Sometimes on this pilgrimage I find it difficult to plan a day and today was one of those days.
The main feature today was Temple 60, renowned by many as the hardest climb and most inaccessible temple on Shikoku. It’s on top of a mountain at 800m and you start and finish at sea level. There are several trails so you have to know your return path otherwise you could have a very long walk at the bottom. People have told me about near vertical ascents especially towards the top.
The truth is that this could have been any day in the Surrey Hills. The trails were well defined and signed as always. I set off at 7.20 and was in the temple at 9.35. It was charming without being particularly gorgeous but the clouds drifting through the trees added an air of mystery.
As the day was still young I decided to follow a different trail down and visit Temples 61 and 62. The path seemed to know where it was going and confidently cut a swathe through the deep undergrowth while lots of prayer signs hung from the trees like Christmas decorations. I stopped at a pilgrim hut deep in the forest to eat my packed lunch: ham and cucumber sandwiches and a rice triangle with tuna inside, washed down with a bottle of Pocari Sweat.
It was still before noon when I popped out of the forest by Temple 61. It’s one of the oldest temples on Shikoku, founded in the 6th century. Naturally, temple buildings are wooden and are periodically replaced. This one has been rebuilt in concrete; it’s difficult to say anything good about concrete temples.
After collecting my stamp, I was shown a notice telling me not to visit Temple 62 under any circumstances. No 62 has been thrown out of the 88 Club, it’s in poor condition in a rough part of town and has lost all its religious artifacts. A temporary prefabricated Temple 62 has been set up in the car park of Temple 61 and I was told to pray there, get the stamp and then proceed directly to Temple 63.
So I obeyed because that was the order. But I had to pass the forbidden temple on the way to my ryokan and as the afternoon was still extremely young I couldn’t resist a quick peep. Had it become an opium den or a brothel? Or even a Christian church?
Quite possibly. The Temple was semi derelict, the ferocious Japanese knotweed was crawling all over it and nothing religious could be seen except for a dusty statue of dubious authenticity. A woman beckoned me over to her booth and suggested I give her 600 yen for a stamp. I bowed and departed, my integrity intact.