Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

Return to Oniko Goes To Japan


August 13, 1999
I woke up early, and was back in Minoo by nine-thirty... which was something of a problem, as the tourist office I needed to ask questions at was closed until ten. So I waited, once again. While waiting, I looked at a large tourist map of the area, which confirmed that Katsuo temple was 7.5 kilometers away; and I asked a bus driver about Katsuo temple, and he confirmed that there were no buses that ran anywhere near it.
The office opened. I asked the nice lady about Katsuo. She asked if I would be walking, or taking a taxi... oy. My cash funds were around $40; besides, I'm on pilgrimage, right? I opted to walk; it should take about two hours, which would get me there between twelve and one, and then I could take a taxi back to save time. So she walked me through the path on the map... most of the 7.5 kilometers are paths through a mountain forest. I asked her to write the kanji characters for "Katsuo temple" on the map, so I could recognize it on signs; her response was that there were no signs. Oy, again.
So I walked. But, before that, I bought the cheapest ticket the train station had, and then put all but one small bag in a coin loacker so I wouldn't have to carry them. I basically set out with just my maps, stamp book, and camera (which is working kinda funny -- it wasn't the batteries yesterday. Apparently, a great deal of my sweat got into the section where the camera reads the data on the film card, and things got wonked out).
The first two kilometers of the walk were in the city, and then along a very busy two lane road climbing upwards. I spent a lot of time on the edge of the road waiting for large groups of cars to pass before I ran up another 100 feet or so. It was in this uncomfortable section of roadway that I discovered a man-made cave in the bushes on one side of the road. Curious, and in no hurry to dance with more cars, I swept away the web in the way, and climbed up into it. It was about six feet tall inside; it stepped back about seven feet into the hill, then turned to the right... about thirty feet away, I could see the light from the other end, another right turn that opened back onto the same roadway. I have no idea who made this cave or why, but I do know this; the bats really like it. There were about three in there, not thrilled with my presence, but not to disturbed either.
After that sideline, I continued up the road to where the trailhead was supposed to be. On the map, a trail is clearly shown intersecting a u-turn in the road, and I found the first half immediately; it had a big sign, and several arrows marked for different trails and destinations. What took longer was the second trail that was supposed to lead away from the road towards Katsuo. Finally, after looking it all over multiple times, I head up the only thing that seemed to match, although it looked more like an unmarked washed-out creek drippling down from the hillside... and sure enough, it was the path. It was also a pretty clear sign that this was going to be a pain in the rear.
By this point I was thirsty. No problem, I thought... there are plenty of tourist sights marked on the map, and these are likely to have vending machines. The path opened up on the back parking lot of what was a recreation center for city employees; it had no publem vending machines, but the trail followed the roadway from there, so I expected I see a store or such on the way to the next point on the map.
I didn't. The area I was walking in was something that I kinda knew had to exist, but never really thought about... it was a Japanese national park and forestry reserve. Which was cool to see, but it meant the road I was on was in the middle of a park and nowhere near any sort of store. As I got thirstier, I consoled myself with the fact that I would soon reach the next point on the map; that would be another possible chance for something. Besides, I kept seeing cans on the side of the road, so a store must be ahead.
I reached the next point on the map; it was a trailhead... and I was now supposed to head into the forest for a trail walk of at least two kilometers. After I thought about it a little, I picked up an empty plastic soda bottle with lid; if I came anywhere near a creek, I could wash it and fill it. And so I walked.
It was nearly another kilometer before I found the water and filled the bottle; it was another half kilometer before I decided that I had no choice; I was dehydrated and dragging my feet. So I drank creek water -- and it was good!
I sat and checked my maps as I waited for the water to get into my system; the next point was called "Kisobure Observatory". An observatory! I could certainly get drinks there! I stood up and pressed onward, though slow. I was passed by a Japanese couple who appeared out of nowhere behind me and vashished well ahead of me; I was moving at something less than optimum pace. But I soon reached the observatory.
