Gaijin on Getas Blog


Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage Day 1 – Temple 1 to 10

Posted on June 12th, 2017 by Mike Roberts

My plan for today on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage was to visit Temples 1 though 10. If you look at a map of Shikoku with the temples shown on the map, you will see these 10 temples are very close together, heading generally west from Tokushima.

Pilgrimage supply shop at Ryozenji (Temple 1)

Pilgrimage supply shop at Ryozenji (Temple 1)

I started the day by driving from my hotel next to Tokushima station to Ryozenji (Temple #1), which was only about a 30 minute
drive. After arriving and parking the car, I stopped at the shop next to the parking lot selling all the items you need on the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage. A long list of items is needed for the pilgrimage, and I will cover that in later blogs. I already made some purchases from online web sites in Japan specializing in supplies for the Shikoku pilgrimage, but I made a few small purchases from the shop.  If you are not able to purchase anything prior to the start of the pilgrimage, no need to worry, they have everything you will need. 

I will be making other posts on the proper procedures to follow at each temple, etc., but for now I am only going to write about the temples I visited that first day. I am not going to write about every temple, but will talk a little about the temples that made an impression with me. 

Temple #1 – Ryozenji

Ryozenji's (Temple 1) Main Gate

Ryozenji’s (Temple 1) Main Gate

Ryozenji’s most notable characteristic is, well, it’s number 1. While it is not necessary to start here, many people do. Having said that, it is a very pleasant temple with a small pond filled with Koi and a statue of Kobo Daishi watching over the pond, a small pagoda and some interesting statuary. The main statue here is famous with high school students for promising academic success at the university level. Because it is number 1, everyone wants to visit the temple. So the temple was busy and noisy, which was not what I expected.

Ryozenji was founded by Gyogi in the eighth century on the orders of Emperor Shomu, and Kobo Daishi visited the temple in the 9th century. Like many other temples on Shikoku, Ryozenji was destroyed in the late 16th century by Chosokabe Motochika, the daimyo of the Tosa province (today’s Kochi prefecture) in the late 16th century near the end of the Sengoku Jidai (Period of Warring States). 

Temple #2 – Gokurakuji

Gorakuji's (Temple 2) Cedar of Long Life and Main Hall

Gorakuji’s (Temple 2) Cedar of Long Life and Main Hall

It was less than a 5 minute drive from temple #1 to temple #2, but it was like a different world. While Ryozenji was crowed, Gokurakuji was very quiet with not many people. It was also created by Gyogi in the eighth century. Kukai visited this temple and carved the temple’s main diety – the diety of light. According to legend, long ago it was difficult for fisherman in nearby Naruto Bay to catch fish because of the bright light from the main statue of the temple. To prevent this, the fisherman built a small artificial hill behind the main hall to block the light. Gokurakuji was also destroyed in the late 16th century. 

In the courtyard in front of the main hall is a cedar tree said to be 1,000 years old known as the Cedar of Long Life that was planted by Kobo Daishi. If you pray while touching the tree you will be granted a long life. The tree is also popular with women for easing childbirth. The temple is known as the temple that grants easy childbirth and is dedicated to expectant mothers. 

Temple #4 – Dainichiji

Pilgrims Chanting Sutras (Buddhist Prayers)

Pilgrims Chanting Sutras (Buddhist Prayers)

The first three temples are surrounded by urban sprawl, but temple #4 is located at the base of the mountains at the edge of town with a green forest behind it. Kobo Daishi founded this temple, and has been destroyed many times, including the late 16th century. Since that time, the temple has gone through continuous cycles of disuse and reconstruction. The Main Hall and Daishi Hall are connected by a walkway where 33 Sanju Kannon statues are on display.  


