The very last temple on my mini-pilgrimage was Temple 5, Jizoji.
I felt that each temple I had visited had it’s own vibe, so I was wondering if Temple 5 would finally feel like a repeat.
Well, Temple 5 feels different too. It felt like the biggest, grandest, yet quietest temple, possibly. There was hardly anybody there.
I played with the color filter on my camera.
There is a hall with a famous collection of 500 arhat statues, but I didn’t want to pay the entrance fee, so I didn’t see it.
Even though each temple has its own vibe, there are certain features all Shingon Buddhist temples have in common – like the purple flags. If I bothered to learn more about Shingon Buddhism, I would probably learn what the specific features are and how to identify them, but in my ignorance, I only get a sense that ‘yeah, this looks familiar’.
I was originally skeptical that I could be interested in all 88 temples – I figured the value of the pilgrimage would lie in the journey, not actually experiencing the temples themselves. I still think that visiting 88 temples might be overkill for me. However, these temples actually are neat places, and they have more variety than I expected. Maybe I could become fascinated by Shingon Buddhist temples if I immersed myself in that type of study.
As you can see in the map at the top of this post, though the (downhill) walk to this temple was pretty easy, the nearest train station was a bit of a walk away.
The road to the train station did have some convenience stores where I could get some food. Alas, the road’s scenery was very uninspiring. It didn’t help that it started to rain while I was walking to Itano train station.
But I didn’t get too wet, and I did get on a train back to Tokushima City. I was very surprised to hear Mandarin on a train go through rural Shikoku. It turns out the Mandarin speakers are a group of young Chinese men who are studying at a university in Tokushima City.
One of the great things about the 88 Temples pilgrimage is that it is very flexible and customizable. In my case, I only wanted to participate for one day, and I wanted to do it entirely on foot between the temples, so I picked a pilgrimage itinerary which could be done that way.
Even in English, there are a lot of descriptions/memoirs of the full pilgrimage available. Don Weiss’ pilgrimage memoir is available online – you can read his description of his journey through the first five temples here. The section of Lisa Dempster’s memoir Neon Pilgrim which covers the first five temples is also available online. Though I thing I have the physical ability and skills to do this pilgrimage, I lack the motivation. Reading Don Weiss’ and Lisa Dempster’s memoirs did help me better understand why people do undertake this pilgrimage.
The next day, I headed into one of the three hidden regions of Japan, the Iya Valley.
*** BONUS ***
After I returned to North America, I watched a public broadcasting show, Sacred Journeys: Shikoku with my mom. They didn’t cover all 88 temples in the one-hour show, but they did feature Temple 1, Ryozenji, as well a temple I visited on a different day, Zentsuji (which I will describe in a future post). The show featured a few pilgrims from California/Oregon.
For me, the main value of the show was nostalgia – ‘oh yeah, I remember travelling around rural Japan’ and pointing to my mom ‘hey, I’ve been there’. I also commented on the pilgrims’ hiking plans. My mom’s reaction? She says that people who can afford to do the pilgrimage, in terms of time and economics, are privileged, that it’s possible to do this because Japan is such a safe country (note: I now know enough about Japan that I can no longer make statements like ‘Japan is such a safe country’ without adding qualifiers). Overall, she seemed to think that going on this pilgrimage is some kind of luxury. I think this sentiment reflects on my mom’s way of thinking more than it reflects on the content of the TV show.