Wednesday, November 4, 2015
The top of the stick is covered with a colourful cloth and there is a bell attached. The bell is to remind pilgrims to stay in the moment, listening to the sound of the bell as they walk. At the end of the day, the bottom of the kongozue is carefully washed, dried and put in the tokonoma of the pilgrim's room.
As pilgrims cross bridges, they are meant to carry the stick without it making any noise on the bridge surface. Stories relate that Kobo Daishi sometimes slept under bridges during his travels in Shikoku. Pilgrims walk quietly over the bridges without tapping their sticks so as not to wake the sleeping O-Daishi-San.
We stopped in the temple grounds of number 5, Jizoji, to do some sketching and rest our legs. The henro route is mostly on pavement, which is surprisingly hard on the feet. In this lovely courtyard there was a huge and gorgeous ginkgo tree (not the one I painted). The women in the temple office, who stamped and painted our book, told us the tree was 800 years old. It made me think that the scrawny specimen in my yard at home had a long way to go!
Our first day on the walk was marked by bright blue fall skies over small farm holdings and houses. The route was lined with clipped pines, orange and persimmon trees, eggplant and rice fields and swaths of cosmos flowers. One of the highlights of the day was walking along with a group of henro from Kyushu. I chatted with an older lady who explained that they took the Friday overnight ferry from Kyushu to Shikoku, were met by their guide on Saturday morning, walked from temple 1 to 5, had dinner, then got back on the overnight ferry and were back in Kyushu by Sunday morning. And all this for 10,000 yen. (about $100 CAD). It is fascinating to see the variations on how the pilgrimage is done. We even saw a guy on a motorbike in the white henro coat, going from temple to temple.
Japanese temple buildings, especially the roofs are a real visual puzzle and a challenge for artists at any level. In this painting, I was aiming for just an impression of what I was seeing. We had about an hour to look around and get sketching before we had to get to our accommodation at Kotobuki Shokudo. The idea is to arrive at your minshuku or ryokan by about 5 pm so you can have a bath before dinner at 6 pm. I have to say, things in Japan are very well organized.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
|Bell and Sake Casks at Temple 1, Ryozenji|
We took the bus from Kyoto Station to Tokushima on the island of Shikoku. Shikoku is one of the four main islands of Japan but is relatively less touristy and more "inaka" or rural than Honshu. We planned to spend about six days walking the first part of the Henro, a buddhist pilgrimage that includes 88 main temples and covers some 1300 km. We managed to visit the first 17 temples and walk about 100 km. Pilgrims mostly go by car or by bus but some still choose to do the route on foot. Apparently it can be done by helicopter, but I have to say, we did not see a single helicopter. The walk takes between 40 and 50 days in total.
We decided to wear the white pilgrim jacket, carry the white bag with incense, name papers and stamp book, as well as carry the signature henro staff with a bell on it. In this way, we identified ourselves as members of the henro trail. I must say, it certainly made the local people recognize us and we had numerous friendly encounters with local farmers, kindly pointing and shouting us in the right direction as well as boisterous conversations with school kids in uniforms. We did our best to respectfully observe the traditions and were often coached by other pilgrims as we walked together.
There is a series of tasks or rituals that pilgrims do as they enter each temple precinct. The lovely thing that we discovered was that people can do as many or as few of these practices as they choose. It really is a personal journey. We felt very welcomed and yet were left to our own devices to experience the henro trail.
There is a gate at the front of every temple. Pilgrims bow as they enter. Most people find a place to leave their pack and staff somewhere near the front gate. Then we go to the fountain, use a dipper to get some water and wash our hands and mouths. One of the cutest things I saw was the children of the local priest floating their toys in the fountain. They were so uninhibited and clearly enjoying themselves. Next, pilgrims ring the bell, go up to the main temple buildings, light some incense and/or a candle, put their name paper in the box, put a donation in the money box and say a prayer. After that, people usually move down the steps to ground level to recite the Heart Sutra. We used the romaji version of the sutra in our guide book to quietly recite and follow. At one temple, a friendly pilgrim from Chiba who had done the route by car more than 20 times, came up behind us and chanted with us. Suddenly it felt like we had wind in our sails. It was quite a moving experience. Finally, people take their stamp books to the temple office to have it stamped in bright orange ink and the temple name painted in sumi with a brush. That was always my favourite part of the visit. I just marvel at the beauty and individuality of each person's calligraphy. Oh and finally, finally, step outside the gate and bow again before looking for the trail markers to the next temple.
Monday, November 2, 2015
It would be lovely to have these gardens to yourself to draw and paint but I settled for a miniature shrine down a slightly quieter path, away from the main attractions. As I stood and very quickly sketched and painted this little scene, taxi drivers with groups of 4 school kids each, moved through the garden. It must have been nice for those kids and the taxi drivers as well, to be in small groups rather than the typical group of 40 following a flag and a guide. These small groups of kids were having lively conversations and the local taxi drivers were enjoying sharing their knowledge and insights too. The driver near me encouraged his young charges to practice their English with me. Turns out one of the little boys was fluent in English. He'd spent several years living in North Carolina with his family. He and I enjoyed a fleeting shared experience of having been the kid who'd lived in a foreign country.