Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage, No.s 1-9

 The trail to shrine No. 1, Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage

Distance:1.2 km
Time:  15 mins running, 30 mins walking
Terrain: flat with short, steep hills
Trail condition: Reasonably cleared, some vague parts, mostly shade
Other sites along the way: Yamori Beach

As I mentioned in a previous post, you do not have to start the pilgrimage at No. 1. You can do the 88 shrines in any order you like. Some people even do them backwards, starting at No. 88 and ending at No. 1! Since you have to pass No.s 80-83 to get to No. 1 for the Shiraishi Pilgrimage, we started our pilgrimage at No. 80, which was also a nice easy section to start with.

This time, I'll take you from No. 1 to No. 9 which is a little more difficult. To get to No. 1, follow the skinny paved road I left you off at in a previous post No.s 80-83. Remember, you chose to continue even though I told you this part of the route is haunted...

Directions: You'll follow the skinny paved road until you see a Western-style cottage. The skinny paved road turns left here, but don't turn. Instead, follow the dirt path straight in front of you, keeping the cottage on your left. Follow this lovely, shady path (notice the beautiful rocks the island is named for--Shiraishi means "white rock") until you get to the top of a hill. At the crest, listen for the sound of the sea. You'll also see an orange and white post on the right. Directly across from this post is the entrance to the next part of the pilgrimage. As you can see, it's a bit of a secret entrance. And dark...

Secret entrance to get to Shrine No. 1

Once you pass through this tunnel of yoshinoki (a type of bamboo grass) you'll be in a clearing. If you keep moving forward and bearing right, you'll soon be on a cleared trail. From here, just follow the trail while I tell you a bit of history about this part of the island.

You should still be able to hear the waves and the sea below to the right. Down there is a beautiful sandy beach called Yamori Beach. It is haunted. The history of the beach goes back to 1185, during the Gempei Wars. The defining territorial battle between the Heike and Genji was a sea battle fought at Dan'no Ura in the Inland Sea. The sea-savvy Genji knew the tides very well. Twice a day the tide rushes into the Inland Sea through three openings: to the north-east from the Pacific Ocean via the Kii Channel, to the south-east from the Pacific Ocean between Honshu and Shikoku via the Bungo Channel, and to the south-west from the Sea of Japan between Honshu and Kyushu via the Kanmon Strait. The latter is near Dan'no Ura. The tides rush in and out through these narrow straits and channels creating a strong current. When the tide comes in, the water rushes into the Inland Sea and meets at a mid-point very near Shiraishi Island. When the tide changes and goes back out, the current also changes direction.  The Genji, knowing the characteristics of the Inland Sea very well, timed the battle to take place just at the turning point of the tides, when the out-tide would be strong enough that the Heike wouldn't not be able to advance against the retreating force. The Genji were able to win the battle and conquer the Heike. Hundreds of dead Heike warriors floated down through the Inland Sea past these islands, turning the sea red with their blood. Many of the corpses washed up onto Yamori Beach below here. There is a firm belief among the islanders that the Heike ghosts linger on that beach, one of the most beautiful spots on the island.

Kitagi Shima, the island you can see directly across from this beach, also had warriors wash up on their shores, and thus called it chi-no-hama, or Blood Beach. There are thousands of warriors believed to still be at the bottom of the Inland Sea in the form of crabs that bear a resemblance to the Heike warriors’ faces and the helmets they wore in battle. Despite 800 years having passed since the battle, it is still beleived that Yamori Beach is haunted. No one will buy, sell or develop the land here. 

By now the trail has probably turned right and down a small hill (passing a well on the right). When it dead-ends into another trail, take a left and continue on this well-cleared path. Take note that you'll actually pass shrine No. 3 (on the left) and 4 (on the right) on your way to No. 1. You can stop and see these now, or hit them on the way back.

What exactly do you do when you stop and "see" a shrine? Well, it's up to you. If you stop and look, you'll notice some coins have been left in front of the stone deity, offerings by previous pilgrims. I usually leave some small change as offerings and say a mantra or prayer. It's probably wise to at least thank the kami (gods) for this beautiful pilgrimage trail!

Now you will begin to enter a bamboo forest. The trail gets very narrow here and it's easy to fall into the abyss to the right, so be careful. You'll pass some stone stairs that lead to a house that is no longer there, and you'll pass an abandoned well. Finally, you'll see an old dilapidated house that will give you the willies as you scoot past it, careful not to wake up any ghosts inside. Once you are past that, you'll find shrine No. 1 Ryozenji and No. 2 Gokurakuji at the end of the trail.

