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"Old Temples"

During nearly my nearly five years of living and teaching in Japan, I spent most weekends and vacations ranging around the country visiting temples, and shooting thousands of pictures.  In the process, I achieved several notable milestones, including:

  • The Saigoku sanjusan reijo, or "Visit to the 33 places sacred to Kannon* in the Saigoku region."  Saigoku is Kansai, the area centering on Kyoto.  The pilgrimage starts in Wakayama Prefecture at Nachi, site of Japan's highest waterfall; wanders through the mountains and into urban Osaka Prefecture; into Nara Prefecture, one of Japan's most ancient capitals and site of the Great Buddha; on to Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures, perhaps the center of Japanese cultural life for centuries; back through Osaka to rural Hyogo Prefecture; into northern Kyoto and Shiga again, including an island in the center of Biwa-ko, Japan's largest freshwater lake; and finally to a single temple on a mountain in Gifu Prefecture, where solemn rites celebrate the pilgrim's attainment.

  • The Bando sanjusan reijo, or "Visit to the 33 places sacred to Kannon* in the Bando region."  Bando is Kanto, the area centering on Tokyo. The pilgrimage starts in Kamakura, perhaps the most furukusai (literally "stinking of age") place in Japan outside of Kyoto, but one which has escaped much of Kyoto's urban development.  Kamakura is in Kanagawa Prefecture, not far from Yokohama, and includes a side trip to Japan's other "Great Buddha" at Kotokuin.  Leaving Kamakura, the pilgrimage leads up into northern Kanagawa, jumps up to some precious rural temples in Saitama Prefecture, returns to a single temple in ultra-modern Tokyo (Senso-ji, which I considered to be my "home temple" hen I lived there) and, inexplicably, back down to Yokohama for one temple; again into the rural areas of Gumma, Tochigi, and Ibaraki Prefectures to some of the most untouched temples I have ever seen, with mountain caves and ancient burial mounds along the way; and finally down into the Chiba Peninsula.  The last temple is at a logical jumping-off point for one to take a ferry back to Kamakura, this closing the circle.

  • The Chichibu sanjuyon reijo, or "Visit to the 34 places sacred to Kannon* in the Chichibu area."  Chichibu is a beautiful mountain valley near Tokyo. The entire pilgrimage is about 100 kilometers, or 60 miles, and can easily be walked in a few days.  That is exactly what I did; it is the only pilgrimage that I have walked in its entirety so far.  Why does Chichibu boast 34 temples instead of the usual 33?  Some say it was to "better" the bigger guys.  Others say that, with the one extra, the three pilgrimages together equal 100 temples; indeed, they have come to be known collectively as The Nihon hyakku Kannon--"the 100 places sacred to Kannon* in Japan."

  • The 53 Stations of the Old Tokaido HighwayIn the Fall of 2001, I was able to walk the full length of the Tokaido, or "Eastern Sea Road," from Tokyo to Kyoto.  In the early 17th century, a shogun or military ruler was the real head of the government; the Emperor was merely a figurehead.  Nevertheless, Kyoto remained the capital, even though the shogun was in Edo (Tokyo). So in 1601, this highway was built, and post stations established along it, to facilitate communications between the real ruler and the puppet.  Although technically not a "pilgrimage," you will see elements of a sacred journey in my account, as well as in the many temples I visited along the way.

  • The 88-temple pilgrimage on Shikoku, or "shikoku hachijuha kassho."   Continuing my Aki Meguri ("Autumn Journey") beyond the Old Tokaido, through Mount Koya, to the Island of Shikoku, where I traced what may be Japan's oldest pilgrimage through the "four countries" of the island.  Unlike the other pilgrimages I made, this one was done in one journey, without going home in between.  It literally changed my life.

  • The Aki Meguri is made up of both the Tokaido and Shikoku experiences, as well as time spent in Old Yamato.  This was a journey of about 10 weeks; I carried a notebook computer and a digital camera and created a journal along the way.  This section of my site is a reworking of that journal.  It includes some historical background regarding the logistics of the trip, and a lot of Words and Pictures pages created along the way. There are also special indexes for the Logbook pages and Journal entries, and an alphabetical listing of locations visited.  The entire section also has its own Sitemap.

  • In early August of 2004, I returned to Japan for half a month and completed a number of smaller pilgrimages, including: 

    • The Edo 33 Kannon

    • The Edo 3 Enma

    • The Edo 6 Amida

    • The Edo Goshiki Fudo

    • The Edo 6 Jizo, and 

    • The Tokyo 10 Shinto Shrine

  • In addition to all of the above, I visited many temples in Japan that were not part of any "official pilgrimage."  The Furudera section will have a lot about these, too, as well as some general information on the features of Japanese temples and the types of Japanese Buddhism

*Kannon, also known as "Guan Yin" in China and "Avalokiteshvara" in India, is the Bodhisattva of Compassion.