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Aki Meguri Shikoku Logbook:

November 4th, 2001 (Sunday):
Temples 61, 62, 63 and 64

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.

 
All the information I have about reaching the next temple, Number 60, is conflicting.  So I figured the best thing to do would be to get out to the area and try to figure out how to get there "from the ground" as it were.  This is the most notoriously difficult temple to reach, some approaches entailing an 8 kilometer hike--each way.  And it's the highest of the 88 temples in elevation, meaning that the hike includes a lot of climbing.  I didn't want to do this badly.

I had a Plan B, of course, which was to do my research, then visit some of the other temples in the area.  As it turned out, Plan B happened.  I now have sufficient information to make my assault on Number 60 tomorrow; today I was able to visit four temples in the flatlands along the coast of Eastern Ehime prefecture, in the shadow of Number 60's mountain.

The bus that I took dropped me near Number 62, located next to Komatsu Station; this is where I began my inquiries about Number 60, and learned that if I started now, I wouldn't be able to get a return bus--so I here resolved to visit the four coastal temples.  As I was at Number 62, I did my stuff here; then backtracked to 61; and finally walked past 62 to 63 and 64.  From 61 to 64 is only 6.3 kilometers; even with the backtracking from Number 62 it was only 7.8, so I had a fairly easy day.  Though it was cold and cloudy, it never actually rained--a welcome relief after yesterday.  (My shoes were still wet this morning!)

Temple #62: Hojuji (The Temple of Wealth and Happiness)
Honzon: Juichimen Kannon (Avalokitesvara with eleven faces)
Gallery

By all accounts, this is a sad little temple.  Located right next to the tracks, and near a much more prosperous temple (Number 61), it has an air of neglect.  Nevertheless, the people there were kind to me, helping me to figure out the way to Number 60.  And of course, a place of prayer is a place of prayer, no matter the condition.  Ed Readicker-Henderson says that "the more decrepit the temple, the nicer the people."  This isn't always true; Number 2 is extremely prosperous, and the priest there is one of the kindest people I've met; yet I have been grumbled at by the staff of some smaller, poorer temples.  But in this case, at least, Ed's dictum holds true.

Abandoned in the early Meiji period, it was restored in 1877 (about ten years later?) by--and I find this fascinating--a pilgrim.  Certainly the interest and contributions of pilgrims has helped maintain the temples, but we generally think of the "temple builders" as priests.  It's interesting to me to hear stories of pilgrims actually creating temples.

The hondo Ed describes is not the one in use now, and shown in the Gallery.  I have shown the one he describes for comparison; it is apparently not being used for any purpose at this time.

A 20 minute walk took me back to...

Temple #61: Koonji (The Temple of the Incense Garden)
Honzon: Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana Buddha)
Gallery

...and some big surprises.

Surprise number one was that I thought I was looking at a university building on the temple grounds when in fact it was the temple itself!  Take a look at the Gallery; this one ultra-modern building contains both the hondo and the Daishido (on different floors).  The Bishop says this building looks "like a convention center in America."  He's right.  Ed (naturally) decries the modernism of it, saying it looks like "the auditorium of a particularly prosperous high school."

Funny, guys, to me it looks like--a temple.  I mean, the temple is the honzon, right?  And not the building?  So whatever the outer structure may be, the heart of it is the Lord being worshipped inside.

And what a Lord he is.  This was my second surprise: the honzon of this temple, a very beautiful modern-looking gilded statue of Dainichi, is the one in the picture given to me by Tim Cornish back on October 22nd.  It was like seeing an old friend.  Because of the style of the building, you walk right in to the room where the Dainichi is seated, and you can get a really good look at it.  It was almost overwhelming.  (The Bishop is overwhelmed by the fact that the hall has chairs for the worshippers!  "You don't have to sit on tatami, but on chairs like those in the Koyasan Temple in Los Angeles...Only this temple in Shikoku provides us with chairs for our religious services.")

Ed says the temple lacks "charm and grace"; the Bishop pronounces it "gorgeous."  I'm with the Bishop.  True, it's not what you expect when you go to visit one of Japan's older temples (founded by Prince Shotoku himself, Japan's first regal Buddhist proselytizer), but as I wrote in my essay on Modernization, the Japanese have to live here.  Clearly the authorities of this temple--and by extension, their flock--felt that this would best serve their needs.  And it is gorgeous if you consider it for itself and not in comparison to its sisters elsewhere on the pilgrimage.

As for Ed's idea that poor temples have the nicest people: I double-checked my Number 60 information with the lady in the stamp office here, and she was extremely helpful, ignoring the press of business to make sure I understood what to do tomorrow.  Also, this temple gives not one, but two pictures of honzons. Every temple gives you a little kind of "holy card" when your book is signed, but here you get one of both Dainichi and of the "Koyasu Daishi," an aspect of Kobo Daishi specifically concerned with the protection of children and ease of childbirth.

