Oniko's Travel Diary:|
The Saigoku Pilgrimage
(July 20-August 16, 1999)
August 10, 1999
Once again, I'm on a train typing. It is currently about six o'clock in the afternoon, and the train is headed for Kyoto from a station named Toyooka (yes, two "o"s).
Not too surprisingly, I didn't sleep much last night; I spent most of the time exploring what little area was lit up near the station by the outside lights. The inside lights didn't turn off automatically, by the way; they just burned out while I was there. Other than the station area -- consisting of the trashed station and a bathroom with the door permanently sealed off -- all I could really see was the expressway a few hundred feet away; mainly because of the eighteen wheel trucks roaring up and down it all night.
So when the sun started to light the place up around four-thirty in the morning, I was well past ready to walk somewhere (ANYWHERE!)... so I set out for the temple. The route on the station map was simple; follow the expressway the big trucks were on until you find the marked turn-off (which is why I was in no hurry to walk there in the dark). In the light, there was a nice -wide- walkway to follow, and, other than helping a big moth off the road, I had no delays in getting to the correct turn-off, a quiet country road with farmers out to do their mornings chores. From there, it was still a two kilometer walk up the road to Matsunoo temple, but I was in no hurry... I wasn't really sure just how early in the morning temples open their doors.
It turns out that, at Matsunoo at least, the main temple area is always open to visitors (no entry fee) and the main hall is basically always open. So I was able to get their and do what I do at the temples before six; unfortunately, the nokyo wasn't available yet, and I didn't know when they would be. So, while I waited, I actually got to walk around and look at the temple a bit -- a novelty for this trip!
It was basically a temple complex, with all the same sort of things they all have; the main hall, the bell tower, a pagoda (this one was a short sqaushy one), the priest's quarters, and lots of smaller shrines hidden all over that were dedicated to various dieties and historic personalities. One amazing site -- for me, at least -- was a small wall made up entirely of a jumble of stone figures of the god Jizo, protector of children. Despite the wily-nily way the wall was thrown together, each of the statues was still recieving individual attention from someone; all had small coins in front of them, and some wore the bibs that are customarily tied to images of Jizo by visitors. Also, this is the third templke I've run across with a prominantly displayed life-size figure of a horse; I'm wondering what the story is with those... I'll have to ask later.
But even after throughly examining the temple grounds, I was still waiting for the nokyo... so I plopped my stuff by a bench and sat down. When I started to nod off, I picked up my camera and went down to take pictures of the coy and turtles in the nearby pond... while there, another pilgrim showed up on a motorcycle; and, after he was down at the main hall, we got to comparing books and talking.
Now, the main purpose of the stamps in my book is to be proof positive that I visited the temples in question; though the book is believed to be blessed with curative properties when properly notorized, this is more because of the fact you actually went to the temples as opposed to the idea that the nokyos somehow imbued the book with blessings. So the stamp book is optional and, sometimes, just the stamps are optional. This guy -- I never got his name, nor he mine -- had maybe two stamps in his book; most of the rest of the pages were pictures of him in front of each temple's gate or name oblisk, often with other pilgrims, taken with a camera that imprints the date on the film. He had simply stapled each photo to the appropriate pages in his book, which I think was a great idea... I imagine his books will generate memories much better than mine, later. But I'm sticking to the stamps; I'm not changing at this point!
We gabbed about this and that, mostly the same old stuff -- from America, yes -- and eventually trapped another pilgrim in a dicussion about which temple was the hardest to get to (the third guy was driving to the temples). They both stated that I was very good with my Japanese, which I've been hearing a lot... usually in conversation where I'm not sure what's being said. I think the people I talk too are often of the illusion that I understand a lot more than I do, when often I feel I'm bluffing my way through the talks... nodding a lot, repeating things said to me, and generally agreeing with any question I don't understand. I have -got- to increase my vocabulary.
In any case, we wasted time this way until eight o'clock... when the nokyo showed up and set up shop. We all got our stuff stamped, and went our merry ways -- I had to refuse a motorcycle ride back to the station, because I didn't want to know how he was proposing to fit me and my stuff on the back of the bike. So I walked back, per usual, and was back at scenic Matsunoodera station by nine, which let me take a couple of pictures before I caught the train out of there. The station has two rooms accessible from an unlocked door in back (I only looked in) -- it was full of furniture, set up to be used... and it was full of cobwebs, showing noone had bothered to enter for some time. I wonder if it's haunted? But I was off to other things.
The only other temple this far away from everything is Nariai temple; and getting there showed me how close I actually was to the ocean. As my train retraced the path I had traveled last night, we hit a point between two stations that the train shot out across a section of bay on a single track bridge; it looked like we were floating just above the water. Last night, it was pitch black out... I had never realized we came anywhere near any water at all.
I got off at Amanohashidake station, near Nariai temple... and got zinged for $6. The attendant explained that the station was not a JR station, so my JR rail pass would not work; I pointed at the train, which had a big "JR" on the side of it. Yes, it was a JR train, but not a JR -station-. So I had to pay the $6 to get off the train and enter the town. Oy.
Following my informations instructions, I walked to the harbor and got a ticket that would get me a boat across round trip, and a seat on the cable car up the mountain... I refused the bus ticket, which would drive me from the top of the cable car to the temple. -That- much, at least, I could handle. This all cost me $15 more, and it was only later I discovered that you can -walk- across a land bridge and -climb- a mountain path for free. I'm starting to think that my information was compiled by the Japanese tourist industry.
In any case, I got across the bay and up the mountain, and, after scouting around, found the proper path to take to the temple... so I walked there, and got hit up for a further $3 to actually -enter- the temple grounds. And, yes, everyone was commenting on how hot it must be.
Sideline: Why Garth Sweats So Much.
I know that most of the people I run into are absolutely convinced that I must be horribly out of shape; of course, that's built on assumptions about how I got to wherever they saw me. Fact 1: unlike the average Japanese visitor to any temple, I am constantly carrying about forty to fifty pounds worth of extra weight. Fact 2: unlike the average Japanese visitor to any temple, I walk as much as is conviently possible to get to the temple, often ignoring buses and always ignoring taxis. So the average Japanese visitor to any temple is judging me by their own experience, thinking "Jeez (or the Japanese equivalent thereof), I got here no problem; why's this guy sweating like a pig?" The reason Garth sweats like a pig: Garth works like a dog.
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