Friday, October 27, 2017

Iyo Mishima - Awai

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 37.
Temples: #65-66 (Sankakuji, Unpenji).
Distance: 31.3km (1076.3km), time spent: 10:58.
Weather: Nice at the beginning, some clouds later.

Ever since I heard of the possibility of sleeping at a temple, and that there also were free lodgings for henros at some, I had wanted to stay at the tsuyado at Unpenji. Not only is it the highest point on the pilgrimage (not counting detours like climbing Ishizuchisan), but Unpenji was said to be a beautiful and atmospheric temple, but also a bit creepy. Something to do with a collection of mysterious statues at the templegrounds. That is where I want to go today.

The sun is cresting the hill above the route up to Sankakuji.

I am away at quarter past six in the morning, this is the earliest I have begun my walk at so far. Early since there are no breakfast for me at the ryokan, meaning another combini breakfast instead. I stock up on food for lunch and dinner for later, and breakfast for tomorrow morning, I even add two beers and some snacks for the evening. Why not make your backpack heavier than usual when you are climbing to the highest part on the pilgrimage.

An old waymarkerstone points the way.

When I head up into the hills towards Sankakuji, having left Iyo Mishima, the sun has not yet fully crested the hills above me. The walking is serene, on a mixture of small worn paved roads and forested paths that makes noises when you tramp on them. Sometimes, sunrays breaks loose from the top of the hill, spreading light across the path. A distinct line separates the oncoming of the bright day. In between, I can look back at Iyo Mishima and the Seto inland sea.

Colours of the fall are starting to appear at Sankakuji.

At Sankakuji.

Sankakuji (Triangle Temple), temple #65, is a lovely temple. Here the shōrō (belltower) is located in the sanmon (templegate), as I enter the temple I walk underneath the bell, hoping no one is ringing it at the same time. A legend about this temple is that Kōbō Daishi vanquished a troublesome ghost here using the Goma fire ritual at the sankaku altar. The ghost then lived around the temple and the mountain that the temple is located at, Yureisan, which means Ghost Mountain. The leaves of the trees in and around the temple are heralding the coming of autumn.

Receiving osettai from a group of volunteers at Sankakuji.

A group of volunteers are setting up tents, tables, chairs and benches at the temple. To give osettai to the pilgrims that comes to worship, I arrive a little bit early for them to be finished with the arrangements, but I still get to sit down with some hot tea and biscuits. A group of schoolkids also arrives at the temple, where they will learn about the temples, the pilgrimage and to give osettai to the henros. And suddenly Osata-san shows up.

Terraced fields on the way between Sankakuji and Unpenji.

The staff at the temple, however, are not giving me good news. They tell me that the tsuyado at Unpenji is closed due to maintenance and therefore is unavailable. And I have been carrying all the food and snacks up here, all for nothing, and will have to carry it further. Not knowing entirely what to do, I get help to book a room at Minshuku Aozora, completely forgetting that I am still carrying my tent (at this point, I have gotten accustomed to not using it). Going there means, however, an even longer day and the munk tells me that it is about six hours from Sankakuji to Unpenji. I have to walk fast.

The Sano Trail.

One of the decisions I made before going on this pilgrimage, was to only visit the main temples and not the bekkaku temples. That is a decision I regret today, and a reason for why I might want to walk it again. I need to keep myself on a tight leash as not to start walking towards Senryūji (bekkaku #13) as I want to. It is not a bad walk from Sankakuji on the route I now must take, I actually enjoy walking on the quiet country road a little up in the hills. Past terraced ricefields, returning views of Iyo Mishima and the Seto inland sea, sunrays filtered through the trees. It is less interesting after coming down to a more busy road after bekkaku temple #14, Jōfukuji (Tsubaki-dō).

The daishido at Unpenji.

For a short time I am back in Tokushima prefecture again, a reminder that I am not very far from finishing the pilgrimage. Another decision that I make, which I later do not understand I took, was to choose the Sano Trail up towards Unpenji. The Manda Trail or even the Sakaime Trail seems a lot more interesting when I look back at the map in the guidebook. The Sano Trail is not really bad, but it does not offer any views, with the exception of a good view of the Tokushima expressway, which is not very interesting. Being henro-korogashi, the path is steep.

