Gardening, Japan, Long-Distance Walking, The Backwards 88
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The Backwards 88, Day 8: Sandal Power in North-Eastern Shikoku

Greetings, folks, from rainy Kan’onji City on the western fringes of Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku. If you’re the kind of weirdo who prefers kanji (Chinese characters), I’m here to help: 観音寺市. It’s the name of both the city and one of its two principle temples (the suffix -ji means temple).

Kan’on or Kannon is a Buddhist goddess of mercy (and pets, apparently), much venerated along the Shikoku pilgrimage route: 29 of the 88 temples are dedicated to her. One unusual thing about this temple, #69, though, is that it adjoins #68, Jinnein, which meant a delightfully easy double whammy with which to start Day 8 today.

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The head monk of Temple 1, Mr Yamato, took this shot as I finally departed in my new vest. You’ll be happy to know I ditched it a few days later. Just wasn’t me, and it was a pain when rain-soaked. I felt much more genuine and relaxed with it gone.

I’m presently squandering that advantage by sitting here on my Z-Rest outside a 7-11, typing this long-overdue post and stealth-charging laptop, wifi hotspot and one of my arsenal of camera batteries. I haven’t tapped into a convenience store’s power outlet since I last wandered through Shikoku in 2008…

(I don’t like supporting the evil 7-11 Corporation, currently in the news in Australia for ripping off their student workforce, but their stores are the only place in Japan I can reliably obtain cash from my account, and a MasterCard in Japan is practically useless — you may as well carry a dog biscuit in your wallet.)

(Though at least a dog biscuit could keep you alive in an emergency.)

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Mr Yamato, dressed for some temple carpentry, which he says he really enjoys. An excellent fellow all round, and a former hippy and left-winger!

Anyway, things are good. After a slow start following the night drinking with the boss priest at Temple 1, I spent all of the following day trudging towards Temple 88 and the kick-off proper of my journey.

That was Day 1. It was a long way, and at nightfall I still wasn’t there. On a whim I deviated off-trail for a hot-spring bath, and slightly and enjoyably hazy-headed from the hot water, beer, and sessions with two different foot-massage machines, I decided to improvise…

I need to stick to the script.

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Lonesome country torii — shrine gate — in rice country at dusk.

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Mr Tamaki’s beady vampire eyes have followed all over Shikoku. How I despise him.

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My first o-settai! She followed me in her car and leapt out to hand me an Aquarius energy drink. Now I’ve dumped the vest I can probably say goodbye to a lot of free stuff, though in 2008 I was given drinks a few times just walking in my rambling rags.

I ended up climbing up the road on the most lonesome mountain pass I’ve ever walked, with a half-moon and stars so bright I mostly didn’t need my headlamp, no cars in a couple of hours, no idea if I was going the right way but mellow enough not to care.

It was a relief to descend into farmland, but I couldn’t find anywhere to sleep. The farms and villages were dead-silent and my footsteps seemed unfeasibly loud. In desperation, when I saw a little torii gate at the roadside, I entered the tiny country shrine and cowboy-camped on sacred ground a few feet from the road.

No cars all night, till a sole farm truck around dawn. Half an hour later I reached 88 and I was on my way.

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Beautiful mountain scenery near Temple 88.

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Classic old mountain farmhouse.

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Two locals halfway up the mountain behind Temple 88. He’d done the pilgrimage years before (“By car! No walking!”).

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My trekking pole with Kobo Daishi adornment.

That wasn’t even the only shrine I’ve crashed in. In fact the following night was awful as in desperation, with rain coming down, I ended up on a steel-mesh platform used to burn trash at a large and scary shrine complex. Hey, it had a roof — it seemed like the Hilton to me. At first.

Finding accommodation is the most stressful part of most days — apart from getting lost (see below). Around 5:00pm I start scoping out options, preferably free, but that coincides with beer-hunting time, not the best confluence of priorities. There are free pilgrim shelters here and there, but I always pass them too early in the day.

So far, here’s my list of digs since starting:

Day 1: Small country shrine: tentless

Day 2: Garbage-burning pit, bigger shrine: tentless

Day 3: Muddy vacant lot: tent

Day 4: Under the eaves of a temple out-building next to the vending machines & toilets: tent

Day 5: Under a highway overpass: tentless

Day 6: In a semi-rural internet cafe (it had a shower & unlimited soft drinks & ice-cream!)

Day 7: In a park: tent

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Farmhouse sinking into the rice ocean.

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Old farmhouse roof.

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Typical stone direction marker on the pilgrim path, this one in a semi-urban area in the fringes of Takamatsu.

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Resting in a tree, a nice dog that actually let me approach and pet it without taking my hand off.

I should add that the park last night seemed great apart from the mosquitos. Then a stray dog found me and spent hours yelping outside, while I lay in there plotting its murder. Fortunately in Japan nobody ever tells dogs to shut up, let alone investigates the source of their disquiet. In time it lost interest and I lost consciousness.

My days always start with a Quest for Caffeine. Fortunately that’s easily done in Japan as you’re never more than 25 steps from a vending machine (or 10) and 50 from a convenience store. It ain’t always world-class, and often comes teeth-strippingly sugared-up, but it works.

