Monday, May 23, 2022

Christmas Morning on Shodoshima Day Two of the Pilgrimage


Friday 25th December, 2015.

Christmas day, and I'm awake at 4am, not, as when I was a little child, to eagerly explore what Santa had brought me, but because I have a very long day ahead of me. Its still pitch black when I take the first bus a few kilometers to the convenience store where I stock up on hot coffee and food for the day as there will be few opportunities to shop later.

 Before it lightens and I can begin to find my way to the first temples I explore the big shrine on the hill near the conbini. When it's light enough I head off the main road into the maze of narrow streets and find the first couple of temples. Nothing much of note.

I pass a small soy sauce factory and recognize the name.... its the brand my wife buys, organic, not so common in Japan. I start to head up a small river that runs down from the mountains where I will be heading. They are still shrouded in cloud.

The next temple has a pyramid of gravestones. These are muenbotoke, gravestones for those deceased souls who have no descendants to look after their graves.


The next temple is quite large and is approached along a path lined with miniature bonsai pine trees. Looking up at the mountain the mist is clearing and against the ochre cliffs I see a glint of vermillion and turquoise, Kiyotakisan, the highest temple on the pilgrimage that I am heading to next. The road climbs out of the town and narrows as it becomes farmland.

When I reach the dam the sun has broken through and I can enjoy the colorful reflection in the reservoir behind. Another kilometer and I leave the road and start up the mountain trail.

I am really pleased that so much of this pilgrimage is on trails rather than roads. It's a warm, sunny day as I climb up through the forest.

Crossing a stream that gurgles over rocks, there is a small statue of Fudo Myo. Further still the remains of an old teahouse that used to provide refreshments to pilgrims on the trail. There are still pilgrims, like myself, who walk the trail, but the vast majority of pilgrims will travel by car or tour bus.

The last few hundred meters are the steepest and I emerge on a big mountain road with the temple complex under the cliffs across the road. There is a lot to explore and see here,.... many statues, a couple of cave halls, and of course fantastic views across the sea and the island below.

I will ost on Kiyotakisan next time......

Leaving the temple the road starts to descend. Rounding the bend I can see in the distance the buildings at the top of Kankakei Gorge, where I will be heading to later. It appears to be just a little higher than where I am now. As the road continues to descend I become disheartened. I didn't realize I was going to have to go back down quite so far as that means more climbing later.

When I reach the next temple, Hotogekataki, I am surprised that it look like a regular temple. There are buildings and bell towers, and an old lady sweeping the steps. But it's another cave temple. Going in through the narrow entrance it opens up to a dome shape with a natural pillar of rock in the middle. Most curious is the woodstove burning away. The little old lady show me around and points out the various altars and gives me half a dozen small oranges as Osettai, gifts for pilgrims. From the covered platform in front of the cave there are sweeping views over the lower part of the Kankakei Gorge.

From here the road carries on down down a few hundred meters to a junction. From here I have two choices. One kilometer away is the ropeway up to the top pf the gorge, from where I can take the trail down to the next temple, or I can take the trail up to the next temple and then carry on to the top of the gorge and take the ropeway down......

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Art of Tanjoji Temple


Temples are, like churches and cathedrals in the West, repositories of art. One of the delights of visiting them is to explore and find interesting statues, carvings etc. Tanjoji Temple in Okayama was pretty good in this regard, with quite a range of things to see. The statue above is an Amida Buddha, the focus of the school of Buddhism founded by Honen who was born on this spot.

I visited the temple while walking the Chugoku Kannon Pilgrimage, and ths is the Kannon statue. It was carved by Jigaku Daishi and enshrined in 1631. It is now called the Oshichi Kannon after Oshichi, a 16 year old girl executed for arson after a major fire in Edo. The subject of many books and play, Oshichi's story can be found here at Gabi Greve's wonderful site....

Onigawara are "demon tiles" found on the roofs of some temples and other buildings. In situ they are hard to see as they are up on the roof, but often you will find older versions from previous versions of the buildings are ondislay, like here. Intriguing is the diversity of designs.

One of the most ubiquitous sights all over Japan are small statues of Jizo with their trademark caps and bibs.

Above the entrance to many temple and shrine buildings can be found relief carvings of dragons. Usually of a quite standard design, this one is somewhat more expressive....

Sometimes..... when I'm lucky,.... powerful compositions simply present themselves to me....

This is said to be the largest Buddha statue in Okayama, and is a Nationally-registered Important Cultural ropert, but have no details on it.

Long time readers of this blog know that I am quite obsessed with Fudo Myo, and this single example at Tanjoji was in the Kannon Hall.

