May 31, 2009

Day 4 - ever upward

When we reached the bottom of the steep stairs, we found a pleasant little area with a number of small buildings. One of them had this 'lion'(?) on a corner post.
Inside the building was a row of statues of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. We were surprised to find the fresh flowers, considering that someone had to carry them up into the mountains especially considering that we had climbed for over three hours from the nearest built up area to get here.
I do not know what kind of tree this was but the flowers on it were beautiful, a pale pink. Although we had seen some flowers this was the first tree that was truly in bloom. There was a sign on one of the buildings that indicated that sometime in the relatively recent past there had been a facilities for sleeping and eating here. I could not tell if it had been commercial or run by a temple, but apparently the monks were now doing whatever upkeep (not much from the looks of things) was being done. The buildings holding Buddhist statues were being taken care of but the rest seemed to be slowly returning to nature.
After going even further down hill, we came out of the woods to this marvelous view. The roof that you can see was a building that had tatami mats where hikers could spend the night for free. There was an access road but we had no idea where it came from. You can see a parking lot in front of the building.
A bit further on we had this view. From somewhere around this point we started uphill again, headed toward the highest point on our route - Ippon Sugi (in English One Cedar Tree)

May 27, 2009

A drawing on my Zaurus

Yesterday one of my classes finished everything early so I let them go. While waiting for the next group of students to arrive, I started fooling around with my Zaurus, a little computer leas than the size of two cell phones. I found a program that allowed me to draw directly on the screen with a stylus. The range of colors was a bit restricted but I was able to do the above sketch.

Day 4 - still going up

At one point the trail flattened out and we discovered this charming little statue at a fork in the path. Our trail passed on the left. The trail to the right apparently went down the mountain and back out into the built up area in the valley.
This is a close up of the statue. I thought that his face was particularly pleasing.
This artificial cave contained a small statue of a Buddha. Notice that even though we are deep in the mountains, someone has placed fresh branches and offerings on the flat area in front of the opening.
Looking back down a stairway at Ian. I tended to walk in front because I was much slower than Ian. By me being in advance, Ian was slowed down to my pace and we stayed together.
As we came down some stairs on a very steep slope, we discovered a small house below us.

May 26, 2009

Day 4 - the beginning of the day from Hell

It rained all night and was still raining at 4:30 when I was ready to go - a bit nervous about the coming climb. I did not sleep well because there was a gale blowing outside and something was making a strange, eerie, squeaking noise right outside my window. Had strange dreams. As soon as it got light, I went out and looked but could not see what was making the noise - maybe one of the wires from the air conditioning unit.
After a breakfast of two eggs, five rolls, and three cups of coffee, Ian and I took a taxi to Temple #11, which we had visited two days before. In the pouring rain we found a narrow path that went around the side of the temple and up into the mountains.
At first it was pretty easy and there were numerous Buddhist statues and little houses with strange things in side. In the picture, you can just see Ian off in the distance. The blue plastic poncho covering his backpack and his red rain pants are just visible.
As we progressed, the train got steeper and followed the curves of the mountainside. Here Ian is standing on the trail beside the steep drop off, which went almost straight down for many meters.
Me, standing on the trail, resting a bit before beginning a steep climb.
In this picture Ian is actually sitting on the trail which was cut from living rock. In some places it was so steep that I was able to put my left hand out in front of me and help support myself on the rock surface of the trail.
Early in the day, the trail rose above the trees and we were treated to a wonderful view of the valley from which we came and in which we had walked for the first three days. The mountains on the other side of the valley are completely hidden in the clouds and it was still raining heavily.

The trail was getting steeper and steeper and the worst was yet to come, in spite of the fact that I was already exhausted physically. However, once up into these mountains there was nothing to do except continue or go back. There were no roads or any other ways out.

Day 4

Because of our inability to get a reservation at Temple #12, we had to wait one day with nothing special to do. We got up in the morning and after a leisurely breakfast at our hotel (seen in the picture above) we went shopping. After wandering around a bit we found a shopping center and bought some of the things that we needed. The most urgent was some way to keep our packs dry. After the drizzle of the last few days, we realized that we should have bought rain covers for the packs. Ian bought the last plastic poncho that the stores had and I decided to use a large plastic trash bag and tape the edges. I will have more to say about how these worked out later in the trip.

