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Temple 12
(Thu., Oct. 18th, 2001)

 Thursday, October 18th, 2001
The character known as Emon Saburo figures largely on this page. Read more about him in "The Legend of Emon Saburo" (Coming soon)

See here for the distances between temples

 The Shikoku Pilgrimage

Getting to Number 12

Life has been so good since I became a pretenro (a pretend henro, or pilgrim). Since I started hopping the occasional train or bus, life is so much richer. And so am I.

I like trains. While not terribly fond of buses, I do like the fact that they take me out into places where the people live. And that's the best thing about public transportation to me: the "public" part. In Tokyo, I saw more people in one train than I saw in a week of driving in L.A. Some call this "crowds"; I call it humanity.

On my first two, almost-entirely walking days, the only people I met were other pilgrims. Don't get me wrong--I love pilgrims. But today I had encounters with a little old lady and a kindergarten kid--all because I was on buses.

On the over-one-hour bus ride toward Number 12, we were well up into the mountains when an old lady turned around, handed me 500 yen (see, I am richer) and said, "Osettai." I raised it to my forehead in the usual gesture of acceptance, said, "Domo arigato gozaimasu," and she turned back around. A moment later she was shocked and pleased as I handed her my name slip. To think, she must have thought, that a foreigner knows what to do. Amazing!

When I left that bus, I had to wait for another to take me part way up the mountain. This time I was amazed: it was the local school bus! Here is an illustration from the side of the bus. The driver had no uniform, just street clothes--and an N.Y.P.D. ball cap. When I paid, it was into his hand--no fancy coin box.

But the best part is, there was a little kid on the bus. He looked astonished as the big gaijin in the wide hat tried to squeeze into kid-sized seats. When I said, "Konnichiwa," he answered reflexively. Then, after thinking a second, he relaxed. Hey, the gaijin speaks Japanese--can't be all bad. He left the bus, and I got a big wave and smile, followed by a very solemn, "Gambatte, kudasai"--keep at it, hang in there, don't give up, do your best!

Had I walked all the way up that mountain, I'd have had heavenly vistas and the satisfaction of completion, but I'd have missed those encounters. And they're precious to me, too.

Before I continue with my day, I want to mention those name slips again. I've talked about giving them to people in return for osettai, and their importance as talismans. But their real purpose is as a sort of "calling card" to the Buddhas. In the past, they were made of wood, and handwritten; then people wrote them on paper; after that, they had them printed; and now we usually buy standard pre-made ones, and add the pertinent information (name, address, date, intention) by hand.

People used to nail the wooden ones right onto the temple; you can tell an unrestored building, because it's full of nail holes. Then it became popular to paste the paper ones onto the building. The photo here shows this practice at Number 18, which I went to yesterday. Temple staff generally cleans them off, leaving very old ones, or ones from famous people. So it's a game to try to place them up high, where they're inaccessible to the cleaners. The ones shown here are above the door of the hondo.

The name slips are called osame fuda, sometimes shortened to just fuda. They're so much a part of the tradition that temples that are part of major pilgrimages--including the "Big 3" Kannon pilgrimages I did before--are called fudasho: name slip places. And I have heard pilgrimage itself called fuda meguri: name-slip journeys!

On with the journey. Leaving the bus, I walked a ways up a paved road, then started up a wet, rocky, leaf-strewn trail that was so steep the only adverb that could be used to describe it would be "ridiculously"--it was ridiculously steep.

Read those adjectives again: wet, rocky, leaf-strewn, steep. Wet leaves + wet rocks + a steep trail=slippery. I was afraid the hike might turn into a game of "Chutes and Ladders," and that I'd keep ending up at the bottom!

But it had its rewards. After 15 minutes of walking, I saw something I hadn't seen in days: the sun! Not an absence of rain, but the actual golden rays of our father (in Japan, our mother) the sun. And mountain vistas, blue fluffy clouds, fresh air. Of course I was sometimes in a tunnel of trees, or in mountain shadow. But overall, it was beautiful.

The Grave of Emon Saburo

Halfway up you reach a small, dilapidated building next to a truly elegant statue. (I suppose the statue is next to the building, but that's not how it seems.) The faces on the two figures tell this story far more elegantly than I'm about to.

In the days of the Daishi, a rich man named Emon Saburo not only refused the Daishi alms, but insulted him as well. When the Daishi left, misfortune befell the man, and he repented. He set out to find the Daishi, but could never catch up with him. It finally occurred to him that, if he went counterclockwise, he would surely encounter the Daishi.

And he did. He repented, the Daishi gave forgiveness, and then and there Emon Saburo died.

He was the first pilgrim. He established the idea that doing the pilgrimage in reverse is more difficult, and brings extra merit.

