Sorcery, a dragon and a long, dark, narrow cave – a trip to Jigen-ji temple

Do you like to go spelunking or contorting your body in all sorts of directions in order to pass through small rock crevices? Do you like tales of mystic rituals, sorcery and battles with dragons? If so, then I highly recommend going to Jigen-ji, which is number three of twenty bekkaku (other) temples along the eighty-eight temple Shikoku pilgrimage, and going through the cave there called Anazenjo (place of ascetic training). This temple, located on top of a mountain in Kamikatsu town about 35 kilometres from central Tokushima, can be best reached by car although it is possible to get somewhat close by bus.

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A Look at Temple 2, Gokuraku-ji

At about the midway point along the quiet route between Temple 1 to 2 is a reconstructed World War I German POW camp that was used as a set for the movie, Baruto no Gakuen (2007). The set, which was on a much larger lot located beside Oasa Hiko Shrine, north of Ryozen-ji, had to be dismantled and removed after the three-year land lease expired; yet local people wanted to somehow preserve it and make it open to the public. As a result, it was rebuilt with fewer buildings at this new and smaller location.

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A Look at Temple 1, Ryōzen-ji

Recent reports give a number of between 100,000 and 300,000 who annually participate in the Shikoku pilgrimage. Of these, it is estimated that about 5,000 are walkers and about 500 are foreigners.

With so many people now making the pilgrimage it is attracting a lot of coverage in the media and there is a huge amount of information on the internet, so I will try to refrain from repeating basic facts here. My aim is to provide a brief history of Temple 1, suggest some interesting things to look at when you visit and present what foreigners in the distant past have said and written about their visits to the temples.

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Stairway to heaven: hiking ancient pilgrimage trails in southern Japan

Normally I am not given to praying but the occasion demands it. After bowing twice and clapping twice, I make a silent entreaty that my trek will go well. My obeisance is taking place in front of a small wooden building, rather like a summerhouse. It is a shrine in the town of Takijiri-oji, a starting point for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails.

Read more (via The Guardian)

Trekking to discover sacred Japan

Whipped by the incessant rain, I am drenched and cold when I finally arrive at the hillside Negoro-ji Temple, exhausted.

The hike up the wet and slippery path has been hard as parts of the trail have been flooded by the heavy rain.

Near the entrance to the temple, an old man waves, beckoning me into a hall, which also serves as a kitchen.

Read more (via The Straits Times)

Shikoku Henro Survey 2017

The weeks (and sometimes months) of our lives on Shikoku, left an indelible impression on us all. But the walk is a solitary endeavour. What did we learn collectively? And how can these learnings help future Henro, the residents of Shikoku, and Henro Alumni everywhere?

In June, we conducted a survey to learn more about people’s motives and experiences as henro.

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Stories from Shikoku: Dennis’ Journey

I became a Henro in April 2017, on sabbatical from the company I co-founded.

I needed a break to disentangle my identity from what I’d been doing (and feeling quite passionate about) for the past 7 years. I sought to pursue a more rigorous and intentional search for “meaning,” and to explore the spiritual side of myself.

Conveniently, to be a pilgrim is to (quite literally) follow in the footsteps of people searching for meaning. Like any good workout routine, if properly adhered to, even the cynics can’t help but be transformed by the process. You’re learning by osmosis: touching and living the experience of great explorers before you. You’re interacting with people at similar junctures in life, (or more often, people experiencing hardships which downright humble your issues.) You’re mentally, physically, and spiritually vulnerable.

Like many Henro, I had no idea what to expect at first, and throughout most of the pilgrimage, I worried that I was somehow missing the point – that I’d emerge un-transformed. But three lessons emerged in Kagawa prefecture (the final stage) and since my return home: it’s how you spend your days, the obstacle is the way, and the spirit of ossetai.

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Stories from Shikoku: David’s Journey

Prior to embarking on the pilgrimage, I had a stressful job in Tokyo that I was no longer enjoying and causing a downward trend in my well-being.

I had first heard about the pilgrimage a couple of years prior but had filed it away in the back of my mind without serious consideration. Once I decided to extricate myself from the work situation, it didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to go for it.

Much of my work involved planning and designing things such that they can be built with minimal risk; basically the antithesis of everything a pilgrimage is supposed to be. To avoid taking the spontaneity and serendipity out of the journey, the only thing I planned was my first nights’ accommodation and no more. Read more