Temple #5 – Jizoji

Jizoji's (Temple 5) Rakan Statues

Jizoji’s (Temple 5) Rakan Statues

Kobo Daishi founded this temple in 821 on the order of Emperor Saga. As with other temples, the temple was destroyed in the late 16th century. What makes this temple different is the long U-shaped building behind the main hall that houses 200 statues of Rakan (enlightened followers of Buddha). Each statue has a different facial expression, and, in keeping with Rakan traditions, are generally humorous. All 200 statues were carved out of wood by two Buddhist monks in the 18th century. There are two wells where you can hear when even one drop of water reaches the water below. One is next to the Main Hall and the other is close to the stairs after entering from the main gate. 

Temple #6 – Anrakuji

Anrakuji's (Temple 6) Nio Statue

Anrakuji’s (Temple 6) Nio Statue

The temple was originally founded by Kobo Daishi  about 2 km north of its present location. Legend says he struck his staff into the ground creating a hot spring with curative waters. Since then, people have used the hot spring water to cure illnesses. On the temple grounds, there are 33 types of deity statues and an upside down pine tree said to ward off misfortune planted by a hunter after his father was cured of an illness in the waters here. The temple is located among numerous rice fields. To get to the temple, you have to navigate the many narrow roads between the rice fields. 

The thing that caught my attention were the pair of well-preserved Nio statues on either side of the main gate. Nio statues are angry-faced, muscular guardians of the temple, and can be found at the entrance to many Buddhist temples in Japan. 

Temple #8 – Kumadaniji

Kumadaniji's (Temple 8) Main Gate

Kumadaniji’s (Temple 8) Main Gate

Kobo Daishi founded this temple, and the temple (once again) was destroyed in the late 16th century. The Daimyo of Awa province (today’s Tokushima prefecture) visited the temple for a moon viewing party. The main gate built in 1687 is considered to be the finest and oldest gate of all 88 temples. Legend says a band of robbers once lived on the second story of the gate. In the garden is a pine tree which looks like a dragon. 

Temple #10 – Kirihataji

Temple #10 is the first introduction to a mountain temple, however, it is not far away from the city. The temple is at the top of 333 steps from the parking lot, although the steps can be avoided by continuing up the hill by car. Kobo Daishi founded the temple in honor of a girl he met while performing religious activities for seven days at a hut on the mountain. Legend states she supplied all of his needs for the entire seven days. When Kukai asked for some old cloth, the young woman presented him with a brand new kimono. The woman told Kukai she would like to become a saint and help save people. Shortly thereafter she changed into a Senju Kannon. The large tower was moved here from Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka in 1873. 

After finishing my visit to Temple #10, I drove back to the hotel which took about 45 minutes. 

Observations, Thoughts, Impressions of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage (up to this point)

First of all, if I had to do it over again, I would not have visited 10 temples on the first day. While it was not hurried, as much as I enjoy going to temples and shrines in Japan, by the 8th or 9th temple I was starting to think “OMG, another temple.” Next time, I will break up the first 17 temples into 3 days. 

I was not prepared for how busy Ryozenji (Temple #1) was. But what was even more surprising was how quiet the rest of the temples were compared to Ryozenji (except for those temples where I ran into the large bus tour groups). 

I was prepared to see many large bus tour groups. However, I only ran into 3. (Two at temple #1 and another at temple #8). And none of the buses seemed to be doing what I was doing (starting with temple 1 and visiting all of the temples from there). Although, because some of the streets leading to the temples were very narrow, I would think it would be very difficult to get to some of the temples by large bus. The largest vehicle I would think that would be able to get to all of the temples are the 10 passenger vans we use on our Rail and Drive tours. 

I did keep meeting the same groups at each temple. There were a couple of large vans taking smaller groups, and a number of passenger cars all doing the same thing I was doing. I talked with one of the van drivers, and he said he worked for a travel agency that specializes in providing tours for smaller groups of the pilgrimage. I took one of his cards for possible future reference. I only saw 4 or 5 people walking, and 1 person on bicycle. Although, I was surprised to see that many. Starting the pilgrimage in early June means they would probably finish before the worst heat of the summer, but it would still be hot. 

