Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pilgrims Excess

And here is where the Kannon Pilgrimage ends, at Kegonji, where the country's wide midriff expands away from her mountainous spine. It was an easy walk up here, along a wide shaded lane lined with souvenir shops. The temple buildings are spread out along the hillside. One small hall is filled with pilgrim's paraphernalia. Abandoned nokyo, staffs, shirts, and conical hats are stacked up from floor to rafter. There is a distinctive sense of finality here, though not for me. I am three temples short: two on the Sea of Japan (which I'll combine with a summertime swim) and the third located on Chikubushima at the center of Lake Biwa. The adjacent hall is filled with Jizo and prayers for healthy children. Behind the Hondo is another stone Jizo covered with little strips of paper affixed to the ailing part of the petitioner's body. Among the buildings higher up are a set of especially well-endowed tanuki, beyond which is a waterfall. Coming back around the pond that this water feeds, I'm surprised to come across the Tokai Shizen Hodo. This is the branch that heads over to Mt. Takao in Saitama, different from the section that Miki and I are doing at the moment. I imagine I'll follow my own footsteps here sometime. Back to the Hondo to watch people finish their pilgrimage. I'm overwhelmed by a feeling of not having graduated, with summer school still ahead. I see a group of these women 'graduates' fondle a metal fish affixed to a post. One of these laughing women then hugs a tree in the courtyard.

I move back along the main street that marks the temple's easy approach. It was a long way up here and will be a long way back. I think about hitching but decide instead to honor my unofficial non-finish to the pilgrimage by taking it slow. I sit in the sun, enjoy the country, wait for the bus. On the way back I learn that rice balls eaten on a rattly old bus will literally be shaken apart. I next ride a slow single car train along a straight line of track. It hits me that I've come full circle here. During my first Golden Week in 1995, I rode a train like this to the swordmaking town of Seki, also here in Gifu. Today there are only four of us aboard. I watch an old woman apply makeup as the train shakes and rattles. This is funny since it is women of her generation who tend to complain about young girls doing this exact same thing, in apparent disregard for the social distinction between what is public and what is private. At the other end of a car a man flosses his teeth with great exuberance. I smile, until I remember that I've just finished a bag of Oreos, and suddenly want to borrow a strand. (I bought the cookies at a small shop near the station which had near empty shelves. There was no one around, and when I called out to the back, a dog trotted out to sit behind the register.)

I'm getting close to home and notice that it's not yet 2pm. I see the familiar shape of Mikami-san, which I've often noticed from the west side of Lake Biwa. It is known locally as Omi Fuji, though I think it looks more like a breast, lifting impressively from Shiga's flat belly. Deciding suddenly to climb, I jump off the train and try to hitch to the trailhead. It again takes awhile, but I get a lift from a woman in a white uniform. I ask if she's a nurse but she tells me that no, she's ------- some word I don't know in Japanese. She next mentions that she'd seen me earlier while at the bank. This being the last business day before the long holidays, I assume she'd made a withdrawal. I want to tell her that she probably shouldn't tell a complete stranger that she's flush with cash. Turning my head, I now notice that her white uniform, whatever it is, is flecked with blood. Maybe I'm the one who should be worried. Is there the body of another hitcher in her trunk?

She drops me at the trailhead and I begin. As this breast is rather pert, the ascent is swift and steep. Partway up is an old temple, decaying into the weeds. Further on I find a narrow gap through some large rocks, a significant hint that this mountain is used by yamabushi in their training. I squeeze through, then use chains to pull myself up a steep exposed face. One root sticks straight up, the end brown and lacquered with oil from the hands of hikers looking for a grip. There are nice views from the top, ringed with the shapes of mountains now familiar. A couple of men sit at the top, drinking beer. We talk awhile, about other climbs in the area. Then I make my way down a very fast descent. Where it levels out some, I try to overtake a guy moving slowly, but he doesn't seem to want me to pass. I've never experienced this kind of bad hiking etiquette before. Matching his pace, I'm forced to take small steps, which doesn't go over well with my knees. I finally pass him, then hitch a quick lift to the station.

Back in Kyoto, I meet up with Michael at Sarasa Kayukoji, to watch Sweet Strings play. (His review, and subsequent video, is here.) The food is good, the beer forthcoming. The band is fun and very talented. There is a lego affect at work, adding a new member to the ensemble with each subsequent song. They play this great Hawaiian Dixieland bluegrass pre-war jazz. Sometimes it sounds like music from old Warner Bros. cartoons. The crowd is into it, bobbing their heads in various rhythms. The energy of the room builds with their collective drunkenness. It makes a great start to the long holiday period, though I get home far later than expected. I've got an early train to Tokyo tomorrow...

On the turntable: Hugh Masekela, "The African Connection"

On the nighttable: Issai Chozanshi, "The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts"

On the reel table: "My Night at Mauds" (Rohmer, 1969)

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