Wednesday, February 02, 2011

'Round Shikoku Day 29

I awoke in a pissy mood for some reason. This wasn’t helped when, stepping down from ringing Temple 57’s bell, I was nearly run down by a car henro who insisted on pulling right up to the nokyo-jo, rather than park in the designated lot just below.

The climb up to Temple 58 helped to improve my mood, walking through the trees on a clear morning. We found a small gazebo beside a pond where we could stash our bags, grateful not to have to lug them the last 500m up a narrow flight of stairs. It was quite atmospheric, with a few old buildings around a shady courtyard. The Hondo itself was gorgeous, with a curved multi-level roof. Beside it, just out of view, was a massive box that looked like a 70’s film conception of a futuristic house, all right angles with obligatory glassed-in room hanging over into space. There was a sign nearby with a picture of the same structure, along with some pithy expression about living the spiritual life. I agreed with them all, but still found it a justification for spending temple donations on someone’s personal folly. The monk in the nokyo-jo was friendly, and addressed me in English. Beside him was a poster announcing temple events—children’s karate classes, Buddhist symposiums. This place seems closely connected to its danka and looks like it has an eye on the future indeed.

I was looking forward to the next temple, Kokubunji, since the previous two had been among my favorites. I was let down by the squat concrete structure in the treeless gravel yard. When I made a joke to the nokyo woman, she looked as if I just slapped her. The bus henro arriving at that point chose to ignore my greeting, and my mood slid downhill yet again. Not even the sight of a shop selling a puzzling combo of bagels and handmade guitars could resuscitate it.

The rest of the afternoon was through a landscape of blurry features, the same scenes of narrow streets with cars driving too fast. Schoolkids biking home greeted me not with the usual, “Harro!,” that foreigners are so accustomed to, but with the puzzling, “Goodbye!” as if they wanted me the hell out of town. The Henro path followed the expressway over a series of hills that served no apparent purpose but to get that extra little bit of concrete onto the ground.

The scenery at sunset did inspire, of high mountains fading away for the day. One of these was the mysterious Ishizuchi, and another hid the next temple, #60. We arrived at Ikiki Jizo, which supposedly had Tsuyado. I got there first and rang the bell. I asked the priest about it, and he merely crossed his arms and said ‘No!” in English. I followed up with a couple of questions about alternatives, but he continued with the crossed arm gesture, continued with the ‘No.” I finally said, “Look, I’m talking to you in Japanese, please speak Japanese.” And he did, saying nothing more than “Nai,” without any trace of explanations or politeness. I finally lost my temper, shooting him an incredibly angry look and a “Thanks for your indelible kindness.” Miki came up just then, trying in her usual calm, mild way. Though his language softened, his stubborn resolve didn’t. I went away furious. The animosity and hostility I’d sensed in the locals had been put directly out there by this man, a priest in charge of one of the temples associated with the pilgrimage. For weeks I’d been chewing on the idea of the Henro being dead, and this man had blood on his hands.

It turned out to be for the best. Well after dark, we eventually found lodging between Temple 63 and 63, to which we’d hitch. They’d mind our bags as we went over the mountain to temple 60, which we’d then pick up the next day. The universe certainly is interesting in the way it spins. It took only a few minutes to get a lift with a man who raced motorcycles for a living. In courting death, he’d gotten an association with it. Before races, he claimed he could tell which rider would die by the look on his face. He also told a story about his trip up Ishizuchi. He’d met three figures in white, and assuming they were henro, took a photo with them. Later, the only thing he saw in the photo besides himself was three glowing orbs. A shaman later told him that it was the god of the mountain.

I was interested in hearing more, but we soon arrived at our inn. They were full, but we were given a small apartment over a butcher’s shop just around the corner. Certainly ironic, considering the traditional Henro prohibition against meat. I went to bed still smarting over my encounter with the priest. It was a shame to both start and end a day in a foul mood. Besides which, this was probably the most exhausted I’d felt on any given day. Sleep came easily…

On the turntable: Dead Can Dance, Memento"
On the nighttable: Gary Snyder and Tom Killion, "The High Sierra of California"

No comments: