Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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August 6, 1999
As I said I wanted to, I slept in. I crawled out of here just after ten, not quite ready to face the world, but with the certain knowledge that I had too... the hotel needed me out the door, and I had two temples to get.
I had originally planned to spend most of this vacation in Kyushu, leisurely tracking stories about water monsters; but,for reasons that are my own, I decided to try to complete the Saigoku pilgrimage route instead. As it turns out, it was probably a good decision. From what I've gathered watching the news in Japanese, large parts of Kyushu has been subject to severe floods; and tomorrow, they have a typhoon expected to roll through... so it ain't the best time to visit Kyushu just yet, but maybe for a short time before I leave.
In any case, I got myself back down to Kyoto station -- yet again -- had a bowl of soba (buckwheat noodles) for breakfast, then hopped on a train to Omi Hachiman station, on the east side of Lake Biwako. This is the location of Chomei temple, of which my information warned of my favorite thing... more stairs to reach the temple. 800 steps was the estimate.
Of course, first I had to get there. From how my information read, I sort of assumed the temple was near the station, so that I could get off the train and start climbing immediately... but the one thing I had to notice immediately about Omi Hachiman was the amazing lack of any hills or mountains in walking distance. Luckily, one of the two buses out front was headed to the temple... and it was a long ride, too. I normally pay bus fares of about 250 yen -- about $2.30 -- to get from a station to a temple about five kilometers away. I paid 480 yen to reach Chomei temple; it was a LONG way away. After that ride, the walk up was pretty easy... 800 steps may sound like a lot, but it was really pretty short compared to some of the marathon climbs I've done already.
There was no entry fee -- a pleasant surprise -- and I was able to do my thing and look around, and still got back down the stairs by one o'clock. I took the bus back to the station, and headed to the next temple area, a place just two stops away called Notogawa. My information had warned me that I would need a bus here (so I'm not sure why the warning went missing on the last temple); so I caught the right one as soon as I left the station -- Lucky!-- and was soon dropped off, knowing I had a two kilometer walk to reach Kannon-Sho temple.
Of course, the first question to ask was... which way was I supposed to walk? I had been dropped off at a four way stop in a residential area, with plenty of signs pointing in plenty of directions, but I didn't know what the Chinese Kanji characters for "Kannon-Sho" were, and there were at least three temples being pointed to. So I thought about it... then walked in the direction of the nearest hill. Two blocks later I found a big temple complex.
It was too short a walk; besides, the temple was closed and it had all the trappings of a recent Shinto rite draped around it (I'm looking for a Buddhist temple). So, while a beautiful site, it was NOT the temple I wanted. I walked back to the front, where there were some cryptic signs, and looked them over. One had the kanji characters for the number "31" on it; Kannon-Sho is officially temple #31 in the Saigoku route, so I looked closer at this sign. The kanji representing the temple name it was about were repeated on another sign... this sign had an arrow that pointed into the Shinto temple in front of me, and then turned to point to one side. I walked back in and started to walk along that side, and found a trail that lead up into the greenery of the hill that surrounded the temple; one more sign, pointed at this trail, had the same temple name on it. Well, I knew I would have to go up to reach Kannon-Sho, so it seemed a likely guess; I started up the trail.
I'll say this; it may have been a hard walk -- for some reason, stairs are always tougher than just a plain trail -- but at least it was shaded all the way. It was a nice climb, but I spent most of the time watching where I was stepping rather than enjoying the scenery; of course, I saw a lot more bugs and lizards this way.
I need to mention something here -- mainly because I have a brother who like lizards and bugs. All over the Kyoto and Lake Biwako area temples, I have been seeing these little brown-bodied, blue-tailed skinks, anywhere between 2 and 7 inches in length; a few missing their tails, not surprisingly (presumably, the tails are bright blue to make them a more obvious target than the rest of the lizard). I don't know if these are found anywhere else, but the temples seem to be crawling with them. I've tried to get pictures a few times, but they just don't like sitting still around strange people pointing things at them; go figure.
