Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Amanohashidate, and the new pilgrimage

I use the word pilgrimage pretty liberally in my thinking and even in writing. To me, it typically means a journey with some spiritual significance attached. So my bike ride to Iwa Jinja that one day was a pilgrimage in my head. My trip to Omizutori at Nigatsugo was a kind of pilgrimage. At that time, in March, when fellow writers’ group member T-rav and I stood shivering in the dark cold of 2am Nara, I got a temple book separate page to commemorate the event (the event which I see I did not post about.. to be rectified). T-rav explained that he had a temple book so he could get it calligraphied at the temples he visited as he traveled about in Kansai; he’d gotten it at our nearby Engyo-ji (on top of Mt. Shosha, where they filmed the Last Samurai). I resolved to get such a book for myself.

Our trip to Amanohashidate was not a pilgrimage. It was a last-minute planned daytrip that almost got canceled on threat of rain. We packed our rain boots and ourselves into Robin Red and set off for this one of the three great sights of Japan.

The normal way to view Amanohashidate is to stand with your back to it, grab your ankles, and look at it upside-down between your legs. This makes it look like it’s in the sky, thus making it look more like the “bridge to heaven” it is supposed to be. It takes a pretty nice dose of imagination to make it look like that, but the landform itself is pretty ridiculous and therefore awesome.

From 2011_05_21

From 2011_05_21
We arrived and parked at the south end, and went up to the viewpoint there, before walking around the temple Chion-ji. We had lunch, and walked across the narrow landmass to the north side. It was surreal, like walking in a park with pine trees and the sea lining... both sides of the path. The water was gorgeous and clear and cold, and had jellyfish. 
At the north end, we walked through Kono Shrine and up toward the other viewpoint (we bought dual tickets, good for both chairlifts). At the top of the chairlift, we decided to go on foot up to the other temple, Nariai-ji, rather than take the bus. This was a mistake. We sweated dragged ourselves all the way up to the temple, and not without a susumebachi sighting (listen, I'm not skittish about bugs, but those things are effing scary. YOU try being possibly allergic to bees and then seeing one that is two freaking inches long and called "yak killer").

From 2011_05_21

We had a little time at Nariai-ji to look around and cool off. A temple lady (priestess?) came and asked if we had walked up, and warned us not to miss the bus back, since a baby bear had been spotted recently near the road, and there were worries that its mother would be hanging around. I went into the temple and there found temple books for sale. I leafed through the "look-at" copy of the one with watercolor images of different Kansai temples. I spotted Engyo-ji. I had been wanting to buy a temple book for a while, and it was nearing time to go, so I took the book to the window to get it purchased, calligraphied, and stamped.

From 2011_05_21

The same woman who had warned us about the bus and the bear tried to ascertain whether I understood what I was buying. I assured her I did. I was lying. When I got home, I looked up the kanji on the front of the book and discovered that what I'd bought was, actually, a pilgrimage book.

Because. Duh. Who else needs a temples book, anyway? To me, the most famous temple pilgrimage in Japan is the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. The book I got is the Kansai (that I had been able to read) thirty-three (that too) Kannon (nope!) pilgrimage. The temple at the south end of Amanohashidate, for example, is not included in the book.

Let me start by saying, I know so little about Buddhism it's kind of ridiculous, being the religion enthusiast that I am, living where I do. So it was a delightful surprise to learn that Kannon is the Japanese name for Guanyin, the goddess of mercy.

Hmm... where have I heard about a goddess of mercy before? Oh right!
From Winter Vacation Part II: Penang

And Kek Lok Si was where I bought the two wooden bracelets I wear a lot (now when you glance through photos of me, see if I'm wearing them).

Easily spotted here.
From Okinawa Take Two

They were advertised as "avoid evils wood" and are inscribed with little kanji.

So I was like, sweet, I accidentally got myself maybe on a pilgrimage (which is kind of, it turns out, what happens to the character in that novel I'm kinda working on?), and I do like it when stuff comes together... so I thought, I'll do a bit more research and see what I decide.

The next day, meaning, the day after Amanohashidate, I went out to Kobe for an art gallery opening featuring the work of some JETs I know...

From 2011_05_22

On the train home, I was sitting in the jump seat (the little pull-down seat) when an old dude got on the train, and you do not (as a 25 year old) just sit there staring at the old dude who is standing, even on the long stretch between Kobe and Akashi, sorry, so I got up and he sat down, and then I noticed this poster, and did my best to read it.

From 2011_05_22

Because the parts I could read were west-country, and thirty-three, and the picture was of Nariai-ji, where I'd just bought my temple book, and the other picture was of the Kannon image, which I freshly knew is only displayed every 33 years. I wasn't sure (and still am not) if the poster was just promoting the idea of going on the pilgrimage tour, or announcing the extension of transportation lines toward Nariai-ji, or some other thing.

I do know that I have a newfound curiosity about Buddhism, Kannon, this travel, and in my spare spare time, I will be looking into it.


  1. Basic Philosophy of Buddhism as described by my old East Asian religion teachers: Life sucks, then you do it again. XD

    I miss that man.

  2. Psh! Every time I go to church with my friend I end up feeling more like a Buddhist. I think it's just about being good to people, and accepting that they may not be good back, Karma. Respecting your body, and the earth, and the cycles of both, Dharma? I'll have to look into it more. But from what I've read... it seems all right. :) Love you cuz.