Monday, 1 June 2009

Shikoku and the 88-temple pilgrimage

John and I had arrived into Osaka right in the so-called "Golden Week", the biggest Japanese holiday period. Accomodation was very difficult to obtain and so we had to leave Osaka after only one day. We were headed to the island of Shikoku - 3rd biggest island of Japan and home to the 88-temple pilgrimage. We actually started in place close to Osaka called Koya-san - home to 100 temples in one little town. I really liked the temples but what will stick more in my memory was the excessively bad weather. It was continously raining for 2 days and even John's bombproof tent started leaking after 2 rainy nights probably due to the fact that after so much rain we were lying on a little stream...

But things rapidly improved after we crossed from the main island of Honshu to Shikoku on a ferry. We more or less circled around the island and our route coincided a lot with the pilgrimage route. The 88-temple pilgrimage is the Japanese equivalent to the European Camino de Santiogo. Pilgrims have to visit 88 Buddhist temples and walk about 1,300 km - unfortunately most of it on paved roads, which is one of the reason why I had given up on the idea of hiking it myself. Surprisingly enough we still saw a lot of henro (= pilgrims). They are easily recognisable by their outfit: They are dressed in white (how they keep their dresses white during their hike will always remain a miracle to me, but they manage to do it), have a walking stick and a bell (no, no, you thruhikers - the bell has nothing to do with bears!).

In order to prove their pilgrimage they carry a book and/huge cloth where they get a stamp on at each temple. This is Japan, so you have to pay to get your stamp and it all adds up...

The pilgrims were generally a very happy bunch and we all greeted each other with a happy "Ganbatte" (good luck) when we passed each other. I liked the temples and the pilgrims but I must admit that I am very glad I did not cycle or even hike the whole pilgrimage. In the end the temples all look very much the same and most of the route is on paved roads where even cycling is no fun.

Surprisingly enough we later found out that there are more such pilgrimage routes in Japan, all depending on different Buddhist sects.

We also learnt a lot about Buddhist temples: The temples are usually decorated with hundreds of small Buddha statues, most of which are clad in an apron and a cap and have all sorts of offering before them (including money, cigarettes and beer). We later learnt that this statues are memorials for accident victims and the offerings consist of things the deceased enjoyed while they were alive. And because they will be reborn as babies they are clad in baby bibs or aprons...

Every temple also has an ablution fountain. You pour water over each hand and take a sip into your mouth (but don't drink it - you have to spit it out!). You then proceed to the temple where you throw a coin into the money box (the clingclang is important there, not the value), ring the temple bell and do your prayers after rubbing your rosary between your hands. And don't forget to get your stamp!

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