The rest of my day is spent temple-hunting. I managed six yesterday, but that’s super-rare. After this, I’ll have to spend most of the day reaching Temple 67. Day’s end sees me scanning the horizon for either a convenience store or a beer machine, then the shelter-hunt. I always plan to write a post, but once that big can of beer kicks in, exhaustion quickly follows, and the show’s over.

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Sunset on the north-eastern coast.

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Swallowtail #1.

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Swallowtail #2 at the roadside.

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Climbing back into the hills in an area famed for its role in ancient wars,

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Most of the surviving old path is not this nicely paved!

My other frustration has been my tiny English-language guidebook. Three days in a row I lost 1-2 hours in getting myself lost and un-lost, mostly in the urban or semi-rural sections around Takamatsu, where the street signage is also lacking.

I read online that the Japanese version has way better maps. Many’s the time I’ve almost chucked the thing in a river, but I don’t suppose I would’ve gotten this far without it.

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A weird-looking restaurant settled between paddies.

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Lone Fisherman on a rainy afternoon.

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Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu. I came here in 2008 and returned one wet morning for another look.

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Giant lily pads, Ritsurin.

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Ritsurin Reflections.

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Pond Colour, Ritsurin.

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Cycad forest, Ritsurin.

Photographically I’m having a blast. I love Shikoku, the stretches of farmland, the sections of old trail in forests, the green hills and paddies. I’ll have more to say about the capital-P Pilgrimage soon, but my own personal pilgrimage is artistic, if that’s not too wanky.

I set myself the goal of taking at least one good shot at each temple. They should all be different, not too obvious, and capture some interesting aspect of the place. I don’t leave till I have my shot.

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Skanky Apartment Blocks & a Sea of Weeds.

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In the bamboo forest at a temple.

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Rural railway crossing.

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Old stone temple lantern.

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Sometimes you have to try to find these tiny henro stickers to locate the path. Good luck with that.

Sometimes I get there half an hour before closing time (5:00pm) — that is a very intense and challenging scenario, but I love it. The Japanese pilgrims, both the car-users and far rarer walkers, do their half-hour of sutras and rush off without even touring the grounds, looking at the trees, monuments, flowers, etc.

The picture-taking is my quality temple-time, my chance to dump the pack and find some peace and stillness, and it looks much more fun than reciting prayers and burning incense…

I’m saving my best temple shots for now as I have a project in mind for them, but I’ve included a random assortment of shots from the walk so far to give you a hint of its flavour.

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Resting at a shrine with a can of Royal Milk Tea.

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Marugame Castle. I only had time for a look at the castle wall — it’s the real deal, not a reconstruction like several which allied bombing destroyed in the Big One.

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A mountain called — a local lady told me — Ii-no-Yama, near where I crashed in the internet cafe.

Alright, my laptop’s reached a 100% charge and my camera-battery charger light has gone out: life doesn’t get much better than that for the lonesome high-tech pilgrim.

I really hope to post more frequently and less wordily, but the other source of hold-ups is that I only get to edit a few pictures at most each evening before I pass out. We’ll see.

Only 67 temples to go! On with the quest!

Ja ne!

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A stunningly accurate evocation of the pilgrim experience.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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10 Comments

  1. Hi Goat

    I hope you have found some decent resting spots lately.

    Your images really capture the character of places, people and in particular animals, whether cats, dogs, praying mantis or monster beetles – your empathy for animals shows clearly. Love your dog and cat photos, these are just superb.

    I’m fascinated by the similarity to our dingoes of many of the dogs there, I’m reminded of our dingo’s 4000-year old Asian origins. Hmmm, how easily I forget that Australia is really part of Asia.

    Take care.

    • I had one of my best campsites ever last night, right next to the beach in coastal Kochi, with the sound of breaking waves all night and a magnificent sunrise — plus the coldest morning yet!

      Thanks re: the animal shots! One of my favourite subjects, especially domesticated (or semi-) as I travel. I don’t have the equipment or time on a walk like this to really deal with wild animals or distant ones properly (no zoom etc) — unlike most pro wildlife photogs, I can’t sit in one place with heavy, bulky gear for hours/days on end — but years of road-walking have finely tuned my eyes to seeing movement or promising shapes as I scan roadsides and fences etc.

      Empathy: yes. I suspect that’s why I consider myself a relatively poor portrait photographer — I have far more empathy and respect for animals than people!

  2. Lol, as they say these days, yes, I can relate to that last sentiment.

    I remember starting photography with an Olympus OM-D film camera way too long ago and for years all I had was a 50mm lens. I think it taught me to maybe slow down and match the thought and eye to the idea of the image and not to get distracted by the choice of lenses etc. But I think I’ve forgotten all that.

    • I love prime lenses and in fact since I’ve been using “serious”/non-point-and-shoots I haven’t owned a telephoto. It’s definitely helped mould my style, which is very physical and down-and-dirty. I’m using a 35, 55 and 16 on this walk, and I’m getting better at instantly sizing up a scene and deciding which one would work best. But as a rule I only have one of the three out in my hand, and while I’m carrying that one, I try to think/see like it, which is an art!

  3. “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” Henry Beston.

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