The 1200km route you see above is known as the Shikoku Junrei. As my time in Japan grows longer, my bucket list slowly empties, and the travels I take become more and more esoteric.
Speaking of esoteric, this pilgrimage route visits 88 temples related to Shingon Buddhism, also known as Japanese Esoteric Buddhism. The internet is full of resources to educate yourself, so I won't go into detail. But basically this guy named Kukai, who lived in the 9th century, was responsible for bringing Shingon from mainland China back to his native Japan. Though Mt. Koya in Wakayama is the head of Shingon, he spent much time on nearby Shikoku, and sometime later, maybe in the second millennium, 88 temples were chosen to be especially significant to Shingon and Kobo-Daishi, the posthumous name of Kukai. The 88 temples make a circuit that circumnavigates the island. Traditionally, one would walk the route, spending a couple months doing so. These days, cycling, driving, and bus tours are all popular.
Of course, I rode my motorcycle.
Let's go! Took the highway from Tokyo to Tokushima. About 9 hours.
Before I continue, I realize that I don't do the Shikoku pilgrimage justice. In the following days (weeks?) I will post about my 3500km, 10 day motorcycle trek from the bustling heart of Tokyo to the very very countryside outskirts of Shikoku. I am not a Buddhist, nor do I subscribe to any religion. But I'm fascinated my the things people do for their gods. Some people have walked this route over 500 times in their lives. I went with an open mind and a sense of adventure. If you are interested in hearing a great account of the actual pilgrimage, check out Echoes of Incense, by Don Weiss. You can read it all online, and it won't take more than a few hours if you read slowly like me. If you want to know more about the particular temples, get a hold of the book Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide. Whoah, I just discovered this guys blog when looking for a link for that book. Nice one bro!
Instead of guiding you along the path, I will just be spouting randomness and posting way too many photos.
Once again... Let's go!
I love my Touring Mapple. My digital navigation system (navi), is a god damned asshole whom I hate. This will be a recurring theme over the next couple of posts. Fuck you navi! On the drive down, the navi thought Nagoya was still in the Edo period, and I got lost on their new (not really new though) inner-city expressway. It sucked. But I passed the factory where they make soylent green. If I ever return to Nagoya, I'll try and find it again. Moving on.
Almost there, I passed through Osaka, then crossed from Kobe onto Awajishima.
Weather was good, until about 30 minutes after this photo. I turned a corner and was greeted with pure blackness. And that bridge you see, scariest thing EVER. Seriously, I thought I was going to die. Imagine pounding rain, and gusts of 80kph. Then put yourself up a hundred meters, with a guardrail that doesn't look up to the task. AND, this is all over the Naruto Straight. A naruto is a 20m wide whirlpool, by the way.
Checked into a business hotel that a gas station worker recommended. Only 3500 yen and I got this massive room all to myself. My original plan was to leave Tokyo at about 2am, arrive down here noon-ish, hit a couple temples, and camp. But I got good and drunk the night before with one of my students and figured a little sleep before the drive was worth it. I ended up leaving early enough to stay in the sun, but late enough to miss McDonald's breakfast hours.
The next day the sun was out and I was ready to hit temple #1. Let's talk about the pilgrims.
Known as henro, the pilgrims drape themselves in white. A staff, sedge hat, and stole are also worn. Beads, special bags, the list goes on. Bring your wallet.
Arrive at the temple. Bow at the main gate.
Wash your hands and mouth at the wash basin. The sacred water (tap water) purifies you.
Ring the bell, then visit the main hall and Daishi hall.
At each hall, light incense and a candle.
Put your name slip into the box at each hall. Then begin the chanting. Recite the... Kaigyoge sutra, Hannya Shingo, Gohonzon Shingon 3 times, Komyo Shingon 3 times, Gohogo 3 times, and finally the Ekoumon sutra. Oh, and say arigatou.
Finally go and have your stamp rally book... I mean o-nokyocho stamped with the temple's official seals and calligraphy.
Bow once more at the main gate on your way out.
