Temple 2 - Shinpuku-ji
Megurikite tanomi wo kakeshi ohotana no chika hi mo fukaki tanigaha no mizu
It's ironic the goieka for this temple includes water, since it began raining on the ascent.
We picked our way through a small farm neighborhood which soon gave way to open fields. The path is well-marked with signs at all major junctions. The rain fell lightly, just enough to be worth taking out the umberella for, but not so bad as to make the walk unpleasant. The fields give way to a forest road, wide enough for a single car but no more. It's quiet and peaceful here, with no one about. It seems as if there's no one in the whole world but us, a comfortable, safe feeling rather than one of loneliness. Before long it's nice that there's no one about as we slowly make our way up a hill that steadily becomes steeper and steeper. We knew this was one of the hardest temples to get to. Every pilgrimage has at least one that challenges the walker's resolve, though it's rare to have them so early into the trip. Better to have them midway through, when one's resolve is already tried and found to be weaker than first supposed back at the start.
Our resolve is further tested as micro buses carrying pilgrims whisk them easily up the slope. No puffing and panting in the rain for these devotees. We'd thought before coming the road was impassable by vehicles but clearly we were wrong. Despite being narrow, it was paved and well maintained. Still, despite the hike the locale is pleasant. Thin cedar trees enclose us on all sides, a forest of poles marching around us. The branches shelter most of the rain and the umberellas are almost superflous. Almost. The trees thin and it becomes lighter as we near the top of the climb. A building appears at a T-junction and we wonder if maybe it's not a store catering to the pilgrims. Perhaps it has a bathroom a weary traveller might use to relieve themself at -- or at the least, a sign pointing the way. At this point our helpful signage runs out and we take our best guess of the right direction to go. We turn, and not so many steps further are rewarded with the sight of a parking area for the pilgrim/tour buses.
The approach to temple number two is a lane with residences on one side and an orchard on the other. The trees in the orchard are in bloom, but we don't pause to admire them or take pictures. We have business and other business on at the temple. Up a flight of uneven, slippery stone stairs and we arrive in front of a hall. Who it's dedicated to or what it's used for is unclear, but next to it is the restroom. We pause there, the better to clear our mind of worldly concerns before approaching the main temple.
The pause at the bathroom is long enough that the latest load of pilgrims had finished and returned to their bus to make their way to the next temple, and we found ourselves the only people in the temple precinct again. This temple is more informal than the first. No gate provides the boundry between the temple proper and the outside world. It's unmanned, so there is no office with friendly monks to greet us. We will get our inscription at a different temple further down the road.
The hondo is up yet another flight of stairs, past a statue of Kannon. It's a smaller temple even than the first one, tucked in among tall, straight cedars, with curved gables on the roof. It's dark up there, under all the trees, and feels almost like a cabin in the woods. We have the place to ourselves as we go through our devotions and take pictures, but soon another bus of pilgrims arrive and we stumble carefully down the old, worn steps as they carefully stumble up them.
We walk out past the orchard and continue down the road we came in on. If we were unscrupulous pilgrims we could have skipped the climb altogether and just gone to the temple down on the flat where we get the goshuin for this temple. But we are not, and we intend to do this the right way for as much as we can. Later on we'll cheat by using public transit. For now we make our accomplishments by the labor of our own feet, the way generations of pilgrims before us have.
The descent goes much faster than the ascent. The rain cleared out enough that we could watch the mist rising over the mountains, twining in and out amongst the bamboo foresting the hillside. Before long we are back into a puplated area, with houses and small, local shops on either side. There's no one about still, but it no longer feels like our and only our space. We pass a school yard next to a small field, and it now feels like we're back in town. Soon we spot the narrow street we turn down to get to the nokyosho for temple number two, Koumyou-ji. Koumyou-ji is a larger, more modern style temple. Though it still lacks a formal gate, it has a pair of gate guardians, larger than life metal statues of the Ni-ou, or two Guardian Kings. They pose and stare down at us fiercely.
The grounds are open and spacious (by Japanese standards), and simply but well landscaped. We go to the hondo to pay our respects even though this is not a formal pilgrimage temple. Courtesy goes a long way, and there's no reason for one on a pilgrimage to begrudge an extra prayer or two. A short wooden signboard of a young monk points the way to the office, the sign he's holding telling us that we can get the inscription for the temple at the top of the mountain there. The temple office sits a short ways to the side of the temple, past a small yet elegant garden. Spring flowers bloom in between stones and patches of moss. The lady who gives us our inscription is surprised, but friendly. She writes in our books with calm, efficient strokes and soon we are bidding her farewell and are on our way again.