The small groups in the larger vans were taking the pilgrimage very seriously. I was able to watch them at most of the temples, and they followed the same routine at each temple (I will be writing another blog sometime soon documenting the procedures) without exception, and the procedures they followed were the recommended procedures for visiting the temples. Most of the people in the passenger cars were not so diligent and serious. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It provided some quiet time for reflection, a purely “off-the-beaten-path” Japanese cultural experience and an excellent way to see the beautiful island of Shikoku. I am looking forward to the rest of the pilgrimage. 


Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage

Posted on June 5th, 2017 by Mike Roberts

What is it?

The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a multi-site pilgrimage of 88 temples associated with the Buddhist monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi) on the island of Shikoku. Large numbers of pilgrims (known as henro in Japanese) still undertake the journey for a variety of reasons (if you ask 100 people why they are doing it, you would get 100 different reasons). The pilgrimage is traditionally done on foot, but modern pilgrims use cars, taxis, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, public transportation or a combination of all these. The standard walking course is approximately 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) and can take anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks to complete. 


It is believed that the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi, (774 to 835) either trained or spent time at some of these temples. Thus, he plays a significant role in this pilgrimage. Although there are references to people making this pilgrimage from around the 12th century, it did not become popular until the first guidebooks were published in the 17th century. Since the Edo Period was a time of peace and prosperity, most people in Japan at that time had the time and money to travel. As a result, the popularity of the pilgrimage remained high until World War 2. 

After the war, most people once again did not have the time or the means to make the pilgrimage, and interest in the pilgrimage decreased. In the 1950’s, a tour bus company in Ehime Prefecture introduced the new concept of performing the pilgrimage by chartered bus which became popular overnight. And today, the vast majority of the 300,000 people per year who complete the pilgrimage do so by tour bus, and the number of people walking the pilgrimage is relatively small. 

Differences from Other Pilgrimages

The immediate difference that is immediately obvious is the length of the pilgrimage. I am not aware of any other pilgrimages in the world of this length. But if you look at a map of the pilgrimage, you will see another difference. The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a circular route around the island of Shikoku. Most pilgrimages have a distinct begin and end point, and after reaching the journeys end and after a celebration of worship the pilgrim returns home. 

But the Shikoku Pilgrimage is a circle with no beginning and no end. It is not important where one begins. But what is important is that one go all the way around and return to one’s starting point. One must close the circle. 

There are no rules how to do the pilgrimage. It can be started at any point, and it is not necessary to complete the pilgrimage at one time. Because of the length of the pilgrimage, most people don’t have the time to do this at one time (including me). So it is very common for people to keep going back many times before completing the pilgrimage, as I will be doing. 

My Approach

I am a purist, especially when it comes to things like this. I would love to walk the pilgrimage, but I am not able to at this time. The best times of the year to walk the pilgrimage is during the spring and fall. However, that is our busy times of the year and I don’t have the time during those seasons. The summer is too hot to walk the pilgrimage. I walked the Kumano Kodo once during the summer, and it was very difficult because of the heat. So I have decided that I will drive. This is the second most common way to perform the pilgrimage today after the bus tours. The benefit of driving is it will take less time, and I will be able to follow the pilgrimage during the summer months. 

So I hope you will follow my future blogs and photos as I make my way around the island of Shikoku.

Japanese Films

Posted on May 18th, 2017 by Stephanie Miera

Movies can be another fun and interesting way of learning more about another culture, and this applies to Japanese films as well. Traditional Japanese performing arts, such as Kabuki, Noh and Bunraku are audio visual. There is typically very little plot and character development when compared to western performing arts. The main purpose of these entertainment forms is the strict, stylized movements and the colorful costumes and makeup. Japanese movies are typically the same, at least when it comes to plot and character development.

At times, there are often long periods of conversations during Japanese movies, making the movies somewhat slow at times. A good example of this is last year’s “Shin Godzilla”, the latest and 31st movie in the Godzilla franchise. It was the largest grossing live-action movie of 2016 in Japan. You would think, giving the subject of the movie, it would be a fast-moving and action- packed movie. I have seen the movie, and there are several parts of the movie that are 20 minutes or even longer of discussions on how to handle the problem of Godzilla, making the movie a bit slow at times by western standards. (But then, this is Japanese way for the most part, and indicative of the Japanese culture.)

