buddhism

Miyajima: Island of the Gods

The gods may be in hiding this week.

It’s a brief train and ferry ride from downtown Hiroshima to the small island of Itsukushima, more popularly known as Miyajima or, perhaps, Miyashima. And popular it is. The ten-minute ferry ride is jam-packed with tourists, Westerners like us but primarily Japanese nationals. As we pour off the ferry, there is a sudden realization that this will be far from a tranquil visit. The scene is carnivalesque. Children and adults run about madly. Tame deer follow, hoping for a handout. Unknowingly, we have arrived at Japan’s top tourist site on the first day of Japan’s most popular vacation period, Golden Week. (more…)

Shikoku: Last Steps

April 22, 2017

Today’s walk will be bittersweet. An easy 20 kilometers from now we will reach Ōzu, the endpoint of our springtime walk along the Henro-michi.

After a good Japanese-style breakfast, Gail and I set off from Matsu-ya, our business hotel in Unomachi. Budget-conscious Simon has foregone the expense of a hotel meal and is already on his way to his morning fast food fix at a Lawson’s convenience store.

The pilgrimage route takes us down the quiet streets of Unomachi, then Uwa. Or so we think. There is little definition, few clear boundaries and, it seems, no signage to tell us when we leave one community and enter another. But that is not unusual here on Shikoku. Streets just flow like a river from town to town, merge into rice paddies and cross forested valley floors, only to re-emerge in another community.  (more…)

Shikoku: Three Temples and an Izakaya

April 21, 2017

Walking a pilgrimage can be a solitary activity. Gail and I have each other for company, but many travel solo. On occasion our paths mesh for just a moment, loosely intertwining on the trail or at a temple. We exchange pleasantries as best we can, considering we speak only English and they, with few exceptions, are Japanese and speak only Japanese. The 88-temple route is, after all, a pilgrimage deeply engrained in Japanese history and culture. This is their pilgrimage and we are the Western interlopers.

But there are growing numbers of foreigners plying this path. Just as we discovered the Henro-michi back home, so too have any number of other foreign nationals. We have met pilgrims from the United States, Australia, China, France and the Netherlands.

Today, our route will cross paths with Simon from Germany.  (more…)

Shikoku: Uwajima Exotica

April 20, 2017

Tsushimachō Iwamatsu can be thought of as a suburb of Uwajima. Today’s brief 15-kilometre walk, which takes us from the former to the latter, follows a busy road lined with a non-stop collage of roadside shops and big-box sheds. It’s a utilitarian stretch of car-based enterprises typical of a North American exurban strip. Yet, here in Japan, it is an entertaining journey.

It all seems so familiar, yet exotic. Gas stations, pachinko palaces, auto dealerships, barber shops, 100-yen stores and fishmongers draw our attention as we make our way downtown. We meet a fellow long-distance walker from the Netherlands. Where? At a Lawson’s, of course. Our walk ends, appropriately, at a another Lawson convenience store, this one huddled alongside  the lobby of the Uwajima Orient Hotel. (more…)

Shikoku: Temples

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. (more…)

Shikoku: Kongōfukuji

April 14, 2017

We leave Kaiyu Inn rather late, tempted by pancakes, waylaid by conversation. But this is a beautiful, sun-filled day that inspires a lazy attitude to our pilgrim mission. Within minutes we pass alongside the sweeping white sands of Ōki No Hama Beach. Behind us, the pristine white mass of Kaiyu Inn hangs above the turquoise Pacific, slowly disappearing as we make our way down the long arc of sand.

Is it already time for lunch?

By mid-afternoon, we reach our long-awaited destination, Kongōfukuji. This is Temple 38 on our pilgrimage route. It has taken three days and 90-kilometres of trekking to make our way here from Temple 37. On the 88 temple Henro-michi, this is the longest stretch between any two temples.

But the journey is worth it. Here, at the remote tip of Cape Ashizuri lies one of the most beautiful temple complexes. (more…)

Shikoku: Off the Trail in Nakamura

April 12, 2017

We call them rest days and today is one of those days. Here in the quiet, small city of Nakamura, we plan to do nothing more than see a few sights and, of course, eat.

Nakamura is the perfect place to take a holiday from our daily walking ritual. It’s a small community, just shy of 35,000 souls. So small, I assume, that in 2005 it was merged with another small community, Nishitosa, becoming Shimanto City.

The old town of Nakamura lies sandwiched between two branches of the mighty Shimanto River, Japan’s last free-flowing river. It takes about ten minutes to walk the width of downtown from one river bank to the other and 30 minutes to walk its length. (more…)