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The Sons of Emon Saburo

Note: This selection of Words-and-Pictures was made on October 31, 2001, as I visited Japan's Shikoku Pilgrimage.

These mounds are part of a major legend of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage: the Legend of Emon Saburo. The graves of Emon Saburo's sons are located between on the Pilgrimage. More specifically, they are in a rice field located between a bangai (unnumbered temple) representing Emon Saburo's front gate, and another bangai at the site of the hermitage where Kobo Daishi was living at the time of the story. You can read more about my visit to these graves, and more about Emon Saburo's legend, in my Logbook.

As one leaves the bangai that represents the site where Emon Saburo dashed the Daishi's begging bowl to the ground, it's a short way up a country road to a left turn. From there the road heads into rice fields. Soon, at a small cluster of houses, one sees a mound on the left of the road, looking for all the world like one of the ichirizuka* that mark the Tokaido highway. But this one has a statue of Jizo, patron of dead children, on top, as well as several other old stones.

It is the first of eight burial mounds said to be those of the sons of Emon Saburo, who died because of their father's stinginess.

At first, I saw only this one mound. Then, looking across the narrow lane, I saw the second.

After that, I was stumped. There was a house next to the second mound; as it turns out, it was blocking the view of the others. Walking down the side lane next to the house, I encountered an old man and woman combing rice stalks. Asking directions, I was told to back up about five steps, and follow a path about two feet (60 centimeters) wide between two buildings. A pit bull--caged at eye level--was going mad barking at me as I passed, scarier than any Nio**. At the end of this small lane stood the third mound.

Returning to the lane where the old folks were, I asked if only three mounds remained. (Statler affirmed that there were eight just thirty years ago.) Laughing, they told me to step past the next building. I did--and saw two more mounds in an open field. "Five?" I asked. No, they said, climb the fourth one and you'll see the rest.

Indeed--there were five mounds in the open, plus the two near the houses and the one across the first road, eight in all. Each has, as Statler described, a statue of Jizo and a tree (though the tree on the sixth mound is new).

*The mounds, located one ri apart, on the Old Tokaido. One ri was the distance a burdened man could walk in one hour, equivalent to a little less than four modern kilometers. Read here about one of the best of the many sets of ichirizukas that I saw.

**The Nio are the frightening gate guardians one sees when entering a Buddhist temple. You can see examples on my pages for Kasadera Kannon and Horyuji, and perhaps the most famous pair in Japan (in a magnificent gate) at Todaiji.

The First Mound: In this shot, I've passed the mound and am looking back at it; it's on the left side as one approaches from the bangai at Emon Saburo's gate.

The Second Mound: This mound--unlike all the others--is so heavily overgrown that I almost didn't recognize it as a mound at all. There is a Jizo at the top, however, through all this foliage.

The Third Mound: This is the one located between houses.

The Fourth Mound: This is the first of the "field" mounds. It's actually right next to a house, but from it one can see most of the other mounds across the fields.

The Fifth Mound: The Jizo is behind the tree in this shot. Notice that the mound is covered by recently-cut grass, as were all of the field mounds. They were probably taller-looking--and greener!--a week or so ago.

The Sixth Mound: Something must have killed the tree on this mound; this little spindly character is nothing compared to the patriarchs on the other mounds.

The Seventh Mound: Severely cut back, this tree continues to sprout nevertheless. I imagine the rice farmers don't want these trees throwing too much shade on the fields, so they keep them pretty spare.

The Eighth Mound: This one has a more abrupt shape than the others; also, the tree behind the Jizo may be dead.

A close up of the Jizo on the eighth mound; as nearly as I could tell all the Jizos were identical.

Looking back, we see the eight and seventh mounds on the right. Numbers six and five seem to blend into one on the left. The fourth mound is visible in the center, in front of the white wall; and to the right of the white wall is part of the foliage from the third mound, which is located between houses. Numbers two and one are beyond the buildings behind the fourth mound.

Posted October 15, 2019

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