Epilogue: Kyoto

Since we used the bus and train for our pilgrimage, we had unanticipated extra time at the end of our trip. Ann was interested in visiting Kyoto, and I am always up for a trip to my old hometown of Kobe. I also was interested in going to Mt. Koya, the traditional place to begin and end one’s Shikoku Pilgrimage.

We took the bus from Takamatsu to Kyoto, arriving on a weekend at the very dizzying height of cherry blossom season. The city was packed with tourists. I felt like the country bumpkins, agape, coming to the big city. We had just spent the last five weeks or so wandering around the hinterlands of Shikoku, a place where the city of Matsuyama (population of half a million) is a lot of people. Now, we were in the Kansai megalopolis, population of more like 23 million people, in arguably the tourist epicenter of Japan. There were so many people. There were so many gaijin. It was overwhelming.

Kyoto - Golden Pavillion

Golden Pavillion

Kyoto - Golden Pavillion pond

At the pond of the Golden Pavillion








My goals in Kyoto were to see two tourist attractions that I missed the last time – the Golden Pavilion, and Ryoanji. Did we see these? Yes. Did ten trillion other people seemingly go there? Yes.

We also did the Philosophers’ Walk. Doing this famous stroll at Hanami, cherry blossom viewing season, on a Saturday was a bit nuts. Think of the density of sunny Bumbershoot, and you’ll get the sense of this. We visited the Silver Pavilion along the way.

Kyoto - Silver Pavilion

Silver Pavilion

Kyoto - boat and blossoms

Boat along the river in Kyoto








Kyoto - Nigiri maker

Nigiri maker

We dodged off the path for lunch, and went to a little hole-in-the-wall nigiri (rice ball) establishment. I chatted with the nigiri maker – he was impressed that we had completed the 88 Temples of Shikoku pilgrimage. When he asked why we did it, and I translated what Ann said, “to be closer to God”, and I told him, to gain divine guidance, I think he got nervous that we were a couple of religious nuts. Heh. I think it’s much more acceptable in Japan to do the pilgrimage in honor and memory of a dead relative than to do it for any true spiritual purpose.

After this, we walked to see the Heian Shrine, and then went to the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts. This museum not only had displays of the many traditional handicrafts, they also had galleries of contemporary artisans working in these crafts. I bought my brother a birthday present here.

The next day, I took off by myself to go to the headquarters of Rinzai Zen, the denomination that I studied under when I lived in Japan in my salad days. I had completely forgotten that this set of temples contained my most favorite garden in all of Japan, and it was beyond my dreams to stumble on it again.

Kyoto - Boddhidharma


Kyoto - Rinzai garden 2 Kyoto - Rinzai garden

I love this garden because of how it takes the hardscape and rectilinear lines of the building, and carries them into the plantings, and slowly eases the squares until they fade into the softscape of the shrubs and trees. I believe that this garden is set up to be a three dimensional representation of the meditative process – to go from ordinary consciousness,  with its rules and limitations, and unnatural straight lines – to meditative consciousness, soft, lush, green, and natural.

It’s clearly set up as an autumnal garden – there’s not a single cherry tree – but lots of beautiful maples, and it would be stunning in the fall.


I could sit on the veranda and look out at this garden forever.

I didn’t though – I called Ann, and we rendezvoused over at a shrine at the north end of town, that was going to do a cherry blossom festival. They carried out portable shrines out on to the street with drums and dancing.

First came the children, with a shrine that was on wheels, and could be dragged. They had some adults helping them.

Kyoto - children getting ready to roll their shrine


Then the women came out, carrying their shrine.


Kyoto - women carrying their shrine


Then the men came, carrying the largest and heaviest shrine. They worked in shifts, because of the difficulty of carrying the load and doing the dance step at the same time.

Kyoto - men carrying their shrine

After we saw their parade, Ann and I went to eat some Italian-ish food nearby.

Kyoto - Zen garden

Camilias at the water

After lunch, we split up again, and I went to see some Zen gardens that were only open for a week or two during this time of the year, because of the great crush of people who come at cherry blossom season, while Ann saw some more generally splendid and famous World Heritage Site temples. While these were interesting to view, and I appreciated the rare opportunity to walk through them, none touched me as much as the Rinzai garden that I saw that morning.


Temples 87 and 88

Estimated distance walked this day:  10 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 447 kms


Pilgrims walking to the hondo

temple 87 cherries

Cherry blossoms at Temple 87

Temple 87 Chanting

Chanting at Temple 87 with a monk and another pilgrim.

