji (The Temple of Weaving and Cutting Cloth)
Honzon: Senju Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara with a thousand arms)
Gallery

Lots of great surprises at this place.  The first surprise was the bloody climb.

Ed Readicker-Henderson's book said it was a climb, but I guess I took it lightly.

After walking distinctly uphill, one finally reaches the undermaintained niomon (Two Kings Gate).  I was charmed by it.

Dropping my big bag with a sweets seller (I bought some afterwards as a kind of thanks), I then faced 333 steps!

Some of these steps are designated as Yakuyoke steps.  The Japanese have inherited a lot of age and number superstitions from China.  I'll have more to say about this another day, but in particular it is well known that 33 is an unlucky age for women, and 42 is unlucky for men.  (I learned about this early on; 42 was my first birthday in Japan.)  Without going into a lot of detail, this "superstition" is based on some real wisdom.  There are notable changes in men's and women's bodies at these ages, with a concomitant need for adjustments in lifestyle--diet, exercise, etc.

Anyway, the "Women's Yakuyoke" steps are a flight of 33; the men's, a flight of 42.  Then we're at the top.  Climbing them is said to erase the bad luck associated with these ages.  (Hmmm...climbing stairs helps improve one's health?  Never thought of it!).

At the top I got my next big surprise--MIHO!  Even though she and her ladies were traveling by car, I somehow caught up with them, playing tortoise to their hare I guess.  Maybe they took a longer lunch than I did.

While we talked, her mother came over and said, "Can you speak English?  Yes I can!"--which was the limit of her English.  Miho then translated a fun conversation between me and this lively old lady, in which the usual question was asked: Why are you doing this pilgrimage?

I wish I had an answer.  Finally, I guess, the reasons are so non-rational as to be impossible to verbalize.  But I usually say it's a way to bid farewell to Japan, to have a "big experience" of the country, to take a break between phases of my life.  These are easy answers, facile, inadequate.  But they seem to do the trick.  If I answered with the real reason--dead silence--the questioner would become mighty uncomfortable.

Her mom then suggested pictures.  She stole my heart when she took my arm and squeezed it while patting my hand, exactly the same as my old Aunt Tillie used to.  (Still around, she's not mobile enough to do that anymore.  Besides, I haven't seen her in over a year.)

They left, I said my prayers.  This temple has a great legend.  Did you notice the name?  They say that when Kobo Daishi arrived in this area, he was badly in need of new clothes.  A woman (variously described as old or young--and I think there's a big difference in terms of the story's meaning) made new clothes for him.  The girl/woman had a sad story: living in exile from the Imperial court, saved by a miracle of Kannon, etc.  Well, the Daishi was impressed.

Here is where age makes a difference.  Some--who believe she was a young woman--say that this story is sort of the Daishi's one big--albeit Platonic--love affair.  If she was old, this is less likely, but the sanctity of her life might be more apparent.  In any case, the Daishi agreed to ordain her (presumably as a nun).

Much is made of this.  Statler says that women especially love this temple because it proves the Daishi's equal treatment of women.  Yet the views of a visionary and the practices of his followers--men of smaller minds--are often different.  Women were prohibited by law from entering Koyasan (officially, at least) until 1873, and "de facto until 1910" (according to Ed).  That's not so egalitarian.  But the Daishi was one of the few who believed that women had equal merit religiously.  He was one of the first to teach that we could achieve enlightenment "in this very body" and not after many lifetimes.  And unlike other teachers, he taught that a woman didn't have to be reborn into a man's body to achieve this: it could happen to her now, too.

The end of the clothing story: upon her ordination, the woman was transformed before the Daishi's eyes into Kannon herself, affirming the propriety of the Daishi's views toward women.  The statue shown here was another nice surprise on this mountain: Kannon with a bolt of cloth and a tool to cut it with.

After marveling at the stupendous view of the valley of the Yoshinogawa River, I began the trudge back down, stopping to pick up my bag and buy some silk candy on the way.

It's fitting that I should cover Numbers 1-10 in two days; these 10 temples were actually a pilgrimage course in their own right before the Shikoku 88 was formulated.  The local people used to work their way up the valley of the Yoshinogawa River from Number 1 to Number 10 in homage to the dead.  It seems that--even before Buddhism arrived--the mountain where Number 10 sits was considered to be where the dead dwelled.  Before Buddhism and its mountaintop ethic arrived, the beliefs of Shinto prevented most people from treading in the mountains; they were considered sacred either to the gods or the dead, and were no place for a mere mortal.  (In a time of real danger from beasts--there may still be bears in this area--as well as a time of superstition, it is easy to imagine how such beliefs arose.)  With the coming of Buddhism, the special nature of the mountains was retained, but now they were places to approach--with due reverence, of course. The site of Number 10 was (is?) such a place.

It was after three o'clock.  I knew I wouldn't make it to Number 11 today.  So after walking for almost two hours, I caught a bus to Kamojima, where I'm staying in a ryokan near the station. Tomorrow's desired accommodation is full, so I may be doing my first "improvising" tomorrow--a nice word for cheating.

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