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Temples 1-5 (and 6)
(Sun., Oct. 14, 2001)

 Sunday, October 14th, 2001
See here for the distances between temples

 The Shikoku Pilgrimage

With my arrival on Shikoku, I am drastically changing my prayer routine. Please read about the new routine (along with a re-telling of a story from Tolstoy) here.


First, the logistics of my day.

Last night I stayed at Temple Number 2. In the morning, we had a brief service at 6 a.m., followed immediately by breakfast.

After that, I published yesterday's homepage, did some e-mail, and packed my bag. (I had spent all evening writing a prayer book by hand, so I hadn't had time to finish my Internet-related tasks.)

Leaving my bag at Number 2, I walked the 1.2 kilometers back to Temple Number 1 for my "official start."

Temple #1: Ryozen-ji (霊山寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of Vulture's Peak
  • Location: Naruto, Tokushima; 34.159803,134.502592 (map)
  • Sect: Koyasan Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Shaka Nyorai
  • Mantra: No-ma-ku-san-man-da-bo-da-nan-ba-ku!
  • Goeika:
  • Quick Fact: Though this is "#1," the pilgrimage can actually be started anywhere; this place was designated #1 because it's closest to the arrival port for pilgrims who visit Kobo Daishi's tomb on Koya-san.

Never trust the opinions of a guidebook writer. Ed Readicker-Henderson, who is so great on facts, often expresses opinions totally different from mine. Here's what he says about this temple: "Architecturally, Temple 1 is a good indication of things to come. There isn't much here." Then he says that this pilgrimage is made up of little neighborhood temples. "If you want stunning architecture," he says, "the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage is a better choice."

I agree with that last statement. But stunning isn't everything. To say, "There isn't much here" is to ignore a Niomon (Two Kings Gate) described by Oliver Statler as "monumental." Statler writes, "The gate is a symbol, summoning one from the secular world to the sacred precincts within." Yes.

Standing in the gateway, this manikin [probably advertising pilgrims' goods for sale] is much scarier than any nio.

Ed also writes off this really precious tahoto, or treasure stupa. Statler notes that it "symbolizes the universe."

Let's be fair; Readicker-Henderson is writing a guidebook; Statler is writing a hymn of praise. But still, I'm with Olly.

I couldn't find much in the way of legends for Ryouzenji. The Daishi had a vision here, at the site of a temple founded by Gyogi, who lived about a hundred years before the Daishi, and is the true founder of many temples now attributed to the Daishi. In the Daishi's vision, he saw the historic Buddha preaching a (non-historic) sermon on sacred Vulture's Peak. So he carved a statue of "Shaka Nyorai"--the historic Sakyamuni Buddha--and renamed Gyogi's foundation. Not all that exciting. Oliver Statler writes, "Temple One purveys no legends, perhaps because as its priest once said to me, 'Its position as Number One is sufficient unto itself.'"

Perhaps. But "its position as Number One" is a fluke. One can start the pilgrimage anywhere; this is only "#1" because it's the first temple one reaches when coming from the Daishi's tomb on Mount Koya.

A note for travelers: Number 1 has apparently stopped providing lodging for pilgrims. Also, there seems to be no sign of the "starting out ceremony" I had read of; checking with the priest when I stopped in yesterday, I was told that you can "come anytime" and just take off; there is no longer a special ceremony. If anyone knows differently, please let me know.

[2019 Update: There is a Facebook group--probably more than one, actually--dedicated to the Pilgrimage that has a wealth of up-to-date information, especially the maps and more in its file section.]

So I did "the routine," and pushed on to Number 2. On the way, I had a chance to practice something I learned from Statler: we carry our walking sticks across bridges. This is allegedly because the Daishi slept under a bridge. This is confusing. The stick is the Daishi, so we don't hit the bridge with it 'cause we'll wake him up as he sleeps under it? Omnipresence...?

No. This is a local example of bridge lore, and my first chance to get Perennial on you. Remember the "Three Billy Goats Gruff"? Ever lift your feet in a car as a kid when you passed over a bridge? Ever listen to Simon and Garfunkel?

Bridges are enormously significant worldwide. On the Tokaido, I had a chance to write about the practical, military side of bridges. But now's the time to think of their symbolic importance. They take us from here to there, without touching what's in between. They make it possible for us to walk on water. They save us boatfare.

Pop quiz: The Pope is sometimes called "The Supreme Pontiff." Know what it means? Time's up. Pontiff comes from the Latin pontifex, which means "bridge builder."

UPDATE: You can now read about my visit to the bridge where the Daishi slept out. It happened on October 29th.

Along the way, I saw this startling site. Wait, you mean I could do all this by scooter and save my aching feet? (Those are pilgrims' sticks in the rack on the side.)