Gohyaku-Rakan statues at Unpenji, about 500 of these kind of creepy statues you will find at the temple.

I walk the final climb up to Unpenji, temple #66 and the Hovering Clouds Temple, together with another henro. Unpenji is an amazing temple and I fall in love with it almost instantly. The sunlight is wonderful when I am there, always playing with the sunrays through the trees. The hondo and the daishido is situated at different terraces, with a staircase lined up with stone lanterns between them. And then there are the statues. 500 of them it is said, called Gohyaku-Rakan, all with different composure and expressions. I can understand that they have a creepy feeling to them, as many of them has some frightful and fierce expressions. Walking between them at night would probably be an even creepier experience.

View from Unpenjisan, from the large statue at the top of the mountain.

Unpenji becomes the hovering clouds temple for real when a groundsman lights up a fire at the templegrounds, sending of clouds of smoke over the temple. For me, standing watching the sunrays filtered through both the trees and the smoke is magical. On the way up to the temple though, I was a little bit afraid that I might arrive at the top in clouds, as I could see them approaching on my way up. Hence, it was actually to the top of Unpenjisan at 927m that I first visited. Truthfully was some of the landscape below the top covered by the cloudy blanket. At the top is a huge statue standing on a pillar that you can climb up in to get a good view from.

Unpenji, The Hovering Clouds Temple.

A play of light through the trees.

At the templeoffice I learn that they have an emergency tsuyado while the original is under maintenance. Too late now, I feel that I must honour the booking that has been made at Minshuku Aozora. I still want to spend some time here at Unpenji, and I have food and snacks in my backpack. Not to forget the two cans of beer that I bought. Osata-san arrives at the temple and I invite him up to the statue for some food and drinks. He has to conduct his temple rituals first, so he joins me later at the top. Having carried the beers and food all the way up, I feel that I have earned having one beer at least. So, no beers for the Gohyaku-Rakan then. In return for the food I give Osata-san, he hands me a bottle of Match vitamin drink.

The pathway between the hondo and the daishido at Unpenji.

Osata-san tells me that he walked the Manda Trail and it had great views. He is staying at the same place as I do, but he will take the ropeway down from Unpenji and walk from there. No ropeway for me of course, I have to walk. It gives me a tighter timeframe, but it is certainly worth it. The walk down from Unpenji is wonderful, and far better than the walk up. Above me, the sky is changing colour to a red purple hue, at viewpoints giving me sorts of otherworldly views of the mountain, area below and sea behind. Only slightly marred for a very short while, as I worry that I have taken the wrong turn at a junction and walked towards Hagiwaraji, which would give me a rather long detour. No need to worry though. I have now entered the last prefecture of the walk, Kagawa, which is the Place of Nirvana or Nehan dōjō.

Having a beer with a view at Unpenji.

Not entirely on time, but not that bad either in my mind, I arrive at the minshuku at about quarter past five. It is located in a quiet countryside at the foot of Unpenjisan. Osata-san has of course already arrived. I try to apologize that I was a little bit late to the hosts, even got Osata-san to convey my apologies, but they appear not so worried about it. A nice and friendly place, serving good food.

View from the descent from Unpenji with an afterglow on the sky.

Dinner at Minshuku Aozora, Osata-san to the left.

I have learned that it will rain tomorrow, so in the end, I am not entirely unhappy about that I missed out on staying at Unpenji. Hopefull, Tadao-san (and the other henros) will be fine when he walks up to the temple and down tomorrow. Two great temple visits today, but Unpenji was easily one of my favourite temples on the pilgrimage so far.

<- Iyo MishimaIyadaniji ->

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tarjei,
    Next time you definitely will sleep at the tsuyado of Unpenji! It is wonderfull to stay there and see the sunset and sunrise. I did sleep there 3 times now. It is so nice and quiet and not scary at all. The 500 Rakan statues are giving me a good and safe feeling. When I slept last spring there, I noticed they were going to build a new hut at the right side of the toilets. Hopefully I can sleep there this Fall. Or in the renovated old restaurant again?
    Last Spring I walked the trail up from Hagawaraji under the ropeway, a very easy climb! In Fall 2015 I walked the Manda Trail. Very nice views and a longer but much easier walk.

    btw, you look very friendly and happy with your beer on top of Unpenji! I think much nicer than your profile photo! A happy and enlighted henrosan!