Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Kokubunji - Ritsurin Kōen

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 41.
Temples: #80-83 (Kokubunji, Shiromineji, Negoroji, Ichinomyaji).
Distance: 32.7km (1178.4km), time spent: 11:23.
Weather: Wonderful.


It was a great thing to see, looking out of the window today, the clear sky outside. Today was an anticipated day, so I had hoped for good weather, as the route takes on the Goshikidai plateau. This plateau, named five colours by Kūkai, juts out into the Seto inland sea and is home to two of the temples of the pilgrimage (three if you include Kokubunji). The colours are red, yellow, black, white and blue.

Morning outside the templegate of Kokubunji.

After a good breakfast and a smiling farewell by the hostess at Ebisu-ya Ryokan, the pilgrimsday begins with the mandatory, but much wanted, visit to the State Official Temple (#80, Kokubunji). I have some temple-rituals to perform, but almost just as important, I have an obligation to do. It is time to make my ohenro attire complete, by buying the kongōzue, the pilgrim staff that is the embodiment of Kōbō Daishi. In that regard, I am to take care of the kongōzue first when arriving at a temple or accommodation, meaning that I have to wash the end of it before I can put it at its appointed place. As Kōbō Daishi might be sleeping under a bridge, I should not tap the staff when I am going over a bridge.

Morning sun at Kokubunji.

The light is wonderful when I am the temple, the morning sun is sprinkling its rays through the trees. I notice a man throwing water in a half-circle in front of him before going over to the hondo, I wonder what it means. This temple is like a garden and it also features a dimly lit pathway lined up with unnumbered statues on each side. This is the finest of the provincial temples so far. Outside the temple there is a nice miniature model of the old temple complete with a tall pagoda as well.

View from the climb up to the Goshikidai plateau.

With the staff in hand, which feels somewhat strange and awkward in the beginning, I make my way up into the five coloured plateau. It is hot, due to the absent clouds on the sky, but it makes for some great views from the climb. Countless are the natural stairs, though made by men, that carries me upwards. It is still unusual to a Norwegian to walk on these stairs, as we are not used to make these kind of steps back home in the forests or mountains.

Shiromineji.

The paths between Kokubunji, Shiromineji and Negoroji are forming a sort of a triangle. Towards Shiromoneji, I go on the road side of the triangle, but even with the hard surface I find it to be a good walk. All around there are colourful trees that has a head start on the fall. It goes past a self defence forces area and I walk past several troops out on an exercise. I probably should not shout out a loud 'ten-hut'. I have to go back and forth a bit to Shiromineji, but that does not bother me at all when the path is so wonderful as it is.

A Shinto guard with a lot of the tiny neko cat figures.

Two things stands out at #81, Shiromineji (White Peak Temple), the colours of the fall about to strike out in full and the numerous small cat figurines called neko that I find there. It must truly be beautiful here when in full autumn. Naomi is here too and shares some sweets with me. It is a very forestlike temple, making good use of the layout of the landscape for its templegrounds and buildings, which are some of the oldest on the pilgrimage. The hondo is from the seventeenth century. An emperor is buried here, at the back of the temple, Sūtoku.

The small waterfall at Bishamon-Kutsu, the okunoin of Shiromineji.

From Shiromineji I have to walk back again for a while on the same path going to the temple. Next to the path are old stone lanterns, even a very old stone pagoda (Manirin) and a stone (Gejō) signifying that all should walk on foot from this point on, regardless of class. No problem for me there. The inner sanctuary of Shiromineji, Bishamon-kutsu, is reached on a small path from the henromichi (in the guidebook that I have, which is not the newest one, this is wrongly marked as the okunoin of #88 Ōkuboji). It is a small and peaceful place, located next to a small waterfall running over some low cliffs. The shrine itself is a small and simple wooden building outside a hole in the cliffs with a small idol inside.

Old stone lantern and stone stairs on the Sanuki Henro Trail.

Sanuki Henro Trail.

Back on the wonderful path going between the two temples of Shiromineji and Negoroji I feel exhilarated. The walking is lovely and sometimes the light through the trees makes the forest seem ethereal. No wonder it is a national historic site, called the Sanuki Henro Trail. I think this path is one of my favorite forest trails on the pilgrimage so far. I meet a man out collecting mushrooms in the forest, and an older female henro that I passed by on the climb up to Goshikidai. She had taken the path from Kokubunji that went directly to the Sanuki Henro Trail between Shiromineji and Negoroji (I took the path going on the road remember). That path is called 'juukyu-cho-uchi-modori'. Apparently this path did not exist at the beginning of the pilgrimage, but later pilgrims began climbing up to Shiromineji first, then visiting Negoroji before descending to Kokubunji on that path. 'Uchi-modori' signifies that the henro has to visit Negoroji first and then backtrack to visit Kokubunji. I wonder if this was what Osata-san had in mind.

