Friday, October 20, 2017

Ishiteji - Horie

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 30.
Temples: #51-53 (Ishiteji, Taisanji, Enmyōji).
Distance: 19.2km (878.2km), time spent: 5:53.
Weather: Rain on and off.

I start my day, not counting waking up and eating breakfast, by a visit to Matsuyama Castle on the top of the hill in the middle of the city. Deciding not to leave my backpack at the hotel, I am glad that I do not have to walk up to the castle, there is a ropeway. It was not raining when I left the hotel, but on the final walk up to the castle, I feel the first raindrops falling from the grey sky. As Matsuyama is the biggest city in Shikoku, the castle cannot be any less in stature compared to the others on the island.

Matsuyama Castle.

Views from both the walls and from the upper floors of the castle are great, but the current weather makes all of the surrounding area and city look bleak. Inside the castle building, you can try out a Japanese armor that the castle guards or warriors used to wear. I start trying it out, but putting it on is so time-consuming that I eventually let it go, happy that the hakui is not so complicated to put on. It is well worth taking the time and effort to visit the castle. Returning, I take the small tram back up to Dōgo Onsen and walk from there back to the awaiting temple rituals.

View from the castle keep of Matsuyama Castle.

If Ishiteji (#51, Stone Hand Temple) was busy yesterday, it is busier today. Going in a loop on the loudspeakers are loud readings of the sutras, it does not help my own resiting, the constant interruptions are breaking my concentration and the end-result is probably very far from what you would call a sutra. Thankfully, there is no queue at the temple-office, so I quickly get my book stamped after finishing my rituals. The temple is huge compared to most of the other temples so far, with so many things to see that I would not be surprised if you could get lost.

A tiny island with a shrine at Ishiteji.

While walking around, I discover a passageway at the back of the temple leading to a tunnel. Inside the tunnel there are numerous idols, small altars, statues and ornaments, with just a dim light for illumination. Soft drips from water falling from the roof are audible. It is so cool. At the end of the longest tunnel, I emerge out on a road, from behind a huge rock. The huge Kōbō Daishi statue is now even closer. A strange temple is found here, which is the new okunoin to Ishiteji. It features a weird templehall looking like a golden globe, a statue with two hands holding a multitude of marbles, and a scary statue of Kōbō Daishi at his most ascetic and thin.

This Kōbō Daishi statue in his most ascetic form is kind of creepy. At the okunoin of Ishiteji, accessed by a tunnel from the temple.

This was a weird temple experience, and it should get weirder. After walking through the path leading through the woods from Ishiteji, where a part of the trail is littered with garbage (no fun), I follow a road a short while before I notice a small waymarker pointing in to a bamboo forest. Following the path through the trees, I come to a strange place at the top of a ridge. Surrounded by bamboo trees on all sides there is a shrine like kind of structure that appears to be unfinished, with two wooden statues of some grim figures at each end. Above the creepy structure, almost disappearing in the vegetation is a dilapitated pagoda. I take a look inside the pagoda, there are some more grim statues here, and it bears signs of being used by squatters. It is a haunting place, and a little bit scary. I quickly get down from the place. Where the original path I was trying to find went, I do not know.

The tunnel at the back of Ishiteji, leading to the creepy (but cool) okunoin.

Visiting Dōgo Onsen again, I stiffle the urge to go for another soak, but still use some time to admire the building. Towards the next temple, I do not take the route going through the city, I choose the path going through the outskirts, passing by the Yoshifuji-ike pond on the way. Nothing really special about this way. Maybe with the exception of the extremely ugly hotel made of concrete next to the pond. Rejoining the other route going through the city, I go in twists and turns past acres and rice fields. Rain on and off. A farmer gives me two persimons as osettai.


Heading towards Taisanji (#52), Big Mountain Temple, I first mistake the location of the temple office for Taisanji. It is found in a small temple before the actual temple. Taisanji has another of these entryways leading up to the temple with prayer stones arrayed on both sides. Going through the forest before a staircase takes you up to a clearing in the forest and hill, where the temple is situated. The hondo is large and apparently built without the use of a single cleat of nail. It is a nice temple, but the depressing weather above is making it a bit gloomy. Another reminder that I miss seeing the sun on the sky.

Hidden in a bamboo forest I found this creepy and dilapitated shrine.

Bleak reflections in a small dam, on the route from Matsuyama going past the Yoshifuji-ike pond.

Located on top of the mountain above Taisanji is the okunoin of the temple, Kyōgamori. The path up is both easy and difficult, aided at times by the usual wooden stairs in the ground, difficult where the rain has made the path slippery. There is a pilgrimage path coming up from the coast here, I guess it must be a route for pilgrims coming from the sea. Before I get to the top, I see the Jūichimen Kannon Bosatsu statue looming above me. It offers some great and now bleak views of the coastline the path goes next to. The trail has now arrived at the coast of Shikoku again, this time the northwest coast.

Taisanji with its impressive hondo.

Getting my stamp and calligraphy in my nōkyōchō afterwards, I ask for directions to where the path to the okunoin of Enmyōji starts from. The okunoin has actually the same name as the main temple. They spend a lot of time trying to find it out, before they end up saying that the path there is very difficult. A part of me doubts that a little, but I still decide not to go there. I am more concerned about the time I have at my disposal. The clock has just passed four and tomorrow will be hampered if I do not reach Enmyōji before closing time.

The path leading up to Kyōgamori from Taisanji.

Temple #53, Enmyōji (The Temple of Circular Illumination), carries with it hopes of better weather. There is actually a hint of an existing sun behind the clouds when I am at this temple, I can almost see some blue sky. It is another temple that has houses as its neighbours instead of woods. I spend some time trying to find a lantern that was worshipped by the secret Christians when they were being persecuted doing the Tokugawa period. On the lantern, a statue of Mary disguised as Kannon is supposed to be carved, but I fail to find it.

Kyōgamori, Jūichimen Kannon Bosatsu statue.

Another difficult day booking a place to stay for the night, so I end up getting a room at Gongen-sansō since it is next to an onsen. The drawback is that it is quite far from the pilgrimage trail. When I come to Horie, the sky is about to loose its brightness and I am at the length of how far away from the accommodation that I want to be. I do not want to walk up to the place, but will do if I have to, so I take a chance and go to the local train station in the hope that there is a taxi there. I am lucky.

View from Kyōgamori.

When the taxi enters the front of Gongen-sansō, I am glad that I took the taxi, it would have taken some time walking there. I am greeted by a friendly hostess who ushers me inside. That a closer look at the map revealed that it was not located directly next to the onsen is quickly forgotten when I enter the private onsen of the place. It is wonderful, I get a good hot bath (especially after another partly rainy day) with a view overlooking the sea and small town below. A red line is visible in the horizon, there is a sun out there after all.


The price at the place is a little bit higher than the usual minshuku or ryokan, but I feel very much welcome here and the food is good and plenty. However, any hope that I had of better weather is quickly lost when the hostess ask me if I plan to walk tomorrow. It is going to rain. She says it in such a way that it feels ominous. Not good news. I am tired of the rain and depressing weather now, it drains you. Today was a good day, but not because of the walking though.

Garage-door art.

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