Anyway, I kept climbing and, about two-thirds of the way up, the path turned into a gravel roadway. I looked back down the road, and found I was ten feet away from a parking lot that most people drive to to visit the temple. As I walked the relatively flat remainder of the distance to the temple, past small statues of Kannon, Jizo (protector of children), and other buddhist dieties, it was amusing to listen to a couple of the drivers complaining about how hot it was, and what a long walk it was from the parking lot. Puh-lease.
While it was nice to reach Kannon-Sho, it was a bit disappointing to see the main hall in a state of re-construction... apparently, they had a little fire here this past year, and most of the building had been gutted. They were presently in the middle of some fund-raising, posters for which were displayed next to the Nokyo's table. I don't know, but I suspect, that the main statue of Kannon had also been distroyed in the fire; the present image looked pretty new, and there were bags that appeared to be shavings left over from the carving (for sale, of course). I did my thing, took some pictures, and started on the walk back with a group of drivers. As we approached the trail head I needed to take, one of the drivers well in front of me sort of pointed at it and made a comment to a friend; I wonder what she would have thought if she saw me walk down it after she'd passed. I'll never know, but it's a fun thought.
Stairs are harder to go back down also; my legs were getting real tired with the effort. A little way pass the trail head, I ran into another hopeful loonatic, on his way up... I assured him it would get easier shortly. It's nice to know I'm not the -only- person using that trail.
I soon got back down, and had a long relaxed sit at the bus stop as my legs recovered. I got to see a post man stop by to take the mail from the mail box nearby... I know, cheap thrill. I played with the thought of trying for a third temple, if I got back to Kyoto before four; but after the buss took me back to the train station I saw that it was already four-fifteen, so that little fantasy burst. Instead, I just headed back to Kyoto with dinner in mind.
I headed back to the Shijo-Omiya area that the Toyoko Inn was in, and looked around locally. What I was really craving was a good curry rice, but there wasn't any on offer in the area and I wasn't going to travel any further. So I settled for a set dinner at Lotteria (yet another Japanese restaurant chain). My communication skills were really going down the crapper; I was still tired from yesterday's long run, and I was getting stupid with hunger, so I pointed at a menu item and said "please", took my number, and waited to see what I got.
This set didn't include a drink, but that's okay... fast food restaurants in japan rarely have any sort of sugar-free or caffiene-free drink. What my set included was: a bag of fried potato wedges (fried potatoes have really become a lot more popular here than they were last year), two barbeque flavored chicken wings, and two slices of buttered home-made bread. It seemed a pretty unlikely combination, but it worked for me.
Another word about those mini cellular phones: the newest feature being sold with them is a modifiable ringer. Instead of the normal ring, ring, ring, you can have you phone programed to play a simple version of your favorite music (I'm not sure if you can program it yourself, or if you pay someone to do this). In any case, I've been hearing phones ringing out the latest Japanese pop music hits as well as old favorites such as folk songs and movie themes (for those that know, I heard one ring out the theme music for Lupin the Third). I mention this because I heard at least three different ringers sing away as I sat in the Lotteria's second floor, watching the crowds run around outside.
After I ate, I headed back to the hotel, spent an hour editing my Oniko's Gallery page (adding names and dates to the artwork displayed in it), then went to the nearest phone booth to upload the changes and send and check email. I still can't get my computer to connect to the internet from my hotel room for the simple reason that the software wants to hear a dialtone, and the hotel phone doesn't give it one... so I've haven't been doing email as much as I thought, but I'm still staying in touch.
Having done that, I returned to the hotel to type this. At some point this week, I have to locate a United Airlines office and arrange a change in my return date; I'm not sure when I'll have time though, as I'm going to be running like the devil to complete the Saigoku route before next weekend. I'm hoping to get three temples tomorrow, if I get started early... Souji temple, fairly near by, Fujii temple, buried in a shopping street in the middle of Osaka, and one other... I have a few to choose from. Well, I've got to pack and get to sleep; night.

Onwards to August 7, 1999

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