|Temple #88: Okuboji (The Temple of a
Honzon: Yakushi Nyorai (Baisajya-guru)
To start with, the "hollow"
of the name is a hollow in the mountains, a small area virtually
surrounded by sheer cliffs.
Here's a different angle of the hondo
than the one in the Gallery,
showing the rocks behind it.
Right from the temple yard one looks up
at rocks like this, and down at sweeping panoramas of mountain valleys
leading all the way down to the sea. The fall leaves were in full
force, with a huge yellow gingko tree towering over the yard (and a guy
sweeping leaves as a result). Hmmm...sweeping panoramas and
sweeping leaves in one paragraph; I love English.
I've written before about why this
temple is Number 88; more specifically, I've written why Number 1 is
first, so it follows that this would be Number 88. But there's another
factor. It is said (and who knows where these rumors start) that
the Daishi left his staff here, the one with the rings at the top that
he brought back from China.
So pilgrims leave their walking sticks
here, the "Daishi" that has accompanied them around the
pilgrimage course. (Just as I didn't buy my stick on
Shikoku, I also chose not to leave it here.)
I have read several times of the
"piles" of crutches at temples left as the result of
healings--and never saw more than a few. I also read about the
"mountains" of walking sticks left here. Perhaps these
things are more apparent in the Spring, the most popular season for the
pilgrimage. But this is the second-most popular season, and they
say that the sticks are burned in a ceremony "at the end of the
year." So where are all the sticks?
This rather bizarre piece of
architecture contained some, but not the forests that I had
expected. (By the way, in front of this structure--just out of the
picture--is a kind of "Eternal Flame." As I was shooting
this picture, someone stepped up next to me and said in English "It
is fire of Atomic Bomb" and walked away before I even saw his face.
What to make of that?)
In the stamp office at this temple, one
can request a "certificate of completion"--for a fee, of
course. I did, and the 15 minutes of entertainment were well worth
the price. The priest who was unfortunate enough to have me as a
customer took a lot of ribbing from the other three guys in the booth as
he tried to figure out how to fit a foreigner into the
As you know, Japan has its own, unique
system of writing. Though most of the characters were borrowed
from written Chinese many centuries ago, another set of characters was
developed here (based on the Chinese characters) to adapt that foreign
writing system to the local language. In fact, the Daishi is
credited with creating the first system of phonetic characters, the
"hiragana." He--or perhaps his followers--wrote a
poem that uses each character exactly once. It's called the
"I-ro-ha" after its first three characters; I rode up to the
temple in a cab owned by the "Iroha Taxi Company."
Later, a second, parallel system of
phonetic characters was created. These, the katakana, are
used mainly for writing words borrowed from foreign languages (though
they have other uses as well). So this poor guy had to struggle
through writing my name--"James Baquet"--as ji-e-mu-su
ba-ke-i, to the evident glee of his companions.
There is a serious issue here, though.
Japan is nearly rabid about "internationalization" and
"globalization." Having entered the game late (as a
result of the isolation imposed by the Tokugawa), they seem always to be
aware of their status on the world stage. And yet, a friend of
mine--a Japanese woman married to an American man--is practically forced
to use her family name for her kids, because the school computers
gag on foreign names. Time and again I have run up against a sort
of bureaucratic prejudice against things non-Japanese. It's not
that anybody wants to exclude foreigners; it's just that the
system can't handle them.
The advances made in the past 50 years
or so are nothing short of staggering. Starting with her military
victory against the Russians in the early 20th century, and capped by
the "economic miracle" later in the century, Japan has proven
herself to be equal to any country in every way. She has borrowed,
absorbed, and improved elements of two of the world's great
cultural matrices--China in her early years, the West more recently.
But the final step has yet to be taken:
the inclusion of non-Japanese into the national life. Japanese is
not such a difficult language to learn--at least in spoken form.
But it takes years to master the reading and writing of the language,
for natives as well as foreigners. The 2000+ characters in
everyday use can have various readings, depending on context; even
natives can sometimes only guess at the pronunciation of a word,
especially place names and personal names. If Japan wants to
welcome the world into her society (and that's a big "if")
she's going to have to do something about this writing system.
Oliver Statler wrote, in relation to
the changed characters of the name for Shidoji mentioned yesterday,
"Among the complicated charms of the Japanese language--the
complications making it terribly difficult, even for those born to it,
the charms making it nearly impossible for the same people to consider
simplifying it--is the fact that almost every character with which it is
written packs layers of meaning and allusion."
Read that ellipsis again: difficult,
yet so charming that it's nearly impossible to change. Absolutely.
Charming indeed. What little I know of the written language bears
this out. And as for that last bit: there are layers of
meaning conveyed by the characters. On the simplest level, some
sounds are incomprehensible unless you know the characters, or the
context, or both.
Imagine this: Your foreign friend asks
you, "What does X mean?" The word s/he uses in place of
the "X" is one with several homophones, like
"to/two/too" or "there/their/they're." So you
ask him/her to use it in a sentence, or to spell it.
