The Pilgrimage Part IX
Each group of pilgrims takes a commemorative picture at Temple 88, the last on the
pilgrimage. The person in the center in front is the leader of the group, an honored position.
Stairway to Heaven
It was a grueling climb up to the last temple.
A stone lantern guides pilgrims along a mountain trail.
The pilgrim circuit has several roadside shrines along the way.
Worshipers write their prayers on wooden plaques and leave them
in the temples. Prayers typically ask for success on an entrance
examination to school, the safe birth of a child, or prosperity
Inscriptions on stone fences in temples commemorate donations by
devout parishioners. The one in the center says that Mr. Ishikawa of
a certain village in the Itano District of Tokushima donated one hundred
yen to the temple. At the current exchange rate this amounts to about
one dollar, but at the time the donation was made decades ago it might
have represented a year's wages for the average worker.
Hall of the 500 Disciples
Behind Temple Five is the dimly lit Hall of the Five Hundred Disciples
of Buddha, who practiced various forms of rigorous self-denial in order
to achieve enlightenment.
In order to qualify as a leader of pilgrims you must have completed
the pilgrimage at least five times. This man was the guide of a group
from central Japan.
There is a perceived hierarchy among pilgrims that assigns ranking
based on the effort the person puts into his pilgrimage. Those who
go on guided tours are at the lowest level. They take buses, get off
at each temple, say a prayer, and get back on for the next stop. They
don't even get their books stamped. The tour company takes care of
that for them. The next level up is those who go by car or motorcycle.
The pilgrims who walk the entire circuit are at the top of the pecking
order, and, among them, the ones who camp out along the way are
at the pinnacle of piety.
Back to the Start
After completing the 88 temple pilgrimage it is customary to close the circle
by returning back to Temple One, which is 25 miles further down the road.
And of course, we must take one last commemorative photo. It had taken a
total of six weeks to complete the 750 mile pilgrimage, about 150 miles on
foot and the rest by bicycle. I had made ten trips to Shikoku over a period of
one year, spending three days to one week each time. It was a great