Sign up for my Newsletter & Podcast!

Temples (19), 22 and 23
(Fri., Oct. 19th, 2001)

 Friday October 19th, 2001
See here for the distances between temples

 The Shikoku Pilgrimage


The day dawned beautiful, perfect fall weather.

I left the world's dirtiest youth hostel, bags in hand, and called Number 19 about lodging for tonight. They said they had room and I was set for the day--or so I thought.

My plan was to visit Number 19, drop my bag, and head off for Number 20 and Number 21, two mountain temples in a row. I know it's about a 3-hour walk between them, and there is bus access to and from both of them (with 1 or 2 hours' walk to the bus stop.) Then I'd return to Number 19 for the night. Piece of cake, right?

Wrong. When I got to Number 19, the younger priest assured me that there was no way I could even get to and from Number 20 alone today, not to mention Number 21. I don't know if it's a bus scheduling problem or what, but he was adamant. (This was at 10 a.m.) He said I need to leave at 7, and sleep in an inn at the bottom of Number 21; there is just no way to get back to Number 19 from there in a day.

Instead, he said, I should put off Number 20 and Number 21 until tomorrow, and visit Number 22 and Number 23 today. So that's what I did.

I paid for my room, and when he went to get my change, the priest was a long time returning. When he came back, he had written a schedule for me with train times and temple numbers to be sure I would be back to Number 19 before dinner. Brilliant!

In order to follow his schedule, I would have to leave now; my prayers at Number 19 would wait until the end of the day. I headed back to the station, and caught the train per the priest's schedule.

Temple #22: Byodo-ji (平等寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of Equality
  • Location: Anan, Tokushima; 33.851833,134.582778 (map)
  • Sect: Koyasan Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Yakushi Nyorai
  • Mantra: On-ko-ro-ko-ro-sen-da-ri-ma-tou-gi-so-wa-ka!
  • Goeika:

It's a pleasant half-hour walk from Aratano station to Byodoji, Number 22. The station itself wasn't so pleasant, since a very smelly homeless guy was sleeping in it. (You should have seen the high school girls trying to get around him--the station is about two meters on a side, and he was sleeping diagonally across it. The station is, of course, unattended.)

Number 22 is located in a narrow river valley; you could probably shout across it (and you could certainly yodel across it). The picture shows the view from the top of the hondo steps to the other side of the valley.

The main image, Yakushi Nyorai, is a healer. Because his medicine is available to all--rich and poor, female and male, old and young--the temple is called "The Temple of Equality." (So says Bishop Miyata.) And because he's a healer, this is another temple--like Number 14--that's supposed be littered with canes and crutches left by those who have been healed. Again, I was disappointed.

Until, that is, I finished my prayers. Inside the hondo, in the area where one stands to pray, there are some weird little buildings, like backwoods doll houses. And shoved in next to them were walking sticks forgotten by previous pilgrims (you see a lot of those) and--TA DAAA!! Crutches! (The colorful pieces of paper you see are strings of "a thousand cranes"--a story for another day.)

One more feature at this temple that really caught my eye: to the left of the gate as one enters, there is a long low hut housing a series of statues. The central figure is Emma-O, the king of hell who judges the dead. Next to him stands Jizo-sama, who pleads on the dead's behalf.

And lined up on either side are 13 more judges.

I couldn't resist sharing these with you on this Words and Pictures page. I think they're a real find; yet they're not mentioned in any of the guidebooks I carry with me. 2019: This is no longer true; I've re-arranged the page: "By the way, I've arranged the pictures in left-to-right order as I saw the statues; it makes for a wide page (and a slow download) so you'll have to scroll to see them all. But it's worth it, I swear."]

A pleasant stroll back to the station, a 20-minute train ride, and I was at Hiwasa Station, a half a kilometer from Number 23.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Temple #23: Yakuo-ji (薬王寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of the Medicine King
  • Location: Minami, Tokushima; 33.732306,134.527583 (map)
  • Sect: Koyasan Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Yakushi Nyorai
  • Mantra: On-ko-ro-ko-ro-sen-da-ri-ma-tou-gi-so-wa-ka!
  • Goeika:

This is a seaside town, the first one of all the temple's I've seen so far. You're probably never far from the sea on Shikoku--it's not a big island, but I mean this is the first temple I've visited with an actual sea view.

The next striking thing about this temple is its busharito, or Buddha-reliquary pagoda. (Like the "true cross," if you put all the pieces of the Buddha back together again he'd be the size of Paul Bunyan.) You can see it from the station (and a small replica of it in front of the station). It's a kind of symbol for the town, for obvious reasons: you can see it from everywhere.