Now in Japanese there can be ten or
twenty or (rarely) close to thirty characters for one sound. So a
Japanese person in the same situation will respond with, "What's
the kanji?" asking for the Chinese character with which that
sound is written. Knowing the kanji answers everything.
When Japanese people are "thinking out loud," it's not
uncommon to see them writing on the palm of the left hand with the index
finger of the right, the characters are so intrinsic to the
understanding of the language.
This is a "problem" we're not
going to solve here today. How can you take centuries of organic
evolution, in unique isolation, that has given rise to an intricately
interlocked system--and dismantle it in an effort to make it more
accessible to outsiders? Is it worth the effort? One
solution that Japan seems to have pursued is not to try to make
the language accessible to outsiders, but to learn the outsiders'
language instead. This is fine if we're talking about
international business, or political cooperation. But it doesn't
make it easier for foreigners to function in this society--which
is the next great step in Japan's "globalization."
Well, on with the account of my day.
I had two choices (again) for getting
back to the train at Nagao. One was to wait a couple of hours for
the 3:11 bus. The other was to walk at least part of the pilgrim
trail back toward Number 87, knowing that it would be dark before I made
it, and that the last bus would be long gone before I reached the
But I really wanted to walk on
this, my last day. And I had a cell phone and Iroha Taxi Company's
number in my pocket. (In fact, I can recite the number even now,
12 hours later.) And actually, I had time to start up the
trail, change my mind, and still make it back to the bus.
So off I went.
The trail led straight up for
about two kilometers, to a beautiful mountaintop view. And that
two kilometers straight up was the easy part.
Enjoy these pictures, please.
They were brought to you at great effort.
First, a view of the ultimate
switchbacks. In this shot, I am looking back down on a little
portion of the trail. The red line marks the path I've just come
Here's the payoff: a view back over the
last few days' travel. I could actually make out several places
where temples are situated, including the easily recognized Yashima
island (too small to see in this photo).
Just below the peak, a terrible shock: the
trail is in places about a foot (30 cm) wide, and nearly vertical, and all
rock. I kid you not: I have hiked in California's High Sierras
and all over the American Southwest, and I have never seen a
trail like this. Thank gods I was going down the trail; I
pity those few I saw toiling up it. Again, the trail--this time
looking upward--is marked in red. Really.
That torture lasted only for a hundred
meters or so; after that it was the usual downward plodding.
When I reached the vicinity of Maeyama
Dam--about 7 or 8 kilometers from the temple--darkness was descending,
so I found a pay phone and called Iroha. Minutes later someone
came honking into the parking area, calling out "jamus, jamus."
Hey, that's me. That cab was fast.
Wrong. Remember that my old
friends Kazuyoshi and Michiko had left me
their phone number at a temple a few days ago? Well, I hadn't
called them. (I planned to call them tonight.) But they had
tracked me on the homepage, guessed my approximate location, and
Kazuyoshi came out and cruised up and down the road until he found me.
I called and cancelled the taxi, and
Kazuyoshi took me to their home, where they wanted me to spend the
night. But I explained that my bag was at the hotel, where my room
was already paid for. So instead, they took me to a nice Italian
restaurant in Yashima (Michiko joined us) and then dropped me back at my
An astounding and extremely fitting
finish to my pilgrimage. You may recall that I finished the
Tokaido portion of my trip alone and without fanfare (except for that
extraordinary gift from that young
lady at Sanjo Bridge). But I finished the Shikoku 88-Temple
Pilgrimage in the company of friends from the road, treated to an
excellent dinner, with people who really appreciated what I had done, as
they are doing it themselves.
A final note: While struggling up to
the mountain peak above Number 88, I had a most unusual meeting: This
young monk, of the Rinzai Zen Sect, is named Fugen. He is 26
years old, and from Chiba. He has been a monk for 3 years.
After reaching Number 88, the end of his pilgrimage, he will go to
Nagoya to visit his grandparents. He will give them his completed
stamp book as a gift. I cannot begin to imagine ever parting with
mine; his non-attachment to this material thing is exemplary. Then
he will continue his studies--not sure where.
They're still with us. The
exceptional men (and, one presumes and hopes, women) who give their
lives to the search for connection. Perhaps in my next life I can
be one, too.
In 31 days I have met no foreign pilgrims.
I have met men and women from all over Japan, a surprisingly
large number of them walking the entire circuit. I have met the
elderly traveling by bus, the middle-aged by car, and the young by
public transportation. Some were "weekend henro,"
some had left things on hold back home, and some had actually closed
chapters of their lives to undertake the pilgrimage, with no idea of
what will happen next.
I'm pleased to report that the quest
for connection, the search for spiritual fulfillment, the impulse toward
enlightenment, is alive and thriving on Shikoku, in Japan.
I planned to rush through Number 1 and
stay on Koyasan tomorrow night. But Fate again took a hand; the
Youth Hostel on Koya is full tomorrow, but has a space the day after.
So I will dawdle around Number 1, hopefully staying with my old friend
the priest at Number 2 (I have to call him tomorrow). Then on
Thursday I can take my time reaching Koyasan, visit the Daishi before
dinner, and set out fresh Friday morning, my mission accomplished.