As you know, Hollywood movies take years to make and have huge, multi-million dollar budgets. In Japan, movies are made in months with much smaller budgets. It is not uncommon in Japan for a director to make 3 to 5 movies in a year. Most movie theaters in Japan are owned by the movie studios. Naturally, they will feature their studio’s movies only. So, they need to produce enough movies to fill the theater over the course of a year, and have enough variety to sell more tickets.

Just as with western movies, there are many different kinds of movies. But there are some genres in Japan that are not found in the west. Here are a few of the more common Japanese film genres. It should be noted that many times a movie could be included in more than one genre.


Literally meaning “period dramas”, these movies usually take place during the Edo Period (1603 to 1868). These movies rely heavily on costumes, makeup, set design and language. They will often feature Samurai and “bushido” themes, the Samurai code for living, and often feature the conflict between “giri” (duty) and “ninjo” (personal feelings). Examples – Seven Samurai, Harakiri, The Twilight Samurai, Chushingura


These are the “sword-fighting” movies, and are really a sub-genre of the Jidai-geki as they normally take place sometime in Japan’s history. These movies are the equivalent of American westerns, with samurai playing the part of American cowboys. Examples – Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman series, Rurouni Kenshin Trilogy, Lone Wolf and Cub Series, Yojimbo


Anime is hand-drawn or computer generated animation. The name is an abbreviation of “animation” in Japanese, and describes all animation in Japan. However, outside of Japan, the name usually is used to refer specifically to animation from Japan. Japanese anime usually features colorful graphics, vibrant characters and fantastical themes. Examples – Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, One Piece, Naruto Shippuden, Fullmetal Alchemist


This popular film genre focuses on the lives and dealings of yakuza, the Japanese organized crime syndicates. During the 1960s, a sub-genre called “Ninkyo eiga” (chivalry films) became popular. These movies portrayed the yakuza as honorable outlaws torn between the contradictory values of duty and personal feelings. This changed in the 1970s when another sub-genre, “Jitsuroku eiga” (actual record films) portrayed yakuza not as honorable heirs to the samurai code, but as ruthless and treacherous street thugs. Examples – Battles Without Honor and Humanity Series, Outrage, Abashiri Prison Series

Pink film

In its broadest sense, these movies include almost any film that includes nudity or deals with sex. This encompasses everything from dramas to action thrillers and exploitation films. Although, some Japanese film scholars reserve this term for movies produced and distributed by smaller independent studios. These movies became popular in the 1960s, but in the 1970s some of the larger studios such as Toei started creating another sub-genre called pinky violence films, which included violence in addition to the adult content. With their access to higher production values and talent, some of these films went on to become critical and popular successes. Examples – Female Convict 701: Scorpion Series, Female Yakuza Tale Series, Delinquent Girl Boss Series

Japanese Horror

Japanese horror is noted for its unique thematic and conventional treatment of the horror genre when compared to western horror films. Japanese horror tends to focus on psychological horror and suspense involving ghosts and poltergeists. Many movies also feature ancient folk religion stories of possession, exorcism and shamanism. Examples – Ringu, Battle Royale, Kwaidan, Audition, Onibaba, Ugetsu


Unlike the jidai-geki genre of period dramas, whose stories are normally set in the Edo Period, gendaigeki stories are contemporary dramas set in the modern world. Examples – Shall We Dance, Departures, Vengeance is Mine


Realist films which focus on the lives of common working class People. Examples – Tora-san Series, Tokyo Story, One Wonderful Sunday


This genre features monsters, usually attacking major cities and engaging the military and other monsters in battle. The popularity of these films started in 1954 with Godzilla, and continues today.Examples – Godzilla Series, Gamera Series, Mothra Series, Rodan Series

10 Big/Best Things in Japan – Part 1

Posted on July 22nd, 2015 by Mike Roberts

Recently, I wrote a blog about 10 small things that Japan should be proud of. To be honest, most of the items in that blog were meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Well, there are many big/best things that Japan has to be proud of. So, once again, with my apologies to David Letterman, here are the 10 big/best things that Japan has to be proud of – Part 1.

