William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

108. Temples 23, 22, 19, and 18

Anachronistic updates: Yesterday at school our classes were rained out. We only had day care and later we were cutting out shapes for Saturday’s lesson. Rumour among the foreigners had it that there was a typhoon on the way, or maybe it had already come through – it rained so heavily the night before that it woke most of us up. I watched the news last night to find out what was happening. … Nothing. Just a lot of rain…

Today we moved back into the staff room. Also, a pigeon got caught in an air conditioning vent and made a racket before we found it and alerted one of the renovation guys. We’re also rehearsing our steps for the performance of Y.M.C.A. at the sports festival.

I’ve been really, really tired lately, and I can barely do anything. I’ve been living off coffee. I can’t wait for the weekend, although when it comes on Saturday afternoon after the kinder’s open lesson, I will probably just go home and sleep through it.

Last Sunday (August 24th) I decided to use up one of the two remaining days on my S18K and take the train down to Hiwasa to visit Temple 23, Tokushima’s last, and then backtrack for Temples 22 and 19, which are also reasonably accessible by train.

It took a long time to go from Yoshinari to Hiwasa. An express would have been faster, but because it would leave Tokushima later, it wouldn’t have been worth the surcharge just to save 15 minutes or so. At any rate, the journey illustrated how backwater this part of Shikoku is as far as trains go – the Kyoto Line and others like it can be something like ten tracks and fully electrified; Tokushima’s Mugi Line is single-track and uses diesel equipment. You have to pull the train doors open yourself (it takes quite a tug), and you can smell the diesel fumes when you’re stopped on one of the frequent extended station layovers that allow oncoming or faster trains to pass.

Those wishing to emulate my journey should schedule carefully. On busy lines like the Kobe – Kyoto corridor, and the area around Tokyo, there’s no serious need for advance planning: you’ll never wait more than half an hour for a train. But if you’re travelling late in the evening or going off the beaten path, you really should plan ahead. I recommend Hyperdia and Jorudan’s TrainRouteFinder. I do mean and, as the two services can spit out significantly different trip suggestions. By all means mix and match, and create your own itinerary on a piece of paper or make a new file on your PDA or smartphone (although you probably won’t be using a foreign smartphone in Japan anyway, since it will have the functionality of a brick).

I’d decided to double check the times the night before, and I’m glad I did, because the trains do not commence as early on Sunday as they do on Saturday, and my itinerary changed dramatically as a result, as trains on the Mugi Line south of Anan can be up to two hours apart.

The ride to Hiwasa was very interesting – somewhat rustic, as you can imagine; many stations had only one platform, and the tracks ran through lots of rice fields. (Many farmers were out on little tractors mowing and harvesting the stalks.) It was quite charming – almost like going back in time.

Hiwasa itself was lovely. It’s an oasis of a small town nestled among mountains on the southeastern coast. Imagine taking a train to Baddeck – it was kind of like that. In fact, for a few years earlier this decade, you could take a train from Halifax to Sydney, albeit on the other side of the Bras d’Or Lakes, missing Baddeck. Despite what the Rankins say, the Orangedale Whistle ain’t blowin’ anymore.

But you can take the train into Hiwasa, and the town is small enough that everything is within spitting distance of the station. Among other things, there’s a traveller’s road stop (the 55 rolls through just north of the station) with vendor’s stands, bathrooms, and a free foot bath.

Temple 23 was built on the side of a hill, and a short climb to its pagoda (and the outer deck of this pagoda) gives great views of the town and the sea. It was a cute little place.

I couldn’t linger long, as my train heading back north would be departing barely an hour after I arrived. The next stop was Aratano, home of Temple 22. It was a good 25-minute walk from the station, but it wasn’t a problem at all. I got up and back in under two hours, and easily made the following train. (Yes, the immediately following train, if you can believe that.)

The last stop (or so I thought) was for Temple 19 at Tatsue. This temple was also near the station, and it was rather pretty. I got my book stamped. It was just about 4:00. (The temples stop stamping books at 5:00pm.) Should I call it a day?

A digression. The temples are in a clockwise order around Shikoku, but they are arranged along the traditional pilgrim paths, so there are a lot of twists and turns and detours when you juxtapose the paths with the modern road and rail networks. What this means in southern Tokushima is that Temples 19, 22, and 23 are reasonably accessible by rail while 20 and 21 sit far inland, away from the rail line. 18 lies in a dead spot, and unfortunately a 18-20-21 bicycle journey isn’t really feasible as the best turnoff to take towards 20 and 21 comes well before you get to 18. So, if I could get to 18 too, which I hadn’t been counting on, I wouldn’t have to come back this way again.

I had looked at my maps and decided that the 19-to-18 walking distance wasn’t a great deal more than the Aratano Station-to-22 distance, so I thought I’d go for it. I started off walking, and as I began to realize the difficulty of walking 4km on an unexpectedly foothillish, twisty road, I began to walk briskly. It’s just as well that my camera was acting up and couldn’t take photos, as I didn’t really have time to be taking pictures anyway.

