Thursday, May 26, 2011

Riding with the Daishi: The Shikoku Pilgrimage - Kagawa

四国巡礼 - 香川県


Kagawa starts out insanely awesome, quickly turns to boring, takes a bite out of your wallet, and ends on a high note. What is going on here?


I think insanely awesome is a good description. There were hundreds of these guys. 500 to be exact. I didn't count. These are Rakan, disciples of Buddha who have achieved enlightenment.




I spent a long time at this one. First, driving there was a bit out of the way. There is a remote mountain road leading to this temple. There is also a shiny new ropeway that is practically connected to the next temple in the circuit. Convenient. Since the ropeway was overpriced, I chose the scenic route. Always choose the scenic route. Second, this temple is just great. The general temple-y-ness of the place is top notch. The whole place is like a well maintained bonsai tree. And obviously I was sidetracked by the Rakkan.


Down the mountain, and up another.


Ancient ruins of a... Hi-C machine? Everyone was taking pictures with their cell phones.


Enjoy you nightmares kids!


Figs I think. Yes, each fruit is individually wrapped while on the tree. Expect to pay for it at the department store. It's a Japan thing.


This temple has an interesting story. At the age of 7, Kukai climbed this mountain and yelled, "Hey Shaka Nyorai! If this shit ain't for me, let me die!" Then he jumped to his death. But wait! Shaka appeared and saved him. Didn't see that one coming.


The pilgrimage is full of wacky stories about Kukai. At one temple, he carved the main deity statue with his fingernail. At another, a murderous woman's pilgrimage was ended when her hair became caught in some rope. Best part, you can see the actual hair in question. Gross? Rad? You be the judge.

Actually, almost every temple has a story behind it. Even though the circuit is limited to 88 temples, there are hundreds that have at least a minor connection to Kukai. Maybe the 88 were chosen for their stories.




"Visiting this spot if forming a special relationship with the Daisi". Special, you can see, was an edit. What was there before? I like using my favorite word. And yeah, I did form a rad relationship with the Daisi.


Suddenly, after some nice mountains, the temples of Kagawa get very boring. Very, very boring. There are about 10 in a row that are all like this, just sitting in the middle of town, next to factories and telephone wires. Some are just a few hundred meters from each other. And they are all along the main road, which is full of trucks and traffic and pachinko parlors.


I'm sure back in the day, a thousand or so years ago, it was a different picture altogether. This would have been the fertile farmland of the Sanuki Province (ancient name of Kagawa prefecture), and a stroll through might have been akin to the wanderings of a ronin samurai, full of chance meetings and mystery. But now... traffic and trucks and pachinko.


Only a handful of temples left. Ending everyday at 5pm gives you a bit of free time. I took the chance to drive around Takamatsu. Like most port cities, it's seedy.


I decided to camp as close to the next temple as I could. Luckily there was a henro hut that fit the bill. I didn't have the 411, but here is a list of all these huts. Technically, they are just for taking a break, but no one really cares if you sleep in them.

Cool point, it's covered so you don't need to pitch a tent in the hypothetical rain.


At about 3am I rolled off the bench. And no one saw me. It was embarrassing nonetheless.


Kagawa kitties.


Nice morning views. The bridge there connects Shikoku with Okayama, rising above the Seto Inland Sea. The Seto Inland Sea has no waves, and is almost as calm as a lake.


My last day went by in a blur. Suddenly I found myself cleansing my hands in one of the last temples of my journey.


Here's a tip, visit an ATM before you start this leg.


600+ yen just to drive up to temple #84. They have the gall to call this toll road a ドライブウェイ, driveway. Like it's some sort of fancy shit to some stately whatnot.


You paid the $6, then you gotta pay another $5 for this museum. Sorry culture, you just got nexted.


Later, at the next temple... no cars or motorcycles allowed? Why not?


Cause they want you to ride the $10 cable car. I walked up. It sucked. You should really take off your heavy motorcycle jacket if you plan on hiking for an hour.


Kukai would not approve. Or would he? Back in his day he was appointed to all sorts of government task forces. Something about building a dam or resevoir. Anyways, some dude who builds stuff for the emperor is probably rolling in yen.


No trip to Kagawa would be complete without some Sanuki Udon noodles. It is said that Kukai himself brought the recipe over from China.


Does anyone remember the udon eating scene from Dead or Alive 2? Everytime I eat kitsune udon I think of that.

This shop was good, but I couldn't tell much of a difference in this sanuki udon from the sanuki udon shop near my house in Tokyo. Ramen!!!!


Oh snap!


I'm at temple #88!


Proof! Take a seat haters. I'm meant to take my stamp book to My. Koya, the spot of Kukai's eternal meditation, in the future and get one more stamp. Definitely something I will do. But for now I'm happy with my souvenir. An expensive souvenir. Every stamp costs 300 yen. Times 88. That's around $300 for something that you don't really do anything with.


The drive to #88 is smooth and long, ascending the mountains that make a natural border between prefectures.


This last bit represents nirvana. Had I achieved enlightenment during my days circling the island? Naw. A devout practitioner might say that my lazy attitude towards the whole thing was my first mistake. I didn't study Kukai's teachings, didn't go through the lengthy ritual at each temple, didn't spend a few months walking. But what I did do was have a pretty cool Golden Week vacation. The footsteps of the Daishi were just a starting point.

My Recommended Temples

So you want to check out some temples in Shikoku? And you ride a motorcycle? But you don't wan't to visit all 88? Here are my top 10 picks to check out.

