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Published: October 31st 2006
The woman sitting down in the middle is the one who's 104 years old. She was so cute! Here we are displaying our origami horses we just made.
Shikoku, one of the four main islands of Japan and also the island that my much smaller island of Yuge is considered to be part of, isn’t usually a destination of the average tourist because there aren’t many famous places to visit on the island. However, the one thing about the island that will be mentioned in any tourist guide to Japan is the famous Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. This is Japan’s most famous pilgrimage route and can be compared to hiking the entire Appalachian Trail in America, but with a Buddhist twist. The temples are scattered all over Shikoku, so it can take months to visit all of them if you go by foot.
Why 88? The founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, Kukai, better known by his posthumous name, O-Daishi-sama, was born in Shikoku in 774 and was said to have found all of these temples and be the first person to complete the pilgrimage. After his death, O-Daishi-sama has seemed to almost turn into a god-like figure who millions worship and complete the pilgrimage in his honor.
So, last week I promised some of the Obaa-sans (old ladies) that I would go on a hike
The pilgrims three. From Left to right: Naka-san, Tabusa-san, Yoshida-san.
around Yuge with them. I was excited because I hadn’t been able to figure out if there were hiking trails that went through the peaks of bamboo on Yuge yet. We were starting out early at 8am, and I was told not to eat breakfast or bring any food with me because we would be receiving food from temples. I thought we were just going on a little hike, but it turned out that we were participating in a miniature version of the Shikoku 88 Temple pilgrimage. On Yuge, we have the Yuge 88 Temple pilgrimage, and on other smaller islands in the Inland Sea they have similar pilgrimages. I guess the reason is because it’s more difficult for people to participate in the Shikoku pilgrimage if they live out on one of these small islands.
On Yuge they actually trek to some of the 88 temples on Yuge every month on the 21st. You may be wondering how 88 temples can even fit on this tiny island. Well, only about twenty of them are actual buildings, and of that twenty, probably only about eight or nine are real temples. All of the rest are tiny statues or small
A view from the main temple down the hill. This is a typical Japanese grave yard. Very crowded, as everyone is cremated.
boxes on the side of the road with offerings placed inside. But, in total, there are 88.
So, the morning began with us walking through a residential area on the northern part of the island. I ride my bike through this neighborhood every week on my way to the beach. It always seemed to be a bunch of normal Japanese houses all crowded together alongside narrow roads. But on this day, several houses were transformed into worshipping places. Old ladies would sit in the door ways and offer passerby’s tea and snacks. If you accept, you join them in a small room with several statues of Buddha and O-Daishi-sama surrounded by offerings. After sipping on the tea for a few minutes, everyone chants Buddhist sutras before the statues.
We visited a few places like this in the neighborhood, and then my friends said they wanted to take me to see the old woman who lived nearby. Old, as in 104 years old! The house she lives in is a beautiful old medicine house. A long time ago it was used as a shop for people to get medicine at. It still had an interesting, old wooden walk-up window
A roof decoration of an irate fish on the temple.
where you get your medicine. We tapped on the window and an old lady creeked it open. I was so surprised! She was old, but she definitely didn't look 104! It turns out this lady was her daughter! She ushered us inside and ran to call her mother. Soon, her mother slowly walked in the room. She definitely was 104, but she was pretty functional for being that old. She walked in the room with no help but a cane; she could talk fine; see fine; the only thing was that we had to shout in her ear for her to hear anything. We decided to make some origami with her. The whole time she shouted commands at us like, "Now put the eyes on! The eyes!!" It was really fun, but after a while we had to continue on our pilgrimage.
So, we started hiking up the mountain. On the way up is one of the main temples on the island, so we stopped to pay our respects there too. My wallet was gradually becoming much lighter as it was polite to drop a coin in front of the Buddhist statues as offerings anytime we passed by one.
The various containers used to carry water to a reletive's grave. Regular cleaning of the tomb stones is the norm.
My backpack, on the other hand, was quickly becoming much heavier as at every place we stopped, all types of foods were forced upon us. Also, one of the women I was hiking with had some land right behind the main temple with mikan (mandarin oranges) orchards growing on it. So we had to stop there and stock up. I was actually thankful for this later though, because I ran out of coins to give as offerings, so I started giving mikans instead.
The hike through the mountain to the other side of the island was enjoyable. Several times we almost passed by some of the tiny statues included in the 88 without noticing because they were so small, and often covered with overgrown plants. But in the end we managed to stop at all of the stops on our path (just a small portion of the Yuge 88 trek) and pay our respects by giving an offering, clapping, and ringing the bell.
We ended the hike on the far side of the island where it’s sparsely populated. If Yuge doesn’t already feel like a time warp, this part of the island will definitely have you thinking twice
Tiny, crowded statues at the temple look like a miniture model of the crowded houses in the neighborhood.
about what year it is. One of the older men in my adult English conversation class lives there. His real home is in Kobe on mainland Honshu, but he spends most of his time by himself in his retirement dream home on Yuge. He spends most of his time there farming and making pottery. Rough life. So, we had told him that we were inviting ourselves over that day after we were done with the hike.
When we arrived, he was in his studio, busy at his potter’s wheel. His house is absolutely gorgeous and is located at THE most breathtaking spot on the island. It’s right up a little hill from the open Inland Sea and the view is amazing. He designed the cabin himself and built some of it, but had most of it built by hired workers. As most of the older men on this island, he is a retired sailor and has been all over the world. Therefore, parts of his house had been imported from places he had visited earlier in his life. For example, he had a sun roof/window in the loft ceiling that opens to the view of the ocean. So we
Glorious MIKAN!! This is what Ehime prefecture is all about. Supposedly we supply most of Japan with mikans as well as other countries. It is also the mascot of all the Ehime sports teams. People are obsessed with this fruit. Afterall, they are pretty good.
had an enjoyable afternoon relaxing on his front porch after our morning hike. He also made sure we took as many figs as we could carry off of his fig trees before we left. They were delicious!
It turned out to be a great day, and I learned a lot about the island and its Buddhist traditions. I guess I’ll be doing it all over again next month on the 21st, and the month after that, and the month after that…
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