Over the next half hour, I picked ‘em up and laid ‘em down all the way to the side road that would lead to the temple. Wow! Only 800m to go! Would I make it? Oh… it’s uphill. Well, nothing ventured…

On this road, I passed a farm nestled in the valley which apparently employed large dogs whose business it was to bark aggressively at henro to encourage them to move quickly. Soon after that, I ran into a family of French-speaking touring pilgrims (though they spoke to me in English). “Wow!” the mother said, “You’re the first European we’ve seen!” Heh. They assured me that the temple was only about another 5 minutes away, and since I still had 15 minutes, I’d make it in plenty of time. Alright! They enquired about a guest house, but I didn’t know of any. When they realized I was living here, they understood why. =)

Skipping ahead a bit, I didn’t get to see them again, though they said they’d wait a while for me at the bottom, at least until they found a ride. It’s too bad, because they seemed like really nice folks.

I walked up to the end of the road and into a parking lot. An RV was parked there, but the lot was otherwise empty. Near it was a path, but there was a “do not enter” sign (Ө, but tilted a little) that was ambiguous enough to make me wonder if it was just for cars, or if it was actually for everyone. So naturally, I took another path out of the parking lot.

So I’m walking and climbing. There are several twists and turns. Well, they do say that the temples can be located far from their parking lots. Still, I’m starting to wonder where the temple is, especially as I pass a fallen-apart rusted-out shed and a construction pit a few minutes after that. Gee, time’s getting short. Ah! There’s a stone wall – it must be right around the corner. This must be a very rustic temple, and it must not get many visitors – look at all this grass growing through the cracks in the pavement! And the brush has really crept into the path!

Ah! That house up ahead must be the temple office or pilgrim store… no, it’s boarded up. Augh – I have less than ten minutes now! Where is this temple?

The path started to curve back in the direction where I figured the temple lay, so this gave me some hope. As I climbed, though, the brush got thicker. The path could barely be seen. And then it curved back the other way again.


I dump my backpack (after retrieving my book) and race back down the path. Augh, how could I have been so stupid? Pant, pant, pant. Sheesh, this path goes on forever. I’m not going to make it!

When I finally got back to the parking lot, I was greatly relieved to see some pilgrims jumping off a bus and walking very briskly up what I could now presume was the correct path – the no entry sign must have been meant for cars. I dragged myself up the path somehow, though I was utterly spent – mercifully, there wasn’t much to it: the temple was literally up one hill and around a bend from its parking lot.

Since there were barely two minutes remaining, we all went directly to the temple office to get our books signed. I was now drenched in sweat and panting like never before, but I sure knew I was alive! As I got my book signed, I felt overwhelmingly triumphant. The longest hour of my life had come to an end.

I could now relax and enjoy the temple. 18 was another “pretty good” temple – so far, for me, the memorable ones have been (in visiting order) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 47, 46, 51, 52, 61, 64, 66, 12, 13, 14, 17, 23, and 19 – although I guess 18 will always be memorable for my covering 4km in ~40 minutes! (Missing the bus frequently as a kid and living far from transit proved to be a great education after all…) All of the temples are nice in their own ways, and often a basic temple is desirable as an easy stop on an otherwise long, hard day of visiting temples.

I had to go back up that brushy, overgrown path again to get to my backpack. (One thing I like about Japan is that you can leave things in certain places and have a reasonable expectation of seeing them again.) Now that I wasn’t in a hurry, I was again surprised by how far up this hill I had gone – the thick forest makes it hard to get a sense of elevation. Linearly, I could have gone as far as a third of a mile. Later, as I walked back down the roadway, the dogs greeted me enthusiastically as I snapped a few pictures of their farm from a distance. “I want to bite your face off, outside person!” they seemed to say.

There was a bus stop at the bottom of the hill – I checked its schedule, and I would have had to wait for over an hour, plus it would have doubled the cost of getting home. So I continued to walk, with the intention of rejoining the main highway and following it up to food and a train station.

On the way to denser exurbs, I stopped at a vending machine in front of a village bar packed with old men to buy a 500ml can of Aquarius, drink some, and pour the rest into my water bottle. While I was doing this a man on the outside approached me and asked if I was a henro (pilgrim). I didn’t have a hat, white robe, or stick, but I otherwise must have looked the part! We got talking to the extent that my Japanese and his English would allow. He used to be a teacher, and when he learned where I lived and worked, he told me that he used to teach W-sensei! In this pecking-order society, it’s a small bit of comfort to know that I know someone who’s one of my bosses’ social superiors. I’ll wait until a bad day to mention it, as it will probably make her happy to know that I met him.

He casually invited me to come into the bar for some sake, but I demurred since I had a long way to go. It would have been fun at first, but I don’t think I would have gotten out of there, and the place was so packed that it wouldn’t have been comfortable as I take up more space than most Japanese.

