Thursday, September 21, 2017

Ryōzenji - Anrakuji

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 1.
Temples: #1-6 (Ryōzenji, Gokurakuji, Konsenji, Dainichiji, Jizōji, Anrakuji).
Distance: 20.0km (20.0km), time spent: 6:45.
Weather: Warm and sunny.

Yesterday, I had stood in my hotel room in Tokushima looking down at the items on display on my bed. In front of me, I had one sedgehat (sugegasa) and a white vest (hakui) with inscriptions on, a nōkyōchō-book, a stole (wagesa), a white bag (zudabukuro) and a stack of nameslips (osamefuda). All items that would associate me with being a henro on the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, except the staff (kongōzue) which I know will just be in my way. Now, I stand at the gate of the first temple on the pilgrimage, Ryōzenji (the Vulture's Peak Temple), with the reality of what I have embarked upon in front of me. I had received some curious and sceptic looks from the other guests at the hotel during breakfast, before I took the short trainride to Bandō and walked the ten minutes to Ryōzenji. This time, it was for real, what awaited me around every next corner was unknown.

Ryōzenji, the first temple on the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage. To get there from my home in Oslo, I flew to Tokyo, spent one night there and then took the Shinkansen to Osaka and a bus from there to Tokushima. From Tokushima there is a short train ride to Bandō which is a ten minutes walk from the temple.

I had read about what I was supposed to be doing at each temple, but to carry them out in reality was something else. At each temple, you are supposed to bow once at the main gate facing the main hall (hondo), wash my hands and mouth in the wash basin (this is the point where I can put on the wagesa), ring the bell in the bell tower to mark my arrival, then recite the sutras at the main hall (this involves lighting incense and a candle, ring the bell at the hall, place the nameslip (osamefuda) in the proper box and give a donation to the offertory box), repeat the previous step at the daishido hall. I can now receive the temple stamp, as a proof that I have visited the temple, in my nōkyōchō-book. When I leave the temple, I should once again at the main gate turn towards the main hall and bow once. Simple? Not at first, but practice makes you better. The language barrier is the difficult part. At Ryōzenji, I recite the sutras silently, while listening to the other henros.

Gokurakuji, the second temple, a groundsman was tending a small fire in the backyard of the temple, adding some smoke to enhance the atmosphere of the temple.

Some few words about the nōkyōchō-book. This acts as a proof that you have visited the temple and shown your respect to Buddha and Kōbō Daishi. At each temple you get a temple stamp and calligraphy in the book, the calligraphy is done by hand. When you have finished your pilgrimage, you will have an unique souvenir from your journey. It is a small, but proud, moment when I get my first temple stamp in my book.

I then start walking. On this day, the temples will come as pearls on a string, a proper way to practice the rituals for the rest of the journey. I will visit six temples in total, at the sixth temple, Anrakuji, I will spend the night. There is another henro starting at the same time, a Japanese man dragging his belongings behind him on a trolley. He does not speak English, but we exchange a few pleasantries as we start walking.

A small and red pagoda at Konsenji.

Only a kilometre and half separates the first temple from the next, Gokurakuji (Pure Land Temple / Paradise Temple). Although I liked Ryōzenji, Gokurakuji feels nicer, more secluded. This time, I recite the sutras out load, as good as I can. I try not to rush my time at the temples, I want to experience the feel of a temple before I move on.

"Bussetsu ma ka han nya ha ra mi ta shin gyou / Kan ji zai bo sa gyou jin han nya ha ra mi ta ji / Shou ken go un kai kuu do issai ku yaku / Sha ri shi shiki fu i kuu kuu fu i shiki / Shiki soku ze kuu kuu soku ze shiki / Ju sou gyou shiki yaku bu nyo ze / Sha ri shi ze sho hou kuu sou / Fu shou fu metsu fu ku fu jou fu zou fu gen / Ze ko kuu juu mu shiki mu ju sou gyou shiki / Mu gen ni bi zesshin ni mu shiki shou kou mi soku hou / Mu gen kai nai shi mu i shiki kai / Mu mu myou yaku mu mu myou jin nai shi mu rou shi yaku mu rou shi jin / Mu ku juu metsu dou / Mu chi yaku mu toku i mu sho tokko / Bo dai satta e han nya ha ra mi ta ko / Shin mu ke ge mu ke ge ko / Mu u ku fu on ri issai ten dou mu sou kuu gyou ne han / San ze sho butsu e han nya ha ra mi ta ko / Toku a noku ta ra san myaku san bo dai / Ko chi han nya ha ra mi ta / Ze dai jin shu ze dai myou shu ze mu jou shu ze mu tou dou shu / No jo issai ku shin jitsu fu ko / Ko setsu han nya ha ra mi ta shu soku sesshu watsu / Gya tei gya tei ha ra gya tei ha ra sou gya tei bo ji so wa ka / Han nya shin gyou"
Hannya Shin-Gyō (heart sutra).

The walk between the temples mostly went through small villages and cultivated land and was in that way not as exciting, but it was pleasant enough. The weather was however brilliant, and it was the temples that I visited that occupied most of my mind today. I came to temple #3, Konsenji (Golden Spring Temple) through the backway so to speak, with a feeling of sneeking into the temple. This was also in a quiet spot, had a small pond and nice red pagoda. I spend some time just sitting on a bench and breathing in the atmosphere of the place, while a bus group of henros are chanting the sutras in unison.

An underpass decoration adding some colours to its grey surroundings.

