Shikoku Pilgrimage, Temple 20, Kakurinji
Perhaps I should not have poured water so enthusiastically on the Shinto Rain Goddess the other day, because today she “blessed” us with a serious rainfall that continued all day long.
After a good night’s sleep in our room at the serene Tatstueji temple (#19), the only guests in this ancient temple, we started our day very early.
We asked to eat breakfast by 6:00 AM so we could head out by 6:30 to start the long climb up and down two mountain peaks.
Breakfast was a simple but tasty affair.
As always, we were shown to a private tatami room with a low table and two cushions on the floor.
On the table was a pot of green tea, and on the tatami mat floor, a rice cooker full of freshly steamed rice.
The food is always prepared ahead and two trays with our food on them were waiting on the table.
There was a hard boiled farm egg, salty pickles, a dish of cooked cabbage with sesame, a dish of eight beans cooked with sweet Mirin, strips of Nori and a miso soup.
We packed all of our clothes, papers and electronics in big ziplock bags and put them in a dry sack inside our backpacks, for extra protection from the rain.
We wore our rain coats and rain pants, covered our backpacks with their rain covers, took out our umbrellas and started walking to Kakurinji – temple 20.
In the old days, most pilgrims did not walk on very stormy days.
The custom was to stay in the village or temple you were lodging at, and wait until the storm had passed.
Perhaps this tradition is still observed in modern Japan, because until we reached temple 20, we did not see a single walking pilgrim walking in either direction of the path.
Today we were the ONLY pilgrims walking in the pouring rain.
The path meandered along narrow roads, passing by rural villages.
Jules writes: “I had expected our path today to be in the forest, a long, steep climb surrounded by trees, as was our first Nansho.
Instead, most of the distance we covered today was along narrow roads, with very little room both for cars and trucks and walkers like us.
Unable to listen to spiritual lectures on my iPod because of the heavy rain, I focused on my breathing and on experiencing my self as light-filled, and gradually the walk became easier and easier.”
We passed by an old house and we listened to someone playing the “Shakuhachi,” the Japanese bamboo flute tied deeply to Zen and the breathing of the player.
The music was so sweet it went straight to my heart and I yearned to learn how to play it.
Then we headed into the forest and started climbing.
I took my time climbing the steep path in the wet forest.
Our shoes and socks were already completely soaked and stayed wet for the rest of the day.
Jules writes: “We turned off the road and onto the fairly short, very steep path leading up the mountain to Temple 20. Step by step, slowly, slowly…”
The forest was surrounded by mist which evaporated and moved around the spaces between the tall trees.
Small forest crabs made their way up the trail, crawling sideways on the wet path.
They have no arm or leg muscles yet they move so fast….
The rain and the mist made the forest look almost magical.
The path was very well maintained, but we needed to pay extra attention to every step, because we mostly walked on mossy rocks which are very slippery in the rain or on fallen leaves which are decomposing, muddy and slippery.
Still, I enjoyed the hike and the heavy rain took my mind off the weight of my backpack.
By mid morning, I noticed that I was walking in synergy with my whole being.
I was no longer questioning why we were dong this, not feeling self pity nor entertaining any self doubts.
I accepted the weather conditions with good spirit.
I felt happy despite the pouring rain, the throbbing aches in feet and leg muscles., the weight of my backpack and the slippery path.
I felt reverence and awe at the strong wind, and often stopped to listen to it and feel the power of it, as it swirled all around me.
By midday, we arrived at Kakurinji temple.
It is the only temple in Tokushima Prefecture which has not been rebuilt due to fire, and its ancient cedar trees were even more magical in the heavy rain and mist.
We met a Japanese man who came to ask for healing.
He told me that he was not strong enough to walk the pilgrimage, and that he was using the bus to get from place to place, but that even climbing the stairs from the road to the temples was very hard for him to do.
At the office where they stamp the pilgrims’ books, I asked the ladies how long will it take us to walk to Tairyūji, temple 21.
The ladies estimated that it should take us three hours, or maybe more because of the rain and the slippery conditions.
They also told me that the last cable car down from the peak of Tairyūji, leaves at four in the afternoon.
We started walking down the very steep path towards temple 21.
As all hikers will tell you, going down can be even harder than climbing up.
A lot of pressure is put on the knees while you walk down steep paths.
At one point, the forest path intersected with the road.
A kind Japanese woman was driving her car up the road toward Kakurinji when she spotted Jules who was walking ahead of me.
She stopped her car and backed it towards us.
She got out of her car in the pouring rain and opened the boot of her car.
She pulled out two new rain ponchos, still in their original packaging, and handed one to each of us.
She said that it is such a rainy day and it is so hard and difficult to walk in this pouring rain…
She then opened the backseat door, fumbled through some bags and handed me a package of hard peach candy.
Her eyes were full of compassion…
I was so touched by her kind gifts.
Not only that she had gifted us rain ponchos and hard candy, but that she actually buys those items and keeps them in her car so that when she runs into pilgrims who are walking in the pouring rain, she could give them some gifts to make their day a little easier.