Read the full post »


Posted on March 15th, 2015 by Mike Roberts


Shinto, a term that embraces a diverse body of beliefs and practices is an anachronism among the religions of modern societies, one that would seem to have little relevance to Japan today. Upon comparison with more organized religions, Shinto is characterized not by scriptures and buildings but by myths, a concern for purity and defilement, and a combination of shrines and rituals. It revolves around the rites and festivals of the community, not of the individual, in a way that can only be described as tribal. In other words, Shinto is not so much a matter of personal belief as it is of being Japanese. To most Japanese, Shinto is part of the backdrop of daily life. It is a set of ancient customs handed down from generation to generation that are to be followed more or less, but not to be pondered deeply.

Shinto, or “Way of the Gods”, only received its name in the sixth century to distinguish it from the newly arrived Buddhism. But Shinto was firmly entrenched in Japan long before Buddhism arrived. Gods (Kami) are felt to be present in natural phenomena (e.g.; mountains, trees, waterfalls, strangely shaped rocks, even in sounds). But Shinto is more than just a nature worshipping faith. It is a combination of attitudes, ideas and ways of doing things that for more than 2,000 years has become an integral part of what it is to be Japanese. Shinto is a personal faith in the Kami, a communal way of life in accordance with the mind of the Kami and a spiritual life attained through worship of and communion with the Kami. People are believed to be the children of both their parents and Kami and therefore owe their lives to both society and nature. In return for the love and protection they receive, they are obliged to treat both of them with loyalty and honesty, and to continue the family line showing kindness and guidance to their descendants.

Throughout most of Japanese history, Shinto did not play a particularly important role in state politics. This all changed, however, after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 when Shinto was deemed the dominant religion, largely to re-establish the importance of the emperor, as the emperor is considered to be a living Kami. At the same time, Buddhism was suppressed. This started the most sinister episode of Japan’s religious and political life called State Shinto.

State Shinto ushered in a period of extreme nationalism which lasted from 1890 to 1945. During this period, Japan’s mythological origins were taught as historical fact and people were encouraged to believe that all Japanese descended from Kami according to Shinto beliefs. At the same time, the traditional values of loyalty, inner strength and self-denial expressed in Bushido (Way of the Warrior) were promoted as desirable personal qualities. Such sentiments were milked by the 1930s military regime to foster a national sense of superiority. Ultimately, this created a highly dedicated nation on the eve of World War ll. After the war, Emperor Hirohito was made a mere a head of state, and the State Branch of Shinto was abolished.

Shinto Shrines

Shinto Shrines are called jinja (Kami Dwelling), although you will also see the suffixes -jingu and -gu. These terms, and the Torii gates are the easiest way to distinguish between Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples. The shrine provides a dwelling for the Kami, who are felt to be present in the surrounding nature, and it is also a place to serve and worship them. Although there are many styles of shrine architecture, initially they were traditionally built from unpainted cypress wood with a grass-thatch roof. After a time, they were painted a bright vermillion, and roof decorations were added.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of a shrine is the Torii gate which marks the gateway between the secular and spiritual world. Traditionally, these were plain and simple wooden structures consisting of two upright pillars and two crossbeams. Gradually various styles (such as the distinctive vermillion paint) evolved on the same basic design until there were over twenty different types of Torii. Today, they are also made of stone, metal and concrete, in which case they tend to remain unpainted. Once you pass under the torii, you are considered to be spiritually “purified.”

