Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ritsurin Kōen - Nagaoji

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 42.
Temples: #84-86 (Yashimaji, Yakuriji, Shidoji).
Distance: 28.6km (1207.0km), time spent: 8:53.
Weather: Splendid.


Takamatsu was to me known from Kafka On The Beach by Haruki Murakami, but Takamatsu itself is probably more known for Ritsurin Kōen. I walked to a business hotel close by the famous Japanese garden yesterday, so that I could visit it in the morning today. It was to be another sunny day, which I was very happy for, having both a visit to the garden and two climbs to look forward to ahead of me. Strange thoughts are also now starting to appear in my mind, I know that I am close to finishing the circle now.

Trees in the Japanese garden of Ritsurin Kōen reflected in one of the ponds, with Shiunsan at the back.

Only problem with Ritsurin Kōen is that it is almost too big, almost too beautiful, a place you can get lost in, where time flows in a different scale than the outside world. In other words, I may end up spending too much time there. The garden was built by the local feudal lords at the start of the Edo period. Located underneath the Shiunsan-mountain, Ritsurin Kōen features several ponds, ornate bridges and pathways, a variety of well-gardened trees and small houses built in the styles of old. Carps, the usual inhabitants of the ponds are of course present. The southern part of the garden is built in a Japanese style, with the northern part built in a western style.

Small ornate bridges and pathways, and teahouses in Ritsurin Kōen.

View from the Hiraiho-hill in Ritsurin Kōen, the bridge is named Engetsukyo meaning Full-moon bridge.

I feel that a peaceful mind descends upon me when walking through the garden on the various pathways, bridges and flagstone paths. My curiosity always kindled when I spot a small and intricate path leading to somewhere else in the garden, somewhere beautiful and yet unknown. I visit both the western and the Japanese parts of the garden, although I enjoy it more in the Japanese part, struggling to break free from the lure that the park imposes. Carrying with me food, Ritsurin Kōen now rivals Zentsūji for the best place I have eaten breakfast in. While I eat, an older Japanese man comes over to talk with me, telling me that he has spent some time on the Camino in Spain.

The hondo of Yashimaji.

However, nothing lasts forever, at least if I am to reach my accommodation for the night. It was good starting the day with a visit to a wonderful garden, as the first part of the day is a long walk through Takamatsu. No lid is put on my mood though, as I soon are able to see the Yashimi-plateau appearing in front of me to the left. Smaller in size than Goshikidai, but equal in promise of views. Both overlooking the Seto inland sea.

View over Takamatsu from the viewpoint near Yashimaji.

Looking over towards the Gokensan mountain where I barely can see the Yakuriji temple beneath the rocky cliffs at the top. From here, the path goes steeply down and crosses the river to the right of the picture, before climbing up again.

The Yashimi plateau is the first climb of today. Today is quite similar in some ways to the day that I climbed up to Kakurinji and Tairyūji, only replace Yashimaji and Yakuriji with those two temples. Although the climb up to Yashimaji is not as hard and steep as up to Kakurinji. The views and lush scenery all make up for the hard surface on the way up to the top of the plateau. I close my eyes to the signs pointing a way up to a castle above. Yashimaji (#84), Roof Island Temple, looks like a primary school when I arrive. Only temporary of course, it goes back to being a temple when the majority of the schoolkids leaves. As they are about to leave, I have to answer a questionnaire about temples (if I recall it right).

A Buddha-statue smiling to the sky on the climb towards Yakuriji.

The nice hondo gives the impression of having endured some hardship over the years. It looks old and worn, painted in red rather than the more traditional brown. And maybe it has, this mountain was the site of a major battle, Battle of Gempei, in the 12th Century between the Heike and Genji clans. Naomi, who arrived at the temple before me, gestures for me to follow the small road from the templegate. North of the temple there is a lookout point, where the views of Takamatsu and the sea is fantastic.

Kōbō Daishi at a nice lookout point in front of the Yakuriji temple.

From Yashimaji, I now have to climb down again, only to climb up again towards Yakuriji. Strangely enough is the path going down not marked as henro-korogashi on the map, as this is one of the steepest paths on the pilgrimage so far. In rainy weather, I guess that the road going down is the safer option. From the top of the climb, I could look over towards the mountain where the next temple is located at, Gokensan. To the left of the summit, it appear that the Japanese is about to tear down the mountain, making several huge grey and white wounds in the sides of it.

