Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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July 31, 1999
I'm amazed. Everything worked today.
I got up, cleaned up, and left the hotel at about ten. It was a straight-forward and easy walk to Mimuroto Temple, one of the prettier ones I've visited. I did my thing there, got my book stamped, and walked back to Uji station all before eleven-thirty.
There was one thing about Mimuruto I wanted to mention before I move on though. In Japan, there's a very well-known comic and animated series called "Bakabon"... 'Stupid Guy'. It runs a lot like the Simpsons cartoon in America; a moron father figure is the driving force of all the stories. The reason I mention this is that there are four pages from a Bakabon comic book on display just in front of Mimuroto main hall.
More precisely, there's a statue of a reclining steer with a ball in it's mouth in front of the main hall... and just in front of the statue on its base, is a four page Bakabon story in which a priest is explaining the story of the statue to Bakabon himself. It seems that the actual priests at the temple thought their story was so well told in the comic, that they thought it was worth putting the comic on display. The attitude to comics in Japan is totally different from the attitude in the USA, eh?
Just so you know, the story goes something like this:
A farmer had a steer that got some sort of ball stuck in its mouth; with a lot of effort, he pulled it out and saved the steer. The ball, upon examination, had a sacred image of someone -- likely Kannon, as its her temple -- and so the farmer gave it to the priests at the temple, and asked for nothing in return. In gratitude, the diety sent him a dream in which he saw which steer was to win in an upcoming contest, and he profited well. The statue at the temple has the steer's mouth open with a loose ball you can reach in and roll around... on one side of the ball is a small metallic image of the diety.
Now back to my perfect day. I arrived in Kyoto at twelve-fifteen, and quickly located the place to exchange my rail pass... for the rest of the trip, rides on the JR rail lines -- about 80% of what I ride -- are now free; THAT will help save money! Having done that, I ran off to Citibank and pulled more cash out, and made it back to Kyoto station before one o'clock. I told myself yesterday that if I finished everything in Kyoto before two, I'd try to get one more temple in a direction away from Nara before heading to that town; so I hopped on a train headed for Kameoka, where Anao Temple could be found.
Kameoka is three mountain tunnels away from Kyoto, and I saw something I definitely would like to check out on my next trip. Inbetween these tunnels, there was a rail station called Hanakyo (I think... I'll have to double-check); it caught my eye because there is no town or road associated with the station. It's on a bridge stretching between the two tunnels above a large river well below, surrounded by tree covered slopes on all sides. On the first trip by, I couldn't see any reason to stop there but the view... which would be reason enough if I had the time. But as the train pushed forward past the next bridge between mountains, I saw several old style Japanese boats full of tourists negotiating the river, and a bright red steam engine train weaving through the mountain above... and on the return trip later, it looked like the starting and stopping point for the train ride is at Hanakyo. Looks fun!
But back to business, eh? At Kameoka (where the boat rides start, by the way) the information I had said I could take a bus to a point that would put me within a ten-minute walk of Anao temple. Of course, with how my information has been somewhat off on the last few temples, the last thing I expected was to find a bus that would put me that close... but I guess the universe decided I needed a break today, because, for once, my information was exactly right. I caught the bus at Kameoka station at two-thirty, and was at Anao in about half an hour, including my ten minute walk. It's a small temple; and since I didn't want to pay the five bucks to look around inside the hall that was displaying several statues, paintings, and treasures, I was able to finish my business in no time flat. I bought some water nearby, and walked back to the bus stop, where I got to listen to Japanese high school guys from the nearby swimming pool banter back and forth as they waited for the bus also. By four o'clock, I was on my way to Nara, via Kyoto.
I was feeling pretty good, well, aware of how well everything had been going. At Kyoto, I got a couple of books and some more water to hold me over until I got to Nara, then hopped on the train for what would be about an hour long ride... and the closer I got to Nara, the more nervous I got. It's a weekend, and Nara is a big tourist town; I wasn't sure I would find a place to stay the night anywhere near where I was headed. I had a nice talk about comic books with a geo-research technician who was sitting next to me, a Mr. Iida -- he thought it was odd to see me apparently actually -reading- manga rather than just flipping through and looking at the pictures. That helped make the time drift away, and I soon arrived at Nara.
Nara is famous for a three-story tall figure of Buddha stored in what may well be the largest wooden structure on earth, a gigantic temple. This is yet another place I was carted to in 1990 as part of a group of American students on tour, so I once again am completing memories of a place I never got a good chance to explore. This is especially nice, as the way to reach the famous temple is by walking straight from the station up Nara's next most famous feature... an extremely long shopping street, with everything you could hope for -- unless you are a student in a tour group being dragged from point A to point B with no time to shop. I'll enjoy my return.
But that's for tomorrow; it was now time to try to find a place to sleep, and I figured my best bet was to walk up the shopping street checking prices at hotels and ryokans, expecting that I would find a reasonable place at some point -past- the shopping area and temple. I guess I should have more faith, though... in the middle of the shopping area, there was one hotel that was much smaller than all the others. In fact, it looked a little shabby inside; but it was only $63, and a short walk from where I have to go tomorrow, so I took the room. And what a room!
It's a 100% Japanese style room, complete with kotatsu table (a short table to kneel at, with a heater underneath to warm your legs), free tea, and a closet with futons and blankets in it; and it's larger than the more standard hotel room I was in last night for the same price! And, because it's a tourist town, many of the stores in the shopping street were open late, so I still had time to go shopping a little... and found another one of those books I've been searching for years to find!
Days don't get much better than this; should I be worried about tomorrow? Well, whatever. Tomorrow, I'm walking to Nan-endo, a small temple which is part of the complex that holds the giant Buddha, so I'll probably re-visit that tourist attraction while I'm here also. (And I'll shop a little in the morning, heh...) Later, I'll try to get to Hasedera temple, to the south of Nara. Whether or not I reach that one in time will decide where I end up finding a place to sleep, but tomorrow or the day after it will definitely be time to mail home another box of stuff (books). Night.

Onwards to August 1, 1999

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