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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Walk Around Shodoshima Day 4 Part II

A Walk Around Shodoshima Part II
Day 4
Sunday December 27th

After coming down from the cave temples the next two stops on the pilgrimage, 35 Hayashi-an and 39 Matsukaze-an were simple, rudimentary structures, both surrounded by big cemeteries.

I had a bit of trouble finding the next temple, number 38 Komyoji, in the maze of little streets that is the village. Now I am on the road that heads up to the pass and over to Nakayama. There is very little traffic, like most roads to mountain passes it starts out as a gentle slope and become steeper.

Somen noodles drying in the winter sun in front of a farmhouse.
Somen noodles drying in the winter sun in front of a farmhouse
In front of one farmhouse I see a rack drying somen, a type of noodle similar to vermicelli - one of Shodoshima's specialties, it is still almost all made by small family operations, and winter is the time to see it out in the sun being dried.

The pass is not as high as I feared, though the last few hundred meters are steep. The road drops quickly and down below I can see the next temple. Actually it is two temples on one site. Temple 43 is Jodoji, and the Kannon Hall in the grounds is 45.

The biggest structure is the priest's house with a big thatched roof. Interestingly I discovered three different styles of onigawara, the gargoyle-like demon tiles at the end of roof ridges. Two of the designs were new to me.

From Jodoji the trail goes up the mountainside, and I literally mean up, with no switchbacking. It was very steep. The trail tops out at 250 meters above sea level at a ledge lined with huge trees, behind which sat temple number 44 Yubune San. That is its common name. Temples will often have three names, an official name, a mountain name, and a common name.

The mountain and official name is Kodai-san Senju-in Rengeji. The small temple building is not so important, rather the sacred spring beside it is. It is one of the 100 Best Natural Spring Waters in Japan, or a more literal translation might be "Exquisite & Well Conserved waters".

Nakayama Senmai Da, one of the top 100 ride paddy terraces in Japan.
Nakayama Senmai Da, one of the top 100 ride paddy terraces in Japan
Apparently it has never dried up and continues to feed the terraced rice paddies on the steep slope below. Nakayama Senmai Da is one of the 100 Top Rice Paddy Terraces in Japan. That is 100 "best of's" at one spot.

The mountainside above is still natural forest with many large juniper and camphor trees, not a tree farm of monocultural cedars, like so much of Japan's mountainsides. The view down over the Nakayama area is quite impressive. Down there in the villages are a couple of thatched folk kabuki theaters, but unfortunately my route will not take me to them.

The mountain trail now descends slightly along the mountain and passes through a hillside village before entering the forest once again. Next stop is 47, Toganoo-san, the simplest of all the cave temples on the island. A simple porch roof covers the entrance which is barred to keep monkeys from taking the food offerings on the altar. Inside is just a small cave and altar. Maybe if a road had been built up to here like it has at all the other cave temples then it may have been more developed.

Carrying on down the path then comes to a small concrete building, number 48, Bishamnon-do, with its painted statue of Bishamonten, favorite of samurai. From here you can see the giant statue of Kannon gleaming white in the afternoon sun on the far hillside. My route will take me there in a few days.

Inside Toganoo-san cave temple, Shodoshima.

The path comes out into the village at the base of the valley and nearby is temple 46, Tamonji. A walled temple with a bell tower over the gate, the most unusual thing here was a line of new small statues in front of a mound. They were figures but almost abstract in design. I have no idea who or what they represented as there was no-one around to ask.

I find a bus stop and the timetable informs me that the next bus is not for a couple of hours. I sit on a wall and refresh myself with a drink from a vending machine and ponder my plan. Temple 74 is a little higher up on the slope, and from there its not far to the main road that runs into Tonosho where I will be staying and as there is likely to be a lot more frequent buses I force myself to trudge on a little further. About thirty minutes later I arrive at Enmanji, temple number 74 - a very pleasant temple set among greenery and a few large trees. The wooden statue of Kannon in the main hall was particularly nice. Five minutes later I reach the main road and while waiting for the bus enjoy the great views looking back up the valley and mountains I had walked down. The sun was close to setting and the mountainside was bathed in gold. Another excellent day on this intriguing small island.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 4

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