We returned to last night's family restaurant for lunch and bought more cakes at the bread shop. We had the cakes with coffee in the hotel and then, after a rest, we walked to a 7/11, or maybe it was a Lawson's, I don't remember, where we bought food for the next day. I bought three daifuku, a ball of sweet bean paste inside a rice covering, two chocolate bars and a bottle of Aquarius, a sports drink. This would have to do for lunches on the next two days. I would have like to have taken more but I did not want to carry the extra weight, knowing that we were going into some rough mountains.

At the hotel, over more coffee, we planned out the rest of the trip and made some reservations. For the first time we realized that due to the time limits imposed by Ian's university, we would not be able to get past Kochi city.
This is another view of our hotel. The main road is about 50 meters behind me.

This is another picture of the Buddhist paraphenalia that we carried. The light red books is for the temple stamps, the white sheets of paper are given as offerings, the yellow box contained incense, the blue box candles, and the dark red book contains the Heart Sutra among other things.

At this point I was a bit anxious because I knew that tomorrow I would be going into the mountains, where there was absolutely nothing but a trail. I also knew from the maps that in the 12 kilometers (as the crow flies) we would climb for an altitude of 40 meters up to 750 or so before dropping down 450 meters and then climbing again to over 700 - all of this on dirt trails. Luckily I did not know how hard it was actually going to be. If I had, I would have been more than anxious.

May 24, 2009

Day 3 - at Temple #13

This is the main hall at Temple #13. The grounds were about average in size, about three or four times what you can see in this picture. There may have also been some space for the priests to live behind the buildings but I could not be sure.
On the grounds there were some interesting sculptures. This dragon was very nice and the praying hands behind it contained a surprise that you can see in the next picture.
This is apparently Amida, but it may be a different Buddha. In any case it was the only thing like this that we saw on the Pilgrimage. After looking around the grounds, we called a taxi to take us to the nearest railroad station from where we planned to catch a train back to our hotel. The taxi company said that it would take a while. Temple #13 is not in a particularly built up area. So we went out to the front gate and waited. While standing there, we realized that there was a Shinto shrine across the narrow street.
I took this from the steps leading to the gate of Temple #13. The shrine is suprisingly large and contains a number of buildings. If we had not already called a cab, we would have gone over and explored it.
Inside the shrine there were a pair of statues of horses. They were quite well done but I have no idea what they symbolize. Obviously the shrine was well supported and has a good source of income.

Eventually the taxi came and we told the driver that we wanted to go to the nearest train station. It is really interesting how preconceived ideas can cause confusion. The taxi drive insisted on telling us about temples #14 to #17. It did not matter how many times we told him. He just could not process the fact that we were going backwards. It was a bit frustrating but in the end a very funny conversation and a good memory.

When we reached the station, there was a train at the platform - going in the direction we wanted to go. Ian and I were resigned to missing it and having to wait about 45 minutes for the next one. However, the driver would have none of it. He jumped out of the cab and ran into the station, through the wickets and out onto the platform where he grabbed the conductor and told (not asked) him to hold the train for us. He then returned to the cab and casually took the fare from us and then escorted us to the ticket machines, made sure we bought the correct tickets, and then escorted us onto the train, which the conductor was still holding for us. As the train pulled out the driver stood on the platform (without a ticket) waving good bye to us. Ian and I appologized to the conductor and the other passengers around us. The amazing thing was that not a soul looked upset about it. I told Ian (British) that in the US someone would have gotten really angry and we would have risked being beaten or shot.

When we got back to our hotel we rested a bit and then went out to eat. The only thing we could find was a 'family restaurant'. It was not very good but it was filling. On the way back we stopped at a bread shop and bought a couple of cakes each, which we ate with the free coffee in the hotel.