This is a beautiful spot to stop and listen to the wind rustle through the bamboo, one of the most beloved sounds of the Japanese people.

 The path to No. 1 and 2, Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage

Now go back the way you came. I usually run like hell after passing by the collapsed house, and feel safe again by the time I hit shrines No. 3 Konsenji and 4 Dainichiji..

Shrines 5 Jizoji, 6 Anrakuji and 7 Jurakuji are on the side of the hill, down to the left of the trail you are now on. You will have to go down a steep path to each one, and then climb back up to the main trail to get to the next one. These paths are not well marked, but look for them on the left, immediately after shrine No. 4. If you see a path, it should be taken.

At the bottom of No. 7, however, you can take a shortcut. Keep going down till you hit the sea below and walk over the rocks to the beach. Alternatively, you can go back up to the main trail and follow it out through the bamboo tunnel you took to get in (then turn left onto the original trail and follow this all the way down to the beach). This is also an alternate route to get to the next section of the pilgrimage, No.s 10-17.

Just at the bottom of the trail, on the left, is shrine No. 9 Horinji. What happened to No. 8? Good question. Remember, this place is haunted. For the time being, Shrine No. 8 remains a mystery. This is the end of this section of the pilgrimage, No.s 1-9.

Don't forget about the battle between the Heike and Genji which is one of Japan's great historic epics called "The Tale of the Heike." This battle had a profound influence on Shiraishi Island's culture and customs, which we will revisit later on the pilgrimage. 

Previous Post: Myoken Shrine
Next Post:Temples 10-17

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Myoken Shrine, Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage

Myoken Shrine side trip on the Shiraishi Pilgrimage.

Myoken Shrine

Myoken Shrine, located between No. 80 and 81 on the Shiraishi Pilgrimage, is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the god Myoken-sama who overlooks our island's port.

Over 300 years ago when the port was built, the local squire’s daughter was sacrificed and placed inside the structure of the retaining wall in a custom called hitobashira. Women were used for these ceremonies because it was believed their hair was very strong and could ward off bad luck. Later, when a cholera epidemic hit Shiraishi Island, the islanders prayed to Myoken-sama for the disappearance of the disease. Every year in June there is a special ceremony at this shrine to honor its past, and to thank Myoken for the protection we've received and wish to continue to receive (sans human sacrifices). 

During the ceremony, which is, curiously, only open to men, offerings of sake and fruit are placed in front of the shrine for the gods. A large fish is also laid out as a special gift. A bamboo pole holds fronds and “hei” (white purification papers in the shape of lightening bolts). This pole serves as an antenna to the kami (gods), to help guide them to the shrine.

Myoken Shrine was originally designated a spiritual spot by a Shinto Priest who invited the kami to descend there. To read more about this (and other spiritual spots you'll encounter on the Shiraishi Pilgrimage), see my Japan Times article here.

The Bussharito temple as seen from Myoken Shrine, Shiraishi Island

Before you leave Myoken Shrine, don't miss the view from the torii gate across the valley to the Bussharito, a Thai style temple which you'll encounter later on the pilgrimage (and which is said to contain some of Buddha's ashes). The Bussharito Festival was featured extensively in my book Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment

Now, let's get back to the the Shiraishi Pilgrimage. We're about to enter the haunted part! 

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage, No.s 80-83

These blog posts will introduce you to several short sections of the Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage (Kasaoka-shi, Okayama, Japan). These sections will take you anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour to complete walking.

This blog post covers No. 80 to 83. Future blog posts will cover other sections.

I have given numbers and estimated walking and running times for each section. Each shrine has a number and name that coincides with the temple number and name on the Shikoku Pilgrimage route. If you'd like to know more about the temples and deities, see my book, Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment.

No. 80 to 83
Distance: .03 km
Time: 5-10 mins hiking, 3 mins trail running
Trail condition: Cleared, easy to navigate, shady, some stairs
Trail features: Views of the port and Inland Sea, wildflowers: Enishida
Other sites along the way: Moyoken Shinto Shrine

Shrines 80 to 83 are the easiest ones to walk to. The hike is fairly flat, has beautiful scenery, and will only take you 5 to 10 minutes. It's cool and shady, so a good section to do in the dead of summer when it's too hot to exert much effort.

Directions: Start from the front of the ferry terminal, which is where you got off the boat when you came to the island from Kasaoka city. Look directly opposite the ferry terminal, over to the other side of the port and you’ll see two houses standing next to each other. Shrine 80 is behind those houses. Follow the road around to the other side of the port. When you see the big stone stairway, go to the bottom of it. 

