Oniko's Travel Diary:|
The Saigoku Pilgrimage
(July 20-August 16, 1999)
August 14, 1999
Twenty minutes later I was at the temple. I climbed the steps, and had to ask which way to go; Seigan temple shares it's hilltop area with a large Shinto shrine as well. The reason is simple; both were built here because of the wonderful view of the nearby waterfall, the real treasure of both temples.
I slowly made my way up -- slowly not because I was tired, but because I was following a small group that kept stopping to take pictures, and I didn't want to get in their way. They noticed this, and, once I had done what I do at the main hall, they started talking to me as we were all waiting to get our books stamped. They asked the usual questions, then asked if I had been to any other temples. Since they were just starting the Saigoku route, this was the fourth temple or so they'd been to: as a group, they had four books and three shirts they were having stamped. [Yes, -shirts-. Traditional pilgrim dress includes a white shirt that few people seem to wear for this route, but is still common dress for many other routes. Many people will have these shirts stamped as proof of where they've been; when I climbed Gassen last year, there were a few people with shirts that had almost solid red backs, from all the times they had been stamped! Anyway, the group getting their shirts stamped this year weren't wearing them; they pulled the shirts from a special bag they were carrying them in.]
I pulled out my book to show them, and they were pretty surprised -- I now had thirty-two stamps out of thirty-three. They all wished me luck, and I headed down to the bus stop again, and waited for the bus to return. I got back to the station at Kii-Katsuura by nine, pulled my bags from the coin locker, bought a box lunch and drinks, and headed to the train pads by nine-thirty.
The next -- and last -- temple is named Kegon, and it's a couple hundred miles away. My instructions describe how to reach it from Osaka, but I was a four hour train ride away from Osaka... after thinking about it, I headed to Nagoya. It's closer to both Kii-Katsuura and Kegon temple than Osaka; and, if I find I still need to go back to Osaka, I can take the Shinkanzen bullet train, and be there in less than twenty minutes. So I took the first train to Nagoya, hoping it would be reasonably fast. I'd hope to type this up while riding it but, after I ate my lunch, I konked out and basically slept all the way to Nagoya. During a waking moment though, I accomplished an amazing physical feat for a non-Japanese: I successfully used a Japanese style toilet on a moving train (they're hard enough when you're sitting still!).
I arrived at twelve-twenty, almost a three hour ride. Nagoya was a madhouse. Unlike most JR rail stations, none of the rail maps included the English names for any of the stops; which was a pain, as I was on a very tight schedule to reach the last temple before five and then head to Tokyo. My instructions from Osaka are a brief list of station to transfer through, the last JR one being called 'Ogaki'... so what I wanted to know was whether or not I could reach Ogaki from Nagoya, or if I had to waste time traveling back towards Kyoto to use the instructions my information had given me. After an annoying twenty minutes of asking questions and checking rail pads, I finally found the train that would take me straight there; and I got lucky too, because it was an express with only four stops. So, by one-twenty, I was at Ogaki station.
From here, I had to transfer to a private rail line to go to Tanigumiguchi station (great name, huh?). So I checked around; a helpful tourist agency lady informed me that the JR station also served as the private railway station; she helped me get the right ticket, and then I went right back out to the rail pad, and waited. And waited.
The train I wanted wasn't due until about five past two; so I waited about thirty minutes for it to arrive. I was getting nervous around this point. My information had made it clear the Tanigumiguchi was about 4 kilometers from Kegon temple, so I had to estimate about two hours to walk it, with the assumption that the temple likely closes at five o'clock.
The train arrived, and I got on, and it rolled slowly forward. Tanigumiguchi was the ninth stop on a long list... and from what I could see of the private railway's stations, I had made a serious error. I was still carrying both of my bags -and- a box of books that I had not had a chance to mail off before the weekend struck; and it looked like it was pretty unlikely that I would find any sort of coin locker at the trains station I was headed for. So I was likely to walk all the way to Kegon temple with a tremendous armful.
So the train rolled on, eating at both my time and patience; and, two stops away from where I was headed, the train stopped... and everyone was shooed off of it. I asked what was happening, and let them know where I was headed; "no problem," said the attendant, "there a train to Tanigumiguchi coming." It was due at three-thirty... more than a forty minute wait; and it would get me to the station with far too little time to reach the temple. I headed to the station master.
As I was explaining the situation, an older woman who was sitting in the station waiting for something chimed in with an idea. I could take a cab to the station I wanted, then walk from there. It was the only thing that sounded like it would work, so I agreed; and discovered that what she was waiting for was a cab to take her to Tanigumiguchi. How's that for luck?
The cab arrived, and we got in... and then then cabby blundered around trying to find the main road among a host of seriously messed up backroads. This cab driver easily made me more nervous than I've ever been on any bus.
Sideline: More reasons Garth hates cars and buses in Japan.
Almost all roads in your general run-of-the-mill Japanese towns have deep rain gutters -- a groove from about a half foot deep to a couple feet deep -- on one or boths sides of the road. Some roads, in hilly areas, just plain have a six to seven foot drop into a house or rice field. And most of these are the small roads I love so much. So imagine two trucks dancing around each other, one pulled so far to the side that an inch or so of tire hangs over the gutter... because this happens a lot when you ride in buses. I haven't seen it myself, but I've seen enough evidence to know that -- occasionally -- cars and bigger vehicles will mis-step during this dance. At best, they get a wheel caught in the gutter; at worst, they end up on their sides in a field. I spend a lot of time on buses holding my breath, closing my eyes, and reminding myself that the driver is a professional.
The Saigoku Pilgrimage Has Been Completed.
|All illustrations in these pages are copyright (c)2002 Garth Haslam, and shouldn't be used without his permission. Contact him by Clicking Here!|