Inside the Shrine compound, you often find pairs of “Lion Dog” statues on the approach to the shrine building. One of the “lion dogs” has its mouth open, and the other has its mouth closed. The “lion dog” with its mouth open, is said to be saying “Ah” (the last letter of the Sanskrit and Japanese syllabary), and the one with the closed mouth is said to be saying “Un” (the last letter of the Sanskrit and Japanese syllabary). This is said to symbolize a beginning and end, or birth and death. You may also find animal messengers of the Kami, such as the fox messengers of Inari Shrines, the deity of good harvests. Somewhere in the compound you’ll often see a sacred object, denoted by a twisted straw rope (Shimenawa) sporting zigzags of white paper tied around it. In the past these objects were believed to be the special abode of a Kami.

A large shrine complex may also include many other buildings including subordinate shrines, on oratory, offering hall, abolution pavilion, shrine office and shop, priests’ living quarters, treasure house, a platform for sacred dances, a Noh drama stage or a sumo arena. It’s also worth noting that in some cases there will be no shrine building as such, but simply a Torii and a straw rope around a tree or rock to indicate a kami’s dwelling place.

Shinto Rites and Festivals

The Japanese pray at shrines for many different reasons, and this may determine which shrine they go to. It may be just to offer thanks to their local or clan Kami for their protection and blessing, or it may be to pray for something special (e.g., a successful childbirth). Kami are sometimes specialists in a certain type of blessing, so it’s no use going to a Kami who specializes in health if you want to pray for success in a forthcoming exam.

When visiting a shrine, there are three elements of worship. Of these, purification is perhaps the most important as it indicates respect for the Kami. Traditionally, anyone suffering from an illness or open wound, menstruating women or those in mourning are considered impure and are forbidden to enter the shrine. At the abolution pavilion (a water trough near the entrance), ladle some water over your hands, pour a little into your cupped hand and rinse your mouth with it. Afterwards, spit the water into the gutter below and raise the ladle above the handle allowing the remaining water to run down the handle and clean the ladle. Now physically purified, you can proceed to the shrine itself and the offering. This normally consists of throwing a coin into a box (a five yen coin is considered luckiest). Depending on the occasion, food, drink, or material goods are sometimes offered to the Kami. The third element is prayer. Pull the rope to ring the bell, bow twice, clap your hands twice at chest level, pray, and bow once again.

In very special occasions, a sacred feast will follow a special service or festival. It sometimes takes the form of consuming the food and drink offered to the Kami once the Kami has had its symbolic share. The feast starts with a formal toast of sake.

At the shrine shop you can buy charms (Omamon) against all manner of ills, fortune papers (Omikuji-If a person receives a good fortune, they will take it home with them. If they receive a bad fortune, they will leave the fortune somewhere at the shrine so the Kami can take care of the bad fortune. They will tie the paper fortunes to tree branches or racks designed for this purpose, etc.), and wooden votive tablets (ema). A person’s wishes are written on the tablet and tied up alongside the others.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Shinto for the visitor is its lively and colorful festivals. All shrines have at least one annual festival which is well worth hunting out. During the festival, the Kami is symbolically transferred from the inner chamber to an ornate palanquin (portable shrine). This is its temporary home while young men hurtle around the local area with it so that the Kami can bless the homes of the faithful. The passion with which they run, turning the portable shrine this way and that, jostling it up and down has to be seen to be believed, especially in rural towns where festivals are usually conducted with more gusto.

Spring festivals are designed to coax the Kami into the village and,

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more important, to the rice paddies, where it transmits its powers to the seedlings. In autumn festivals, the Kami is given thanks for the harvest. Before the festival can begin, priests and other direct participants spend several days purifying themselves and the ritual sites, and offerings of food and sake are prepared. The festival begins with the head priest invoking the Kami’s name. The Kami is greeted, escorted through the villages and fields, offered sake, a sticky rice cake called mochi, and other foods. The purified participants also partake of these offerings, in an important communion with the Kami. Then the Kami is entertained. There are offerings of sacred dances, sumo, archery or plays.

