The Shikoku Section of the Aki Meguri

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Aki Meguri Shikoku Logbook:

October 20th, 2001 (Saturday):
Temples 19 and 20

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.

 
Before leaving my lodging at Number 19, I took a few quick pictures.  (I had said my prayers the night before, when I arrived.)
Temple #19: Tatsueji (Rising Bay Temple )
Honzon: Jizo Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva)
Gallery

The Daishi stands in front of the
temple's tahoto (treasure pagoda)

Despite the actual age of things here, there's a feeling of newness.  This is probably because everything is in excellent repair.  The location is outside of the city, but not too far, and there's a general impression of prosperity.  It appears to be several kilometers to the nearest "bay," so I find the name difficult to account for, and my guidebooks are no help.  Perhaps the temple has relocated from a more seaside location; or perhaps, in times of typhoon or tsunami, the bay really does rise this far?

This temple is defined as a "barrier temple," a psychological boundary that one must cross in order to continue the pilgrimage.  Allegedly, some pilgrims find it difficult to walk through the gate.  This is incomprehensible to me.  But I will say I had some apprehension here; it was related to the next two temples.  Number 20 and Number 21 are mountain top temples.  That wasn't the problem for me; the problem was that the bus access to these temples was said to be limited.  See below for the rest of the story.

Perhaps the idea of "barrier" grew from the story of Okyo.  After killing her husband and eloping with her lover, she dressed as a pilgrim to escape detection, and followed the Shikoku 88 circuit.  Reaching this temple, her hair became (rather supernaturally) tangled in the bell rope, and she was scalped.  Or tonsured, some would say.  Anyway, she accepted the new "do" and became a nun; her lover became a monk.  Her husband was still dead.

Apparently you can still see the rope tangled with Okyo's hair in the temple grounds somewhere.  I chose not to seek it out--it's too grotesque.

After a few quick shots (see them in the Gallery) my "teacher" from yesterday gave me directions to the bus to Number 20.  As I said, everything he told me yesterday was true, but today he missed the mark slightly.

As it turns out, bus access to Number 20 is a piece of cake, provided you're just going there and back.  First, you return to Komatsushima (site of the world's dirtiest youth hostel).  Taking the 8:04 bus, checking in to a local minshuku (like a bed and breakfast) and climbing the three kilometers to the temple--I was still there by 10:30!  I could have been back in Komatsushima by 1:00!  There are 15-20 buses a day in either direction.  Oh, well.  By not speaking the language (and especially by not being able to use a phone book) I am sometimes locked out of certain kinds of information.  As it turns out, it all worked out well, as--having expected this to be a terrible day--it turned out to be very relaxing.

Leaving the small town of Ikuna, where the minshuku is located, the pilgrim's trail leads through a residential neighborhood that gives way to citrus groves.  For perhaps a kilometer or so it is a concrete-paved, narrow, steep farmer's access road.  For all the gripes I've heard about "pavement," the truth is there's a reason for it: it's much easier to travel on than a "natural" trail, where one trips over tree roots and twists one's ankles on rocks!  I can make good time on pavement, without fear of injury (and later today, I did).
The water source The "temple"

Where the sidewalk ends (sorry, Uncle Shelby) there was supposed to be a temple.  Another pilgrim read the name for me later: Mizunomu Taishi, "Drink-of-water Daishi."  Arriving at the alleged site, I found two things: a source of clean water, and a little roadside shrine.

It turns out there isn't--and from what I could gather, never was--a temple here.  But someone--the priests?  the farmers?--has ensured that pilgrims have fresh water about half-way up the climb.  I say this because, whether there's a natural spring here or not, there's definitely a flexible pipe running to this spot from a place at least another kilometer up the mountain.  It joins and leaves the trail several times in its cross-country task of bringing water to the weary traveler.

This reminded me of Jesus' words about "a cup of water given in my name."  What greater gift could there be?  Going up the mountain to Number 12, I discovered I had left my water bottle behind; it was dry going.  Today I was all set, but was still touched by the notion.

Beyond the "temple" I encountered my old friend, ishidatami, the worst kind of "paving" to walk on.  Then the stone paving gives way to those earthen "steps" retained by logs where the riser should be.  Crossing the car road a couple of times, the trail finally reaches a parking lot.

By the way, Number 20 is supposed to be the designated nansho (difficult place) for Awa-no-kuni, the old name for Tokushima prefecture.  Number 12, another difficult place, was just a nansho, but this is the nansho.  However, by all accounts, Number 12 is the tougher of the two.

In the parking lot I met this guy from Kobe.  He has lived on Shikoku for six years, and visits temples on his bike on the weekends.  By the way, in Japanese "baiku" always means motorcycle, never bicycle.  This has led to some amusing misunderstandings on occasion.
     "Do you have a bike?"
     "No, only a bicycle."
     "???"

When he heard I was from LA, the conversation immediately jumped to earthquakes.  He told an unusually comical story (Kansai people are known for their sense of humor) about how he called his cousin in LA after the San Fernando quake in 1994: "Are you OK?" etc.  Then his cousin called him after the Kobe quake in 1995: "Are you OK?" etc.  Disaster humor, the best kind.

Temple #20: Kakurinji (Crane Woods Temple )
Honzon: Jizo Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva)
Gallery

Up from the parking lot, one reaches the Niomon, the "Two Kings Gate," which you can see in the gallery.

I had heard that this temple has "the largest straw sandal in Japan."  I couldn't find it.  But close inspection of the gate brought an even better find: in front of the kings are two wooden cranes.

Notice the name of this temple.  The Daishi was here, praying as usual, when a small (2 inch, or 5 centimeter) image of Jizo--this temple's honzon--appeared in a cedar tree, protected by two cranes.

