The heat of summer and the sound of cicadas are now a memory. Our thoughts turn as the weather does to the next season, and there is a feeling of renewed energy, perhaps something invigorating comes with cool autumn winds.
For many Japanese people, this is the season for mountain hikes, and walking outdoors. It is a time to get away from some of the noise of the city and the hard grey concrete of subway platforms. While Japan is surprisingly a country full of hills and mountains, let’s take a trip a little further west and south to the island of Shikoku.
Many people who first come to Japan find themselves in one of the major cities. But sometimes it feels good to break away from the places where many tourists come to visit. We all would like to have our own quiet spaces when we travel, to think, to see, to explore, and to experience.
Shikoku is home to four prefectures: Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime and Kagawa. It is home to the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage and it is here where some of the best autumn walking and hiking can be found. The quiet hills at this time of year are just about to erupt into yellow, gold, and orange. The hints of fall spread slowly on the tips of leaves. Come along with me for a moment to Kagawa. Let’s move further from the popular places of Ritsurin garden, Konpira, and the Seto Inland Sea Islands and go further inland to the hills and mountains.
Let’s take a look at the beautiful rustic temples of Shiromine-ji (temple 81 of 88) and Negoro-ji (temple 82 of 88).
Shiromine-ji (White Peak Temple) holds the mausoleum of Emperor Suutoku and several 14th century buildings still remain. The temple grounds are resplendent in giant cedars and smoothened steps which lead up to the temple where white-clad ohenro (pilgrims) come to pray.
At this temple there is a legend that when the wood used to carve the honzon (enshrined deity) was found a holy man appeared and claimed that this is the site where the wheel of Dharma would turn and one could enter a state of Samadhi (a state of meditative consciousness, a unification of the individual soul with the infinite).
Negoro-ji (Fragrant Root Temple) is a unique temple on the pilgrimage. Walk through the forest and up a series of steps to an inner courtyard. You are in another world. Many temples are spread out and expansive. But Negoro-ji feels compact, cozy, and nest-like in the forest. Once inside the interior you can walk through corridors that are packed with 10,000 images of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
There is a legend for this temple that the area was plagued by an ushi-oni (an ox-demon) and this creature often appeared to villagers to frighten them. One day, a brave samurai named Yamada Kurando shot the devil with an arrow and severed his head. The head was brought to the temple and people later believed that it could protect them from evil.
These are but two of the 88 temples of the Shikoku Buddhist Pilgrimage. There are many quiet, calm, and unique places to see, explore, and to experience. When you are on the trail, be it on foot, bicycle, car, train, tourbus, or motorcycle you are in a chain of thousands of pilgrims who have come before and who will come after you. And you are free to see and visit any temple, in any order, and in any season. With autumn now here, Kagawa Prefecture, has many wonderful jewels that are very much off the beaten track for the more adventurous visitor.
Here is how you can do it:
From Okayama City, Okayama: Take the Seto-Ohashi Line to Sakaide City in Kagawa. Take a car, taxi, rent a bicycle, or if you are a strong hiker and travel east towards Shiromine-ji. The route is about 12 km and it is a pretty steady incline to the top.
From Shiromine-ji to Negoro-ji, the distance is 7.4 km and takes some winding roads to get there.
While it seems like a challenging hike, you will likely meet many smiling and happy fellow pilgrims on the road, but if you prefer, the taxi ride is about 25 minutes to Shiromine-ji and then another 13 minutes to Negoro-ji. Easily navigated with any local taxi service.
So come to visit some temples in far flung Kagawa. You may find personal illumination in your travel, or you may simply enjoy the folklore and the incredible natural beauty of the area. In either event, you will not return home disappointed.© Japan Today