The Daishi buried him, and planted his staff next to the grave, which became the cedar we see today (or its predecessor).

Ironically, due to logistics, I am approaching this site in reverse order. On my return, I will be going clockwise again. Don Weiss, in Echoes of Incense, mentions that the path is probably no more difficult in reverse; it's just harder to follow because all the signs are oriented for the clockwise pilgrim. I can agree; even on this short stretch (just over three kilometers), I had to consult the map several times. Coming down the signage was clear.

Near Emon Saburo's grave, this stone reminds us of the expression "Dogyo Ninin," meaning the Daishi always walks with the pilgrim, just as he is believed to have guided Emon Saburo to him.

Question: Since the Daishi always walks with me, would it be too much to ask him to carry one of the bags?

Above the gravesite, the trail becomes a concrete road. There is a car road criss-crossing the henro path; so my first impression was, "ah, the old road." This is kind of a family joke.

When I was a boy, my father would often point to a road off to the side of the main road and declare it "the old road." It may have been frontage road, or someone's driveway for all I knew, but I was in awe both of my father for his vast knowledge, and for the antiquity of the "old road."

I have been following old roads ever since.

This one, however, turned out to be just an access road. It crossed the stream on a well-built bridge just below a waterfall, and became a narrow footpath again.

At about a half a kilometer from the temple--less as the crane flies--I was listening to the sounds of nothing but rushing water and birdsong when BONNNGGGG!!!! I heard the sound of a temple bell. In addition to the practical knowledge that the temple must be near, I was stirred by this old sound, a resonance deep in the body, like the swishing of blood or the squishing of organs.

Temple #12: Shosan-ji (焼山寺)
  • Meaning: Burning Mountain Temple
  • Location: Kamiyama, Tokushima; 33.985028,134.31025 (map)
  • Sect: Koyasan Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Kokuzo Bosatsu
  • Mantra: Nou-bou-a-kya-sha-kya-ra-ba-ya-on-a-ri-kya-ma-ri-bo-ri-so-wa-ka!
  • Goeika:

And then I was there. And Aki was right. She said yesterday that this was an amazing place. Old buildings in an incredible setting.

The temple's name refers to a legend. A century before the Daishi, a wander ascetic named En-no-Gyoja came here, and subdued a giant serpent--variously called a snake or a dragon--that had been harassing the locals. En is enshrined on a peak near this temple; I regret that I didn't have time to go there, as he is one of my heroes. His followers today are called yamabushi; when I first came to Japan, and my students asked me what I did in the States, I used to say I was a yamabushi. These men are a bridge between the shamanism of Shinto and the mountain ethic of the Buddhists, being neither entirely one or the other. Statler says quite a lot about En, well worth reading.

Anyway, En quelled the serpent, but the spell didn't hold. So the Daishi came along and did it again--for good. In a fierce battle, the serpent set the mountain on fire (hence the temple's name). But the Daishi did a ceremony (appealing to this temple's honzon, Kokuzo, who was the Daishi's personal patron) to extinguish the flames and bind the serpent. He sealed it in a cave, guarded by two carved images.

Statler speculates that such legends are really about religious conflicts: a snake cult on the mountain was banished by En; it rose again, and this time the Daishi wiped it out for good, establishing Buddhism's supremacy here once and for all.

As I set off back down the mountain, I noticed this (unfortunately rather dark) cave mouth with two stones in front of it. A rather obvious attempt at pleasing the tourists. I mean, the cave's mouth is open for heaven's sake, not sealed at all. Unless the magic of the figures is supposed to keep the serpent in. Hey! Did I hear something move in there? Gotta go!

More interesting by far were the little crabs I spotted living among some rocks in a former post hole. I imagine they were out on the road during the rain, and ran for cover when things started drying up. What will they do when this water evaporates?

At the base of the hike, I got back into a school bus being used as a public bus. Then I transferred to a public bus being used as a school bus! There must have been 25 high-schoolers in the bus headed for Tokushima. It smelled like a gymnasium.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Wrapping Up

Back at Tokushima Station, I had dinner, and then splurged. I went into a department store and bought myself a cheap set of sweats. It's getting colder. Yesterday, after getting rained on, I was cold on the train. Today, after sweating, I was cold on the bus. It would have been great to pull off my wet shirt and pull on a dry sweatshirt. (In fact, as I sit in my room at the world's dirtiest youth hostel typing this, I'm wearing the full set.)

Tomorrow I move. I don't have a room yet, but for the first time I will start my day well south of Tokushima; no more transferring to another train or bus at that station, as I have for the past couple of days.

In a couple more days, I'll be out of Tokushima prefecture, and on to Kochi, traditionally the toughest of the four "countries" of Shikoku.

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Posted October 10, 2019

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