遍路ころがし - Translated as the places where "the pilgrim falls down", these are the ones high in the mountains. #12, 20, 21, 27, 60, 66, 81, and 82 all fall into this category. You'll be far from the cities, breathing fresh air, at one with nature.

金剛福寺 - #38, Kongofukuji, is the one at the southern tip. It's a bit touristy, but once you are past the bus routes it's gorgeous country.

石手寺 - #51, Ishiteji, is right next to Dogo Onsen. It has a lot of temple type stuff to see, and a lot of wicked dragon statues.

Riding with the Daishi: The Shikoku Pilgrimage - Ehime

四国巡礼 - 愛媛県


I left the rider's house early, and actually had to backtrack a bit. To efficiently visit the 88 temples, you should stay near your next temple, or even in it if you can. Many temples offer what is called a shukubo, lodging for lay men and women. I was trying to get the most out of my fairly pricey tent / mat / sleeping bag that I bought last year, and temple stays tend to cost more than zero yen, so they were out. Anyways, stay near the temple, wake up around 6am so that you can be there for the front desk opening at 7am. Come 5pm, find your next bed, and find it near the next temple. Efficiency.


But this trip to Shikoku had a few extra bits I wanted to accomplish. One was to revisit the rider's house I had stayed at 3 and a half years ago. The other was to stay with a friend in Ehime at his fish cake factory. More on that later. These wants took me a bit out of the way, and I put a few hundred extra kilos on the odometer seeking them out.


Anyways, I was able to get a few temples done in Ehime this day.


Here's a tip for the henro. If you see a massive bus tour arriving, RUN for the front desk to get your book stamped. Unless you like waiting in a line of 60 people. Cause that's what you will do.


More on delicious kamaboko later.


Ehime's temples get a bit repetitive at times. There are stretches where a walking pilgrim could visit 5 or 6 temples in a few hours.


What up dog.


After a few spots in the countryside you'll be taken into the heart of Matsuyama. Not all Shikoku is countryside. Matsuyama, I don't know how to feel about it. Having driven it's streets, I probably have a very different opinion than someone arriving by train or tour bus. This place is pretty scummy! Just past the main tourist attractions and important historical sites is an expanse of pachinko parlors, 4 story apartment buildings, and cheap diners. A bit of a change from the empty mountain roads that I had been riding for the past few days.


Temple #51, Ishiteji, is a bit touristy. This makes since, the temple is a few blocks from the famous Dogo Onsen. Dogo is a really old hot spring. The line is long. Do yourself a favor, when your Japanese friends ask if you went to the onsen, just say yes, even if you didn't. Because the idea of passing by this historic place without taking a bath is utter insanity. Remember how I said Matsuyama is a bit scummy? Well a few blocks from Dogo, away from the nice hotels, is a crazy red light district! I was there daytime, and it was in full swing.


Even though it's one of the most touristy temples, I'd recommend it in my top 10.



Yeah, the grilled rice cakes are famous. According to my guide, in the past they were given free to henro. I paid a dollar.


Ehime kitty. Beauty is on the inside, no?


Check out this behemoth. Inside was seating for a few thousand people.


5pm rolled around and it was time to head to my boy's place. But first... fuck you navi!

My friend T lives on an island just off the mainland. This involves crossing a massive bridge, which is part of the Shimaname toll road. This toll road, a 60km network of bridges connecting Shikoku and Honshu, is awesome. Traverse it if you have the chance, during the day, in nice weather. For me, it was dark and I just wanted to get to my friend's place. I entered his address in the navi and drove on.

He had told me Oshima in the past, so I was surprised when my navi said to continue past that island, and onto Omishima. Of course, this was completely wrong. Did I mention that this toll road is very spendy? Well it is. When I asked the grumpy old toll booth attendant if I was on the right track, he yelled at me for holding up traffic, then told me to make a u-turn and go back one stop... after paying him.

Once I was at the right exit, I had no problem finding the fish cake factory, as everyone on the island knows where it is. So the navi has popped my tire, took me to some remote islands, and cost me a few thousand yen. Damn.


T wanted to take me to nothing but noodle shops. I had to beg him for fresh fish, and we did some damage at a local spot with his family.


Nice stuff. The sushi shop is run by an actual fishing company, so you know it's good.


Back at home T showed me his great grandfather's collection from the 88 temples. Some people do the book, some do the scroll. Next time I'll get a scroll.

In the past, it was tradition for those living on Shikoku to do the pilgrimage before getting married. But in modern days of high speed trains and communication, traditions like this have faded away. Shed a tear.


Mr. T is the part of an interesting lineage. His family has been running a fish cake factory for over 100 years. Modern machinery prepares the traditional recipe, churning out tasty kamaboko from 6am until the afternoon.


Good stuff! Expect more about this in the future, T's family invited me to help them out during the New Years holiday rush. A week of working in a fish cake factory, eating sushi, and drinking. Word.

If you want to eat some now, hit up the expensive department stores like Isetan, cause this stuff is cream of the crop.


The Ehime section of the circuit represents enlightenment. I was certainly enlightened to the shitness of my navi, which I packed away for good. But as for the enlightenment that should, in theory, come from this religious pilgrimage, I don't know. The whole time, I've felt like a tourist. Do you feel connected to Christianity if you visit the cathedrals of Europe? Does once feel closer to Allah when they see Masjid Al Haram in Saudi Arabia? Do chanting henro draw you to Buddhism?

I put myself directly in the oncoming headlights of Buddhism on this trip, but felt very little. I'm not as sarcastic as this blog portrays in real life, and open my mind to many experiences and ways of life. Perhaps, as I finish my quest, something will pop.