Is the "official" way to do things. I bought a guidebook that explained how to do all this, and gave it about 30 seconds at the first temple. My interest in chanting ancient sutras is about the same as my interest in visual-kei fashion. Rad to see, but not for me.
I chose to wear only the white vest on top of my motorcycle gear.
Over the next few temples I developed a routine that worked for me.
I would arrive at a temple, take a photo of my motorcycle in front of the gate, follow the accepted order of visitation (main gate - wash basin - bell - main hall- daishi hall - temple office - main gate) but avoid any of the more ritualistic aspects. I replaced the minutes of chanting with a short time observing the treasures housed in each hall. Total time at a temple would end up ranging anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. I'll be honest, some temples are pretty boring, and some are kick ass mountain retreats.
Ah, o-settai. Gifts for the henro. I read accounts of pilgrims being given a few thousand yen in gifts every day as they walked the route. Here, in Tokushima, I was given a lot of snacks, drinks, and even treated to lunch. I could get used to this!
Of course, after the 2nd day I didn't get anything else for the rest of my trip.
I'll go ahead and say this, 88 temples is a lot of temples.
Most foreigners in Japan have a revelation a few months in, where they are suddenly templed-out. Visiting the 88 in Shikoku will numb you to the beauty of these historical buildings.
But if you divide your time between temply stuff, meeting random strangers, riding your motorcycle along pristine coastline, and eating some amazing food, then you'll finish a satisfied customer.
I say customer because this shit ain't cheap! Every little thing costs money. The outfit will run you a couple hundred for everything. The name slips cost money. The candles cost money. The incense costs money. The stamps cost money. And you are sort of expected to drop some coin into every hall's coffers when you chant.
She treated me and a dude riding his scooter to my first bowl of Udon this time around. In typical nice-old-lady fashion, she made me eat too much.
I was able to, on a good day, hit up over a dozen temples. In many areas, they are only a few kilometers apart from each other.
I made good time the first day, hitting up temple #1 to #12.
Who's got a scratchity tum tum?
You don't! Puppy wanted to take my hand off.
The path for walkers, as well as drivers, is fairly well marked.
Even though the road to temple #12 was marked, I set the address into my navi.
Where are we going navi?
What's all this then?
Fuck you navi!
Arrived at this mountaintop temple just as they closed.
Yes, it's still light. But the temple's office closes at 5pm everyday of the year. You can still visit the temple, but you won't be able to get your stamp. 7am in the morning, 5pm at night. Remember these times and plan accordingly.
Late April and the cherry blossoms in the mountains were going strong. April and May turned out to be pretty spectacular from a flower lovers viewpoint.
Found a campground and paid 1000 yen to pitch my tent on some gravel. From this point on I vowed never to pay for a campsite again.
Day 2 had me finishing Tokushima prefecture. By the way, there are 4 prefectures in Shikoku, so now you know how many parts of my story there will be.
Kid and his brother were hella cute. They lived next to this temple, and were running around aping the henro's chanting.
They also directed me to some wildlife hiding in a stone monument. Thanks kids!
Daishi may have walked, but I ride!
Shit, no vehicles allowed, and it's a lengthy one kilometer to the top from the parking lot.
What to do?
Homeboy on a Harley led the way.
Rebels I tell ya!
I'm partial to these mountain temples. Lush moss covering the stone, fresh air, and a peaceful tranquility that you don't find down on the road. Sorry for ruining it with my custom exhaust. Vroom vroom!
The drive thus far had been bland at best. Sharing city roads with trucks and what not is not good touring.
But once you hit the coast on the way to Muroto, it's great. The roads are fast, the views are spectacular, and the temples are nice and far apart.
I considered sleeping by this sacred rock, but chose to move on. I found a roadside rest area where a dozen or so walking henro had set up camp. I followed suit.
Dinner was amazing. Tastes like the reddest tuna was genetically combined with lean steak.
Yep, it's a whale restaurant.
The Tokushima leg of this journey is sometimes said to be the awakening. I was in excellent spirits after 3 days of riding. Yeah, I was awakened in a sense. Though as I fell asleep at sundown, I knew there was a long road ahead.