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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 5 Tonosho

A Walk Around Shodoshima
Day 5, Into Tonosho
Monday December 28th

I catch the first bus out of Tonosho heading up the long valley that runs north. The bus driver was careful to inquire just exactly where I was heading to. All my experiences with bus drivers on Shodoshima have been very positive, with every single one offering assistance.

I get off where I got on yesterday afternoon and start to head back down the valley towards Tonosho. There are clouds around but its another warm, fine day. It's not far to the first two stops, both small hermitages, and both just off the main road against the base of the hills. Number 49 Torin-an and 50 Yuku-an are fairly typical of the many hermitages on this pilgrimage route, with nothing special in the architecture or statuary, but somehow very welcoming.

Every one has a space to sit down out of the sun or rain, a toilet, and are all very well tended. Interestingly at Yukuan was a statue of En no Gyoja, the legendary founder of Shugendo, reinforcing that these sites were primarily Shugendo in earlier times.

From Yuku-an I stay off the main road and hug the base of the mountain until reaching Kyu Hachimangu, number 52, and not a temple at all, rather a small shrine, though it does have a small Buddhist statue in front of each of the three altars, something that was outlawed at the birth of modern Japan when Buddhas and kami were artificially separated by government order, (think unscrambling eggs).

The biggest Juniper tree in Japan, Shodoshima.
The biggest Juniper tree in Japan, Shodoshima
Right next to the shrine is what appears to be a small grove of tall trees, but which turns out to be a single tree, and not only that, it is a National Natural Monument, the biggest Juniper tree in Japan.

With a 16 meter girth the trunk splits into 3 which is why it looks like a grove rather than a single tree. It is said to be 1,500 years old. It is in the grounds of Hosho-in temple which is number 54, and among the various buildings that make up the complex is Hodobo Temple number 51.

From here it is close to the Tonosho town centre which the temple overlooks, but before reaching the town the trail heads along and up the hillside to another small temple, Kannon-do, number 55. From here it is now a footpath that goes pretty much straight up the hillside to small temple, Gyoja-do, number 56. As further evidence of the Shugendo connection this small temple enshrines En no Gyoja, the founder.

The views now expand over the town below to the islands beyond. The vermillion pagoda of my next stop clearly visible rising above the town's rooftops. A sign points up behind the temple and there I find a huge rock wrapped with a shimenawa.

Sacred rock at Gyoja-do Temple.
Sacred rock at Gyoja-do Temple
Most large rocks have legends associated with them, but I cannot find out about this one. The path down soon reaches the edge of town and I head towards the pagoda. But first I must cross over to another island. What we call Shodoshima is actually not one island, but two. The southwest corner is an island called Maejima, but it is separated from Shodoshima itself by a very narrow strait, narrower than many rivers, so in essence it appears as one island.

This is the Dobuchi Strait, and the Guinness Book of World Records lists it as the narrowest strait in the world. I cross over at its narrowest section where it is less than ten meters wide and carry on towards the nearby pagoda.

The pagoda at Saikoji Temple.
The pagoda at Saikoji Temple
Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 4 Part II

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