Shrine No. 80, Kokubunji is to the right at the bottom of the stairs.

No. 80 Kokubunji

To get to the next shrine along the pilgrimage, No. 81, Shiromineji, keep the stone staircase on your right and walk behind the second house until you see another stone stairway that looks like this.


Take this one and keep following it straight. (Another stairway branches off to the right, but it goes to Myoken, a Shinto shrine separate from the pilgrimage, so don’t take it unless you want to do it as a side trip).

Once the trail flattens out, keep an eye out for No. 81 Shiromine-ji (白峯寺) on your right.

 Shiraishi Pilgrimage Shrine No. 81, Shiromineji

Continue and you will find shrine No. 82 Negoro-ji further up on the right. Don’t miss the great views of the port on which these deities look out upon.

No. 82 Negoro-ji (根香寺)

No. 83 Ichinomiya-ji is the next on the path. Look for two deities underneath a huge boulder.

Keep walking until you get to a skinny paved road. This is the end of this small pilgrimage section. Now you have to make a decision. Do you want to end your pilgrimage here or continue on to the next section? 

If you want to stop here, you can either take this skinny paved road back down to the port, or go back the same way you came on the pilgrimage route. You could even catch Myoken Shrine this time on your way back.

If you do this section in the springtime, you'll see this beautiful Enishida blooming between the stone staircase and shrine No. 80.

Shrines on this section of the pilgrimage:

80 Sanuki Kokubun-ji (讃岐国分寺)
81 Shiromine-ji (白峯寺)
82 Negoro-ji (根香寺)
83 Ichinomiya-ji (一宮寺)

Next blog post: Myoken Shrine

Friday, June 07, 2013

Introducing the Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage

 Shrine No. 80. There are 88 such shrines along the 10km Shiraishi Pilgrimage that circumnavigates the island.

A pilgrimage is a magical world you step into, an ancient route full of history, beauty and solitude. And since few people know about them, you'll have the whole route to yourself. Does this sound like your kind of thing? Read on!

The Shiraishi Pilgrimage is a replica of the big 88-Temple Buddhist Pilgrimage in Shikoku. Island residents who could not make the journey to Shikoku would do this route instead as a substitute. The meaning behind each sacred site corresponds to the same numbered temple on the Shikoku route.

The Shiraishi Pilgrimage route is over 400 years old and, unlike the Shikoku Pilgrimage, hasn't changed much since then. It is largely forest and ocean views. While the entire route can be accomplished in one to two days, it is nonetheless an arduous journey that requires a concerted effort to complete. There are several reasons for this, including difficult terrain and the variable conditions of the pilgrimage path. 

But don't worry, you don't have to do the whole pilgrimage at one time. As a matter of fact, most people do pilgrimages in small sections at a time, with no concern to the order of the sacred sites. There is no reason you have to start at No. 1 and end at 88, for example. Also, whereas the Shikoku Pilgrimage has 88 temples on the route, the Shiraishi Pilgrimage uses small stone shrines as sacred sites rather than temples (see photo above). These are not shrines in the sense of Shinto shrines (神社) but as Buddhist objects of veneration. How religious you want to be on your pilgrimage is up to you. You can give a little prayer at each site, for example, or just walk on by. You certainly do not have to be Buddhist to do a pilgrimage! 

Since I live on Shiraishi Island (my house is actually on the pilgrimage route), I am walking on the pilgrimage path almost every day in the spring and autumn. The summer is too hot for me, but if you don't mind the heat, there is no reason you can't walk or run the pilgrimage in summer too. Choose a shady section and go! 

In the next blog post, I the shortest and easiest section of the pilgrimage:  No. 80-83. This section is only 0.5 km long and takes 5 to 10 minutes to walk. It's also fairly flat compared to the rest of the route. I'll continue with blog posts identifying different sections of the pilgrimage.

Welcome to the wonderful world of pilgrimage!

Next blog post: Shiraishi Pilgrimage No.2 80 to 83

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Moooo! Bar video

Here is another video of Shiraishi Island, but this time it features the Moooo! Bar and Shop on the beach. Thanks to whoever took this!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Video: Shiraishi Island--the walk from the villa to the beach

As we get ready for the Moooo! Bar season to start (June 30), I thought I'd share with you some videos of the island which I've been finding on You Tube. Here is one by a customer who stayed at the International Villa. She takes you on a walk from the villa down to the beach.
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