The protected Keyaki (Zelkova) tree at Negoroji.

Above Negoroji there is a great henro hut named after the plateau. Enclosed, with toilets nearby, a perfect place to stay the night at. If I had not decided to revisit Zentsūji and see the Nakazu Banshōen, this is probably where I would have walked to yesterday. Halfway down to the temple, I find out that I have forgotten the staff at the henro hut. I knew this was going to happen. I hope Kōbō Daishi can forgive me as I walk back up to retrieve it.

Templegate of Negoroji.

To approach Negoroji, temple #82 and Fragrant Root Temple, you first have to walk down some stairs before climbing up another set of stairs. Shiromineji is situated near Shiromine (white) and therefore I think that this one should be called Aomineji, as it is located next to Aomine (blue). At the hondo, I have to walk around in a tunnel to resite the sutras. The tunnel also features a lot of statues that I believe to be of Kannon. It has an interesting layout this temple. Protected underneath a roof and inside a wooden fence is a thousand year old tree, a Keyaki (Zelkova) tree. However, I walked right by the most interesting part of the temple when arriving at it. Outside, in the woods, stands a tall monster. It is an ushioni, or an ox demon. It looks too immobile to be a threat to me though.

An Ushioni or ox demon in the woods outside Negoroji.

Back at the Goshikidai henro hut, I make a horrible decision, as I usually prefers paths to paved roads. I follow a henromichi signpost pointing in the direction of a forest path and I can see a path on the map that will return to the main route and road later. Seems better, but the path is horrific, overgrown and boring, sometimes overgrown. As I venture longer and deeper onto it, I wonder why I chose to walk on this path. In the end, I spot an emergency exit leading up to the road. Back at the road, it does not get better as the views from the road are wonderful. So much that I walk back up on the road, all the way up to the junction from where the road beings at.

View towards Takamatsu from the descent from Goshikidai.

Coming down from the Goshikidai plateau on a good walk, I need to find a place for lunch. I head for a 7/11 marked on the map, but when I am at the location, I find nothing but an empty lot there. The path over the Kōtō river is closed due to high water level. Another henro that I first met at Minshuku Aozora in Awai looks a little bit bewildered. In this way, I find the English guidebook better than the Japanese one. The maps in the English guidebook is always centered towards the north, but the Japanese maps are centered in no particular order, making it difficult to orientate it if you loose the direction. I show him the correct way, before I walk over to the nearby Lawson for lunch. I want an icecream too, but they somehow fail to register it at the cashier, ending up giving it to me as osettai.

Evening sun at Ichinomiyaji.

A series of small roads and tiny paths, including a walk across a large parking lot outside a store, brings me to temple #83, Ichinomiyaji (First Shrine Temple). The light was wonderful when I was the first temple today, it then seems fitting that the light is wonderful when I am at the last one too. Then it was the morning light, now it is the warm evening light. Both Naomi and the wayward henro is here. The evening sun is giving the nice temple a warm appearance.

Tanuki-statue at Tamura Jinja.

We start walking together from the temple, but they soon miss me as I get curious and get lost in the nearby Tamura Jinja. A weird and surreal shrine, featuring one of those strange tanuki statues carrying what looks like a large sack of money. There is also a golden statue here that to me looks like a golden Jabba The Hut. To get to my accommodation for the night, I still have some walk to do. Slowly the sky turns darker, with a nice sheen, but I also wonder if I am on the correct road as no waymarks are found next to it. When I finally arrive at Business Hotel East Park, it is completely dark.

Arriving in Takamatsu in the evening.

I walked this far so that I can have time in the morning tomorrow to visit the famous Ritsurin Kōen. Naomi is also at the same hotel, but she had already had dinner, so I have to go out alone. I go to the recommended izakaya nearby, Torisuke, where I am greeted by a very friendly host and a young couple also eating at the place. Ramen is the main course for me, but I add some other small dishes to my dinner as well. Walking this far today has made my appetite big. The owner has actually been running this place for twenty years now. It is a nice and good place to end this beautiful day at.

Dinner at Torisuke in Takamatsu.

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