Estimated distance walked this day: 16 kms
Cumulative distance walked: 377 kms
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.