April 17, 2017
A slight drizzle accompanies our way out of Sukumo. Light enough to pack our rain coats away, letting the cool dew dampen our clothes and drip off the brows of our conical hats.
We head inland, away from the sea and up into the hills, following small roads and forest trails, cutting our way through dense fog. Out of the hazy white emerge splashes of vibrant colour. Wild rhododendron hang above us. Flourishes of red, yellow, white blossoms line our path. We pass through small hill villages and orchards of buntan, a large bright yellow citrus fruit, similar-looking to grapefruit. The pungent scent of Japanese onions comes and goes like the mist.
Temple 40, Kanjizaiji, arrives at the end of our 19-kilometre day. It’s a modestly appealing complex set into the narrow streets of Ainan Town. Established in 807 by Kōbō Daishi, it is largely original save for the much newer main hall. The old one burnt down in 1959 and was replaced in 1964 with a steel pastiche of traditional forms and twentieth century materials. It sits uncomfortably in the temple complex, neither ancient nor modern.
For many, the spiritual significance of Temple 40 outweighs any architectural quibbles. But, on a day such as this, after a sublime walk through the Shikoku countryside, it is the path to the temple that best serves my metaphysical needs.
Ryokan Yamashiro-ya is just around the corner from the temple. This will be our lodgings for the next two nights. It is a good choice. We have a well-appointed Japanese room. We enter through sliding screens, delicate affairs constructed of wood and translucent paper. Eight tatami mats cover the floor, a good-sized room by Japanese standards. Futons, duvets and pillows are folded up along one wall. In the centre is a handsome wood table and wicker seats. As usual, there is a pot of hot water, tea bags and a small treat awaiting our arrival. It’s a good time to sit back and admire the wonderful proportions of this uncluttered space, how every component – mats, wall coverings, wood trim, luminous screens – come together so harmoniously. There is a little bit of temple in this room.
And there is temple at the dinner table as well. Our low-slung table is filled with an array of local treasures – fish of all types, served tempura-style, grilled and raw – each presented in their own, unique serving vessels. A feast for the eyes, the tongue and the mind.