May 23, 2009

This is the pond that was below Temple #14. The trees in the back ground were cherries and they were almost ready to burst into color. The disturbances on the surface of the water are a large flock of ducks.
We left Temple #14 and headed for #13. Much of the route was very pretty. This is a stone wall protecting a slope giving entry from the road to some rice paddies. The picture does not do justice to the purple of the flowers.
Much of the route followed a river. It was about 50 meters behind me when I took this picture. Throughout Japan there are many little roadside shrines, some Buddhist and some Shinto. This was quite interesting because of the hat someone had placed on the statue of Buddha to protect him from the weather.
A view along the river and up into the mountains that we would be entering on the next leg of our trip. I was amazed at how high they were and how far away they looked. If I had seriously thought about it, I might very well have given up and gone home. Luckily, I had no idea what was in store for us.
After a long walk beside the river we reached Temple #13. This is a statue of Amida Buddha and a group of children. Amida is very interest. Amida has changed sex a number of times and is now shone as non-sexual, masculine in some ways but with a flowing body and a breast that could be male or female. Amida has also changed in function, having represented compasion, health, save childbearing, among other things.

May 19, 2009

Day 3 - going on

This is another view of the main hall at Temple #14. You can see the interesting structure of the bedrock.
This is the place to wash your hands before going into the main areas of the temple. You can see the bronze dragon in the middle, just behind the row of long handled scoops. Off in the distance, past the stone fence, there was a beautiful pond at the bottom of a cliff. The pond was surrounded by cherry trees, just coming into bloom, and was a playground for a flock of ducks.
This is the area just inside the gate. You can see the main hall in the background on the left and in front of it a little portion of the rock formation. The tree is probably a plum tree and would have been in full bloom a few days after we left.
This is Ian coming down the stairs as we left the temple grounds. The stairs are cut into the living rock and were actually quite difficult to walk on, slippery because of the rain and irregular.

May 18, 2009


I hope that tomorrow or the next day I will have time to post some more pictures. This academic year (April to March) I have more classes than in the past and each class has more preparation. This combined with the changed schedule at Tohoku U. They will have a extra long summer vacation during which the classroom buildings will be reinforced for earthquakes (a great idea). This requires having Saturday classes to make up for the vacation time. So, in addition to a fuller schedule, I have some Saturday classes. This means that I have little time nor energy for adding to this blog, but I will keep at it as much as I can.

May 13, 2009

Day 3 continued again

While some portions of our route stayed on the paved roads, other parts cut between t he roads and followed paths, and stairs, through the low hills.
Just after an old woman on a bicycle stopped and gave us each 200 yen as settai (we put it in the donation box at the next temple), we passed this rather bright building. It was a privately funded memorial to someone's son. I don't remember all the details, and did not understand many more, I am sure, but this was certainly the most garish Buddhist related building we saw. There were indications that it was Chinese rather than Japanese.
This is the stair way up to Temple #14. The second flight (going off to the left behind the person) is cut into living rock. When going up or down, a pilgrim must devote full attention to each step or risk a nasty fall. The ability to apply and hold this attention is one of the things that is strived for in meditation. The stairs demonstrate that in a very real way the entire pilgrimage is a meditation.
The main hall is on the left and it is placed on living rock. The area between the buildings, which in most temples is sand, gravel, or pavement, is bare rock.
A variety of stone structures and the bell tower in the rear. The metal box in the front, that looks like a trash receptacle, is for storing walking sticks while the owner goes through the sutra routine.

May 12, 2009

Day 3 - Even more of it

This is a better view of the remains of the old hall at Temple #14. Ian wanted to stand in front of it and chant the Heart Sutra, but for some reason I did not like the idea. Now I kind of wish that we had done it; again I am not sure why.
This is the current main hall. The double roof is interesting and it was ancient looking. They probably built it just after the other building burned down.

This is the bell tower. I am doing a picture of it and will post it sometime in the next few days.
This view shows both the main hall and the bell tower. When I took the picture, I was standing just inside the gate. The whole place had an aura of age and history. I preferred it to the newer temples that catered to the tourist aspect of the pilgrimage, for example Temple #7.
This is a view of the main building as we were leaving to go to Temple #13. At this point we were really hungry but still had a long way to go.