This was our final day on the Shikoku Pilgrimage. We took the train to the end of the Kotoden Nagao line, and walked about five minutes to Nagaoji. Nagaoji has a wide and spacious feeling to its temple courtyard, and a beautiful roof line on its main hall.  Since we were coming to the end of our journey, I did a full set of prayers and chanting.

After we finished at Nagaoji, it took a little backing and forthing on the main road to find our bus stop. We should have been able to identify it because it had the 1200th Pilgrimage Anniversary banner right at the stop – duh. We waited for a good hour for the community bus to arrive.

Temple 88 Mt Nyotai

Walking through the temple gates – you can see Ann ahead.

Temple 88 Staff collection

Pilgrims’ staffs collected for burning at Temple 88

After the few locals were dropped off at places like the local rec center, all the remaining passengers were pilgrims. The bus climbed up into the mountains, winding its way until we reached Temple 88, Ōkuboji, located less than a kilometer from the summit for Mount Nyotai. In my excitement to reach our final destination, I left my walking stick on the bus!

At Temple 88

I made it!

Since this is the final temple on the pilgrimage, it was one of the larger complexes. Many pilgrims leave their staff at Temple 88 to be burned, and we saw hundreds of staffs collected for this purpose. Even if I had wanted to do this, I couldn’t, as my staff was now wasurimono.

Since this was our last temple, again, I did all my prayers and chanting to completeness. Then, we went to the stamp office to have our nokyo books stamped. There, Ann and also completed a survey (they had them in several languages) about our experience as pilgrims.

On the bus back from Temple 88

On the bus back from Temple 88

We also walked around the general area of the temple, where we could see magnificent views into the valley. As I looked at the beautiful mountains, I thought seriously about walking down at least part of the way, rather than taking the bus back to train station. But this seemed unnecessary. I was now done.  So we ate our lunch, and waited for the bus. When the bus appeared, there was my staff, right in the front! So it was not permanently wasurimono, and I was glad to have it back with me.

We returned to Nagao, then got back on the train, and rode it all the way back to Takamatsu. Ann and I went to an Irish pub to celebrate our completion of the pilgrimage. We ate fish and chips, and drank Guinness on tap, and chatted with the barkeep, a half-Japanese, half-Sri Lankan guy without any Irish blood.  He gave us a little Ceylonese curry to use as a dip for the chips. Ann is sufficiently in touch with her Irish heritage that she impressed him with her ability to sling Gaeilge around.  This was a jolly end to our last official day on the henro trail.

Temples 84, 85, and 86

Estimated distance walked this day:  15 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 437 kms

Ann heading up the hill: sign says it’s a 21% grade

This day was devoted to visiting the remaining temples in or immediately around Takamatsu. We took a little train that got us about 45 minutes from Temple 84, Yashimaji. This temple was at the top of a lava plateau, nearly 300 m tall (about a thousand feet), and the climb up was pretty steep.

Temple 84 - devotional on the ascent

Small shrine on the way up to Temple 84

We could see a funicular track, and out of curiosity, we walked to its base. It was clearly abandoned, its paint peeling. It is possible that when they built the toll road to the top of Yashima, the funicular went out of business. Well, we weren’t taking either one – we found the walking trail instead. There were a number of people walking up the hill, either as pilgrims, or perhaps on a morning constitutional.

maternal badger

Badger Shrine

Temple 84 - hondo

Hondo at Temple 84

We finally made it to the top, and entered the temple gates. The stately main hall for the temple had fading paint, which I felt made it look more charming. Immediately adjacent to the temple was a Shinto shrine, honoring the tanuki, an animal sort of like a badger or raccoon. Tanuki are very popular in Japanese folklore, and you see statues of them all over Japan. Since it is reputed to mate for life, a tanuki is symbolic of marital happiness. This particular shrine was devoted to the tanuki as loving mother, and it had a statue of a tanuki with rather human-like breasts, nursing a cub.

We also visited the temple’s museum. Many temples have ancient artifacts, but no way to display them , so they just come out once a year, or on special occasions. I figured it was worth five hundred yen to thank Yashimaji for having some way for the general public to view their treasures.

Ann at the viewpoint

After we got our book stamped, I asked the way to the trail to leave the mountain, and the temple staff person said that we would be well served by walking to the viewpoint before we left the hill. So we came back out the temple gates we entered, and then walked out to the viewpoint. She was right – it was well-worth the additional walk, as we could see not just central Takamatsu, but out over the islands of the Inland Sea.

