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The Enlightenment Circuit and the Spirits of the Dead

Peerless Coastline and transparent ocean East of Tottori


asagao ni
ware wa meshi kû
otoko kana


I am one
Who eats his breakfast,
Gazing at morning glories.

I am one
Eating my meal
While gazing at the glories of the morning.

Matsuo Bashô
Bashôs rebuke of Kikakus poem about tade and fireflies.

A firefly;
I partake of the smartweed
In my hermitage.

Kikaku (1660-1707)

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Tonight we're perched on a little spit by a rocky outcrop with a little shrine on it beside a small fishing village on the island of Awaji just north of Goshiki, having circumnavigated the pilgrim's enlightenment trail of Shikoku even to the wild cape where the spirits of the dead depart in a manner similar to Cape Reinga in Aotearoa. Goshiki has a famous beach lined with pine trees but when we stopped in there were only a few lugubrious places we could park. Here its one of those sanctuaries that pop into the view of the lonely traveler scanning the horizon for a place to lay their heads as they pass, never to return. We pulled in almost by accident, although we always stop at the little shrines with tori gates that adorn little outcrops and islands. There are a few other Japanese camping here, fishing off the breakwater that encloses the village port. There are also clean toilets and showers and places to wash our clothes almost the first time we have gypsy camped amid a full suite of domestic luxuries and the first night it hasn't been sweltering hot and sticky virtually since we arrived. This in itself is a worrying sign amid reports that the North West Passage has opened, that the Arctic ice is disintegrating leading to a runaway affect as white polar shows are replaced by deep blue ocean which absorbs the radiant heat of the sun further exacerbating global warming and the rising oceans.

Anyway back to the subject of this blog and the next section of our travels. Our next day on the North Coast of Honshu proved to be problematic. After leaving the beach hideaway, we followed the coast to the next town, Kasumi and turned inland planning to transit to the south coast. This was unexpectedly complex because the roads out of Kasumi were confusing and criss-crossed. After stopping at a wayside temple adorned with Japanese classical painting we wound our way south, stopping off an a huge and gross Buddhist temple atop a high hill which charged 800 yen, about 10 dollars NZ to view three giant Buddhas.

Ushimado Port

By contrast with Zen temples which are tasteful and integrally natural in their appreciation for trees and the use of gardens as a central expression of spirituality, this had huge buildings and temple guardians three times larger than usual, echoing some of the grosser aspects of Buddhist idolatrous worship we have seen in South East Asia and Tibet. When we tried to continue south however, we found everyone giving us the crossed hands in an X indicating the road was blocked. We thus were forced to drive back north to sample more of the wild coast and along to Tottori where there are famous kilometre wide high sand dunes which became the title and context of the movie "Woman of the Dunes". These were searing hot in the freak September heatwave sunshine and crossing to the highest one was like crossing the Sahara. In fact if you wanted to pay the money you could cross on camel back for a hefty fee.

From Tottori we staged a lightning transit from the North to the South coast of Honshu, running down a major highway until we hit the industrial belt on the plain around Okayama, working by compass and misdirection around its edge to finally arrive in the dark at the extremity lands-end of Ushimado, turning aside from the road in the pitch dark to camp in a vacant lot beside the yachting harbour.

Ushimado shrine with multiple guard coyotes

In the light of morning Ushimado proved to be a pleasing respite from the doldrum wastelands of Industrial Japan, a mix of old time fishing village and rich development, with a harbour on the inland sea, a beach and a bunch of temples and shrines amid some charming old houses. From there we planned our attack on Shikoku, using the internet to pinpoint the entry points to the toll bridge systems that link Shikoku with the 'mainland' of Honshu, then navigating round Okayama and past Tamano to the last IC or tollway junction before the bridge at Kojima.

Second bridge on the Seto-Chuo Expressway connecting Honshu and Shikoku

The bridge to Shikoku was a truly awesome experience, hopping 14 kilometres across the ocean in a string of enormous bridges connecting small rocky islands. The transit went without hitch with Christine videoing while I drove and snapped stills as best I could.

Shikoku is very different from Honshu in several respects. One respect noted in the Lonely Planet is the women, or particularly the women of the Southern city of Kochi, who are called 8-balls, because they are the nemesis doom of the men and strong-minded as a man with 8 balls, partly because they had to both protect the children and keep the family together in times of trouble when the men weren't around.

Henro or enlightenment pilgrim

Another unique feature of Shikoku, which become ever more remarkable as you make the transit, is that Shikoku is continuously circumnavigated by pilgrims, or Henro, of all sorts, following the 1400 km course of 88 temples on a journey of immediate enlightenment which has been ongoing for over 1000 years following the steps of the great Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi - kobo to spread the teachings widely and daishi saint,a also in his lifetime called Kukai 'sky and sea'. Daishi founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism, the only major sect that believes enlightenment can be achieved in the current lifetime and the pilgrimage is a sadhana to achieve it. I see this very favourably as a basic credit rating of any religion to deliver on the realization agenda here and now. Many forms of Buddhism fail to do this and Christianity and Islam pass the whole agenda off to worshipping Christ or seeing the face of al-Llah in heaven which is a literal cop out.

Christine with henro partners walking the road on the South Coast

Our experience of Henro began abruptly when we visited one of the 88 temples and immediately became caught up in a throng of elderly pilgrims who had erupted from a couple of busses to lead us to the temple tucked away up an alley where we had missed it. As we drive to a second temple, we passed several walking on foot wearing the characteristic while cloak, staff, bells, sash and conical hat, some pulling carts with their belongings. The next temple we tried to find, a pilgrim on foot jumped into the van and gave us emphatic instructions ordering us post haste to the major temple before closing time even paying for the car park to get us in in haste. Since then we have met pilgrims in cars, in taxis, on puch bikes and following the Zen art of motorcycling on Kawasakis and even Harley Davidsons, but the most impressive are the countless number who steadfastly walk the journey on foot straddling secluded forest paths and major highways including an 84 kilometre hike between the two most distant temples towards the wild southern Cape Muroto.

