We flew to the island of Shikoku, Japan on Sept. 22 to walk the Shikoku pilgrimage route - a 1200 km trek around the perimeter of the island. People who undertake this pilgrimage stop at 88 Buddhist temples to light a candle, burn incense, and chant the Heart Sutra (in Japanese) - KAN JI ZAI BO SA GYO JIN HAN-NYA HA RA MI TA ... (http://themathesontrust.org/papers/sacredaudio/sa-buddhism/sa-bu-heartsutra-japanese.mp3). The aim is to become a truly awakened human being - great fun! As part of the ritual, each pilgrim wears a white coat called a hakui and carries a staff and a bag that contains candles, incense and a stamp book which is stamped and signed with calligraphy at each temple. We plan to walk about 20 km a day, so the journey should take about 2 months.
The trickiest part of the journey is arranging for accommodation, since very few of the people of Shikoku speak English. We've had the good fortune to find a few people who have made reservations for a few nights each for us. This is a picture of Oomoto, a monk who lives beside the Aizen-in temple along the route. We met him when we managed to get lost on our very first day and were standing at an intersection trying to figure out where we were on the map. He walked up introduced himself, sorted us out, and sent us on our way. A little later in the day, we walked by his place (in the picture) and he popped out again, made us iced tea, and made a few reservations for us. For this act of kindness, a centipede bit him on the hand while he was pouring us the tea...! Finally, at the minshuku (Japanese dinner-and-bed-and-breakfast) we were staying at that first night, he showed up again to make sure we were OK! He gave us his phone number and told us to call him if we ever get into a jam. Nice guy...!
The island of Shikoku is spectacularly beautiful - it's a volcanic island with lots of mountains and very rich soil with rice paddies and vegetable gardens everywhere.
Besides great beauty, there are a few disconcerting things on Shikoku, like this mamushi pit viper that was run over by a car. This particular species of snake is pretty nasty with wicked venom - a good creature to avoid. We saw some other different snakes, but found it's a lot easier to get a good picture of a smushed one!
It turns out that most people drive the Shokuko pilgrimage route, either in cars or big tour buses. At the temples it's common to see 30 or 40 elderly Japanese coming off a tour bus, with a guide along to lead the chanting. We're a bit of an oddity in several ways, being non-Japanese walkers so we get a lot of attention.
Someone once commented about pilgrimages that drivers or bus tours find meaning and significance at the temples, while walkers find it between the temples. That seems true for us - the temples are beautiful and majestic, but less joyful than the simple sights along the way.
There are rice fields scattered around on every available free space. There are fields in every state of growth - newly planted, teenagers, and fully mature!
Jizo temple. Jizo is the 'patron Buddha' of women, children and travellers.
Fellow pilgrim. Most of the path is paved and along roadways. Fortunately, they chose quiet roads in the countryside. Most of the small quiet roads are single lane - very sensible in a polite society!
This is what the island of Shikoku looks like and where the 88 temples are located.
There are some wicked climbs in Shikoku and there is usually no accommodation on the peaks, except in some cases if you have made arrangements to stay at the temple itself. The red bars and numbers show the locations where we spent our nights.
Yesterday was a mountain day. We climbed up 800 m over about 7 hours - actually we climbed 800 m twice counting all the ups and downs, following mountain paths through magnificent cedar forests up the side of one mountain then down and up again. And again. Absolutely beautiful - wish our legs and backs were a little more appreciative of all this beauty!
At the top of the mountain was temple 12. Here are a couple of the big cedars in the temple grounds.
Buddies along the way.
Vending machines are everywhere! For those who know precisely how much beer they want, this one sells beer cans in 6 sizes.
We stayed for night 6 at minshuku Kakahuu-tei to rest up before the climb to the twin mountain peak temples 20 and 21. The minshuku owner took us out to this waterfall at Hoshinoiwaya, a local temple out in the hills.
Shakuhachi flute music at the minshaku.
Climb to Temple 21.
Part of the routine at every temple is to ring the bell to announce your arrival.
Bamboo forest on the way to Temple 22.
Cutest car so far. It's a Subaru Tecnica International.
Ocean cave by Temple 23.
Tiny truck - Daihatsu Midget II.