We walked around the top of Yashima, and saw a large abandoned building next to the abandoned funicular station. It looked like a dormitory to me, but maybe it was an old hotel? Ah, the wonders of the internets – the answer (and many more pictures) is here.

coming down the hill from Yashima

Ann coming to the bottom of the trail

Temple 84 descent historical site

Cherry blossoms at their height

The trail on the way down was a lot steeper than the way up, and I sorely missed my pilgrim’s staff, which I left back in the hotel room. We needed to return to sea level, so we could climb up to the next hillside temple, Yakuriji, Temple 85.

We crossed the water. Now, we were coming up the next hill, and my eyes were peeled for the noodle shop indicated in my map book. I had nearly given up hope, but it appeared, and we got lunch.

Temple 86 - pilgrims returning

Pilgrims on the funicular

Cable Car station cable car

Unlike the previous hill, this one had a working funicular to get us to the top. It was also just a bit higher up than the previous hill, so we sprang for the fare. We didn’t have to walk far to reach the temple.

Temple 85 Cherries Temple 85Temple 86 - mountain behind

The temple complex burnt to the ground during the Warring States period, and suffered again during a major earthquake about three hundred years ago.

The mountain on which this temple sits is famous for its granite quarries. On the way up, and then on the way down, we saw many small granite carving places, where they make statuary for gardens or funeral markers. We saw a somberly dressed family apparently choosing a headstone as we walked along.

shidoji pagoda

Shidoji’s pagoda

Shidoji was our final temple of the day. You can see its five story pagoda from all directions. It was established in 693 CE, but burnt down six times before 1500 CE. The King of the Dead is the patron spirit of this temple, and each time it was destroyed, someone went to his kingdom to get his blessings on the new construction project.

After we finished at Shidoji, we were to take the local train back to Takamatsu. Clearly I was too tired, because I guided us on to the express completely in the opposite direction. The conductor was bemused by our predicament, but also let us know that he would only let us return on a local (getting us back to Takamatsu maybe – maybe – before bedtime) unless we ponied up 500 yen to be able to correct our error using an express. It took a good half hour before we could even get off the train, and then we had to wait for one going the other direction, and even with it being an express, it was still an hour’s ride back into town.

When we finally got there, we ate at an Italian restaurant in Takamatsu. I drank my only glass of red wine on the trip there.

Temple 83

Estimated distance walked this day:  5 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 422 kms

We took the train into the city of Takamatsu, dumped our bags at our hotel, and then went back out into the countryside, or at least, outer suburbia, to Ichinomiyaji, Temple 83. You are supposed to crawl on your hands and knees through the red torii gates pictured below, to rid yourself of bad karma and impure desires. We did not do this, but we didn’t see anyone else do it, either. So much for ascetic discipline. Instead, we enjoyed the cherry blossoms, which were really beginning to pop.

temple 83temple 83 with Claire

temple 83 jizo temple 83 cherries

This was the only temple on our list to see that day. Our next destination was Ritsurin Garden, considered to be one of the three most beautiful in Japan.

Before we got there, we wanted to get lunch. The tourist information office provided us with a udon “passport”. Udon, a thick wheat noodle, is a local specialty. I guess the idea is that you are supposed to go to all the noodle shops in the passport and get them stamped. I can’t imagine doing this, as there was at least two dozen listed, but we headed to the one that was near the garden. The lunch line was enormous, but the place was a partly self-serve, and it was very efficient. Ann kindly shared her fried eggplant with me – something I missed on the self-service line – a favor I will not soon forget.

After lunch, we walked around the gardens.

 Ritsurin Garden 3 Ritsurin Garden 4jpg Ritsurin Garden 2Ritsurin Garden 5

They really were quite lovely, especially in the spring sunshine, and with all those cherry blossoms. I also ate a rather memorable green tea ice cream cone there.

The rest of the afternoon, we just walked around central Takamatsu. With the pilgrimage almost done, we felt no pressure to do much more than that.

Temples 81 and 82

Estimated distance walked this day:  21 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 417 kms

(Before I go into the narrative, a side note: I tried mapping out this route, just to see if I could do it – and also to verify that my estimates of our total walking distances are not that far off. If you’re interested in seeing it, go to: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=6282912)

Our innkeeper, again conscious he was serving Westerners, gave us ham and a sausage instead of fish with breakfast. Then, we left the inn and went to Poplar, a convi, and got ourselves sack lunches. The rain of the previous two days had dissipated, and the sky was a mix of clouds and sun.

