Shikoku Pilgrimage: Ehime
Quick note: you may be wondering why I mention the New Years holiday a lot in this post, even though I’m publishing it in late April. Not only did life catch up to me shortly after I finished walking the Ehime prefecture section of the trail, but I was also debating on how to actually write about my experience this time. Before I knew it, it had became April, and I am actually in the midst of preparing for walking the final section during Golden Week! So I came back to this post and decided to stop being an editorial wuss and just publish it. Most of what I’ve written below is exactly what I wrote back in January, with some added bits. I think I will go in more detail about the trip as a whole once I’ve finished it entirely.
As I write about the next section of the Shikoku trail, I find it harder and harder to elaborate on a day to day scale. Writing about the minute-to-minute details, from catching buses to walking hours, it all seems a bit…tedious; Information and tidbits that are, in the long run, unnecessary regarding the trip as a whole. While I am writing this quite after the fact, I can still remember all those minor details, but they become duller every time I scribe. Much like the photography I have been sharing, I slimmed it down to the best parts, and show what actually stood out to me as opposed to a reaction to every temple I went to. I figure I should probably try doing the same here.
I’ll still do the usual and give information regarding where I stayed and other minor points of interest for any future pilgrim. But this will absolutely be a more condensed version of a travelogue compared to my earlier stints.
The Train Ride: Since I have been doing the pilgrimage section by section, getting to Ehime from Tokushima was by far the longest, most annoying, and most expensive route I had to take. I had to go to the farthest point of the trip from Temple 1 to begin this last time, so I spent almost all of Christmas Day riding trains. Six hours and about $100 later I was at my starting point in Uwajima.
Shikoku’s Public Transportation: Is absolutely nothing like you’ll find on the mainland. While I was largely following the walking and public transportation pilgrimage guide on Shikoku Henro Trail, the guide did fail to mention was how infrequent both the trains and the buses can be. Take for example the route from Temple 42 to 43.
Walk to Butsumokuji Mae bus stop M39b. In front of Temple 42.
Board an Uwajima Bus (in the direction of Higashi Kōkō Mae) (In Front of East High School) and ride about 30 min. (10 km) to Uwajima Station M38 and get off.
Board a JR Yosan Line train and ride about 30 min. (16 km) to Unomachi Station M40 and get off.
Walk to Temple 43. 45 min. (3 km)
What is not mentioned there is the bus that arrives in front of Temple 42 shows up around 9 a.m., 11 a.m., around 2:30 p.m. and one around 4 p.m. If you arrive at Temple 42 around 11:30, like I did, just walk. And don’t even get me started about when I found out the buses going from Matsuyama Station to Kuma (where Temples 44 and 45 are at, roughly an hour transit) do not run on weekends. That was an $80 extra taxi fare I wasn’t particularly happy about paying.
Trains outside of the coastal route that goes to all the major cities are not as bad, but only one or two trains may arrive at whatever middle-of-nowhere station you’re at any particular day. Many of them are only locals as well, so unless you happen to be at a more populated area that has an express stop, you may be sitting on a train for a while. In the end, there is nothing one can do but cooperate with the system, but just be warned.
Hostels I stayed at along the way: Luckily I stayed at three hostels while on my trip, all of them fantastic and highly recommendable.
Garden Time: This was the hotel in Kuma I had booked on the same day of the taxi incident, but since I had a reservation I did not want to let them down. Garden Time seems to be owned by a small family, and they were always very friendly and welcoming. Their dinner was also incredibly filling, but I did need those calories for all of the walking! A lovely stay.
Sen Guesthouse: Owned by a husband and wife team, Zen Guesthouse was probably the best deal for the best location in the Dogo area (by Temple 51, known for the infamous Onsen). Every night they were totally cool with just hanging out and chatting, and encouraged everyone staying to do the same. I met many new friends here, and will most likely stay at Sen anytime I go back to Matsuyama.
Cyclo No Ie: Cyclo No Ie was originally recommended to me by the wife at Zen Guesthouse, who said she knew the owners. Luckily, they were open over the new years season, and she set me up with a reservation. Very friendly atmosphere and very, very accommodating. While it’s more for cyclists preparing for the Shima-Nami Kaido Bridge bike trail, they still have some henro stay. The hostel seems very new, and definitely has that artisan feel to it. They also know all the best food recommendations in town! Cyclo No Ie is also right next to a really nice onsen at the other side of Imabari station.
Temple 45: Although one of the most secluded temples on the trail, Iwaya-ji was absolutly worth the extensive walk through the mountains. Known as the area where monks would go and complete rigorous training, including but not limited to scaling mountain faces, it’s amazing to arrive at the temple literally craved in the side of a mountain. The temple is dedicated to Fudo Myo, one of the fiercest looking gods of esoteric Buddhism, and he can be seen everywhere at the temple. One of the more notable aspects of the temple is the dark cave in which a Fudo Myo statue rests, and it actually took quite a bit of courage for me to go into the pitch black corridor to go see it.
Temple 51: I find it really amazing that everything in Matsuyama is pretty centrally located. After enjoying all the delights of the Dogo area, only a short walk away lies one of the most well-known temples on the trail: Ishiteji. This temple also has one of the more notorious origin stories, as it’s said the temple was built after a child was born on the grounds holding a stone in his clutched hand (hence the name: stone hand temple). The child was said to be an old lord who once disgraced Kobo Daishi, but then walked the pilgrimage backwards multiple times trying to find him after misfortune followed him. Kobo Daishi eventually found the man, dying on the trail, and placed a stone in his hand saying he was forgiven. The stone is said to still be at the temple, but I wasn’t sure where to find it. The temple is also filled with other various items said to bring good luck, as well as a museum dedicated to Tibetan and Indian Buddhism statues and trinkets. I wasn’t able to visit it due to time, but I could easily see a visitor losing most of the day soaking in all Ishiteji has to offer.
Temple 57: There was a movie filmed here recently based on the biography of a monk who stayed at the temple. While the temple itself is fairly small, there were many signs pointing out that it was in fact THIS ONE where the movie was filmed. I haven’t seen it yet, but it has very high recommendations from the people who have.
Temple 58: One of the high mountain temples, I arrived when the residents were in mid-preparation for the New Years celebration. Not only was this temple fairly extensive, but they also had their main statue prominently on display, which was one of the only temples on the Ehime trail I saw do so. The woman who signed my stamp was also very nice, and sang from sutras while people walked around the grounds. The walk up is also quite notable, as the moss covered mountain filled with various statues really left an impression.
Temple 61: I would wholeheartedly say that Koon-Ji was the most impressive, and my favorite temple of the pilgrimage thus far. This temple is simply massive, and seemed quite popular during the new years holidays. The main hall is one of the largest among the 88, and entering left me in awe. The main hall hosts massive statues, along with pews (which was the first I had ever seen)! The temple is also known for its Kobo Daishi statue, which is said to be the main protector of children. I probably spent the most time at this temple simply soaking in the marvel.
I have to say that Ehime is probably my favorite prefecture along the pilgrimage trail so far, but I have yet to see any of Kagawa yet. I would recommend a longer stay in Matsuyama and Imabari, as both cities provide so much culture, food, and interesting things to check out.