After entering the gate, you encounter a series of steps. These are "get rid of unlucky year" steps, like the ones at Number 10. Thirty-three steps for the women's flight, 42 for the men's. (The link to Number 10 explains why.)

Looking up the women's steps

Looking down the men's steps

In a way these are not some "get rid of unlucky year" steps, these are the "get rid of unlucky year" steps. The reason is based on a pun. Bad luck is yaku. (The unlucky years in one's life are called yakudoshi, toshi meaning "year.") And the honzon here is Yakushi Nyorai, the same healing Buddha as at Number 22. The kanji (Chinese characters) are different, but the pronunciation is the same. So the Yakushi of Yakuoji (same kanji) can get rid of your yaku (bad luck; different kanji).

By the way, that's the same building in both "steps" pictures. It stands on a landing between the two flights, making it tough to shoot up the men's or down the women's; hence the different points-of-view.

One more thing about this temple is it's lovely yard on the hondo level. It included this amazingly big tree. That's my six-foot staff stretched across it!

And there is also another group of hell's judges, nowhere near as charming as the ones at Number 22. (I notice these things run in regions; temples 18, 19, 22, and 23 all have giant sandals--and I know Number 20 does from my reading. Yet I don't recall seeing any before this.)

In the yard I met the first non-Japanese person I've talked with on Shikoku. Jonathan is from Nebraska; it's his first trip to Japan with his wife Rumi, a local girl, and her mother. I have seen about four people of European descent since I arrived on this island, but I still haven't seen a non-Japanese pilgrim. (Jonathan was just visiting.)

After getting my book signed I checked the time and YIKES the train was leaving in six minutes! I grabbed my bag, ran down the 42 men's steps and down the 33 women's steps and down a few more steps. Then ran/walked the half a kilometer to the station, shoved a few high school girls out of the way, sprinted across the tracks and jumped onto the train as the door was closing. Thank the gods that (a) you can buy a ticket on the train out in the country, and (b) these little stations just have crosswalks across the tracks instead of overhead bridges, or I'd have missed it for sure.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

The Henro Hierarchy

Back to Number 19, where I got my book signed and said my prayers. The light wasn't so good, so I'll shoot it and tell you about it tomorrow.

Dinner was great: six henro (myself included). Two are pure walkers; one, like myself, is combining walking with some public transportation, and a mother and son are doing it by car. We had a great time talking about the temples we've seen so far. One of the walkers is on his third trek, but this is his first time walking; and the other walker started at Number 40-something, so they also had things to say about the road ahead.

There's something I want to put to rest here and now, then I'll sign off for the night. There is an alleged "caste system" among henro. The walkers are the best, followed by the cyclists and the partial-walkers. Then come the car henro and the taxi henro. At the very bottom are those who do it as part of a tour. Even a sensitive guy like Oliver Statler writes that he is "impatient with motorized henro" and that "riding travesties the pilgrimage." Like many, he says the path is more important than the temples, the string more important than the pearls.

Malarkey. I mean yes, the path is important. But those who travel by bus, taxi, or car have left home and family, isolated themselves from the everyday world, given themselves over to an experience of the "other." Before dinner tonight, I heard the lady traveling by car in her room chanting the Hannya Shingyo repeatedly. This is not the act of a second-rate henro. I spent my first two days as a pure walker, and will have pure walking days again. But never in those days did I or will I look down on a tour bus full of old ladies who show up and pray faithfully. Statler tried a tour bus for a few days and admits that "My fellow henro took what they were doing seriously; they were earnest in their prayers; they all denied that recreation was their primary reason for being there." What more can you ask for? Of course, then he goes on to say, "Riding in a bus is not an ascetic exercise, and so the central meaning of the pilgrimage as it has existed through the centuries is lost."

Romantic crap. "Ascetic exercise"? I don't know about on Shikoku, but the book I read on traveling the Tokaido on foot in the Edo Period is describing a holiday, not an "ascetic exercise." Just because people are walking doesn't mean they're suffering; the mountains of America are full of people walking--for fun!

The point of pilgrimage is being on pilgrimage. It's a matter of adjusting your mind to a different rhythm, your soul dancing to a different tune, your body moving from place to place--by helicopter if necessary--in a pilgrim's progress of the heart. Do you suppose the walking pilgrims on their way to Canterbury or Compostela looked down on those who traveled by horse? Or did they look up in envy? Did the riding gentry look at the walking commoners and think, "Oh, they're the real pilgrims; I'm just a fake!"

Hair shirts are out of style; piety and true devotion transcend technology.

    ← Previous Day Back to Shikoku Pilgrimage Guide Next Day →    

Posted October 11, 2019

No comments:

Post a Comment