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To Be a Pilgrim: The Yamato Leg

My Aki Meguri ("Autumn Journey") was made up of three "legs": This--the second one--as well as two more: the Old Tokaido Leg before this one, and the Shikoku Leg after it. On this page, I have compiled two pages from my old site:
So, without further ado...

An Introduction to the Yamato Leg

Click to enlarge
When patriots speak of the uniqueness of the Japanese, they refer to Yamato Damashii, the Soul of Yamato. A woman who embodies all the graces and virtues of traditional Japan is called Yamato Nadeshiko, a Flower of Yamato. The "true" Japanese is of the Yamato race, and the purest language is the "speech of Yamato." Japan as we know it begins with the founding of the Yamato court.

This idea is so old, and runs so deep, that scholars cannot agree when and where the Yamato Court existed. In a way, it is almost mythical.

However, many consider the area around ancient Nara to have been the center of the Yamato district, and it is so designated today.

My route took me through the following places:

  • Nara: This is one of Japan's primary tourist destinations, and with good reason. Horyuji is said to have the oldest wooden buildings in the world; Todaiji houses the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, one of the largest bronze images in the world, and whose hall is the largest wooden building in the world. Despite all these "-est"s, there is a peaceful sense to the place, reinforced by the Deer Park in the center of town.
  • Asuka: The heart of ancient Yamato, Asuka has old burial mounds (kofun), the foundations of a palace, and mysterious carved stones resembling monkeys, turtles, and human beings, as well as seemingly abstract geometrical patterns. It is also home to Asukadera, which claims to be Japan's oldest temple and houses Japan's oldest statue of the Buddha.
  • Mount Koya: Or as I call it, Heaven on Earth. One is greeted by a great gate at the "front" of this mountain-top complex; at the far end one reaches the mausoleum containing the remains of Kobo Daishi who, it is said, is not dead, but is in "eternal meditation." Many pilgrims begin their trip to Shikoku here, paying respects to the pilgrimage's legendary founder.

Along the way, I stopped at a number of the temples that are part of the Saigoku Sanjusan Reijo, the Pilgrimage to 33 Temples Sacred to Kannon in West Japan.

Then I went on to Shikoku.

Places I Visited in the Yamato Region

No distances are given as this was a sort of "staycation," not a forward march. See the Logbook pages for more on these incredible sights. (The sect and in some cases the figure on the main altar are given under "Prayed at." The Shaka Nyorai at Asukadera--though heavily repaired--is said to be the oldest in Japan!) All dates are 2001.

Place Visited Prayed at Slept at
Wed., Oct 10 Nara Nannendo; Todaiji; Saidaiji; Kikoji; The Tomb of Emperor Suinin; Toshodaiji; Yakushiji; Horyuji Todaiji; Kegon
(Great Buddha = Vairocana)
Nara Seishonen Kaikan YH
Thu., Oct 11 Asuka Asukadera; The Monkey Stones Asukadera; Shingon
(Shaka Nyorai)
Fri., Oct 12 Koya-san The Garan on Mount Koya The Great Stupa, Garan, Koyasan; Shingon (Dainichi Nyorai) Koyasan YH
Sat., Oct 13 Koya-san The Okunoin on Mount Koya The Okunoin, Koyasan; Shingon (Kobo Daishi himself!) Shikoku Pilgrimage Temple #2

A Yamato Resource

Online information on this area is abundant. For starters, try the fascinating Rekishi Kaido (History Highway) site.

Updated September 16, 2019

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