2011 Archive

29Oct2011: Richard Kinsella

Richard Kinsella.jpg

This piece was a submission to the 2011 Fall Henro Pilgrimage Experience organized and run by the Kagawa International Affairs division. The event aims to promote the Shikoku Pilgrimage as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

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Participants of this particular walk were asked to submit a piece of writing that reflected upon their experience of walking part of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. The temple we visited was Unpenji Temple near Kanonji in Kagawa-ken, Japan.

Henro Essays - Richard Kinsella2.jpgThis particular submission was a response to how walking the pilgrimage can give you an appreciation of your environment. Walking along the rural path, amongst the trees and mountains reminds you of the natural environment we live it yet fail to recognize on a day to day basis. Japan is a country of contrasts where grey concrete cities are often located amongst mountain top temples and vast bamboo forests. After spending time within this beautiful environment, it's easy to return to our grey concrete homes with a sense of rejuvenation. Where once we saw square, boring buildings we behind to see hints of how Buddhist architecture and nature has influenced and informed modern day life in Japan.

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29Oct2011: Rainer Wessels


IMG_1194.jpg10 kilometers. Some up, some down. Some before, some after. A pilgrimage to just one of 88 temples. Forest, green and moss covered. Stones and statues, greening and mottled with liken.

"There is a temple further up and finally on top of this small Japanese mountain." I thought,

And then, the documentary voice in my head rattled on conversationally about the history and reasons for the creation of these sacred places. Sweat was dripping down my temple, and my clothing was damp despite the bout of cool weather in the air.

"Yes, yes I know all that!" said the pragmatist voice projecting from the apparent opposite side of my cranium.(Wherever that is.) "But, why!?"

I simply plodded on forward, I hadn't the energy to get involved with those two. There were legs to move and sweat to wipe, the occasional swig of water also needed attending to.

The pragmatist continued,"Really, the only thing up here, besides the odd, totally unattended tractor, and brand new, but entirely unused green house, is that temple."

"Plus, the power lines and the abandoned and forest reclaimed house. Not to mention that snake eating a frog we saw earlier." the documentary narrator spoke up again.

"Who wants to trek all the way up just for that?"

"And yet here we are, doing it."

But what these two idiots didn't realize was that they were sitting back enjoying the ride while I was doing all the hard work. Frankly, they were both getting quite annoying.

But, somewhere deep in the mists and fog of thought an answer was emerging, a quiet response of calm. Only my answer perhaps, but that was enough.

The trudging endlessly forward, one foot infront of the other, creaking joints aching muscles, the chilling air contrasted with the heat of exertion, and that  beautiful blue sky glanced at every so often as a reprieve from this very simple, remarkably basic action. Walking.

The miracle is in the mundane.

I have two legs that move when I tell them to. Eyes that see. Hands that grasp. A chest that expands and contracts, and a heart that beats, always. Perhaps life is sacred, but that's not the point. It needs to be appreciated.

Next to all this, the temple is just an excuse. A reason for the journey, just to balance the books, to fill the gap after the word "because".

Now, there are bricks and mortar up there, incense burns and bells ring, but they just mark the post like check points in a racing circuit. They hide the secret, like a gigantic conspiracy, so accountants know where the money goes, and companies know where to put their vending machines.

"I am already here, before I left, when I arrive and when I go." That is the joke, monks smile about. The smirk of the secret they can't but help be written all over their faces.
When all is said and done, when civilizations start and end, when temples burn and mountains move.

People....will still walk. I guess the joke is on us then.

29Oct2011: Hannah Warren

Unpenji in Haiku


Seven am on
Saturday, I regret my

A brief stop to see
a really old dam. Of course,
bad dam puns ensue.

I quite enjoy the
hat. It's oddly comfortable
and rather trendy.

The walk is lovely.
Perfect weather, and I see
a snake eat a frog.

At Unpenji, I
sit on an aubergine, cross
my fingers and wish.

500 Buddhas
pull faces at our visit.
We pull 'em right back.

Downhill is the worst.
I manage not to faceplant
but have some close calls.

What a beautiful
walk! I really enjoy the
nap on the bus back.

29Oct2011: Chris McCabe

The Highest Temple


At 8 a.m. on October 29, 2011, our group of foreign resident pilgrims departed from Kanonji City in the western part of Kagawa Prefecture.  Our destination that day was Unpenji, a temple located far away from any train station or bus stop.  We drove south quite some distance toward the towering mountains, and we eventually stopped to stretch our legs at Honen-ike Dam, a wonderful piece of architecture built during Japan's Taisho period (1912-1926).  The dam's silhouette traced a marvelous line on the bright blue sky.  Thinking of the dam's history and the power of the water contained behind its stone walls, I felt both impressed and humbled.

秋高し  豊念池の ダム映ゆる

Magnificent -  
Honenike Dam
Against the Autumn Sky


We boarded our bus once more and traveled to Kyu-Manda Toge, a place where roads come to a single junction from the three prefectures of Kagawa, Tokushima, and Ehime.  We put on our henro gear and began our ascent.  As we walked along the Henro Path, we could see far out to the majestic mountains in the distance.  Along the road bloomed many autumn flowers, in the midst of green plants and trees.

ゆらゆらと 輝く芒 道進む

Walking the road -
Japanese pampas grass


We walked more than 6 km and finally arrived at Unpenji, the tallest of all 88 temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Circuit.  The well-kept temple looked superb surrounded by old, tall trees beneath the clear sky.  Near the Daishi-do Hall, we found a "maniguruma," a stone wheel carved with sutras written in Sanskrit.  It is said that if you spin the wheel once, it is the same as reciting the entire sutra.  We each took our turn to receive the sutra's blessing.  

秋の峰 御利益恵む マニ車

Autumn Peak -
Spinning the blessings
Of the Maniguruma


We took a break to eat our lunches, and then during the time remaining we walked around the temple grounds.  A little way from the Main Hall, we found a rare "neshaka," a statue of the Buddha lying in repose - some say this is the pose that most fully demonstrates the realization of nirvana.  There were many other interesting sights, including an observation point and a gondola traveling up the mountain from below.  However, the most memorable sight by far was that of the 500 "rakan," stone statues of bodhisattvas with strange outfits and hairstyles, doing such things as drinking alcohol, exploding with laughter, and various other activities rather unbefitting enlightened Buddhist sages.  The statues lined the road and saw us off as we made our exit.

初紅葉 頬赤らめる 羅漢たち

Autumn colors -
Blushing cheeks of
Rakan sages


We quickly descended the mountain, enjoying the sunlight and the surrounding nature as we went.  We pondered Kukai, the Buddhist monk who inspired the 88 temple pilgrimage, his legacy that perseveres to this day, and the very deep meaning behind the pilgrimage circuit.  We arrived to the place where our return bus was waiting, folded our pilgrim vests, and returned our walking sticks and sedge hats to their places.  Thus, our day's pilgrimage adventure came to a close.