Along the way up

View along the way

This area is famous for its growing of bonsai trees, and along the way out of the valley floor, we passed by many bonzai nurseries. This was our last real mountain temple hike, and I was already feeling sentimental. The route started off like so many other mountain temple hikes: first a road leading from the valley floor, then a steeper road, then a trail, then a series of steps up.

When we first started along the trail, there was the usual sign warning us about pit vipers. Here, a group from the local ornithological club gave us a specific sort of bird seed to leave along the trail to encourage some particular type of bird. We climbed the endless steps up the trail. Just before the top, there was a henro hut with a view. We didn’t stop for long, but continued until we were at the road.

We were then at ridge top of the Goshikidai Plateau, which juts into the Inland Sea between Sakaide. Goshiki means five colors, and each peak that makes up the plateau is assigned a different color: Konomine (Crimson Peak), Kinomine (Yellow Peak), Kuromine (Black Peak), Aomine (Blue Peak), and Shiramine (White Peak). Just take that “Shiramine” and add the suffix “-ji” for temple, and that’s where we were headed: Shiromineiji, Temple 81. We saw both recreational cyclists, and recreational motorists in a fancy German sports cars, enjoying the road that winds among these mountains.

The road that connected the climb up with the next trailhead mostly want along what we finally sussed out to be a military base. After we left the road, the trail was a bit muddy from the previous days’ rains. It was flattish-downhill, and then we were there.

Emperor Sūtoku, the one who was assassinated and then floated in the pond for three weeks back at Temple 79 is buried here. I personally am happier to think of him in the ground than in the water. Because of the temple’s association with an emperor, it also had a large Shinto shrine adjacent. Scenes from the grounds:

temple 81 kitties temple 81 sacred chicken temple 81

The temple’s website states, with regard to the pilgrimage:

It is a training journey to reconsider themselves that are kept alive in nature. In addition, regardless of denomination, it is also a place of faith wishes of the people to be the worship is fulfilled. Wave of violent Pacific Ocean, sacred mountains, inland sea, the steep Shikoku, mild Seto, rural and laid back, full of change, leaving the earthly affairs, and contact with the nature, to feel the joy of living, body and soul of reincarnation ‘s a pilgrim journey.

While the machine translation is a little awkward, it’s also sort of poetic. I like it. It is the perfect sum of our journey.

Wild camellia in bloom

Wild camellia in bloom

We ate a snack before we left the temple, then headed back up the muddy track. This time instead of rejoining the road, we continued on a wooded trail, skirting between two peaks. I think this is where we scattered the seeds from the bird watching group. When we came out on to the road again, there was a fairly well-built henro hut, a small shrine, and public rest rooms. We ate lunch here.

It wasn’t far from there to Negoroji, Temple 82. This temple started off with the large image of a demonic cow (I kid you not). Supposedly, in the 16th century, this bovine demon appeared frequently on this plateau and scared the local people. A brave samurai named Kurando Yamada, an archery expert, shot it, cut off its head, and brought the horns to the temple. The people believed that it had the power to purge an evil force. Later, they built a statue of the demon near the fountain in the temple compound, which you can see here:

Temple 82's Cow Demon

Temple 82’s Cow Demon

The temple had both steps up and down to connect its buildings around the mountainside. It was quite beautiful to explore.


Temple 82 ctemple 82 dTemple 82 b

After we left Temple 82, we backtracked our way to the intersection of roads, shrine, and henro hut, and had another break. We continued back along the trail that we came, and I was pleased that I was able to find the intersection with the trail that would take us directly back to our original intersection with the road at the top of the Plateau.

Temple 82 return - morel

Early morel (Verpa Bohemica) growing trailside

This was a pleasant, relatively flat course through the woods. We found our intersection with the road, and started heading down the steep trail. A teenaged couple were at the henro hut, romantically looking at the view, no doubt.

It was now a reverse course down all those steps we had climbed in the morning, and then down the road, until we were at the valley floor once again. At this point, after a good long day of hiking, it was nearly 5:00 PM. We both had good long soaks in the tub at the inn, and then ate the supper our host made for us with gusto.