I’ll say this about Japan: At least he accepted my answer without complaint. In Poland or Ukraine, there would have been no way out – I’d be going in, and I’d be drinking. Period. But that was okay, because in those countries I tended not to roam outside of walking distance from home! There were also people translating and interpreting things for me all the time (be it my friends in Płużnica or the foreign languages students in Ostroh), which doesn’t happen a tenth as much here. Then again, I don’t get out as much here, either. Um, yeah, places are different, I guess. =)

I got back on the 55 and had dinner at McDonald’s. I continued walking, and I actually continued past Chuden Station, even though I could see it from the road. I was walking on a high bridge at the time, and there didn’t seem to be an easy way to get to the station without a lot of backtracking, which was depressing.

But I should have backtracked. Instead I kept walking, albeit pleasantly: When no one was around, I hummed, whistled and sang Break My Stride, which incidentally was on the charts when I was in Poland in 2005. Not breaking stride and not slowing down was very important now, as I would cramp up like a son of a gun even when stopping for a pedestrian signal.

I continued to walk for over an hour before I looked at a map realized that downtown Tokushima was a long, long, way away. Even just crossing the boundary into Tokushima City, which I had just done, was only the halfway point of the walk. At that point, I was unwilling to go any further and decided to find the nearest train station.

I should have waited at a bus stop: After walking through some very dark (streetlamps were non-existent off of the highway) and scary little back streets (the shortest way between the highway and the old road and rail route), I got near Zizobashi, only one station north of Chuden, just in time to hear the clanging of crossing bells. Uh-oh. Sure enough, I witnessed a train pulling out to the north.

Well, no matter, there’ll be another train soon no doubt, let’s look at the schedule… 58 minutes?!?! Aiiiiiiiiiiiii. Ugh. Sick of walking, I decided to wait anyway. I pulled out an old issue of Adbusters inherited from D. that I was carrying, and I whiled away the hour more or less contentedly. Did you know that Japan ranks just above Turkey and just below Vietnam on one published analysis of attitudes towards gender equality? Japan was the lowest “postindustrial” country on the chart I saw, and Finland and Sweeden were at the top, and Canada and a few other countries just below them, but still twenty points ahead of Japan. Hoo-boy. Anyway, between that and reflecting on the peace and quiet juxtaposed with the quaintness of the station (the platform was made for two tracks, yet only one was built, and the benches all face the still-grassy side – in addition, there was no ticket machine, and the ticket window was closed for the night), this was one of the shortest hours of my life.

The train came, and we went to Tokushima Station, where there would be a bit of a wait for a Kotoku Line train – it was only going as far as Itano, but that would be enough for me. I always feel a bit guilty when I get on trains like this at night, thinking of the people who live a station or more further up the line who might have no way to get home.

The train was already waiting at the platform when we arrived, and people were waiting on board, so I stepped on – and back off again. It was too cold! There was already a chill in the air, and the air conditioning was either unnecessary or running too intensely. That’s the thing I don’t like about A/C – it’s too easy to get a chill. Contrarily, hardly anyone gets heat stroke from a heater. It’s usually really easy to just turn down the heat in most situations, while A/C is often an all-or-nothing deal.

I got to Yoshinari, and the conductor got out onto the platform to check tickets, but I didn’t have a ticket (and the fare adjustment window was closed back at Tokushima Station), so I paid the conductor for my trip up from Zizobashi. It cost ¥260 – I didn’t have enough coins, so I had to give the poor guy a ¥1000 bill and see him go through a change purse while glancing at his watch.

You see the weakness of this system: I could have said I’d gotten on at, say,
Awa-Tomeda (the last station before Tokushima on the Mugi Line, as he could only know I’ve been on the trains since at least then), and saved a few tens of yen. Or I could have gotten on someplace far to the south, maybe even south of Anan, and said I’d gotten on at a nearer station.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just show him my Seishun Juhachi Kippu.

It was never stamped!

That’s right, I travelled all the way down to Hiwasa (60km) and all the way back up to Tatsue (37km) for free. Oh, I showed them my ticket! I had to show it when I got off at Hiwasa, Aratano, and Tatsue. But each time they just glanced at it and said “Arigato.” Three times! If they’d looked closely, they might have noticed that it was last stamped by JR West at Shin-Imamiya on August 6th! I mean, the conductors aren’t stupid, so they must have just been being nice to me, or else they didn’t have the stamp thingy to stamp another day off the ticket. If I’d entered the system at Tokushima Station or another large station, it definitely wouldn’t have happened this way.

You now see why I paid cash on the last leg: why risk having to get your ticket stamped (taking away $23 of its value) just so that you don’t have to pay for a $2.60 trip?

So because of the benevolence and the (probably wilful) ignorance of a few conductors, I still have two full days left on my S18K, and so I will go to Hiroshima after all, probably next Friday night or Saturday morning – that weekend will be the last before its validity runs out. I probably won’t try to cram in temples in Kagawa – it’d be too much. But there are a tempting number that are within easy reach of stations… well, we’ll see! I could maybe do three or four without having to rush. Either way, it will be an exciting weekend – and with nothing to write, or anything else that I’ll end up procrastinating about, I should be well rested for it.

Tags: hiwasa, japan, pilgrimage, shikoku, temples, tickets, tokushima, trains, transit, travel, walking
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