A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 68, Yoshii to Hirado Part 2
Thursday March 20th, 2014
Hirado is quite a big island spreading north to south, but fortunately the two sites I am here to visit are both here at the northern tip where the bridge crosses over from the mainland. I have spent a few days on Hirado some years ago so I will not need to take many detours to explore what there is to see.
I'm soon in sight of the harbor and town with the castle keep overlooking it. My first stop is on the edge of town, Saikyo-ji, temple number 77. Saikyo-ji is quite an old and major temple. Apparently Kukai performed a ceremony at this spot on his return from China. There are a lot of old onigawara. Demon tiles that function as gargoyles, set around the grounds.
Saikyo-ji Temple has a small museum but I had been there before so did not bother again. A winding lane lined with red-bibbed statues heads up to the hill behind where there are some newer halls and a big three story pagoda. It is one of the biggest, not in height but in base area.
I head off through the town along the edge of the harbor passing the "Dutch" bridge and the reconstruction of the Dutch Factory which recently opened. The original is believed to be the oldest western style building in Japan. The road out of town climbs steeply. For the next few hours it will be up and down, up and down, but thankfully there is little traffic. I stop in at what was marked on the map as a new church, but it was still under construction so I couldn't go in. At one point the island narrows to a few hundred meters in width and I can see both coasts in one glance.
At the far northern tip of the island I see a sandy beach down below where the next temple is. It's a steep road down and I do not look forward to the climb back up. When I get down to the beach there is not exactly a lot to see. Temple 78, Kaigenji, is just a roof in front front of a monument, its importance being that this is the spot that Kukai set sail for China in 804, and the teachings he brought back became the Shingon sect of Buddhism, and this being a Shingon pilgrimage its not surprising that the site is included.
Up on the hillside to the left of the beach appears to be a large statue. I would guess it is of Kukai, but I can't be bothered to check it out as I am tired and still have to walk back to town. The steep climb back up to the main road that I have been dreading is much easier than I feared. This is something I have noticed recently. When I first started doing a lot of walking in Japan I used to hate the constant climbing, but either my aging body has gotten a lot stronger or else my expectations of how difficult the climb will be are exaggerated. I strongly suspect it is the latter.
Walking back the way I had just walked is rarely interesting and I just put my head down and plodded on. Back in town I head to the tourist information office, a portakabin in the middle of a major redevelopment of the harbor side. Inside there is free tea and I sit and chat with the friendly lady in charge. When she learns that I am walking a pilgrimage she digs out a heft pamphlet on Hirado's own pilgrimage, one I had not heard about.
It traverses the whole island and is mostly shrines and temples with a few monuments thrown in, but it is just the kind of pilgrimage I look for and so now have one more to add to my bucket list. I had planned to take the ferry from here back to the mainland where there is a station I can catch a train back to Sasebo from, but the lady informs me that in 20 minutes there is a bus that goes to Sasebo and that would mean not having to do any more walking so that is my choice.
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 68 Part 1
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