|Temple #23: Yakuoji (The Temple of the Medicine King)
Honzon: Nyorai (Buddha)
This is a seaside town, the first one of all the temple's I've seen
so far. You're probably never far from the sea on Shikoku--it's
not a big island, but I mean this is the first temple I've visited with an
actual sea view.
The next striking thing about this temple is its busharito,
or Buddha-reliquary pagoda. (Like the "true cross," if
you put all the pieces of the Buddha back together again he'd be the
size of Paul Bunyan.) You can see it from the station (and a small
replica of it in front of the station). It's a kind of symbol for
the town, for obvious reasons: you can see it from everywhere.
|Looking up the women's
||Looking down the men's
After entering the gate, you encounter a series of steps.
These are "get rid of unlucky year" steps, like the ones at Number
10. Thirty-three steps for the women's flight, 42 for the
men's. (The link to Number 10 explains why.)
In a way these are not some "get rid of unlucky
year" steps, these are the "get rid of unlucky
year" steps. The reason is based on a pun. Bad luck is yaku.
(The unlucky years in one's life are called yakudoshi, toshi
meaning "year.") And the honzon here is Yakushi
Nyorai, the same healing Buddha as at Number 22. The kanji (Chinese
characters) are different, but the pronunciation is the same. So
the Yakushi of Yakuoji (same kanji) can get rid of
your yaku (bad luck; different kanji.)
By the way, that's the same building in both "steps"
pictures. It stands on a landing between the two flights, making it
tough to shoot up the men's or down the women's; hence the different
One more thing about this temple is it's lovely yard on the hondo
level. It included this amazingly big tree. That's my
six-foot staff stretched across it!
And there is also another group of hell's judges, nowhere near
as charming as the ones at Number 22. (I notice these things run
in regions; temples 18, 19, 22, and 23 all have giant sandals--and I
know Number 20 does from my reading. Yet I don't recall seeing any
In the yard I met the first non-Japanese person I've talked with on
Shikoku. Jonathan is from Nebraska; it's his first trip to Japan
with his wife Rumi, a local girl, and her mother. I have seen
about four people of European descent since I arrived on this island,
but I still haven't seen a non-Japanese pilgrim. (Jonathan was
After getting my book signed I checked the time and YIKES the train was
leaving in six minutes! I grabbed my bag, ran down
the 42 men's steps and down the 33 women's steps and down
a few more steps. Then ran/walked the half a kilometer to the
station, shoved a few high school girls out of the way, sprinted across
the tracks and jumped onto the train as the door was closing.
Thank the gods that (a) you can buy a ticket on the train out in
the country, and (b) these little stations just have crosswalks across
the tracks instead of overhead bridges, or I'd have missed it for sure.
Back to Number 19, where I got my book signed and said my prayers.
The light wasn't so good, so I'll shoot it and tell you about it
Dinner was great: six henro (myself included). Two are pure
walkers; one, like myself, is combining walking with some public
transportation, and a mother and son are doing it by car. We had a
great time talking about the temples we've seen so far. One of the
walkers is on his third trek, but this is his first time walking; and
the other walker started at Number 40-something, so they also had things
to say about the road ahead.
There's something I want to put to rest here and now, then I'll sign
off for the night. There is an alleged "caste system"
among henro. The walkers are the best, followed by the
cyclists and the partial-walkers. Then come the car henro
and the taxi henro. At the very bottom are those who do it
as part of a tour. Even a sensitive guy like Oliver Statler writes
that he is "impatient with motorized henro" and that
"riding travesties the pilgrimage." Like many, he says
the path is more important than the temples, the string more important
than the pearls.
Malarkey. I mean yes, the path is important. But
those who travel by bus, taxi, or car have left home and family,
isolated themselves from the everyday world, given themselves over to an
experience of the "other." Before dinner tonight, I
heard the lady traveling by car in her room chanting the Hannya
Shingyo repeatedly. This is not the act of a second-rate henro.
I spent my first two days as a pure walker, and will have pure walking
days again. But never in those days did I or will I look down on a
tour bus full of old ladies who show up and pray faithfully.
Statler tried a tour bus for a few days and admits that "My fellow
henro took what they were doing seriously; they were earnest in their
prayers; they all denied that recreation was their primary reason for
being there." What more can you ask for? Of course,
then he goes on to say, "Riding in a bus is not an ascetic
exercise, and so the central meaning of the pilgrimage as it has existed
through the centuries is lost."
Romantic crap. "Ascetic exercise"? I don't know
about on Shikoku, but the book I read on traveling the Tokaido on foot
in the Edo Period is describing a holiday, not an "ascetic
exercise." Just because people are walking doesn't mean
they're suffering; the mountains of America are full of people
The point of pilgrimage is being on pilgrimage. It's a
matter of adjusting your mind to a different rhythm, your soul dancing
to a different tune, your body moving from place to place--by helicopter
if necessary--in a pilgrim's progress of the heart. Do you suppose
the walking pilgrims on their way to Canterbury or Compostela looked
down on those who traveled by horse? Or did they look up in envy?
Did the riding gentry look at the walking commoners and think, "Oh,
they're the real pilgrims; I'm just a fake!"
Hair shirts are out of style; piety and true devotion transcend