There are many English words that are translated into Japanese words that have different meaning. In this case, the same word in Japanese for an observatory is also used to mean just a place with a nice view. So when some numb-skull translated my maps from Japanese to English, they translated the title of the place as 'observatory' when 'view' would have been a better description. The 'observatory' was a round platform with a table and seats, and a nice view of a dam. No vending machines.
So I looked at the map, I was now just a half-kilometer from something very clearly marked as "visitor's center". There's not a lot of ways that you can screw up that translation... besides, I had to go there anyway to reach Katsuo temple. So I walked.
In many places, the trail had been consumed by a creek that had, over time, dug a one to two foot gouge into the center of the trail. The section of trail leading to the visitors' center was even worse. It was a stepped down hill, with the area where the trail should have been still marked by the log fence that defined it; however, all that was there was a four foot deep gouge, and very poor footing. I literally climbed my way down to the roadway, and was across the street from the visitors' center.
It was a pretty standard national park visitors' center; places to sit under trees, a room with stuffed squirrels and posters warning about forest fires. And there was no safe drinking water in the place, nor a vending machine in sight. Luckily, I asked at the office about drinking water, and thus discovered that they were selling various drinks there (probably to idiots like me). I bought a few drinks -- one for the moment, the rest for the remaining walk -- and set out on the next section of trail after noteing that, if I went by treacherous busy road, I was only two kilometers from the temple now.
This section of trail was beautifully easy; lazy switchbacks up the mountain followed by long slopeing steps... and the Japanese couple that had passed me going towards the temple, passed me again headed in the other direction. Yes, they said, they had been to Katsuo temple... it was about a kilometer away still. Oy.
SO I WALKED. Just as I was getting encouraged -- I could hear the temple bell ringing -- I got discouraged by a pile of cans and box-lunch trash on the side of the path. I really hate people who go out of their way to visit a beautiful, unspoiled area, only to dump their trash there. Unfortunately, people are people, wherever you go; I often end up picking up garbage on the grounds of the temples I visit and carrying it until I can get rid of it properly. The Saigoku route temples have been pretty much free of this blight, probably becuase they depend so much on the pilgrims and need to keep up a good image.
So I put the garbage in the bag with the empty drink cans and plastic bottle that I was already carrying, and continued on... and, three-hundred meters later, I was there.
Katsuo temple has got to be the most amazingly sculpted temple complex I've yet seen. It was amazing how every little detail was exactly controlled, from the ponds with timed fountains, to the great wide stone walkways all directing visitors to the pagoda -- built in the seventies, and they're very proud of it. I got a few odd looks from people as I entered the big resaurant/entry point of the temple, and proceeded to empty my trash bag in the the various recycling bins there (there are bins for cans and bottles near most every vending machine in Japan, and bins for newspapers and magazines at most of the train and bus stations). I looked at the time... it was two o'clock! I had taken four hours to walk a two-hour walk!
I guess I'm more tired than I thought; that and all the time guessing which trail to take and dodging cars. So I paid my entry fee, and headed straight for the main hall, and then the nokyo. I took some pictures on my way back to the gate -- mostly of the numerous Daruma figures.
Daruma was a famous Buddhist monk, who spent several years meditating. One day he had a woman visit him and tempted him in all sorts of ways; he finally lost his temper, and struck out... only to find he had been dreaming, having drifted to sleep while meditating. So upset was he that he had so easily fallen asleep, that he tore off his eyelids and cast them on the ground so they would no longer tempt him (it's said that the first tea leaves sprouted from his eyelids; small wonder, as the caffiene in O-Cha tea made it a good choice of drink for monks who needed to stay awake). Daruma then went on the meditate until he attained enlightenment, his legs and arms having long fallen off from lack of use.
The Daruma figures a roundish paper-mache heads with two great wide open eyes; the figures are weighted in such a way as they will always stand up if pushed over, and small figures are popular as children's toys. The actual purpose of the figure, however, is to make a resolution or wish. You think very had about what it is you wish to accomplish or attain, and paint a black pupil into the Daruma's right eye. When you attain or accomplish whatever the desired effect was -- presumably with Daruma's help -- you paint in the second pupil. Afterwards, you are supposed to take the figure to a temple to be burned at the start of the new year.
