Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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August 7, 1999
I've been going in circles all day.
I got out about ten, and headed to the Sanjo (lit: "3rd street") subway station where I was supposed to be able to catch a train to Soujiji temple. To get there, I rode the subway one block from my hotel, and down Shijo (lit: "4th street") to Karasuma, then walked the long block to the Sanjo subway station. Inside the subway station, I looked around... there was only one train line. The one that would take me back to Shijo.
I re-checked my information... and realized the author had made one minor mistake. He had accidently said 'Sanjo', when what he meant to write was 'Shijo'... the station I'd just come from. As it turned out, the rail line I was looking for was the same one I'd taken from my hotel to get to Shijo station in the first place. Oy.
So I walked back to Shijo, got back on the train headed back towards my hotel, and just kept going... it was a long ride to Soujiji. Once there, I again had no idea which way the temple was, and there were no signs. According to my information -- and I was a little leary of it by now -- Soujiji temple should be within 400 metres of the station. So I looked around... no mountains, but the side I came out on had a shoping street, and temples are often near these. So I walked down it a ways... and soon realized I was still seeing nothing encouraging. So I asked a shop owner which way Soujiji was; she pointed back the way I came.
I walked back and asked nearer the station, in case I'd just walked by it... but no, as a apoligetic young lady showed me with a map. I was on the wrong side of the station. So I walked around the station and followed the map a ways.
By the way, I now know why the maps are so deceptive. Remember me mentioning how there are some very thin roads in the cities? Some only about one car wide to one and a half cars wide? Well, these small roads generally are not shown on the maps. This means that what appears to be one block on the map can be a square mile area riddled with small roads that aren't on the map... and when you're walking, it's hard to tell exactly what roads are being shown and what roads are not. I mention all this, because I lost my way.
I thought I was in the right area, but it didn't sync up with the map. I looked around, and finally walked to the nearest temple to ask. What looked like a front gate turned out to be a back gate, so I walked around to the front... and was at Soujiji. I had gone straight when I was supposed to go left, and thus ended up behind it.
I visited the main hall -- which, for the first time, was having a service inside -- and then looked around for the Nokyo, who's usually nearby in an open wooden building... which I couldn't see. I asked another visitor, and they pointed me at a brand spanking new building, that I had mistaken for a nearby hotel. Inside, a video about the temple was playing (it was for sale, of course), and the nokyo sat, writing something. After a minute or two he finished, made a hand motion that said he would look at my book now, and he stamped it and inked it, looking for all the world like he'd rather be doing -anything- else. Gee, thanks.
Needless to say, I wasn't too impressed with Soujiji... as a temple, it seems too concerned with looking like a business. So I headed back to the station, sidelining long enough to get a sandwich and drink. I rode the long ride back to Kyoto, then switched to the long ride to Osaka; more specifically, Osaka's Tennoji station, from which I caught a local train to Fujjidera, home of... well, Fujiidera temple.
By now it was two-thirty... I'd really wasted a lot of time looking for Soujiji. But Fujiidera temple was supposed to be very close to the station, just buried in a shopping district. So I looked around... and Fujiidera has a -lot- of shopping streets. I took a guess, and started down a street; by it's end, I still hadn't seem any sign of the temple, so I asked. The shop keeper pointed back the way I came.
Once again I turned back, walked past where I'd turned, and kept going until I ran into the temple... about the same distance away from the turn as the place I'd asked. Oy, again.
Fujiidera temple was a lot more inviting than Soujiji had been; full of people going about their daily chores, praying, or just passing through as a shortcut between streets. I visited the main hall, then went to see the nokyos... there were two and they were busy. As I watched, it became obvious that one of the two had a fairly unsteady hand; when it was time, I handed my book to the other!
I also spotted the fortunes, and decided to get another. The way it was set up, you were supposed to shake a can until a stick with a number fell out; then you dug through the vat of fortunes looking for your number on one of them. I got number twenty-one, which is represented by three Chinese kanji -- a two, a ten, and a one. As I dug through the vat, a pattern became clear... there were no fortunes with more than two Chinese kanji numbers on them. I could find twenty (a two and a ten) and eleven (a ten and a one), but no twenty-one's. So I asked; and the nokyo's face lit up. He dug through a cabinet behing him and produced the missing fortune (I haven't had enough time to translate it), pointed at the main kanji displayed at the top and said "Ii da!" ("It's good!").