From Konsenji, the walk took me past more of the cultivated landscape, but also introduced some short sections going through woods. These were pleasant breaks from the otherwise somewhat monotonous walk past peoples homes. Though, I almost step on a green snake that quickly slithered away in one of them. At Aizen-in, a small temple that is the okunoin or the inner sanctum of Konsenji, I receive some warm green tea and spend some time talking with one of the monks.

Temple #4, Dainichiji (The Temple of the Great Sun), differed from the others by taking me on a short detour up into a forested valley between low lying hills. At the same time the temple looks nice, I do not feel the same atmosphere over this temple as in the others so far. The Japanese henro with the trolley has been trailing me all day. Normally, I arrive at a temple a short time before him. I love the way he is reciting the sutras, there is a lot more determination and melody to his reciting than the others that I have heard so far.

One of the few wooded sections on the first day, going over a tiny pass on the way to Dainichiji.

I first mistake Gohyaku Rakan for temple #5, Jizōji (The Earthbearer's Temple), wondering where I find almost everything I need to conduct the rituals. It does not have an appearance similar to those I have visited, and also appear to be under maintenance, then I learn that it is not the main temple itself, but the okunoin. The temple I seek lies just below it. It is very quiet there when I arrive, the temple buildings are nice, but with a common looking layout.

Going through the gate to the fourth temple, Dainichiji.

By the time, I arrive at the first henro hut on my journey, Kanyake, I have worked up a solid craving for a cup of coffee and some more food. There are a lot of wending machines here, some of them even sell beer (huge beer bottles as well), but they cannot cater to this need. Looking at my guidebook, I see that there is a 7/11 nearby. When I return to the hut with a hot coffee and some pastries, the man with the trolley has installed himself in the hut. I learn that his name is Hisatada Otsu, he will spend the night here. From what I understand, he plans to stay at so many free places he can. I reckon I will meet him again tomorrow, at least at where I plan to spend the night then.

The walk around and to the fifth temple, Jizōji, from Gohyaku Rakan.

I arrive at my destination and final temple, Anrakuji (The temple of Everlasting Joy), I have just time to go through the temple rituals for this day. The most notably feature of this temple is the nice carp pond set in a small garden next to a nice pagoda. I then enter a new world of accommodation. Paid accommodation at a temple is called shukubō. I get a nice room with tatami mats and a futon, quite different than what I am used to sleep in. The best thing is the private bathhouse of the temple, even though it was a hot day, it feels good to get a soak in the very hot water.

Kanyake henro hut. This is a part of the Henro-Goya Project, where volunteers have build several huts for the henros in order to spread and preserve the culture of the Shikoku pilgrimage. A list of all the huts can be found here.

Quite unexpectedly, there is a Danish couple, Johan and Kaja, also staying at the temple and we arrange for us to sit together at the dinner. They are walking the pilgrimage together with a Japanese friend who they met doing the Camino de Santiago a couple of years back. I get a lot of food, and good, especially through the confusion that reigns when I produce my note saying that I am allergic to any seafood except fish. They start cooking up more food for me, but we soon find out that I can actually eat a lot more of what I originally was given than we thought.

At my last temple of the day and where I will spend the night, Anrakuji.

In the evening, I attend a ceremony at the temple. Beforehand, we were told to write down the name of a deceased person that were close to you on a piece of paper and fit it to a small branch and then write down a wish on a thin piece of wood. At this we were given a sort of tour through the temple, with a sermon and all. This included coming to a darkly lit tunnel where an illuminated stream of water ran through, where we were supposed to put the branch with the name of the deceased one on small 'islands' in the stream. We should then light up a small candle that we let go into the stream of water, and can look at the lights drifting past the islands with the branches on. We then lighted up the piece of wood with wishes on, while we were chanting some sutra. It was all very nice and emotional, and I cannot but feel kind of sad (but in a good way) as this brings back memories of the one I wrote on my twig. And then I feel joy as memories of the one I wrote a wish for on the piece of wood comes to me.

Eating dinner at Anrakuji, together with Johan, Kaja and their Japanese friend.

Rain is forecast for tomorrow. The scenery of today might not have been the most interesting, but the number of temples more than made up for that, I have had a nice first day on the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage. And an interesting one as well, I am curious of what will follow.

Kamojima ->


  1. Thank you for sharing your blog. Having done the pilgrimage myself, I look forward to reading your pilgrimage adventures.

  2. Hi TArje - its great to read your blog. It looks soooo professional!! I too look forward to reading more. I walked it alone as a single 58 year old non Japanese woman back in 2010, and have such happy memories.

  3. Replies
    1. Hi! I've added a link at the bottom of the right column where you can subscribe to this blog. If there is something else you wanted, please let me know.


    2. Sorry to keep bugging you but I am interested in following your blog because I am considering doing this pilgrimage. However, the link at the bottom right is asking for netvibes or yahoo email in order to follow your post and i have neither of those accounts because i use gmail.

    3. No problem. I've changed the gadget to one that lets you enter your email-address to subscribe to the blog. You can also subscribe by clicking on the 'Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)'-link you find after the last post on the frontpage of my blog.

  4. Is it necessary to reserve to stay/sleep in temple Anrakuji? How much stay one night? Excuse my english is not good. I'm brazilian

    1. Hi Elza, if you want to stay the night at the shukubo of Anrakuji, you should reserve. It has to do with how much food they need to prepare. However, the temple also has tsuyado, in the second floor of the temple gate, which is free and with no need to reserve (but that means only a room to sleep in, no shower or food, and that you might need to share the room with other henros). I paid about 8500 yen for my stay.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thank you!I will walk a little part of way um early january