10 Small Things Japan Has To Be Proud Of

Posted on January 7th, 2015 by Mike Roberts

The Japanese love to create lists of different things. There are the Nihon Sankei (Three Scenic Views: Miyajima Island, Amanohashidate and Matsushima), the Nihon Sanmeien (Three great gardens: Korakuen, Korakuen and Kairakuen), the Hyakumeizan (100 great mountains), etc. Most lists contain the largest or greatest. But since Japan is a small country, I thought it might be interesting to explore the small things that Japan has to be proud of. So (with my apologies to David Letterman) here are the 10 small things Japan has to be proud of.

Read the full post »

Kumano Kodo Trek – Day 2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura

Posted on December 3rd, 2014 by Mike Roberts

  • Total Elevation Gain: 1,650 Feet (500 meters)
  • Total Elevation Loss: 1,300 Feet (400 meters)
  • Net Elevation Gain: 350 (100 meters)
  • Total Distance: 8 1/4 Miles (13.2 kilometers)

Nakahechi Trail

During the night it rained heavily, which meant one thing for today’s walk. It would be very humid. After having an excellent breakfast at the minshuku, I set out for Day 2 at about 8:30 for Tsugizakura-Oji.

For the first kilometer or so, the trail was over pavement, and then changed to dirt trail. For the first 5 1/2 kilometers, the trail steadily climbed past several important Oji to the former site of the Uwadaya-jaya Chaya. At about 700 meters (about 2,300 feet), this location is the highest spot on the trail between Takijirioji and Hongu Taisha Shrine. At one time, there were numerous chaya (literally translates to tea house) along the Kumano Kodo. These were places of rest, drink and food. Some chaya also offered lodging. These chaya were an important part of the Kumano pilgrimage infrastructure. In addition to a place of rest, they also served as centers of exchange between pilgrims and the locals. These chaya were not only found on the Kumano Kodo, but were also common along major highways in Japan such as the Tokaido and Nakasendo.

From here, the trail descended into a small river valley to the Osakamoto Oji. It is thought that the Oji got its name from the fact that the Oji is located at the base of what was once known as Osaka Pass. In his pilgrim’s diary from 1109, Fujiwara Munetada wrote “On the Osaka Pass, there is a tall tree on which a snake-shaped object is hung. It is said in the past, a woman was transformed into the object.” It is also thought that in the old days, at the site of the Osakamoto Oji there was an inn for lords. Read the full post »

Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Trek – Day 1

Posted on November 11th, 2014 by Mike Roberts


Nakahechi Trail

Nakahechi Trail

I set out for my Kumano Kodo trek from Kyoto as did pilgrims more than 1,000 years ago. At that time, it was common practice to visit Jonan-gu Shrine just south of Kyoto near Fushimi. Here, pilgrims would stay for about a week and perform “misogi” (Shinto water purification rituals) and maintain a strict vegetarian diet to purify themselves before starting their pilgrimage. After leaving Jonan-gu, they would travel down the nearby Yodo River by boat, and then walk along the Kiiji pilgrimage route along the western coast of the Kii Peninsula. After arriving at the present site of the city of Tanabe, they would follow the Nakahechi along the river until reaching Takijiri Oji. I visited the Jonan-gu shrine before today, but I didn’t stay for a week, and I didn’t perform any water purification rituals or eat only vegetables. Read the full post »

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes

Posted on October 28th, 2014 by Mike Roberts

Entrance to Hosshinmon Oji

Entrance to Hosshinmon Oji

Rather than one trail to one destination, the Kumano Kodo is a network of trails crossing the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture. However, if you look at the map of the trails below, you will see that all of the trails lead to the Hongu Taisha shrine, or rather to Oyunohara (the old location of Hongu Taisha Shrine). That is because Hongu Taisha is both the physical center of the pilgrimage routes and the spiritual center of the Kumano Kodo.

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Tokyo Sky Tree

Posted on October 8th, 2014 by Takako "Tammy" Ota

Tokyo Sky Tree 2The Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー) is a digital broadcasting tower and a new landmark of Tokyo. At a height of 634 m, Tokyo Skytree is the tallest tower in the world. It is the core of the Tokyo Skytree Town, near Asakusa. Read the full post »