Friday, December 23, 2011

Sugegasa and nōkyōchō...ready for the next time

The cone-shaped sugegasa is one of the traditional accoutrements that marks a Shikoku henro ("pilgrim"), but, of course, in modern Japan, not all pilgrims wear it. Ball caps and bicycle helmets (for those undertaking the pilgrimage by bike) are perhaps more often seen than the sugegasa. The important thing is the pilgrimage itself which, or course, means different things to different people. Some do the pilgrimage for religious reasons; others to commemorate loved ones; some to reflect on their lives; some for recreation; some to find themselves.  There is something magical about setting off on a pilgrimage of this nature. As you walk, the world reduces itself and things become more and your steps one in front of the other. You can't help but think about all the others who, over the course of nine centuries, have passed this way before you. As with long distance hiking routes in the States (e.g. the Appalachian or Pacific Crest trails), some folks on the Shikoku pilgrimage do the 1,200+ kilometers in one go. Others do portions of it over the years until they finish it. I think I will be in that latter group. Well, I am now back in Portland, Oregon. I've hung up my sugegasa and carefully stored my nōkyōchō until he next phase of the journey begins.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ishite-ji (Temple #50)

Entrance to Ishite-ji. The name means "Stone Hand Temple." The name of the temple originates from a legend that tells of a man named Emon Saburo who refused to provide food to a hungry pilgrim. He turned that same pilgrim away on a total of eight occasions. In the eight days following this incident, Saburo lost his eight sons, one on each day. He decided to repent and determined that he would find the pilgrim and apologize for his behavior. It is said he walked the Shikoku pilgrimage route 21 times before finding that pilgrim who turned out to be Kobo Daishi himself. Saburo apologized to Kobo Daishi who put a stone in Saburo's hand. Saburo then passed away peacefully. Later in the early 17th century, a son was born to a local ruler. The child was not able to open his left hand for many years until a priest succeeded in opening it through prayer. In the child's hand was a stone upon which was inscribed, "incarnation of Emon Saburo."

Entrance to the inner compound at Ishite-ji.

This lovely three-tiered pagoda graces the Ishite-ji grounds.

One of several halls at Ishite-ji.

The stamp for Ishite-ji in my nōkyōchō.

A segment of the pilgrim's path as it leaves the Ishite-ji temple grounds. If you look closely you can see a red route marker on the bamboo stem at the right side of this photo.

Hanta-ji (Temple #50)

The next temple was #50 (Hanta-ji), backed by a wooded hillside still displaying autumn colors in mid-December. Its name means "Temple of Great Prosperity" but it's often referred to as the "farm temple."

I thought Hanta-ji was a lovely temple. Here the bell tower (left) and a newly restored hall in the background.

A family of pilgrims was at the temple during my visit and I enjoyed watching them make their rounds and chanting sutras before the various halls before heading off to the next temple.

My temple "stamp" for Hanta-ji entered in my temple book which is called a nōkyōchō (納経帳). The calligraphy on the "stamp" is handwritten at the temple office. You pay about 300 yen to have someone enter the stamp in your nōkyōchō. You can purchase a nōkyōchō at just about any temple for about 2,000 to 3,000 yen depending on how elaborate you want your book to be. I paid 2,000 yen for my nōkyōchō which was made specifically for the Shikoku pilgrimage...there is a page for each of the 88 temples on the pilgrimage route. The stamps in your nōkyōchō serve as evidence that you have visited the it's kind of like a passport stamp.

A small pond and autumn colors graced the landscape just outside the Hanta-ji temple precinct.


On the hillside behind  Jodō-ji, I discovered this very long staircase heading straight up the hillside. Unable to resist the lure, I made a side trip off the pilgrimage route and climbed the steps.

At the top was this lovely Shinto shrine known as Hio-hachiman-jinja. No one else was there, so I had the place to myself.

Jodō-ji (Temple #49)

Main entrance gate at Jodō-ji. In the niches to the left and right of the entrance, you can seen the two guardian statues known as kongo rikishi. The name Jodō-ji translates as "Pure Land Temple."

The main hall at Jodō-ji is built in Chinese style. This temple was once quite large having as many as 73 branch halls and affiliated temples.

Statue of Kobo Daishi at Jodō-ji.

Sairin-ji (Temple #48)

Approaching the main gate of Sairin-ji Temple dating from the mid-eighth century. The name can be translated into English as "West Forest Temple."

The main hall at Sairin-ji. The bodhisattva (bosatsu) enshrined within is the eleven-faced Juichimen Kannon Bosatsu, a manifestation of Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion. The statue of the bodhisattva was placed facing to the rear of the hall, so many pilgrims proceed to the back of the main hall to offer prayers. (In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, a bodhisattva is a being on the path to enlightenment who is pledged to work for the enlightenment of all sentient beings.)

Roku Jizō statues at Sairin-ji. Jizō is another bodhisattva and the only one portrayed as a monk. The Jizō bosatsu is beloved in Japan as the patron of children, expectant mothers, firefighters, pilgrims and travelers. Roku Jizō, meaning "six Jizō," represent the Buddhist six realms of existence. Red caps and bibs traditionally cloak statues of Jizō symbolizing among other things health and fertility.

A pond at Sairin-ji. Kobo Daishi is said to have struck his staff upon the ground to create a pond at Sairin-ji.

Finding the Way on the Pilgrim's Path

The 88 Temple Pilgrimage Route is better marked in some sections than in others. On today's walk from Joruri-ji to Ishite-ji, I found the route generally well-marked. Some of the marks are inconspicuous, others more obvious. The marker above is often seen. It reads henro michi ("pilgrim's path").