Temples 78, 79, and 80

Estimated distance walked this day:  9 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 395 kms

We had another easy day planned, and had only two temples on our list to visit. We left the city of Zentsuji in the morning, and took the train to Gōshōji, Temple 78. While it was originally a Shingon temple, today, it is one of the few temples on the pilgrim path that is a part of the Pure Land sect. I know that Westerners have a tendency to idealize Buddhism, and believe that Buddhists have never engaged in holy wars or try to convert others to their particular brand of Buddhism. Well, they don’t know the history of Buddhism in Japan. At one point, in the 13th century, the fight on the holy site of Mt. Koya between the monks of the Shingon sect and the followers of the Pure Land sect became so bloody, that the shogun had to intervene. All the Pure Land Buddhists were ordered off the mountain, and they were mostly resettled at this temple. It then prospered as a training center for this sect.

Temple 78 Gōshōji

The temple itself was beautiful, set into a hill overlooking Sakaide’s harbor. A lengthy suspension bridge connects Sakaide with the main island of Japan, Honshu, and you could see the bridge spanning the waters of the Inland Sea.

Cave of Buddhas

It also had an extensive cave of golden statues, mostly of  the Amida Buddha, also of different boddhisatvas. It had a mysterious (but not at all creepy) flavor, to enter the dark cave and see the statues glinting in the lantern and candle light.

After visiting Temple 78, we returned down the hill, and had lunch at a somewhat higher end coffee shop, a cut above our usual workingmen’s noodle house. Along the way, we saw in a window a series of sculptures covered in 5 yen pieces.

Five Yen Lion

We then set out for Tennōji, Temple 79. There’s more than one temple on the trail with this name, because it means “Emperor’s Temple”. In this particular instance, it was named for an emperor who was exiled to Shikoku in the 1100s, and then, after he died, his body was stored in the temple’s pond. This story, frankly, sort of grossed me out – the idea that for three weeks a putrefying body was floating in a pond, and I confess, I did not spend a lot of time looking for the pond on the temple grounds.  Plus, the temple was undergoing extensive repairs, and there was not a lot to see. Instead, since the temple is sort of a two-fer, with an extensive shrine adjacent to it. we probably spent more time at the shrine than we did the temple.


Shrine at Temple 79 – main torii gate

Me entering the gates of Temple 80 - and another pilgrim following me

Me at the gates of Temple 80 – and another pilgrim following me

We then dropped down to the train station. We caught the small train out to Kokubu. While it was getting late in the afternoon, since we had the time right then, we decided to walk from the train station to the nearby Kokubuji, Temple 80. We were able to visit this temple before it shut down for the day. This temple has a huge (16′) Kannon statue with eleven faces and forty-two arms.

Temple 80 – elusive dragon of enlightenment

After our visit, we walked down the busy road to our inn. The inn that was both closer to the train station and Temple 80 was full, and it always makes me a little nervous to be in what is everyone else’s second choice.

But as it turns out, this tiny inn was clean and pleasant, and probably was second-choice only because it was, indeed, further down the road. An older man ran the place, and we were the only guests. I could tell that he thought we were a curious pair. Once again, out of deference to us being Westerners, we got what is thought of as Western food with our evening meal: a piece of fried chicken, tiny hamburger, a potato croquette, along with the usual miso soup, white rice, pickles, and salad.

Temples 76 & 77

Estimated distance walked this day:  9 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 386 kms

There was rain in the forecast, and at this point, we knew we’d have plenty of time to complete the pilgrimage, so we had a couple of relatively easy days in the plan. First, we walked over to Konzōji, Temple 76, about 3 kms from our hotel. This temple used to contain the home of General Nogi, which might be meaningful to you if you knew who he was (I confess, we didn’t). A monk was leading a small family group around the temple grounds in prayers and chanting. My guess is that he was hired for the day to guide the family around the local temple(s?) to help them mourn a recently lost family member – but I don’t know.

Ann about to enter Temple 76

Ann about to enter Temple 76; cherry blossoms in full flower now

Monk leading a family in prayer

Monk leading a family in prayer

Temple 77

Temple 77

Then we continued on to Dōryūji, Temple 77. It’s another temple that is one-tenth its original size after having been burnt to the ground during the Warring States period. A long line of modern boddhisatvas leads the way in.  It’s one of those equal opportunity temples with a Shinto shrine in the middle, so if you want to hedge your bets, you can pray to either set of deities.

