Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Saijo and Niihama

Friday 20 April

After our efforts yesterday climbing to Yokomineji, today we decide to be content with a 15k amble to Saijo. Along the route today are temples 61-64

Temple 61, Koonji, is unusual - the main building is a huge brown concrete building which looks more attractive than it sounds. Visitors can enter the main hall of the temple via a flight of steps on the side of the building where rows of red velvet seats face the altar. We sit for a while n the front row, resting and admiring the lavish gold decoration of the temple and the golden statue of Buddha.

I am not too sure what is going on at Hojuji, Number 62. In the car park of Temple 61 there is a temporary office for Number 62, where pilgrims can obtain a stamp to show proof of visiting. According to our guidebook this is because Temple 62 does not welcome pilgrims from certain bus companies (many pilgrims visit the temples on specially organised bus tours). Temple 62 is also the only temple that does not belong to the Shikoku pilgrimage temple association. We remember this temple from four years ago; then it was a sorry sight, uncared for and dirty. To refuse to welcome pilgrims does not seem in keeping with the spirit of the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage and as we have elected not to bring a nokyocho -  pilgrimage stamp book - on this occasion and we are not visiting all the temples anyway, we decide not to visit Hojuji. 

Instead we visit the launderette on the opposite side of the road. The place has window blinds so I quickly remove all my gear and don my over-trousers and rain jacket and chuck everything into the washing machine. In the meantime, Mick goes off to the local convenience store to buy some coffee. He is a little worried on his return, to see a police car with flashing light parked outside the launderette and me in conversation with the police officer. The officer nods and smiles to me and drives off and Mick turns to me. 
'Everything ok? What did the police want?'. 
'Don't know, he emptied a box outside the launderette then came in for a chat.'
'Are you sure he was ok? I thought you were getting arrested.'
Not long afterwards another policeman, this time on a motorbike, parks up and comes into the launderette, wishes us good luck and then disappears again.
'Now what did he want? says Mick perplexed. 'That's two of them. How odd.'
I shrug. 'No idea. But they seem friendly.'

The next temple is only a short walk away so, with our clothes now delightfully fresh, we visit Kichoji and then head on towards 64, Maegamiji. Just before the temple is a huge tori gate which leads to Ishizuchi Shrine. This is the first of four parts to this shrine; two more are located on the mountainside and the final part is on Mt Ishizuchi-san itself. It is a beautiful shrine and worth the additional steps we have to climb to reach it.

I like the wooden tengu, supernatural beings known for their long red noses.

Mick says he can detect a resemblance...

We head into Saijo after visiting Temple 64.

Saijo is an industrial town  - as far as we can tell there is not a huge amount here for the visitor - but it does have good water. Saijo is famous for its spring water which can be obtained around the city at uchinki water fountains and we fill our bottles before heading down to the banks of the Kamo River to camp for the night.

Saijo Water Fountains

As the sun dips below the horizon, a cloud of bats come from the trees to feed and we enjoy watching them swooping and diving for their prey before turning in for the night.

The Median Tectonic Line is Japan's longest fault line and it runs right through the north of Shikoku island. The result is a mountain range which rises abruptly from the flat coastal plain leaving only a thin slice of land between mountain and sea. As we make our way east, we walk along this plain with the mountains rising up on our right hand side. The route is for the most part along quiet residential streets behind the main Route 11. Mick complains I am hogging the map so I allow him to navigate for a brief time but it doesn't last. He soon gets bored of  checking the map and I get exasperated at his lacksadaisical approach and so we agree I will be in charge of the map.

I allow Mick to navigate...we are soon lost
We are now in Niihama, location of the Besshi copper mine. The mine dominated this area for three hundred years until it closed in 1973 and was the primary source of wealth for the Sumitomo family, now one of the largest companies in Japan.

We leave the pilgrimage route to walk up a traffic free cycle path, along the line of the Old Dozan Railway. A left turn at the top brought us to Oyamazumi Shrine and the Besshi Copper Mine Memorial Museum, established by the Sumitomo Group to mark to the closure of the museum. There is no entry fee and the exhibits and photographs offer a fascinating glimpse of life in the mountains behind us when 10,000 people lived and worked the mines here. Afterwards we take a short walk up the valley. Farther on, the industrial remains of the mines are now becoming a tourist attraction.

That night we once again camp alongside a river, this time the river is the Ashitani. The bats are here too although not so plentiful as at the Kamo River, and the sound of water running over the stones in the shallows is therapeutic as we go to sleep.


  1. The thought going through my mind is whether there might have been security cameras in the laundrette, hence the arrival of the police...!

  2. love your photos, <3 wish I can visit there as well