Monday, 23 September 2013

Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage - Temples 1-17

It's Monday and the first time I've been able to get online since last week as we are treating ourselves to a night in a budget hotel in Tokushima. I'll post a few pictures and an update when I can, and write a fuller trip report when I get back.

Shoppers stocking up on henro gear
At Temple One we stocked up on our Henro essentials - jackets, candles, incense sticks and an English Guidebook. Temple One is the only place, as far as I know, where this book is available. It is essential for English speakers on the pilgrimage who do not speak Japanese. As all I can manage is: 'good morning, hello, goodbye, please, thank you,' and 'can we camp here please,' conversation is limited. Very few Japanese on Shikoku speak any English at all, so at least with this book we had some hope of  finding our way from temple to temple.

At Temple One

Jizo Bosatsu

Temples One to Eleven wind their way around the area just outside of Tokushima. We decided to leave our gear at the Michi-no-Eki for the first few and camped again there on the second night, before tackling a couple more. The temples were amazing. Each one is set in it's own grounds, a haven of tranquility, and each is slightly different to the others. At each one we carried out our own little ritual - Buddhism is pretty free and easy as far as I can tell, and people seem to more or less to do their own thing. We lit candles and incense, chanted a short prayer or two and paid our dues. We also filled in our name slips and dropped one in at each temple box.

Udon - this region is famous for it

Restaurant Itano- old railway car
Drinks machines are everywhere in Japan

Loaded to go
Typical rest hut
Washing hands at temple

name slips - colour depends on how many time one has done the pilgrimage
This lovely man invited us in for fruit and tea - and showed us his  name slip collection
Brocade indicates 100+ times

Third night - not a good spot - full of insects and mozzies
- we did not spot the stagnant pool until the next morning...

Temple Twelve is of a different order altogether, 30 kilometres away - a cycle over one mountain and a punishing climb up another which took us hours. The heat was still oppressive and we sweated an ocean as we struggled up the hill with our heavily laden bikes.
'This is agony,' said Mick at one point. 'This is hell. Lets go back to Osaka and catch a plane home.'
For one brief moment I was tempted. This ride was hard, much, much harder than I thought it would be. The heat, the mosquitoes, the hills, the strangeness, the difficulty with communicating. It was all so tiring. All I wanted was to be be back in Ilfracombe, with a fresh breeze coming off the Bristol Channel and a pint at the Ship and Pilot. The only thing that stopped me was the horrible shame of having to go home and admit we had failed.
'We can't go home at Temple Twelve,' I said. 'Lets keep going. But why don't we book a hostel when we get back to Fukoshima tomorrow. Give us a chance to do some laundry and some respite from the mosquitoes. We agreed that was what we would do.

It took us hours to get up to Temple 12. Cycling back down was rather quicker. Exhausted, we stopped at the Michi-no-Eki at Kamiyma but were dismayed to find there was no-one to camp. We asked a local chap if we could camp anywhere and he led us to a little sculpture park next to the river up in the village and told us we could camp there. Opposite was an onsen, a Japanese bath house, and as soon as the tent was up we left the mozzies to it and headed over for a long soak followed by a meal in the restaurant next door. Scrubbed up and replete we felt better and by the time we returned to our tent the breeze was fresh and the insects long gone. I had the best night's sleep since we arrived.

Cycling up to Temple 12
Temple 12

Sculpture Park, Kamiyama

The next morning we had a bit of a lie in, staying in bed until six thirty, rather than the usual five thirty rise. The road back to Tokushima was glorious, long sweeping downs through the mountains, and we were back on the outskirts of the city before we knew it. The next few temples were not taxing, set on the flat plain behind Tokushima as we wound our way past small rice fields and the houses of the suburbs. After Temple Seventeen we headed into Tokashima centre. The tourist information is well hidden on the sixth floor above the railway station but eventually we were directed to it and found someone who spoke excellent English. She booked us into a business hotel which charged us a very reasonable 5,200 yen for the two of us and we booked in.

Which is where I am now, enjoying the luxury of a shower, a bed, a laundry service and WIFI. None of this is likely to be available for some time to come.

Yes, I have a wet towel on my head.

Ps. I forgot to mention that the route to Temple 12 has an epithet: it's known as the Pilgrim Crusher.

1 comment: