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Temples 43 and a Bangai
(Mon., Oct. 29, 2001)

 Monday, October 29th, 2001
See here for the distances between temples

 The Shikoku Pilgrimage

The Ushi-Oni, or "Ox Demon"

The last thing I said yesterday was that I was going to try to find out if bull fights still happen in Uwajima.

They do--five times a year. Some of the dates seem to be of astrological significance--"the third Sunday of March," for instance, near the Spring Equinox. I think I know why.

Bulls are one of the oldest "holy" creatures known to humans. Think of the cows in India, the Golden Calf in the Bible, or just the expression "holy cow." I wish I had Joseph Campbell's Primitive Mythology with me, where he talks at length about the bull's significance.

But one thing I remember is that, because of the crescent of his horns, the bull is considered a lunar symbol. Hence the astrological connections of the bull fights.

By the way, these fights are bull-to-bull. Much like the sumo rikishi ("wrestlers"), the bulls are supposed to try to push one another out of the ring.

Wait, there's more: Uwajima's symbol is a creature called an ushi-oni--ox-demon. Below are three pictures of ushi-oni. The first is a mask at the youth hostel; the second is at the JR station; and the third is a poster for the yearly festival in which a giant ushi-oni is paraded through the streets.

The second picture bears closer inspection: between its horns is a clear crescent moon. My hunch was right! There is a connection between the calendar, the fights, and the sacred character of the bull.

There's a lot more to research here; I'm frustrated by my lack of time and language ability to do so. I hope I can explore this fascinating complex of bullfight, demon, and festival at a later date.

By the way, today was a festival in Uwajima; the Yatsushiki odori or "eight deer dance" was being performed, as it is every October 29th. Indigenous to Tohoku, the far northern region of Honshu, this ceremony was imported to western Japan when a lord was transferred from Sendai. This is the only place in Western Japan where it's performed; I believe it is still done in Tohoku.

This isn't a sightseeing tour, so I bit the bullet and moved on out of Uwajima without sticking around for the festival. Dang, dang, dang.

I caught a train to Unomachi and headed out the two-and-a-half kilometers or so to...

Temple #43: Meiseki-ji (明石寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of Brilliant Stone
  • Location: Seiyo, Ehime; 33.369222,132.518972 (map)
  • Sect: Tendai Buddhism
  • Honzon: Senju Kannon Bosatsu
  • Mantra: On-ba-sa-ra-ta-ra-ma-ki-ri-ku!
  • Goeika:

This place has long been associated with the yamabushi, the mountain ascetics I discussed back at Number 12. It is also closely connected with a priestly family named Akashi. Bishop Miyata points out that the temple's name and the family's name are variant readings of the same kanji (Chinese characters).

Also on the grounds are these interesting old buildings. They're located behind the proper buildings of a small Shinto shrine; that's the hondo of the temple just past the end of the longer building. The longer building had a total of nine little rooms. Most of them had only a small round mirror hanging inside (others had nothing at all). The doors appear to have had some kind of wooden locking mechanism which is now gone.

For the life of me I couldn't figure out what these holy chicken coops were for.

Walking back to the station I received still more mikan, this time from an old lady on a bicycle. (Later in the day I received some from some old men near Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama.) I swear my skin should be turning orange from all the mikan I've received as o-settai.


Main Gate

Main Hall

Daishi Hall

Bangai: Eitokuji (永徳寺)
  • Meaning: The Temple of Eternal Virtue
  • Nickname: Toyogahashi, or "Ten Nights Bridge"
  • Location: Ōzu, Ehime; 33.523333, 132.581806 (map)
  • Sect: Omura-ha Shingon Buddhism
  • Honzon: Kobo Daishi
  • Mantra: Na-mu-dai-shi-hen-jo-kon-go!
  • Goeika:

Another local train took me to Ozu, where I got off to visit a bangai. I think you know how I feel about these by now, but the Bishop said "one must visit it on his Shikoku circuit." He doesn't say this about any other bangai--including another that I skipped today, which is the temple where Bishop Miyata was born! (Even Statler doesn't include that one in his list of 52 bangai; could the Bishop have included it only for personal reasons?)

But this really was a good one, with a great story. In his wanderings, apparently the Daishi wasn't accustomed to sleeping out. On a particular night, he was unable to find accommodations, and ended up sleeping under a bridge.

The site is still there, though his bridge is long gone. It's a little odd to walk down off the modern road, under a concrete bridge, and see this little shrine...

...that includes the sleeping Daishi. (Naturally there's a real temple--Eitokuji--up above, on the road.)

He was so incensed at his treatment that he wrote a poem about it; as published by Statler it reads:
They will not help a traveler in trouble--
This one night seems like ten.
So the name of the bridge is Toyogahashi, or "Ten Nights Bridge." The Bishop's gloss on the poem indicates that in an atmosphere lacking kindness, life seems long.

I can relate. The second night of my trip, I was unable to find accommodations, and ended up sleeping in the bicycle parking area of a new apartment building. Although I slept well enough, the experience of being unable to find a place when I was exhausted led to a restructuring of my travel technique (which some are still chiding me about). I had announced plans to sleep out as much as possible on this trip; when it became impractical, I changed my plan. It's good to know that even the mighty Daishi sought daily shelter, and b*tched when he couldn't find it.

There's an ironic twist to the story of the Daishi's sleeping out. In the Bishop's account of each temple, he always tells us as a matter of course if the temple offers lodging or not. At the end of the story of the Toyogahashi Bridge, we read:

"Accommodations are available near the bridge."

Sure they are--now.

By the way, I discussed some "bridge lore" back on my first day on the pilgrimage; this story is the incident mentioned there.

Leaving Ozu, I trained to Matsuyama, where after a little trouble I found the youth hostel. I'll be here for a few nights, heading out to temples in the nearby countryside each day.

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Posted October 14, 2019

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