The Shikoku Section of the Aki Meguri

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Aki Meguri Shikoku Logbook:

November 12th, 2001 (Monday):
Temples 84, 85 and 86

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.

 
Today's Words and Pictures: The Shichifukujin, The Shitenno
 
First, a bit of mindless trivia.  This year in Japan is the 13th year in the reign of the Heisei Emperor, often written "H13."  So today is 11/12/13.  I remember 8/9/10, 9/10/11, and 10/11/12.  I won't be here for 12/13/14--which will be the last in the series (there is no 13th month).

Now on to the mindful trivia.

It was an amazing day of great weather, beautiful temples, and an encounter with numerous legends of Japan's past.

I took the train out to Yashima station.  Yashima means "Roof Island," and this view (from near the next temple, Number 85) shows why: it's a long, flat plateau, shaped like a roof.

Not only is there a beautiful temple perched on this island, but this was also the site of a major battle in the war between the Heike and the Genji (also called the Taira and the Minamoto).  It's a long story, as it was a long war.  But it basically had to do with a struggle for power--specifically, the "power behind the throne," the right to be advisors to the Emperor.  At the end of the struggles, the Minamoto family became Japan's first shoguns, ushering in the Kamakura period.

One source lists three major battles of this war: the battle at Ichi-no-tani (2/7/1184), the naval battle at Dan-no-ura (3/24/1185), and between the two, the battle at Yashima (2/18/1185).  It was not just on the "roof" of the island, but on the surrounding plains as well (the island is nearly attached to the main part of Shikoku), in fact almost all the way to the next temple.

One of the great works of Japanese literature emerged from this conflict (as did countless plays, novels, movies, and TV dramas).  It's called Heike Monogatari, "Tales of the Heike," in typical Japanese fashion named after the losers.  (They're more romantic.)  One of my favorite stories from this collection is the extremely touching Death of Atsumori.  Read this as an introduction to the soul of old Japan.

Anyway, here's the temple:

Temple #84: Yashimaji (The Temple of Roof Island)
Honzon: Senju Kannon Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara with a thousand arms)
[and Juichimen Kannon (Avalokitesvara with eleven faces)]
Gallery

Beautifully situated on the plateau, this temple includes a museum of the battle--which was closed, like most Japanese museums are on Mondays.  But there were a few other things on this hill to enjoy.

Like the remarkably stylish cable-car station.  It's falling apart, badly in need of repairs and paint.  But the 30's deco made me homesick for L.A. architecture.  After you walk 5 or 10 minutes from Yashima station, you take the cable car up to here.  From the upper end of the cable car, it's almost a kilometer to the temple's front gate.

There were two nice groups of statues at the temple--so nice that I've given you a Words and Pictures page for each.

One is a Words and Pictures of the Shichifukujin, Japan's "Seven Lucky Gods."  These nearly-life-sized statues were in the temple's courtyard.

The other is a Words and Pictures of the Shitenno, the Four Heavenly Kings who guard the Buddha and the Four Directions.  They were in a gate between the Niomon and the hondo.

Returning to the train via cable car, I went two stations along the way to Yakuri, where I walked about 20 minutes to yet another cable car up to...
Temple #85: Yakuriji (The Temple of Eight Chestnuts)
Honzon: Sho Kannon (Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva)
Gallery

This temple's name comes from a legend that the Daishi planted eight roasted chestnuts--cooked, that is, dead--before he went to China.  When he returned there were eight chestnut trees!  But what man worthy of deification couldn't bring the dead to life?  He knew it would happen, else why would he have planted them?  Resurrection.

Every temple has a first name and a last name.  The first name is the "mountain name," or Sango.  A temple will have a "X-san" designation even if it's not on a mountain.  The temple's last name is the one we usually use, the "temple name" or Jigo.  This temple's Sango is "Gokenzan," or Five Sword Mountain.  That's because there are five prominences on the mountain top (only four are visible in this view), like five swords thrusting up from the peak.

Supposedly the Daishi did a ritual and afterward had a vision of five swords dancing above the mountain.  But we know, don't we, that temples are often built (worldwide) on sites of natural significance.  To my untrained eye, it appears that there was a volcano here; these peaks are what remains of the "plug," with the softer sides of the mountain worn away.  Whatever the genesis, it's a notable feature.  As I traveled around to the next temple, the peaks turned into five, and then reduced to three, depending on the point of view.  But they were always visible in some form, from three different sides.  They have probably been important as long as people have been here.

In fact, there's a strong Shinto presence here.  There is a torii at the bottom of the mountain, and others at various places closer to the top.  And the honden of a shrine--as you can see in this picture--sits corner-to-corner (left) with the hondo of the temple (right).  The Bishop says this is another shrine to the delightful Ganesha, the elephant-headed god from India, called in Japan Shoden or Kangiten.

This temple is situated in a region known for its stone-cutters.  (Some of the stone they work with is taken from this mountain.)  Walking to and from the cable car, their work is much in evidence.  Here are some samples:

Next stop--actually, six train stops away--

Temple #86: Shidoji (The Temple of Fulfilling One's Wish)
Honzon: Juichimen Kannon (Avalokitesvara with eleven faces)
Gallery

There are a couple of good stories to go with this place.

One is that the name has been changed--at least in writing.  The characters now used to write "Shido" are translated "the fulfillment of a wish."  Isn't that nice?  But the original characters meant something like "The Bridge to Death."  Ooo.  It seems Emma-O, the king of Hell we met on October 19th, took a shine to this place.  To make sure it stayed well-maintained, he would occasionally send back a rich man at the time of death, with the charge to rebuild this temple.

There is another story connected to this temple, one of my favorites in Japan.  It is the story of a mother who sacrificed her life for her child--a very Japanese story.  I have reprinted a version of it--with commentary by Steve McCarty--here.  Please read at least the story itself, and meditate for a moment on the power of a mother's love.

Here is the tomb--the very one, honest!--of the mother who gave herself so selflessly in the story.  The lively old man in the stamp office was very kind, and took me out to make sure I found the right tomb.  (His English is quite good, by the way.  He let me struggle along for a few minutes in Japanese before he revealed his skill!)  He also gave my a picture post card of the grave.

One more treat at this temple: It's chrysanthemum season.  Cultivating kiku is a major sport here in Japan, and clubs often display their efforts in public--usually at shrines--in this season.  The seat of (symbolic) power in Japan, the Emperor's office, is referred to as "The Chrysanthemum Throne," so growing them is a kind of patriotic act.  Also, Ruth Benedict in her startling study of the Japanese psyche, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, said that the typical Japanese man (this was over 50 years ago) was capable of enough sensitivity to appreciate the growing of these gorgeous flowers--and brutal enough to be able to cut off another man's head.  (I once met a girl whose father was retired from the Self Defense Forces.  When I asked her what his hobby was, she said, "Growing kiku."  It was a short affair.)

Back to the hotel, a nap (I'm exhausted), and this page.  Tomorrow, I should--gods willing--reach the last temple of the 88.  Then it's on to Number 1 to close the circle.
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