It seems that Katsuo temple is a very popular place for these figures to be taken too, as their were two smalls sheds completely full of Darumas of all sizes, as well as tiny Darumas -- about three inches tall -- scattered about the temple grounds on almost any surface available. It's quite a sight.
But I had to go; I wanted to get a box at a post office in Minoo, get cash from my bank in Kyoto, get the box off into the mail, and then I had at least a four hour trip to get to the area of the next temple. So I looked around , and got lucky... a cab was waiting, having just arrived. I checked my cash, asked him to go to Minoo station, and we were off down the same treacherous roads I had avoided walking on. At one point, we passed a spot that was pretty popular; the parking lot was full, so people had literally parked in the road, blocking a full lane of traffic... but we got by it.
Closer to the station we hit another pocket of slow moving traffic, and sat still for a couple minutes. This is when I realized two things; first, the meter was still going up. I was being billed for the amount of time I was in the cab, not the distance covered. Second, it was already dangerously close to the amount of money I had in my pocket, after drinks and temple fees. I got out there, two blocks from the station: the trip cost me $23. Katsuo temple is either hard to get to, or expensive to get to... and those are the only choices.
I was left with around six-hundred yen... about $6. This put a damper on some of my plans; I wasn't sure I could by a box at the post office -and- afford to get back to Kyoto. But the nearby bank had a sign indicating they did money exchange, and, I remembered, I had $50 in cash in my other bag. But to get it, I would have to spend another 150 yen to get back into the station to the coin locker. If this didn't work, would I have enough to get to Kyoto?
I would... the Kyoto ticket would be 450 yen, exactly what I would have left. I hate squeezing my resources this tight, but it was worth it to get Katsuo out of the way. Igot my bag, and walked over to the bank. I stepped in, dug the cash out of my bag, and looked up as they closed the shutters and locked the outer doors... I had walked in just in time; I was the last customer of the day.
I exchanged the money, and got 5,560 yen back; then I walked to the post office and got the box, got my Kyoto ticket, and boxed upmy books and stuff in the station, before getting on the train at three-thirty. Unfortunately, it was past five by the time I reached Kyoto... I'llbe carrying the box around with me for the whole weekend. But I got the desperately needed cash, and took the trains to Osaka's Tennoji station, from where I could catch a train to Kii-Katsuura,location of the next temple, Seigan.
But first, breakfast. I had forgotten to eat all day; probably another reason I was so slow on the trail, eh? I scouted around Tennoji station -- it's a big place -- and found "Curry Papa", where I had a nice curry rice. Ahhhh... I've been wanting a curry rice for days. Then I asked a station attendant which train I should take to Kii-Katsuura.
The last one was gone. It took a further ten minutes before I could make her understand that, if I couldn't get there, I wanted to get -near- there... and, shortly, I was on an express for Wakayama, which is in the same direction, but not very near. But you take what you get; the closer I am in the morning, the faster I can finish it and get to the next -- and last -- temple. It was a long ride; I left Tennoji at seven-forty, and got to Wakayama by nine... and halfway there remembered that it only had one expensive hotel (something I learned earlier this trip). So I decided I should try to get one or two stations further along, so I could find a cheaper hotel... and one of the signs said "Gobo", which was one of the towns the station attendant in Tennoji had mentioned. So I went there and checked the schedules.
There was a train coming in five minutes that was headed towards Gobo; actually, it was headed further than that. It was head to one station past -Kii-Katsuura-! Tonight! As I read the schedule, the train was going to make two stops only, the second at a town just pass Kii-Katsuura, which would certainly help me in the morning. So I hopped on.
And discovered I'd read the schedule wrong. The train was actually stopping at almost every station along the way... including Kii-Katsuura! But the trade off is that I'm unlikely to get there before one in the morning, too late to get any sort of hotel. But I'll be ableto hit the temple first thing, and be off to the last temple earlier than planned, so I'm going to do it. I've been typing this on the train ride there, and now it's time I tried to get a little sleep. Night.

Thirty-one Done.
Two To Go.

Onwards to August 14, 1999... ?

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