|Life has been so good since I became a pretenro (a pretend henro,
or pilgrim). Since I started hopping the occasional train or bus,
life is so much richer. And so am I.
I like trains. While not terribly fond of buses, I do
like the fact that they take me out into places where the people live.
And that's the best thing about public transportation to me: the
"public" part. In Tokyo, I saw more people in one train
than I saw in a week of driving in L.A. Some call this
"crowds"; I call it humanity.
On my first two, almost-entirely walking days, the only people I met
were other pilgrims. Don't get me wrong--I love pilgrims.
But today I had encounters with a little old lady and a kindergarten
kid--all because I was on buses.
On the over-one-hour bus ride toward Number 12, we were well up into
the mountains when an old lady turned around, handed me 500 yen (see, I am
richer) and said, "Osettai."
I raised it to my forehead in the usual gesture of acceptance, said,
"Domo arigato gozaimasu," and she turned back around.
A moment later she was shocked and pleased as I handed her my name slip.
To think, she must have thought, that a foreigner knows what to do.
When I left that bus, I had to wait for another to take me part way
up the mountain. This time I was amazed: it was the local school
bus! Here is an illustration from the side of the bus.
The driver had no uniform, just street clothes--and an N.Y.P.D. ball
cap. When I paid, it was into his hand--no fancy coin box.
But the best part is, there was a little kid on the bus. He
looked astonished as the big gaijin in the wide hat tried to
squeeze into kid-sized seats. When I said, "Konnichiwa,"
he answered reflexively. Then, after thinking a second, he
relaxed. Hey, the gaijin speaks Japanese--can't be all bad.
He left the bus, and I got a big wave and smile, followed by a very
solemn, "Gambatte, kudasai"--keep at it, hang in there,
don't give up, do your best!
Had I walked all the way up that mountain, I'd have had heavenly
vistas and the satisfaction of completion, but I'd have missed those
encounters. And they're precious to me, too.
Before I continue with my day, I want to mention those name slips again.
I've talked about giving them to people in return for osettai,
and their importance as talismans. But their real purpose is as a
sort of "calling card" to the Buddhas. In the past, they
were made of wood, and handwritten; then people wrote them on paper;
after that, they had them printed; and now we usually buy standard
pre-made ones, and add the pertinent information (name, address, date,
intention) by hand.
People used to nail the wooden ones right onto the temple; you can
tell an unrestored building, because it's full of nail holes. Then
it became popular to paste the paper ones onto the building.
The photo here shows this practice at Number 18, which I went to
yesterday. Temple staff generally cleans them off, leaving very
old ones, or ones from famous people. So it's a game to try to
place them up high, where they're inaccessible to the cleaners.
The ones shown here are above the door of the hondo.
The name slips are called osame fuda, sometimes shortened to
just fuda. They're so much a part of the tradition that
temples that are part of major pilgrimages--including the "Big
3" Kannon pilgrimages I did before--are called fudasho: name
slip places. And I have heard pilgrimage itself called fuda
meguri: name-slip journeys!
On with the journey. Leaving the bus, I walked a ways up a
paved road, then started up a wet, rocky, leaf-strewn trail that
was so steep the only adverb that could be used to describe it would be
"ridiculously"--it was ridiculously steep.
Read those adjectives again: wet, rocky, leaf-strewn, steep.
Wet leaves + wet rocks + a steep trail=slippery. I was afraid the
hike might turn into a game of "Chutes and Ladders," and that
I'd keep ending up at the bottom!
But it had its rewards. After 15 minutes of walking, I saw
something I hadn't seen in days: the sun! Not an absence of rain,
but the actual golden rays of our father (in Japan, our mother) the sun.
And mountain vistas, blue fluffy clouds, fresh air. Of
course I was sometimes in a tunnel of trees, or in mountain shadow.
But overall, it was beautiful.
Halfway up you reach a small, dilapidated building
next to a truly elegant statue. (I suppose the statue is
next to the building, but that's not how it seems.) The
faces on the two figures tell this story far more elegantly than I'm
In the days of the Daishi, a rich man named Emon Saburo not only
refused the Daishi alms, but insulted him as well. When the Daishi
left, misfortune befell the man, and he repented. He set out to
find the Daishi, but could never catch up with him. It finally
occurred to him that, if he went counterclockwise, he would surely
encounter the Daishi.
And he did. He repented, the Daishi gave forgiveness,
and then and there Emon Saburo died.
He was the first pilgrim. He established the idea that doing
the pilgrimage in reverse is more difficult, and brings extra merit.
The Daishi buried him, and planted his staff next to the grave,
which became the cedar we see today (or its predecessor).
Ironically, due to logistics, I am approaching this site in reverse
order. On my return, I will be going clockwise again. Don
Weiss, in Echoes
of Incense, mentions that the path is probably no more difficult
in reverse; it's just harder to follow because all the signs are
oriented for the clockwise pilgrim. I can agree; even on this
short stretch (just over three kilometers), I had to consult the map
several times. Coming down the signage was clear.
Near Emon Saburo's grave, this stone
reminds us of the expression "Dogyo Ninin," meaning the Daishi
always walks with the pilgrim, just as he is believed to have guided
Emon Saburo to him.
Question: Since the Daishi always walks with me, would it be too much
to ask him to carry one of the bags?
Above the gravesite, the trail becomes a concrete road. There is a
car road criss-crossing the henro path; so my first impression
was, "ah, the old road." This is kind of a family joke.
When I was a boy, my father would often point to a road off to the
side of the main road and declare it "the old road." It
may have been frontage road, or someone's driveway for all I knew, but I
was in awe both of my father for his vast knowledge, and for the
antiquity of the "old road."
I have been following old roads ever since.
This one, however, turned out to be just an access road. It
crossed the stream on a well-built bridge just below a waterfall, and
became a narrow footpath again.
At about a half a kilometer from the temple--less as the crane flies--I
was listening to the sounds of nothing but rushing water and birdsong
when BONNNGGGG!!!! I heard the sound of a temple bell. In addition
to the practical knowledge that the temple must be near, I was stirred
by this old sound, a resonance deep in the body, like the swishing of
blood or the squishing of organs.