kukai

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: 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: Minshuku Micchan

April 8, 2017

It would be a hard day.

We knew this before setting off from Haruna Spa. Comfortable beds, refreshing hot baths, filling meals are all fine reasons to spend the night here. But it is off the henro path and, at the outset, adds two kilometres to this day’s trek. We had originally planned to stay the night at Tosa City, five kilometres further on. But no rooms were available so we had to choose the spa as an earlier stop. That’s an extra seven kilometres, stretching today’s walk into the thirty-kilometre range.

When we do reach Tosa City, another reality sets in. The usually reliable trail signage is now vague or non-existent. We soon lose the path as we make our way through town to Kiyotakji, Temple 35. More time, more footsteps are added to this day’s ever-lengthening journey.

After a modest climb, Kiyotakji rewards us with its fine setting of temple structures tightly clustered around the rocky terrain. It’s another wet day but, up here, the morning fog adds a layer of mystery to the scene. A large bronze statue of Kōbō Daishi looms, enshrouded by mist. A tracery of flimsy limbs laden with soft pink cherry blossoms cross the light grey backdrop of trees and temples. (more…)