A Walk Around Shodoshima
Day 1, Afternoon
Thursday December 24th
After my early lunch I head off up the coast road back towards my starting point earlier this morning. I pass numerous empty, modern houses built on concrete supports in the cliff side.
Maybe they are abandoned or maybe they are summer homes as many of them have gangplank type structures that can be lowered to the water below. As I walk past my guesthouse the landlady is out in front sweeping up.
Having completed a circle I now continue on in a figure eight path and cross over the small rise into Sakate Port. On the hill is a large abandoned hotel. White concrete, it doesn't look all that old. Maybe it was built with the misplaced optimism that accompanied the economic boom that ended with a bang more than two decades ago.
The front door is slightly ajar and I'm tempted to go in and explore but decide I can't spare the time. Away from the main road along the sea front the village is a maze of narrow roads and alleys and it takes a few attempts to find the next temple, number 3 Kannonji. Compared to the other temples I've been to today this one is grand, though really just a small village temple. The main hall has been fairly recently reconstructed so obviously there is money here. Just as I'm leaving an old priest comes out dressed in samue, the work clothes favored by priests and craftsmen. I ask him the way to the next temple and he points up the road in front of the temple which winds up the slope.
At the top end of the village is a curious new structure containing a gleaming, stainless steel sculpture. I guess this is part of the ongoing art festival the Setouchi Trienniale, which takes place across various islands in the area as well as Takamatsu on Shikoku. The figure is some kind of cute mascot/cartoon type character that the Japanese seem so obsessed with, but it has an axe embedded in the top of its head!
I am somehow not surprised to learn that the piece is attributed to Beat Takeshi. The road now leaves the village behind and switchbacks up the mountainside, sometimes quite steeply. There is nothing along the road but trees and no traffic. I reach Hayabusasan, the okunoin, or inner hall, of Kannon-ji the temple I left down in the village.
From the temple there are fantastic views to the south across the water to Shikoku and Awajima. The temple itself is a small cave with a concrete temple facade. From here, a trail skirts around the mountain up towards what is technically the first temple of the pilgrimage, Dounzan. Set against the cliff and among tall cedars, it is a great place to explore, but as I enter I bump into the old priest I had met down below at the temple. With a younger gentleman they are cleaning the paths, probably in readiness for the approaching New Year.
Dounzan was fascinating - a temple in a cave, and lots more. As I was leaving the old priest chats with me some more, and he asks where I am staying tonight as he wants to give me something. A few hundred meters along the road I start up the driveway to the next temple, Goishizan, named after the mountain it is on. A long line of statues line the road and a woman who I presume is the priest's wife is busy cleaning them
At the temple itself there is a huge statue of Kobo Daishi with an altar in the building beneath it. The young priest is sitting in the rest area trimming pine branches, again I suspect in readiness for the coming New Year
Over on the left is a set of steps going up the hillside, and the map shows a Konpira Shrine up there but I am so tired I don't really want to do any more climbing, but the young priest says there is a statue up there that I really should see. And he was right. The small statue is at the end of a narrow promontory with expansive views over the island. I have seen photos of this before, it is one of the common images connected to the pilgrimage
Down below the statue is another cave temple, actually the main hall, not as I thought the hall under the Kobo Daishi statue. From here the road now slowly descends to the town below. It's been a long day, I've been walking and climbing for about 10 hours, so my visits to three temples in the town are perfunctory. There is a smell in the air, somewhat like a bakery, then I realize its the smell of soy sauce being made. This town is one of the biggest soy sauce producing areas in Japan.
Walking along the main road past the soy factories on my way back to my guesthouse the sun goes down and it darkens quickly. By the side of the road is one last temple, and then its back to my room for a hot bath. It's been an exhilarating day, and I'm excited about the rest of the pilgrimage. It's been far more interesting than I had expected. After my bath there is a knock at the door. It's the old priest with his wife and sister. He gives me a lovely print of Daruma (Bodhidharma), the man who legend has it brought Buddhism to China from India, and who portrait is fairly common at Zen temples. By way of explaining why he had chosen to give it to me he says that I remind him of his grandfather.
A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 1 Morning
Inside Track Japan For Kindle