Here's another example of a route marker pointing the way to Temple #47 (Yasaka-ji).

And here's a third style of marker seen near Temple #49 (Jodo-ji).

Yasaka-ji to Sairin-ji

The pilgrim's route from Yasaka-ji to the next temple, Sairin-ji, passed beneath this blooming camellia just outside Yasaka-ji's main gate.

The path led through fields of rice, leeks, and cabbages...

Tucked away in a copse of trees in the midst of farm fields was this lovely Shinto shrine, here seen over a field of cabbages. In addition the 88 "official" temples (fudasho) of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage there are twenty other sacred temples (bangai) along the route along with numerous other shrines. Some, like the one above, aren't even marked on the maps.

The gate (torii) to the small shrine in the fields.

Here, a short but well-maintained segment of the pilgrim's path branches of a rural road.

Yasaka-ji (Temple #47)

Approaching the main entrance gate to Yasaka-ji. This temple dates to the beginning of the 8th century when it was built by the Lord of Iyo.

A closer view of the entrance gate. Yasaka-ji means "Eight Slope Temple" because it is said that eight paths once led to it.

The underside of the entrance gate is covered with a colorful painting!

The main temple building at Yasakaji.

Wash basin at Yasaka-ji with an elaborate dragon-shaped spigot. The basin is used for ritual purification (hands and mouth) before entering the temple grounds.

En route from Joruri-ji to Yasaka-ji

It was a short walk of about one kilomter to get from Joruri-ji to Yasaka-ji (Temple #47). On the way, I saw a group of pilgrims (henro, or へんろ, in Japanese). Many were wearing the tradtional conical straw hat called a sugegasa (菅笠) and white vest (hakui, or 白衣, in Japanese).

Along the route of the pilgrimage, one comes across many stone markers known as hyoseki. Some are old like this one...

...and others a little younger.

Joruri-ji (Temple #46)

Took a taxi to Joruri-ji (Temple #46) on the southern fringes of Matsuyama city. A very quiet, peaceful setting in a small rice-farming hamlet. Only a couple of other people on the temple grounds. The smell of incense burning, birds singing, and the scratching of a rake as an attendant tidied up the grounds. Beautiful!

Footprint (of the Buddha) stone at Joruri-ji.

At Joruri-ji Temple.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Taisan-ji (Temple #52)

Main gate at Taisan-ji. Again, we had the temple precincts almost entirely to ourselves. After the temple visit, we trekked back to central Matsuyama through ricefields and neighborhoods. As darkness began to fall, the floodlit Matsuyama Castle served as a beacon showing the way home. We walked about 15 kilometers today.

Through orange groves to Taisan-ji (Temple #52)

It took a bit of route-finding, but we finally located the old pilgrim path that wound through orange groves and over a low ridge before making it's descent toward Taisan-ji. A couple of farmers offered us oranges from their trees when they found out we were pilgrims. My first gift as a Shikoku pilgrim!

Enmyo-ji (Temple #53)

A view of the temple precinct at Enmyo-ji. I walked the pilgrimage route from Enmyo-ji (#53) to Taisan-ji (#52) to central Matsuyama today with my friend Bob. Beautiful day, but breezy and quite cold! Not many other pilgrims to be seen today.

Matsuyama Castle

Perched on a 140 meter high hill in Matsuyama city, the Matsuyama Castle (Matsuyama-jo) provides great views across the surrounding city and out to the Seto Inland Sea. The castle is one of twelve "original" feudal castles in Japan.

Matsuyama Tram

Riding the electric tram from Dogo Onsen, one of Japan's oldest public bath houses, to the Matsuyama Castle.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chinkabashi (ちんかばし) on the Shimantogawa

An example of a chinkabashi, or "sinking bridge" on the Shimanto River. The bridge is designed without railings or other appendages that could snag floating debris during times of high water and threaten the integrity of the bridge. The bridge submerges itself, i.e. "sinks" into the water, when the river floods.

Scene in Rural Shikoku

En route to Uwajima city, we stopped for a bike ride along the Shimanto River passing farming hamlets, small shrines, fields of daikon (large radish), citrus and vegetables. It was such a scene of rural tranquility that I fancied myself riding through the landscapes depicted by Hayao Miyazaki in his animated filme, Totoro.

Ashizuri Chrysanthemum

December blossoms of Chrysanthemum japonense ashizuriense at Ashizuri Cape. Also, along the cliff-tops at Cape Ashizuri are "forests" of camellias (as big as small trees) which break out in floral splendor in February.

Ashizuri Misaki (Cape Ashizuri)

Spectacular weather and spectacular coastal scenery at Cape Ashizuri, the southern most point on Shikoku Island. This area is part of Japan's Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park.

John Mung Statue at Cape Ashizuri

At Cape Ashizuri stands this statue of a man commonly known as John Mung (or John Manjiro). In Japanese, he is known as Nakahama Manjirō (中濱 万次郎). He was a fisherman born in a nearby community who in 1841 at the age of 14 was shipwrecked on an isolated island. He was rescued by an American whaling vessel and traveled with its crew to Honolulu and later to New Bedford, Massachusetts. He returned to Hawaii aboard another American whaling vessel, returned again to New Bedford and set out for the California Gold Rush. He returned to Japan in 1850, and in 1853 as a result of his experiences in America, was made a samurai in direct service to the Tokugawa shogunate. He was involved in the opening of Japan to the west and was part of Japan's Embassy to the United States in 1860. He later studied military science in Europe and served as a professor at Tokyo Imperial University. Quite a resume for a fisherman from a small village on Shikoku!