The crane is now the national bird of Japan, appearing on the 1,000 yen note.  But from time immemorial, it has been a symbol of luck and longevity.  I have seen cranes here, once, in cages at Korakuen Gardens in Okayama. They are big.  As tall as or taller than a man, they are queerly humanoid.  There is a wonderful story, The Gratitude of the Crane, that touches me deeply at the end.  The motif of the story is shape-shifting from crane to human and back.  When you stand eye-to-eye with one of these magnificent creatures, it becomes believable.

"M" "A"
(Read right-to-left)

The cranes in the gate were doing something interesting: the one on the right had her mouth open, as if saying "A" just like the king on that side.  And naturally, the one on the left had his mouth closed in what the Japanese insist is "N" but I claim is "M."  ("N" does not require closure of the lips.)  A-M.  Om, the sound of the universe.  Just like the kings.

It has become my custom to reverence the kings before entering a gate, bowing first to the one on the right and saying "A," then to the one on the left, saying "M."  Then I bow to the center, representing the silence underlying the sound, the balance point between these pairs of opposites, the place where the Buddha dwells.

Today I reverenced the cranes.

The hondo of this temple lies at the top of a flight of steps; nearby are a statue of Jizo and a three-story pagoda dating to 1867.  Standing in front of the hondo are two more cranes--fully life-sized, and made of bronze--on either side of the hondo steps.

Behind and to the left of the hondo stands this grand old cedar tree.  If I read the sign correctly, this is the tree in which the image of Jizo appeared.

I had a little trouble with the Daishido at this temple.  I passed it on the way up to the hondo without knowing it.  After saying my prayers at the hondo, I had to ask another pilgrim where the Daishido was. Back down the stairs.  Finishing my prayers, I went back up the stairs to where I had left my bag.  I dawdled there for over an hour--twice directing other pilgrims back down to the Daishido as they were about to set off into the mountains looking for it.  When I finally descended to have my book signed, I totally forgot that I hadn't photographed the Daishido!

This was the most relaxing temple visit I've had by far.  I knew I couldn't enter the minshuku until 4:00, so there was no rush.  I copied some more prayers into my prayer book, dozed in the sun, chatted with people--and forgot to shoot the Daishido.  This accounts for the "OOPS" in the gallery.

On the subject of chatting with people: virtually every day since my third day on this island, someone has approached me at a temple and said, "I saw you at Number such-and-such."  Pilgrims often greet each other with the "namaste" gesture widely used in India: palms together and a reverent bow, greeting the god in the other person.  When someone does this, and says, "I saw you before," there is a thrill of connection, like seeing old friends.

Which, by the way, I did.  See old friends, that is.  When I came down from the hondo, preparing to leave, three of my companions from dinner last night--and breakfast this morning--had arrived together on foot. We had a little reunion, took some pictures together, exchanged name cards, and discussed the road ahead (again).

The gentleman on the left works for Asahi in Osaka; the lady is from Shimane; and the man on the right from Aichi (actually from Okazaki, the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu, which I visited on my Tokaido trek).  After our reunion, the men set off together toward Number 21; the lady was off to find a bus that would take her to her ryokan for the night (she, like me, is a half-and-half walker); and I headed down toward Ikuna.

Since I had already seen the henro michi--the pilgrim's trail--I opted to take the longer, gentler car road down, and see something different.

And I did.  I discovered that there was a "furaito paaku" here--a flight park, or launch area for hang gliders and parasailers.  (That should tell you how steep this mountain is.)  It made me think of a story about Number 21, which I'll visit tomorrow.  That mountain is one of the two places where the Daishi in his boyhood allegedly threw himself off the mountain as a test of faith.  And here at Number 20, hobbyists are doing the same thing every weekend!  Later, I actually saw some out the window of my room.

Another little encounter on the way down: a couple of gentleman, one about my age and the other probably his father--were walking up the road and asked me how much farther to the temple.  (I'm charmed by the number of middle-aged people escorting their aged parents around the circuit.)  After I answered, each produced a mikan, something between an orange and a tangerine, as a kind of thanks.

They can't know how grateful I was.  Though I remembered liquids this time, the fact that I hung around on the mountain as long as I did meant I was seriously low on calories.  I ate my emergency supply of peanuts around 11:30, and this is the only temple I've been to that had no vending machines, so I couldn't even get some sugar-laden drink for a boost.  So the citrus was just what I needed to help me sprint the last three kilometers down the mountain.  (The henro michi is just over 3K; the gentler car road about 5.)

Reaching Ikuna, I went in search of a restaurant.  Ha.  I ended up grazing in a liquor store.

I sat by the highway for a while, writing in my notebook.  It was still only 2:00, two hours before my room was supposed to be available.  I wandered back to the minshuku's neighborhood and sat under a magnificent gingko tree, called in Japanese ichou.

The tree is clearly a landmark.  Next to it is a back yard with several statues and old stones; a lady was plucking weeds around them as I approached.  A few minutes later, I again heard the most stirring sound: the chanting of a pious old women.  I turned to look, but she was nowhere in sight.  She must have gone into the house.

About 3:30 the minshuku's landlady came out and told me it was OK to come in.  Her husband was busy preparing dinner, so he wrote my room's name on a paper for me.  (These places often have rooms named after trees, flowers, or places, rather than having numbers.)  The name of my room?  Ichou.  Gingko.  And sure enough, there's a great view of the tree from my window.

By 4:00, I was out of the bath--and asleep.  I woke at 8:00; it's now 11:00.  My PHS card (which I use to connect to the Internet, rather like a cell phone) can't get out from here, so I'll have to publish tomorrow from somewhere on the road.  Thanks for waiting.

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