A Walk Around Shodoshima
Day 1, Morning
Thursday December 24th
I start my walk along the Shodoshima Pilgrimage just after the sun has risen. Only a few days past the winter solstice, the days are very short and I need to take advantage of all the daylight there is.
When I arrived here last night it was pouring with rain, but I am pleasantly surprised to find clear skies and pink clouds of mist collected around the mountaintops this morning. I elect to start the walk at temple number 4, Furue-an, as it is right next door to the minshuku I am staying at for these first few days of my walk.
After about a kilometer the peninsula narrows to just a few hundred meters and I cross over to the other coast and the little fishing village of Horikoshi. The road along the water's edge, protected of course by a meter high concrete wall, is lined with wooden buildings covered with dark, weathered wood, broken by a few doors of the same wood, but with no windows.
For protection the village turns its back to the sea. I find the next temple, number 5, Horikoshi-an, up some winding lanes where the village climbs the hillside. Like number 4 it is located right next to the small village shrine. The suffix -an on a temple name could be translated as "hermitage", which means that rather than being a full-fledged temple it is somewhere that historically a nun or monk lived.
There is a honzon, a statue of the deity enshrined here, and often there will be a bronze bell, but usually not much more. The next stop is further down the peninsula, and I have several possible routes. There is a narrow road from here along the south coast. A couple of years ago it was closed by a landslide, and it may or may not have been repaired, or, I can backtrack half a kilometer and take the main road along the north coast.
The decision is made for me, a third way. There are about half a dozen small signs in front of Horikoshi-an pointing along a path that leads up the hillside. The most direct route, over the mountain. The path passes by some tiny vegetable plots before entering the forest. The path is covered with fallen leaves and steep enough to have a handrail.
I am no great fan of climbing hills or of walking uphill in general, but in Japan there is no choice. I climb and climb, thankful that I only have about 150 meters to ascend. When I get to the pass I am delighted to have been directed this way. It's magical.
Thin mist still hovers in the trees and the sunlight floods the forest with golden shafts. Here at the pass is a small Jizo statue in its own shelter. Every pass used to have one. Back in the day, not too long ago, when Japanese walked everywhere, there were hundreds of trails like this with a Jizo at the pass.
I wonder how many are now all alone where a path used to be, long since overgrown. As the trail descends the forest becomes bamboo. A narrow corridor through dense bamboo. Part way down I cross a stream and here are a couple of Fudo Myo statues.
The bamboo becomes thicker still and curiously there is a an overhead lattice of bamboo that has snapped and fallen horizontal. The corridor has become a tunnel until I emerge into the sunlight at the top of the fishing village of Tanoura.
Tanoura-an, number 6 on the pilgrimage, is at the top of the village, right next to the village shrine and a huge tree trunk, obviously an old Gingko tree that died. A largish Jizo statue wearing multiple bibs and a couple of caps is in front of the small hall. This is a wart-removing Jizo and people will come some distance from outside the village to make an offering in the hope of having warts disappear.
Down at the waterfront I stop in at an old, wooden schoolhouse. It closed in 1971, but is open as a tourist attraction as this is where one of the most popular Japanese movies ever was filmed. 24 Eyes is not as well known outside Japan as other movies of the 50's, but many Japanese tourists will come to Shodoshima because of it.
The pilgrimage route now heads back up the peninsula to where I started but first I take a little one kilometer detour down to the 24 Eyes Movie Village, a major tourist destination built on what was the movie set for a remake of 24 Eyes.
Not being a big fan of the movie, unlike most of the visitors, I'm not all that impressed, so after taking a bunch of photos I leave and stop in at a little eating establishment just outside the entrance. I order a curry rice and it comes topped with three small, green olives. Shodoshima is the olive growing capital of Japan and has become the prime identity of the island, so I suspect I will be finding more meals with added olives. After a coffee I head off up the road past a bus shelter made from an old soy sauce brewing barrel. Soy sauce is the next most famous product of the island.
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