Along the way to Number 63, I had a few interesting encounters.

First, as a little old lady was crossing the road on a three-wheeled bicycle, she stopped and dismounted without completely leaving the road.  As I neared her, I was preparing to tell her to be careful when she said, "Excuse me; wait a moment, please."  She was digging in her purse and produced a crisp 1,000 yen note as settai!  I was so overwhelmed that I actually started to cry before I even said thank you.

Second, as I walked a way from her, I had my head down so people in passing cars wouldn't see me bawling.  Because my head was down, they also couldn't see that I was a foreigner--and one stopped to ask me for directions.  The look of shock the lady gave me as this sobbing gaijin raised his head and looked her in the face was priceless. Sniffling, I gave fairly fluent directions, she apologized profusely for disturbing me, and her husband drove off.  How could she know that I wasn't crying for sorrow, but for joy?

Third, I heard singing--girls' voices, I thought.  As it turned out it was three merry boys of about ten years old in a "pocket park."  I waved, they waved, and I kept walking.  A few minutes later, retracing my steps to find the route again (I wasn't lost, I just didn't know where I was!), I ran into them with the contraption shown in the picture.

Do you recognize it?  It's a kind of dashi or mikoshi, a portable shrine like the ones used in festivals.  Theirs is made of an upside-down white plastic chair with a cardboard box on top (complete with roof and decorations).  They were playing at matsuri or religious festival!  I wonder if little Italian kids make palanquins and statues of the Virgin to parade around for fun?

We had a great chat.  They wanted my name card, and asked me to write my name in both the Roman alphabet and in phonetic Japanese characters (katakana).  They especially wanted a proper signature, not just block printing--like I was famous or something.  They asked a few questions about L.A., and we parted.  A few minutes later we spotted each other from different streets; they ceased their very authentic heave-hoing of the omikoshi long enough to give me a final wave and "gubai!"

Another 5 minutes and I was at...

Temple #63: Kichijoji (The Temple of Mahashri/Lakshmi)
Honzon: Bishamon-ten (Vaisravana)
Gallery

Though small, this was a bustling place, at least on a Sunday in Autumn.  I was particularly interested that the honzon here is found only here on the pilgrimage: he's one of the Shichifukujin, or Seven Lucky Gods.  And the temple is named for his wife/consort.

I had also heard that this temple had a statue that might be a Maria Kannon.  Unfortunately she's not on view, but the priest's wife kindly gave me a postcard-sized picture of her.  I'll try to shoot her properly in the next few days and post the picture here.

Triple-checking tomorrow's instructions, I also received a real gift: a timetable of tomorrow's buses.  This will make things really smooth.

Why triple-check?  Well, in this case, it got me a timetable.  But in general, one finds that people often have limited knowledge of the non-automobile approaches to the temples, so it pays to ask more than once.  Remember that the very helpful lady at Number 34 told me there simply were no buses to Number 35, whereas after a short walk buses were plentiful.

Leaving Number 63, I pushed on to my final stop of the day:

Temple #64: Maegamiji (The Temple in Front of the God)
Honzon: Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata)
Gallery

Another rather prosperous temple, this one stretches part way up a mountainside, in fact a foothill of Mt. Ishizuchi, the tallest mountain in Western Japan at 6,600 feet (1,980 meters).  This mountain, naturally, is the home of a god, so the temple is in front of the god, giving it its name.

Because of its strong associations with Shinto, the temple's hondo looks very much like the honden of a shrine.  Furthermore, as you move deeper into the precincts toward the hondo, you pass the steps that lead up to a shrine proper.  My shot of the hondo in the Gallery is taken while standing next to the shrine.

When I returned to the bus stop in front of the temple--minutes before the bus was to arrive--there was an old man waiting for the bus.  We began to chat, and he told me that six years ago--when he was 75--he had walked much of the pilgrimage.  He was here on a day trip from his home in Matsuyama.  Before we boarded the bus, he also gave me 1,000 yen as o-settai (daily total: 2,000 yen--a record!  In fact, my previous total for all my time on Shikoku had been 500 yen.)

An interesting point: He explained that we never accept o-settai with our fingers.  We make a bowl of our hands, take the gift that way, raise it up in thanks, then handle it.  But accepting it with outstretched fingers is the way we handle money in business; this is a different kind of money, with a different purpose, and is received a different way.  Arigatou, sensei!

Tomorrow I'll take a bus toward that tallest mountain--now a popular ski resort--and get off about a twenty-minute forest walk from Number 60.  I don't mind that at all--as long as it's not pouring buckets.  I prayed today that the weather will hold; we'll see if my prayers are efficacious.
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