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Temple #2: Gokuraku-ji (極楽寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of the Pure Land
  • Location: Naruto, Tokushima; 34.155556,134.490278 (map)
  • Sect: Koyasan Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Amida Nyorai
  • Mantra: On-a-mi-ri-ta-tei-sei-ka-ra-un!
  • Goeika:
  • Quick Fact: The temple's name alludes to Sukhavati (meaning "bliss"), the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha; it is only natural, then, that he is the main figure on the altar (even though this is not a temple of the Pure Land Sect).

It was like comin' home. (I slept there last night.)

Unlike Number 1, I was able to learn a couple of great legends about Gokurakuji .

One says that the hill shown behind the building is man-made. It seems that the Light from the Amida figure in the hondo was so bright that it scared away the fish in the not-so-nearby sea. So the fishermen got together and built this hill between the hondo and the sea to block the light, so it's now called the Amida-Blocking Hill.

Whoa! Folk motifs abound. Start with light as a symbol of holiness. (We'll leave that one for later.) Another is the age-old game of Operator. Perhaps this hill was man-made. But why? Is it a kofun (burial mound)? A base for an ancient lighthouse? (Light again.) Anyway, whyever it was built, the reason was lost, and this interesting legend arose to fill the gap.

I like this idea (it's my own): perhaps the fishing was poor for some reason or another, and somebody vowed to build an earthen "altar" to appease the gods. Later, the Amida story was derived from the garbled tradition of this enterprise. Who knows?

By the way, the "Pure Land" of the temple's name is the place prepared by Amida Buddha for those who call on him for help. Believers go there after death, where they have ideal conditions to continue working on their own enlightenment.

Number 2 also has a "longevity cedar." This one's obvious: a long-lived tree can transfer its power if you touch it, so you can live a long time, too.

Much is made of this temple's wealth, based on its income as a temple for safe childbirth--and the salvation of aborted babies. I don't care; the jolly priest who painted my hat (see yesterday's logbook) is a good guy; I met him again at the end of my journey), and the temple is a pleasant place. That's all one can ask for.

Picking up my big bag, I pushed on toward Number 3. Along the way I passed a young lady henro (pilgrim)--walking. This is said to be unusual, although women far outnumber men on the pilgrimage in general (as they do in most religious enterprises--stop into your local church sometime and ask who carries the bulk of the effort, even though the men have all the titles. It was ever thus.)

After a kilometer or so of playing "Tortoise and Hare," we started walking together.

Aki is planning to get married next year, and is doing this as preparation. (Sister, walking a thousand kilometers is like a stroll in the park compared to the hard work of being married!) Many people do this sort of thing: it's a chance to think things over, be sure you're doing the right thing; and also to align the "powers of the universe" on your side.

We walked and chatted together about half the day.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Temple #3: Konsen-ji (金泉寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of the Golden Spring
  • Location: Itano, Tokushima; 34.147436,134.468544 (map)
  • Sect: Koyasan Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Shaka Nyorai
  • Mantra: No-ma-ku-san-man-da-bo-da-nan-ba-ku!
  • Goeika:
  • Quick Fact: The goeika for this temple refers to the "golden spring" described below; though I don't have translations of these poems (yet), from what I can see, they often incorporate features of the temple and its legends.

This temple, too, has legends. (Sorry, I rushed through this place, so I can't illustrate the legends; I didn't want to keep Aki waiting!)

One is of a spring created by the Daishi striking the ground with his staff. This one gives the temple its name. However, as this is a really long logbook, we'll consider the implications of this another day, as he did the same feat many times.

Another is an association with a historical character. Benkei was the companion of Minamoto Yoshitsune; these two make up an early "buddy movie" in Japanese history (though Yoshitsune was Benkei's master). Anyway, Benkei is famous for his strength. The name for the front of the shin in Japanese translates as "Benkei's Crying Place," meaning even the strongest man who ever lived would cry if struck there. So at this temple, there's a rock about four feet long and two feet high that he supposedly lifted to demonstrate his strength. I saw it, but neither took a photograph--nor tried to lift it!

The Perennial connections of this one are obvious too. Atlas, Samson, Superman--we love strong guys. But each has a weakness too--like Benkei's shinbone.

Aki and I set off from Number 3 with a new companion. Suzuki-san is a couple of years older than me, and was actually on his way to a nearby "library" to study the Hannya Shingyo. We had a good talk about the essence of the prayer: "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form."

Suzuki-san left us well before Number 4, which is too bad, because we kind of got lost after he left. Not really lost, just--kind of. Finally veering back onto the course, we had our first "challenge"--a gentle climb to the foothill location of Number 4.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Temple #4: Dainichi-ji (大日寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of the Great Sun
  • Location: Itano, Tokushima; 34.151306,134.430889 (map)
  • Sect: Koyasan Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Dainichi Nyorai
  • Mantra: On-a-bi-ra-un-ken-ba-za-ra-da-to-ban!
  • Goeika:
  • Quick Fact: The honzon at this temple cannot be seen, but if he's like most statues of Dainichi, he will have the fingers of his right hand wrapped around the index finger of his left, symbolizing "Apprehend the One." Click the honzon's name above to see an illustration.