These are , I suspext, statues of rakan, disciples of the Buddha, also in the Kannn Hall.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Tanjoji Temple Birthplace of Honen


Tanjo-ji Temple is located in central Okayama prefecture, somewhat south of Tsuyama. Tanjo mand "birth", and the temple was built on the site where Honen, the founder of the Jodo shu, Pure Land sect, was born. 

It is quite a large complex and is included in about half a dozen pilgrimage routes, including the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage where it is a "special" un-numbered temple, and it was at the start of my 4th day walking that pilgrimage that I visited.

This is the mausoleum f Honen's parents. His father was a high-ranking provincial official who was later assassinated. Honen was born here in 1133. The temple was established in the early 13th century.

The temple was patronized by the Mori clan and was extensively rebuilt in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Some of the structures are Nationally recognized Important Cultural Properties.

A statue of Honen as a young boy leaving home to become a monk. While studying at Hiezan, the great Tendai monastery above Kyoto, he searched for a method whereby the mass of people could achieve salvation, and settled on what in Japanese is called the nembutsu.

In essence, this means reciting the name of Amida Buddha to ensure one's rebirth in his Pure Land. A disciple of Honen, Shinran, later created the True Pure Land sect, Jodo Shin Shu, and this is the most popular Buddhist sect in Japan.

Next I will post soem photos of the statuary and such from the temple....

Monday, May 16, 2022

Kabira Bay Ishigaki Island

Kabira Bay

Kabira Bay is one of the most popular scenic spots on the island of Ishigaki in what is now Okinawa.

With white sand beaches, turquoise seas, and coral reefs, it is consodered a troical paradise and a very popuar dstination for tourists from maonland Japan.

Actually we visited in April which is kind of the off-season, and the weather was very overcast so the scenery was not as colorful, but there were also few other tourists so it was possible to walk the uncrowded beaches.

Actually I believe that you are not allowed to swim in Kabira bay itself because of black pearl cultivation.

Ishigaki is part of what is called the Yaeyama Islands, the last group of islands in the chain that extends south and west from Kyushu in the mainland of Japan.

The Yaeyama Islands include the furthest west and also the furthest south points of Japan, and is much closer to Taiwan than it is to the main island of Okinawa.

The area is belieced to have been settled by Melanesian people from further south.

In the 15th century the Yaeyama Islands became subsumed under the rule of the recently unified Ryukyuan dynasty of the main island of Okinawa.

In the 17th century Satsuma Domain invaded the Ryukyu's, or in todays parlance "conducted a special military operation". but the islands did not become part of Japan until the late 19th century.

Ishigaki Sea Salt

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Off the Beaten Track in Kitsuki Castle Town


I first visited Kitsuki in the second week of my marathon walk around Kyushu on the Kyushu Pikgrimgae, incidentally the longest pilgrimage in Japan. Komyoin is temple number 23 on that pilgrimage. I was attracted to Kitsuki and planned a return visit.

My opportunity came a few years later when I planned a 5 day walk criss-crossing the Kunisaki peninsula and arranged my route so I get spend a full day in Kitsuki.

First I visited the reconstructed castle, billed as the smallest castle in Japan, and then the samurai districts, a Preservation District with many samurai residences and their gardens open to the public. I walked through the former merchant district quite quickly as they were mostly gift shop and such, but there were many examples of a little-known art form called kote-e, plaster reliefs.

My methid of exploring a new place back then was to check maps for shrine locations and then arrange a route that would allow me to visit as many shrines as possible, and so I headed away from the main tourist area..... the to ywo pictures were a former doctors house from the Meiji period...... I'm not sure but I think it was the childhood home of a man wholater became a fairly major politician....

The thrid photos is a branch of the Yasaka Shrine nearby, and the final three photos werre, I bekuee, a tenjin shrine or Tenmangu,because of the ox statue

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Saihoji Temple Fumeikaku


The Fumeikaku hall is one of the landmarks of the historical town of Takehara on the coast of Hiroshima.

It's part of Saijoji Temple, a large complex on the hillside overlooking the old town. Originally a Zen temple, it was converted to the Jodo sect after rebuilding following a fire in 1602.

A long, curved, walled stairway offers great views over the bell tower and the grey, tiled roofscape of the Historic Preservation District which is commonly classified as a "Little Kyoto", consequently, the stairway has been used in numerous movies and TV shows.

The vermillion-colored Fumeikaku was built in 1758 and was modeled on the famous Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. It houses the honzon of the temple, an 11-faced Kannon.

There are other things to see at the temple, as there are around Takehara, and I quite recommend a visit.