By the time I got back to the station it was four-fifteen, and there was just no chance of getting a third temple in before they closed at five. But the next temple, Makinoo, was one of those pain in the butt temples that has very few buses running to it; so I figured I'd go to the area you catch the bus from and find a place to sleep there, so I could head for early on in the day tomorrow. So I took the train back to Tennoji station, then on to Izumi Fuchu, a quiet little place... I arrived around five-twenty, with plenty of time to find a place before dark.
So I looked around... and found nothing. Plenty of shops and homes, yes, but no hotels or ryokans that I could see. So I walked back to the station to look at the area map... and, though it had a symbol for hotels in its legend, it displayed no hotels at all. So I asked.
One of the other pleasures of being where foreigners don't normally go is having people generally not understand what you say the first time, bacause they assume you're speaking something other than Japanese. Then there's the other problem that I'm starting to have; I'm running into people with regional accents that I can't understand. In any case, when the station attendant suddenly realized that I was asking about -hotels-, he pulled out a map of the area and pointed me to the only place he knew, a ryokan about four blocks away. I walked over, relieved... and they were full.
So I walked back to the station and hatched a stupid plan. One solution would be to go back one station and look for hotels there; and if that failed, repeat. But I didn't want to leave the area now that I was here. So I did the only other thing I could think of... I caught the last bus to the temple, even though it was closed.
Here's the logic: it's a one hour ride to the temple. One hour at average speeds in a bus puts you in a whole new town, with whole new possiblities; so I was off. I let the driver know where I was going, and he got one of those "ah-ha" type of looks;I sat back, and the ride was on. About forty minutes later, we reached a big sign marked Makinoo temple and pointing up a street, and everyone else got off the bus... the driver indicated that I should stay on.
Did I mention that Japanese drivers scare me? That includes bus drivers. After squeaking by a dog that would not move out of the road (I never heard the sick 'crunch' noise I was expecting), the bus rocketed up a mountain on a thin road, stopping from time to time to ballet with cars coming from the other direction; in ten minutes, I was a few hundred feet higher and at the base of the path to the temple. I thanked him, stepped out, asked around, and was sent down to the ryokan we'd pass just a hundred feet or so down the road, the only place to stay so close to the temple. Maybe I'm not so crazy after all, right?
Yeah, right... they were full.
I walked back up to the small restaurant that was empty but for the bus driver and the cook, where I got to have a little tea with them, and discussed the matter. After a little while, the husband of the cook came out; he thought he might know a good place. Phones calls were made, I was asked if a Japanese style room was okay -- which it is -- and it was annouced that they had found me a place to stay for the night. The bus driver knew the place, and he could take me there as part of his route... he had the husband tell the ryokan I'd be there in an hour.
So I was back on the bus, and we rocketed back down the road. At the base of the mountain, the driver pulled over for a moment to mention some things to me he thought were important, and I'm damned if I understood a word... but the gist seemed to be that he'd be driving the same route tomorrow, so I'd see him again; I think he's not going to charge me a second time to get back up the mountain. I'll see tomorrow, eh?
After that, he continued his route... much to my chagrin, as he retraced the entire route we'd driven to get to the temple. The trip up was about an hour, and he'd told the ryokan I'd be there in an hour; see a pattern? In one hour's time, he dropped me off and pointed up an alley to where I could see the ryokan; I had to note dryly that it was just two blocks from where I'd caught the bus in the first place, and where no hotels of any kind had been shown on the maps. Oy, for the third time. At least he was kind enough to not charge me for the ride back down (it's $6 one way!).
But it's a nice place. After I got settled in, the owner brought me some tea and a snack; and, after figuring out the TV -- you pay 100 yen for one hour -- I managed to turn it on in time to see a show I wanted to see all week... and my one hour ended just after the show's credits, which is perfect. I ate at Kentucky Fried Chicken nearby, typed this, now I'm tired. The ryokan's owner is going to have me up early enough to be on the 8:30 bus to Makinoo temple, so I need my sleep... though I am curious about one thing. She hasn't charged me yet, something ryokans generally do up front; guess I'll see what happens tomorrow. Good night.

Onwards to August 8, 1999

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