Kotohira shrine

From the first few temples, we traveled a few kilometres south to Kotohira a small town where there is a famous Shinto shrine to the Goddess of the Sun on a hill overlooking the town with a thousand steps up to it. There are very few foreign tourists in Shikoku and almost none traveling in Japan in small Kei vans gypsy camping, so its a real form of fringe intrepid travel. Arriving at nightfall we drove up a small side road parking in a vacant space near a house, whose occupants unlike most Japanese people who are very friendly and courteous and greet you courteously with mutual konichiwah's, instead stared at us like alien species and having made a brief attempt to get rid of us by telling us the entire huge space was needed for the one or two cars on this isolated cul-de-sac to do sweeping u-turns went inside and phoned the cops and before we had had a chance to feed ourselves there were a bunch of flashing lights and two car loads of plain clothes detectives and uniformed police politely and apologetically trying to check our passports and when they finally checked with Narita immigration that we were legitimate, asked us to move a metre or two closer to the verge and let our erstwhile neighbours know there was little else they could do, to strident voices of protest from the femme fatale of the piece, who was still peering out at us balefully and furtively at six in the morning as we cheerily honked our good byes as we left.

Parking in Kotohira proved very difficult but we have found in every Japanese town so far that you can always find a free park even under the most tightly regulated conditions by a fractal search for an ambiguous space in a residential street not too far from the place you want to visit. The thousand steps proved pretty grueling in the sweltering conditions and I had to coax Christine up the last few flights but the view for the top was truly awesome reaching all the way to the coast and the bridges we had crossed and sweeping across the cities of the North to the rice fields and hills of the interior. The Shinto priests were performing an intriguing set of rituals as we arrived adding an auspicious presence to the whole process.

Deep Gorge in Central Shikoku

From Kotohira, we travelled south through the centre of Shikoku, traversing a series of quite awesome gorges, with suspension foot bridges over them, replacing the traditional rope and vine bridges that one could cut to escape pursuing enemy. At one point I was photographing rafter shooting th rapids when the whole boat load of 10 or so got thrown into the river.s night fell after some crafty navigating on small roads to bypass the coastal cities, we turned in at a charming beach-side avenue running between the sea and a graveyard, ringing with a scintillating throng of crickets, some very like those in New Zealand, but others sounding almost exactly like small temple bells. This coast is te most exposed in Japan both to tsunamis and to typhoons and the sea has a reputation for veering from mirror calm to tempestuous swells which leave the coastline buffeted high above the water line. The beach was foreboding, a hugely wide stretch of shelving sand, pebbles, stones, sand and pebbles, following the imprint of previous storms, which finally arced up at the low tide mark to a precipitous ledge where you could stand as the shingle dived almost vertically into the deep ocean, with waves breaking right at your feet.

Sunrise on the precipitous shore edge on South Western Coast of Shikoku

The next day we drove south towards the tip of Cape Muroto stopping off at each pilgrimage temple we came to. Some of these are perched in the forest on mountain tops with wildly inaccessible country lanes littered with mirrored hairpin bends, so tight you can barely get a vehicle around them.

View of the South Coast of Shikoku from Konomine-ji Temple near Aki

But everywhere there were more pilgrims, dressed in their distinctive garb, exchanging greetings with us and praying fervently at the altars reciting their enlightenment passages in a manner similar to Tibetan Buddhists, clicking their rosaries and ringing the various temple bells as they pass. The imagery in these temples is different - more immediate and immanent with Buddhas wreathed in the fires of realization, and the images of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, carrying baskets of fish, lobsters and clams symbolic of the tortured lives of fishermen in this treacherous ocean.

Fudo: Guardian spirit of enlightenment reminiscent of Tibetan Buddhism

The Cape itself is the wildest spot in Japan, and said to be the place where the spirits depart for the land of the dead. It is a place of natural beauty with gnarled trees and rock pools intermingling with the thrashing waves and weird rock formations pummeled by the sea. In addition to the departed there is a fertility rock where people have piled up cairns of pebbles, and the cave were Daishi is said to have gained enlightenment as well as a temple perched high on the cliffs above beside the Cape lighthouse. So, all in all, this wild spit represents the whole gamut of life's experiences from death, through fertility to enlightenment, rolled into one natural experience, combining the wildernesses of Cape Reinga and Punakaike of Aotearoa.

Cape Muroto where the spirits depart for the Realm of the Dead

From here we drove North again sidling past some atrocious beaches packed with surfie day trippers in tinted window beach wagons, lined up like sardines in a can, and found our way tortuously from the inland highway towards the coast again onto a tourist road enchantingly entitled the Hiwasa sun line, which wound high above the rocky coast with panoramic views. Turning off this at sunset we wound down a precipitous little side road stopping the night in forest punctuated by the odd small rice terrace. Next morning there was a snake at the first lookout and land crabs scuttling up the steps at the temple at Hiwasa, a town also renowned for its turtle migrations. The temple is reputed to focus on bad luck and the bad luck ages of men and women reputedly 42 for men and 35 for women.

Finally navigating through the concrete jungle of Tokushima and the spaghetti junctions around the toll road we managed to take the shortest links to Awaiji, crossing what is said to be the world's longest suspension bridge, from Naurito-kita to Awaijishima-minami, where we drive up the west coast stopping at this fishing village where we are now inland by a Buddhist temple eating breakfast.

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Abigail Gonzalez さんのコメント...

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