May 9, 2009

A confusing week

This week has been very strange. First we had Golden Week. A group of holidays come together so that, when the weekend and the extra in between days are added, April 29 and May 2 to 6 were national holidays.

I did not do much. I rested, took some relatively short walks, and did some drawing. I also began a three month course in Vipassana meditation - 30 minutes every morning and quite a bit of reading at first. Then on May 5 a friend and I went to see Vegalta, the Sendai soccer team, play. The game was not very good but they won. After the game we went to central Sendai and went to a place called the Tapas Bar. As you may know, tapas are the free servings of food that you get when you order a drink in Spain - things like sausages and small sandwiches. So it is only logical that in Japan a Tapas Bar would serve only Italian food. The food was actually quite good and the table wine was acceptable.

I taught two classes on Thursday and to my surprise all my students showed up. Then came Friday, or I guess I should say Wednesday. I normally have two classes on Friday, but this week the university where I teach three classes on Wednesdays treated May 8 as a Wednesday. Since I get paid by the class, I cancelled my usual Friday schedule and taught my Wednesday schedule. It all made the week seem very strange.

Starting next week I will go for 10 weeks with very few days off. I think I get one Thursday off complete and a couple of individual classes have been cancelled by the colleges. However, I have three Saturdays on which I will teach a Friday schdule. The university in question had trouble scheduling the required number of classes because they are closing the buildings before the end of the semester in order to install earthquake protection. I am already a bit tired so I expect that by July I will definitely be ready for the summer vacation.

It is Saturday and I have no classes, so after lunch, my wife and I are going for a walk so she can do some shopping. I will leave her at the store and continue on by myself so that I can get a fairly long distance in today. Tomorrow is Mothers Day, so I will stay home with her.

Day 3 Continued further

This is Ian washing his hands before entering the temple grounds. Actually we are already inside the grounds proper because we have gone through the gate, but we have not approached any of the buildings.

This is a group being led in the recitation of the Heart Sutra by a Buddhist priest. Many of the groups that we saw consisted to 10 to 20 people with a priest and/or a tour guide. They moved between temples on chartered buses.
I am not sure without a time consuming check, but I think that this is the main hall at Temple #15. The thing in front with the roof is the incense burner and the place for candles can just be seen on the right.
This is Temple #14. The buildings are all very old and dilapidated. The main hall burned down a few hundred years ago and the remains of the foundation can be seen on the extreme right. I actually liked this temple very much - it had real character.

May 6, 2009

Day 3 Continued

At Temple #17 we discovered this small six-sided meditation hall. Some day I will have to discover why six sides are used? Why not five or seven or eight? There is probably some sort of esoteric meaning, but it escapes me at the moment.

Walking between #17 and #16 we met an older man and a college student. Ian walked and talked with the student and I with the older man. The man acted a bit strange. For example, I had a map and was able to follow the roads exactly, but he would not accept this and asked someone at each corner which way we should go. He also ignored the sign posts, but as we saw in the last entry, he may have been on to something there. Mostly he talked and I listen, but his conversation was very disjointed and I frequently had no idea what he was talking about - and it was not a language problem. The one thing that became very clear was that his legs ached terrible and they still had to walk about 18 kilometers to Temple #18 near which they had a reservation. We finally got to a place where they had to go left but we turned right toward Temple #16.

If my calculations and memory are correct, this is the gate at Temple #16. It was right on the road and quite small compared to most of the others. Also as with all of the temples from #17 to #13, it was old looking and not at all commercial. The priest who wrote the calligraphy in our book wrote slower than anyone I have ever seen. Japanese calligraphy is usually done with fairly rapid strokes, but he carefully drew each stroke - in slow motion.

As we walked between #16 and #15, we found this very picturesque pump house. I could not tell if it was still functional, but at one time it must have been useful, considering how flat the land was in this area.

As you can see, it had started raining by the time we got to Temple #15. However, Ohenro-san are not deterred by the weather, especially a light rain like this one.

We continued the easy walk and reach Temple #14. Our one problem was that we could find no restaurants or stores, so we were unable to get anything to eat.