I like this place, because I like this honzon. The "Great Sun" Buddha is--appropriately--the guardian Buddha of July, which is my birth month. And believe me, I could write twenty pages about the idea of Sun Gods--without pausing. Here's just a tidbit: ever wonder why Jesus' birthday is December 25th? We don't actually know his birthday, but we put it on a Roman sun holiday--near the Winter Solstice. Why? And why did he have twelve Apostles--the same as the number of months in the year--or constellations in the zodiac? It goes on. But think about it.

She dumped me. Aki was planning to stay at Temple Number 8, two temples beyond where I was stopping. She was worried about getting there, and since my prayers are lengthy, she decided to go it alone. A good decision, I think. It was nice while it lasted. (Read on; we met several more times.)

Several interesting things as I headed down the hill: some domesticated inoshishi, or wild boars, in a pen off to the side of the road...

...a rather confusing trail marker...

...and a Shinto festival! A crew of revelers went by rolling a dashi, or float. Not a parade, mind you; just one float. This is a common neighborhood occurrence. My neighbors used to take out the dashi once a year and cover every street in the area. You'll see this practice again below.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Temple #5: Jizo-ji (地蔵寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of the Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva
  • Location: Itano, Tokushima; 34.137222,134.431944 (map)
  • Sect: Omuro-ha Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Jizo Bosatsu
  • Mantra: On-ka-ka-ka-bi-san-ma-ei-so-wa-ka!
  • Goeika:
  • Quick Fact: This temple had one of the first "500 Arhats" halls I had ever seen (others I saw in Japan were usually outdoors, as at Seiken-ji in Okitsu on the Old Tokaido). The halls are quite a common feature in fast-growing temples in China.

The real attraction here is on a hill behind the temple. And if you're paying attention, you can save yourself a climb, since the road descends from that way and you can enter the temple from the back way.

It's a massive hall--I've just shown you the central entryway, but there are three wings--filled with statues of the historic Buddha's 500 disciples or "arhats" (known in Japanese as the gohyaku rakkan). They're life-sized and cartoonish. (Sorry, no pictures were allowed.) A little creepy. But fun. It cost 200 yen to get in, but it was well worth it.

The temple itself has no stunning traits. But I did enjoy this little imp carved under the gable of one hall. He's a devil's child, called by a Japanese name (which I can't remember) which is also used as a reference to brats. (Anyone know what I mean? Maybe amanojakko?) UPDATE 2020: FOUND IT! Amanojaku

I also caught this group of pilgrims. (What is the collective noun: a gaggle of pilgrims? A group of lions is called a pride; could it be "a humility of pilgrims"?)

I left Jizoji (like Dainichiji, it's named for its honzon) with the sinking feeling that I didn't have enough cash to pay for tonight's room. (Where does it go?) So I stopped at a gas station, and the gentleman inside spent nearly 15 minutes drawing an accurate map of the area, with clear landmarks. It worked. The bank was (almost) on my way, and the ATM was actually open! Sometimes Murphy loses.

While we were discussing the details, a group of gangsters stopped by. Apparently, the local god runs a protection racket. These kids came into the gas station; I had seem them stop at several other local businesses earlier, and every time they did, the proprietor came out. Well, the gas station guy hurriedly shoved some money in an envelope and went out to meet the yutes. Bowing, he put the money on the palanquin, which the kids then lifted and took off with.

The gas station owner ponies up...

...and the kids take the money and run

Before arriving at Number 6--my stopping place for the night--I received my first o-settai since becoming an official pilgrim. A slightly daft little lady stopped me just a few hundred yards from the temple, and ran into her house. She came out again with a banana and a persimmon. (The persimmon still had the price sticker on it--90 yen.)

Near her house I saw this beautifully carved--and not confusing--trail marker.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Wrapping Up

I reached the temple--pretty exhausted--and said my prayers. However, because the light was coming from behind the gate and buildings, I decided to shoot it tomorrow morning. It's quite a pretty place, but I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

At dinner I sat next to another lady walking henro. This one, however, is nearly finished. She walked from 1 to 88, and is bussing back toward 1--stopping here for the night. Then she'll go back to Mount Koya to tag up with the Daishi--a very proper pilgrimage.

So despite the statistics, the only two people I met today who are walking (or have walked) the entire pilgrimage--are women. Things are changing in Japan.

Tomorrow--Number 6 and beyond.

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Posted October 9, 2019

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