Flower pots

Flower pots on the way to Marugame

This was it for temple visiting for the day. We walked on to central Marugame and had  lunch at a coffee shop. One of the patrons wanted to practice his English on us, as he is in training to be a travel guide, and we had a nice conversation. After we had lunch, for osettai, he drove us to our next destination, the Marugame Paper Fan Museum. Marugame factories produce 90% of the bamboo fans made in Japan. The museum is tiny, but it is free. It mostly exists, I think, to sell paper fans to tourists in its gift shop. I did buy some paper fans at the gift shop, too – but I sent them home as souvenirs by slow boat, as I was worried that they were too delicate to carry for the rest of the trip. I hope they arrive before summer’s over, so that the recipients of the fans can enjoy using them in our upcoming warm weather at home.


Bamboo fan frames

Bamboo fan frames

Craftsman making fans

Craftsman making fans










The best part of the fan museum had a live demonstration of how fans are traditionally made. The craftsman had the sharpest imaginable knife, and was cutting bamboo rapidly, then spreading it to make a frame, then weaving it to hold the spines in place.

Director of a nonprofit organization that helps the elderly (and her two daughters)

Director of a nonprofit organization that helps the elderly (and her two daughters) in central Marugame

After we visited the fan museum, we walked around Marugame a bit. Marugame is a depressed “rust belt” city that has seen a lot of its manufacturing leave. Like Mishima to the west, and Sakaide to the east, it still has some of its factories, but we also saw a lot of boarded up store fronts. While we were walking around, we came across a place providing volunteer and adult day services for frail and disabled elderly. I really wish I had better language skills so I could have had a more in-depth conversation about her program and what services they provide.

After our stroll, we had an early supper of regionally famous Marugame roasted chicken, and returned back to Zentsuji for the night.

Temples 71, 72, 73, 74, 75

Estimated distance walked this day:  16 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 377 kms

On the way to Iyadaniji

On the way to Iyadaniji

It was another clear and sunny morning when we took the train out to Takase station. We had been walking a few miles towards Iyadaniji, Temple 71, when we came to a henro hut. This one had a water trough, presumably for washing, and although it was still relatively early in the morning, I took off my boots and soaked my feet in the cool water.

On the way to Iyadaniji, we once again had the experience of an elderly person appearing out of nowhere, asking us if we were on the way to [insert name of temple here]. and then telling us that we needed to turn right now, rather than continue on our way. Having the help was appreciated, but from time to time I wonder if these elderly people sit around in their gardens all day, waiting for pilgrims to go astray, so they can direct us onto the proper path.




Pagoda on the Iyadaniji Hillside

Pagoda on the Iyadaniji Hillside

How Many Steps?

How Many Steps?

Haiku Man

Haiku Jaya owner and his tea shop


As we got closer to the temple, the road began to climb. Before the gates there was a tea shop selling omochi, and the owner came out when I looked at his wares, but I told him I’d be buying on our way out. It was one of those temples where they put the gates relatively low on the hillside, but the temple is hundreds of stone steps above. This temple had several levels of buildings scaled up the slope, and little shrines in caves and niches, so it took awhile to visit them all. They also had a relatively extensive area inside (after you took your shoes off) to explore and use for worship and meditation.

After we saw the temple and came down all those steps, I returned to the tea shop. He sold me the omochi, and then brought out free green tea for us to drink as osettai. He told us that his shop’s name was Haiku-Jaya – The Haiku Tea Shop. He told us of all the previous customers who had stopped for tea and snacks, and then wrote haiku – and showed us how his tea shop ceiling had poems hanging from the ceiling and the walls. He then invited us to write haiku, which we did. Ann’s had a line, “God’s love is burning”, which he found puzzling. I think perhaps he was thinking more of pain associated with a burn, rather than something that is warm and illuminating. My poem read:

Crossing river’s mouth
Pilgrims’ hats flap in the breeze
Grey clouds glowering

I was trying to convey what it was like to take the ferry at Tanezaki, to get to Sekkeiji, Temple 33. Haiku are supposed to convey impermanence, and I was trying to give a sense of the change from a sunny day to the wind blowing in the gathering clouds (and the following day’s drenching rain). I am not sure if I was entirely successful.

We probably could have sat there and written haiku and drunk tea into the afternoon, but instead we set off through the forest. After we came out of the woods, despite the snack. I was pretty hungry. But there really wasn’t a place to eat our picnic – we were walking parallel to the expressway, and then along busy Route 11. Finally, we had the chance to get off the road, and sit at a small temple (not officially on the pilgrim path), Shichibutsuji, which overlooked a small lake – a welcome respite from that highway.