Yakuriji underneath Gokensan, the Five sword mountain.

After the short intermesso between the two temples and mountains, with a visit to a supermarket for some refreshments and energy, I start the second climb of the day. On the way, me and another henro alternates between pointing each other in the correct direction, past several displays of strange and funny Buddhist statues. This path goes more straightforward up, still on hard surface, with only a short section on soft ground. On the way up, I can hear the sounds of the cable car passing by. Before the entrance to the temple there is a nice statue of Kōbō Daishi, sitting with his back to a wonderful view.

A stone lantern at Yakuriji.

Yakuriji (#85), Eight Chestnuts Temple, is located underneath several huge rocks or cliffs, the five sword mountain of Gokensan. It got its name from eight baked chestnuts that Kōbō Daishi planted here before he went to China, upon returning he found that the trees had grown big. With the cliffs behind it, the temple looks quite imposing on me, it is a great temple. I spend some time exploring and resting at the temple, only to find at there is more at the temple when I leave it. Such as a fine pagoda. On the road down from the temple, I get annoyed seeing a small shrine an the top of one of the cliffs above, mentally making a note to myself: next time.

The Gojūnotō (five-storied pagoda) of Shidoji.

Down, near the Shido bay, the waymarks points me towards the bay, but the guidebook tells me otherwise. I decide to follow the waymarks, looks nicer, closer to the sea. I stop for lunch at an Udon restaurant near Fusazaki. As I sit and eat, I wonder why I have not eaten my lunch more often at the restaurants on my way around Shikoku. The combinis are convenient yet, but still. Then I make for some quick walking towards Shidoji, only taking a brief stop at the okunoin, Jizōji.

Wandering in the Japanese garden of Shidoji.

Shidoji and the pagoda seen from the outside.

I am so surprised when I see the templegrounds of Shidoji (#86), The Temple of Fulfilling One's Wish. This is the first temple on the way that I find unkempt and slightly overgrown. At the same time there is something refreshing about it too, especially since the temple is located within the small town of Shido, giving me the feeling of being more in the middle of a forest than in a town. The young monk at the nōkyōchō-office gives me a small golden pin as osettai, which is for the 1200th anniversary of the Shikoku pilgrimage. Then he proudly encourages me to visit their Japanese garden. However, this garden feels overgrown like the temple and far from Ritsurin Kōen. Again, it does give me the sensation of being in a forgotten place, like a place you remembered from when you were young and then rediscover. I kind of like it here.

Gyokusenji, the okunoin of Nagaoji.

Leaving Shidoji, I look at the map and the clock. Then I look at the map and the clock again. I have some distance to cover before I will be at Nagaoji, both the temple and my accommodation. In my haste, I forget to buy something to drink for the way, soon finding out that there are not any vending machines to see. For a long time. I get thirsty. Eventually salvation arrives, at a place that also provides some good seating for a weary henro. Only a brief stop at the okunoin of Nagaoji too, Gyokusenji, before hurrying on. Under the sinking sun, glowing more and more orange, I walk through the peaceful rural countryside of Japan. I appear to be the only henro out walking now.

A sunset over rural Shikoku.

I know that the temple rituals at Nagaoji would have to wait for tomorrow. It is quiet at the temple when I arrive. My guesthouse for the night bears the same name as the temple and is situated just across the street. I am late again, but I gave a warning when I got the reservation that I might not be arriving on time. The place is run by a cozy old lady. There is also a minor reunion here, as Osata-san and the two Japanese henros from Akebono-sō and their Russian friend are here too.

Nagaoji after closing time.

At dinner, the old lady shows us pictures of the various routes to temple #88, Ōkuboji. No dinner for me here either, due to my late reservation, so I had to venture out in the dark to the nearby Lawson to buy food. I get to eat together with the rest, though, the host heats up my food and kindly give me some food also. Another lovely day on the Way of the 88 Temples. It feels strange going to sleep thinking that I will be at the last temple tomorrow.

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