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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 7 The North Coast

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 7
The North Coast
Sunday, February 7th 2016

I take the first bus out of Tonosho Port and get off in front of the Great Kannon. The bus has climbed steadily all the way and the road now drops down towards the coast. Looming above the hills the 50 meter tall statue of Kannon is all pink, orange, and golden in the light of the sunrise, but the warm colours belie the bitterly cold wind that is blowing.

The Great Kannon of Shodoshima catches the first rays of dawn.
The Great Kannon of Shodoshima catches the first rays of dawn
Though it promises to be a sunny day, this is the first time I have felt cold here on Shodoshima and so spend a few minutes sheltering from the wind in a bus shelter. Heading down the road, the coast of Okayama is clearly visible across the water, illuminated by the golden light of the sunrise.

It's not far to the first temple of the day, number 75, a fairly substantial temple with several small halls and a concrete main hall. Still in the shadow of the mountains, it's cold and there is no-one around so I don't tarry. I cross over the main road and head down a narrow lane and then a path to reach Sangyo-an Hermitage, the okunoin "inner hall" of temple 76 lower down in the next village. I like these hermitages -not at all austere and very welcoming.

This one has a spring with a statue of Kobo Daishi, the focus of this pilgrimage. The spring and statue has a natural roof of some kind of dense bush. I carry on downhill but before reaching 76 I follow the hill around and head up the little valley to temple 77, Kankiji, stopping in first at a small village shrine with a very tall, old camphor tree in front of it. Kankiji was a medium sized temple, white-walled, with a small bell tower and a very wide main hall, and with great views looking down on the fishing village of Yakatazaki and the shores of Okayama beyond.

A small wooden Jizo at Kankiji Temple.
A small wooden Jizo at Kankiji Temple
It's a then minute walk downhill into the village to reach number 76, Kongoji, not a big temple, but with a largish bell tower gate. The sun is high enough now that I am in the brilliant sunshine and it's a pleasant stroll along a lane, over the rise to the fishing village of Kitaura and Togenji Temple, not numbered but one of the "extra" temples known as bangai on the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage. Kongoji is an unremarkable temple with a gate set in a white wall. When I first came to Japan I was struck how with their stone retaining walls topped with white plaster walls so many temples looked like miniature castles.

Now I am back on the main coast road and the way heads east. Though the main road there is very little traffic. For about an hour I stride along with the sea to my left and the land rising steeply to my right and I reflect once again how enjoyable this pilgrimage has been. This is my sixth long distance pilgrimage, albeit the shortest, but in many ways it has been noticeably the most enjoyable. Having had good weather is an obvious help, but not having any busy roads or cities also is a big plus. Then there are the amazing cave temples and the hospitality of the local people, but I think the biggest plus is the overall diversity in such a short distance.

The small fishing harbour at Kitaura on the north coast of Shodoshima.
The small fishing harbour at Kitaura on the north coast of Shodoshima
Ahead I can see the michi no eki, road station, that houses a small museum about the local stone quarries that supplied some of the stone for Osaka Castle, but just before reaching it I head inland along the bank of the river that enters the sea here and head to temple 78, Unko-An. Before reaching it I stop in at the village shrine with another huge camphor tree in the grounds and also a raised bed of white sand with a rotting rope circle laid on it - a sumo ring. I find the temple built just above what used to be a small quarry that supplied some of the stones to Osaka. Back down the opposite bank of the river and I visit the small museum which actually has quite a big collection of tools and equipment that were used in older days for quarrying and working the granite blocks. In the late morning sun I carry on along the coast road.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 6 Part II

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