The next two temples, Manadaraji (Temple 72) and Shusshakaji (Temple 73) were up a bit, and then a half km up a bit more on the hillside. We could see Shashingadake Zenjo, near the top of Mt. Gahaishi, and were glad we weren’t walking there, at least that day.

Temple 72

At Manadarji Temple 72

How many statues of Kobo Daishi do you really need?

Shusshakaji,Temple 73, Shashingadake Zenjo high on the hillside behind. You can’t have too many statues of Kobo Daishi in front of your temple, can you?

Looking out of Temple 74

Looking out of Koyamaji, Temple 74

As we dropped back down, we returned into a more industrial landscape. Coming to Koyamaji, Temple 74, reminded us that not every temple overlooks a scenic sea coast or graces a mountain top. The location for this temple came to Kobo Daishi in a vision he had at Mt. Koya. I am not sure the factory smokestacks and cranes were a part of this vision. Despite the general location, the temple was able to make the most of its setting against the hill, and was still able to convey a sense of peace.

Koyamaji, Temple 74, Hondo

Koyamaji, Temple 74, Hondo









It was only a km and a half to our final temple of the day, Zentsuji, Temple 75, but we were pretty tired, carrying our full packs in the sun all day. The path markers from 74, though, seemingly dropped us. Perhaps I should have had greater faith, and kept on going, looking for the little path along the drainage ditch, but instead I routed us along the driving route to the temple, because I knew we’d get there for sure. This was less scenic, I’m sure, and had a lot more traffic, but what the heck. The downside was that it ended up in the enormous Zentsuji parking lot, as opposed to the main temple gates.

Bridge from the parking lot into Zentsuji, Temple 75

Bridge from the parking lot into Zentsuji, Temple 75

And this made a difference, in that Zentsuji has the most extensive temple grounds of any along the henro trail. Sometimes I’d read about the history of one temple or another, and the guide book says something like, “The temple had a complex of 124 buildings, all of which were burnt to the ground during the Warring States period…“, and I’d look around, and there’s a belltower and gates; the hondo, with the buddha enshrined; a hall for honoring Kobo Daishi; and, the temple office.  And that’s it. And I’d wonder – where were those original 124 buildings all located? One might have been where the parking lot is now, but the rest?

Monk leading pilgrims in chanting at Temple 75

Monk leading pilgrims in chanting at Temple 75

Well, Zentsuji was able to at least keep all that real estate intact. It covers more than eleven acres. Kobo Daishi was reputedly born here, and it is first temple ever built in Japan for the Shingon sect. It is one of the most important temples on the pilgrim path. While portions of it did burn down during the Warring States period (and lots of times later – something about candles and incense in wooden buildings…), plenty from medieval times were still intact, including a large pagoda built in 1070. There were also structures put in over the last hundred years or so, including a new stupa, and a shiny new meditation school. The mix of old and new, and the hordes of people roving the grounds, even that late in the afternoon, gave the feeling of a temple complex that was not a museum relic, but a thriving center.

By the time we were done at Zentsuji, it was well after 5:00 PM. While the stamp office was closed, tourists and worshipers continued to enter the temple complex – but it was time for us to go. We spent the night in a hotel, a few blocks from the temple grounds.

Temple 66 and 67

Estimated distance walked this day:  14 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 361 kms

The next day had much better weather — while it was still misty in the morning, it steadily cleared up, and confirmed the wisdom of just hanging out the afternoon before in the warmth and dry of our room.

Over in the post, “A Culture of Kindness“, I mentioned the Community Bus — this was a day where we used it. The only people who got on the Community Bus were elderly people and pilgrims, like us. The elderly were dropped off at community centers, hospitals and clinics, an old folks home — and all the pilgrims were dropped at an unmarked spot by the side of the road. We traipsed more or less together through the countryside. We passed by a massive chicken farm — something I was rather interested in. We ate eggs every day, and chicken from time to time, but I had not seen a single chicken in the country, whereas I had seen cows several times, and pigs at least once. The chickens were in massive ventilated sheds, and I could hear them clucking and cheeping, but they were hidden, so I have no idea of their condition of living.

After several kms of walking, all of us pilgrims arrived at the Unpenji Ropeway station at about the same time — just as the aerial lift car had left. So, we had twenty minutes to kick around, look at the souvenir shop, and maybe buy snacks. Taking the ropeway cuts out about 5 kms of walking to Unpenji, Temple 66, which is at the highest elevation of any of the temples, at 927 m. The ropeway is the longest in Japan.

