Sunday, September 24, 2017

Nabeiwa - Kokufu

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 4.
Temples: #13-17 (Dainichiji, Jōrakuji, Kokubunji, Kannonji, Idoji).
Distance: 29.8km (96.8km), time spent: 10:39.
Weather: Light overcast.

The fourth day rises with yet another set of temples in the horizon, as well with the added knowledge that I do not know where I will go to or how far. Today, I make the way as I go, almost, I still have a marked trail to follow. Which after breakfast leads up to the Tamaga-tōge pass on a good path through the forest. I soon follow another henro, whose walk and figure are illuminated by the sunrays through the trees.

A henro illuminated by the sunrays on the path up to the Tamaga-tōge pass.

After the Tamaga-tōge pass and the small shrine at the top, paved road replaces the path. To atone for the walk on hard surface, the views opens up and I walk looking out over the landscape below me and across the valley. It is beautiful and I quickly forget about the absence of vegetation beneath my feet.

View from the path after Tamaga-tōge.

The bottom of the valley greets me with a village that appear to have more dolls as inhabitants than living people. There are dolls sitting at a bus stop, in the fields, there is a policeman and there are even two henro dolls. Is this a custom that has spread from a deserted town in another part of Shikoku, Nagaro? Whose inhabitants mostly are dolls posing in natural attire next to the road, fields and houses. This is due to a local resident that started to make dolls of a person when they either moved away or died, as seen in the video you find at this link: Dolls replace humans in this deserted town (National Geographic). It is amusing, but also slightly eerie in a way.

Sharing a bench with two of the doll inhabitants of a village after coming down from the mountain.

As the dolls waves me goodbye, the trail follows the Akui river down the valley. And will do so almost all the way to the next temple, Dainichiji, but I have other plans. Looking at the map, or the guidebook actually as it mostly is a book with all the maps you need to make the pilgrimage, I can see that there is an alternate route going up to the okunoin of Dainichiji, a temple named Konjiji. Before leaving for that path, I go through Hirono where most of the inhabitants seems gathered at the local school for some festivities. Yielding a lot more life than the previous place.

Konjiji, the okunoin of Dainichiji, lies up in the mountains with good views over the landscape below.

If I want to visit Konjiji, I have to do a little bit more climbing than I would had I followed the river to Dainichiji instead. The climb is worth it, though I am not totally at ease on the last part of the walk, where I walk among scuttling monkeys all around me on a path not entirely easy to follow. Konjiji rewards me with a beautiful view over the oncoming landscape and is otherwise a characteristic temple up in the hills. I spend an additional blank page in my nōkyōchō on a temple stamp from here.

A small jizō statue watches over a steep path, aided by metal chains, on the way down from Konjiji.

It is the path down from Konjiji that is the best part of visiting it. Going through a wonderful bamboo forest next to numerous tiny shrines and statues, another Small Shikoku 88 Temples Site. At one place, I have to climb down a cliffside using a large metal chain. At the end is a beautiful place underneath the cliffs, made up by a small shrine, a drizzling waterfall (Konji Falls) with a jizō statue and stone stairs going up and down. I am so glad I chose to walk this way, rather than the traditional path.

Konji Falls, a marvellous site located in the woods underneath the cliffs.

Of course, back at the usual way, I start to wonder about the time left. At about half past two, I bow once and enter through the temple gate of Dainichiji (The Temple Of The Great Sun), #13. The temple looks traditional, but is nice, though I find the Shinto shrine on the other side of the road more interesting. Ichinomiya Jinja, that is taken care of by the staff at Dainichiji. There is a henro bus group at the temple, which would follow me further.

Ichinomiya Jinja, separated from Dainichiji under the persecution of Buddhism at the beginning of the Meiji Period.

Luckily, timewise, the temples now follow each other quickly in succession. Jōrakuji (The Temple Of Everlasting Peace), number fourteen, is a scenic temple that I like the moment I arrive at it. The temple grounds are natural, with an uneven rock bed. The henro group are here as well, and I get a green osamefuda from a woman among them. A green osamefuda means that you have done the pilgrimage between 5-7 times. I have white nameslips, for those who walk it for the first to fourth time. For 8 to 24 times you use a red one, for 25-49 silver, 50 to 99 is gold. Brocade is the last, for those having done it more than 100 times.

At Jōrakuji, a bus group of pilgrims gather outside the daishido to pray.

Just after leaving the temple, a woman stops me and gives me a small pouch that I can use to keep the coins for the donations at the temple as osettai (there are also candy in the pouch). Osettai are 'gifts' given to henros, given to either help or show your support to the pilgrims. It is considered impolite to refuse an offer of osettai, as it is also believed that by giving it to a pilgrim, you also is giving to Kōbō Daishi.

Getting my nōkyōchō-book stamped at Kokubunji.

(Awa) Kokubunji (The Official State Temple), is the fifteenth temple out and is just one kilometer away. Here the main hall is under maintenance and maybe due to that the least interesting temple so far. The first temple I have rushed a little. The henro group is here as well. Having left the mountains behind, the walk from now goes on flat ground next to a busy road to temple #16, Kannonji (Avalokitesvara Temple). A small, but pretty temple in the middle of town buildings.

Kannonji temple.

Where I would spend the night has for some time been unclear, though the easiest solution is to take the train to Tokushima and find a hotel there (I am not following the arrows longer at this point, with no intention to go all the way there today). However, not far from Kannonji there is another hut available for pilgrims to stay at and I plan to check that out before deciding to head for Tokushima. The first impression is rather bad, it does not look very inviting to me. Then a man from the taxi company providing the zenkonyado (free stays for henros) bid me take a closer look at it and I change my mind.

Looking at Idoji temple through the temple gates.

Still time to visit Idoji (Well Temple), I hurry onward and reaches #17 just before closing time. I do it the other way around here, getting my nōkyōchō stamped before I go through the rituals. I feel kind at peace at this temple, as the light on the sky is waning. I then turn back and follows the henromichi down to the busy road going through Kokufu, and returns by that to the zenkonyado.

Evening sun in Kokufu.

This one does not look as nice as Kamonoyu from the outside, but is even nicer on the inside. Though, it does not have the luxury of an onsen next door. It does however have a shower, toilet and a washing machine available. It is really nice inside, with two rooms with tatami mats and apparently clean futons to sleep in. Tv also, but best of all, it has an air conditioner. All for free, how kind it is of the people here to provide these places.

Inside the zenkonyado Sakae Taxi in Kokufu so kindly offer to the walking henros.

Shortly down the street there is a rice and curry house, which provides me with my dinner. Even closer by is a Family Mart, one of the numerous convenience stores here, providing me with some goodies for the evening. Quite the remarkable and varied day. There is another reason why I did not want to go all the way to Tokushima, but that is all part of the plan for tomorrow and I will not go into detail on that today. Now I just sit and relax in my place for tonight, among the multitude of nameslips in various colors on the walls.

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