Aki Meguri Shikoku
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.
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
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)
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
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
A most unusual Niomon; the kings are in the
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)
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
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
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)
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
Honzon: Senju Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara with a thousand
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
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
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
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.