The top of the ropeway doesn’t just lead to the temple, it also leads to a small ski area (closed March 10), and a paragliding launch area; and there’s also a big statue of some god holding a trident, but I never found out exactly who it was.

We got off the car, and it was quite a bit colder. It was too misty to see any view. I put on my jacket and vest.

The trail from the ropeway to the temple is lined with statues. These statues depict all the followers of the Buddha, arhats, who were present at his death. They are also supposed to depict all the kinds of people there are in the world. I thought these were sort of cheesy, but Ann liked them.

The temple had many new elements, and a section was under construction when we were there. I think something like the ropeway really helps these mountain temples, because rather than it being a long hike to reach them, ordinary people come up to the top of the mountain to see the view, and then when they’re there, they also look at the temple. Then they buy good luck charms, through money in the donation bin, and all of a sudden, the temple’s Net Operating Income looks a lot better than when the ropeway wasn’t there. Apparently it’s a big deal locally to ascend to the top of the mountain on New Year’s Eve, and those throngs of people also make donations and buy things. All of these new visitors fuel the ability to build lodging and fix up temples, and spruce up the grounds.

One of the temple’s symbols was an eggplant. You could buy eggplant good luck charms, and they had a large metal eggplant you could stroke for good luck. I have googled things like “sacred eggplant”, and I still can’t figure it out.

After we were done at the temple, I noted that of all the pilgrims who came up the ropeway, we seemed to be the only ones walking down. The rest took off back to the aerial car station. We took a trail along the ridge top, seeing more of the hundreds of arhat statues. Then we managed to take the right trail (yay!) down the mountainside that would lead us to Temple 67, Daikoji. The trail ran through the forest, and there were lots of birds. We also saw tons of lizards. We ate our picnic lunch at a shady bench on the trail.

After exiting the trail, we were now coming through the valley on a road, past some small lakes, up and over the hill…I was starting to get nervous because I knew, from my conversation with the tourist information office, that the last community bus was leaving about a mile and a half from Daikoji at 3:47 PM. It had been about a ten km walk to Daikoji from the mountain top, and it was now three o’clock. We visited the temple, and at the stamp office, I asked for advice on how to find the community bus stop. The monk there made a dot on my map, and we set off. The rest of the story may be found, again, in my previous post, “A Culture of Kindness“.

The Community Bus returned us to central Kannoji. From there, we walked back to our lodging for the night.




Temples 68 & 69, and 70

Estimated distance walked this day:  11 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 347 kms

We woke up to a somewhat drippy morning, which was forecasted to be heavy rain through the afternoon. With this sort of forecast, we did not want to take on that much.

So, we got up, and walked a few kilometers to Kannonji (Temple 68) and Jinnein (Temple 69). These two temples are immediately adjacent to one another, so you get a sort of two-for-one when you visit them. They share a stamp office, but you still pay the fee for each when you get your book stamped.

Kannonji had a newer architectural element, and I thought it blended in well with the rest of the older temple architecture. It was a two-story, modernist white gate to the hondo. It gave a feeling of purity before you step up to the hondo for prayers. It also provided some shelter to a horde of pilgrims doing prayers there.

After we finished at these two temples, we walked mostly along the Saita River for about five kms. We accidentally missed a turn, and I asked someone for directions. He not only helped us, when we started to go a bit astray from his directions, he yelled from quite a distance, telling us to take a right up ahead.

We were able to find Motoyamaji, Temple 70, by steering for its tall, stately pagoda. Motoyamaji means Mountain Origin Temple, but it was on flat ground. The temple complex was spacious and the buildings were relatively large, conveying a feeling of grandeur. The temple was founded in 807 and has never burnt to the ground — unusual for one in a relatively accessible location. Usually any temple near a population center was razed in one war or another. I met a nice temple cat there, and petted it while we sort of hung out at the stamp office. Someone at the temple gave us soy milk drink boxes as osettai while we were there, which was nice.

When we left the temple, we walked a few blocks to a big highway, Route 11, and turned then on another arterial, Route 237. This sort of environment is not the best for walking, but it was the most direct way back to our lodging. It also had plentiful eating opportunities. We ate a sushi place, then tromped through the pouring rain along Route 237.

The rest of the day, we spent in our room. Ann read, and I caught up on blogging. I’m glad we spent the afternoon of this very damp day indoors.