This is the centuries-old tradition of “ossetai” on Shikoku island, in action, the unsolicited giving of gifts to Henro one encounters along their walking path .
Such a kind and thoughtful soul…..
More than the rain poncho, I was happy with the hard sour candy, because I had run out of water and the candy helped me stave off my thirst.
The walk to Temple 21 included a very steep downhill path, and then a very sharp ascent up the mountain.
It took us nearly two hours just to get down to the road, to the point where the path starts to climb steeply up.
There was a seating area at that intersection and we bought some green tea, ate our nuts, and assessed our options.
Looking at the clock, it seemed impossible that we would be able to climb the steep uphill in the rain, visit the temple, and make it to the last cable car in time.
If we were to miss the cable car, we would not be able to walk down to our guesthouse that night in the intensifying rain.
It will take 8-10 long hours.
It is not wise to walk in the forest in the dark, and we would also miss dinner.
In these rural areas, the guesthouse is often the ONLY place in which you could get any food.
All we ate after breakfast was one apple which we shared, one orange, a bag of nuts and a handful of Kumquats and mulberries.
My original plan for this long day of steep hiking, was to stay overnight in the village at the foot of temple 20, get up early and hike the two peaks.
The monk at temple 19 had advised me to cancel this reservation and to make it all the way to Sowaka Guesthouse, at the bottom of the cable car leading to Temple 21.
If it had not poured so badly, perhaps we would have time to do this plan, but now it seemed that we had no time left in the day.
Luckily, we had a plan B.
Plan B was not to attempt to climb up to temple 21, but to take the longer road directly to Sowaka Onsen- our accommodation for the night, and then take the cable car up to temple 21 the next day.
The path to Sowaka was double the length of the mountain path, but at least it ran by the river on flat land.
We decided to stay an extra night and visit the temple tomorrow in the better weather.
The 7 km walk to our accommodation seemed to go on forever, but it was a very beautiful road.
Jules said that he was certainly slowed down by his soaking wet shoes and socks, which felt like they weighed more than his pack did!
We followed the wide river and passed by thick forests.
It took us an extra two and a half hours to get to our guesthouse, located right by the side of the cable car.
We noticed that no cable car went down the mountain at 4:00 PM which made me feel lucky that we had not chosen to walk up the mountain.
The heavy winds and the rain had interfered with the normal schedule of the gondola.
Sowaka is not an impressive hotel.
It is run by a few hard working women and it looks a bit neglected.
From the corridors, it looks a little like a prison with cells, but inside the room, it is lovely, clean and with very good aesthetics.
There is something harmonious and minimalist about traditional Japanese guest rooms.
They always have rice straw mats on the floor (Tatami), sliding shoji doors with white rice paper on them, an altar with a scroll painting, a closet with your futon bedding ready, with cleaned and starched sheets on them, a Yukata (casual kimono) to wear, a wash towel and a toothbrush.
The colors are earthy and muted.
This guesthouse has an Onsen and I quickly took of my soaking wet socks and clothes and went to shower and soak in the hot springs.
In the Onsen I met again the German girl who also said that she did not make it to temple 21 today, and like us, decided to do it tomorrow.
She was the only other pilgrim who attempted to continue today, but she had her bicycle and she said that she felt sorry for us for walking for ten hours in the rain.
We ate a fresh and simple dinner in the dining room filled with other Yukata clad guests who had driven here to enjoy the scenic mountains and the Onsen.
It is hard to believe that tomorrow the weather should improve as the forecast says.
It seems like the rain has intensified even more….
At night I recalled my walk in the forest.
As we headed up and up the mountain, I felt that the stream of my normal thoughts had faded away.
I realized that whenever I feel this way, it is because I am entering a place of power.
In some areas, I find that it is harder to meditate because the vibrational frequencies are very low and the noise of the world is very strong.
Most high mountains are places of power.
In Japan, mountains are believed to be filled with spirits, and people place stone sculptures of Jizo, the Buddha or Fudō Myoo, along the walking path.
I LOVE the Fudō Myoo.
Fudō is believed to convert anger into salvation.
He has a furious, glaring face holding a sword in his right hand.
The sword represents wisdom cutting through all prejudices and ignorance.
Fudō holds a rope in left hand, symbolizing his ability to catch and bind up inner demons and obstacles to enlightenment.
He often has a third eye in his forehead, symbolizing higher vision and all-seeing.
He is seated or standing on a rock, because the Fudō is “immovable” in his faith.
Fudō’s left eye is often closed, and his teeth bite his upper lip, or he is shown with two fangs, one pointing upward and other pointing downwards.
The forest path was dotted with Fudō and a big one was at the temple.
In ancient Japan, ascetic monks used to go up the mountain to practice meditation for long periods of time, in order to gain supernatural powers and infuse more power into their awareness from these surroundings.
The powers they had gained allowed them to heal people, control the elements, and see into the future.
Day 8 (May 16th 2016)
20. Kakurinji (鶴林寺) –Crane Forest Temple – A Nansho Mountain Temple
Active walking 7:13 hours
Active day 10 hours