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17 June 2009 @ 09:14 pm
Virtual Chichibu Pilgrimage: Temple 6  


Temple 6 - Bokuun-ji

Hatsuaki ni kaze fukimusubu ogi no dou yadokari no yo no yume zosamekeru

Temple six requires a climb, though not a long or unpleasant one. The street wends through a neighborhood filled with small, single family residences that slowly peter out into a combination of fields and urban decay. The fields in some cases are better kept than the houses, lending the area an oddly mixed feeling, part farm, part bedroom community. It's early enough in the morning there is still mist lying close to the ground. It clears steadily as we walk on. To our right mountains slowly become visible through the fog, then minutes later clears even further to reveal a stunning, huge mountain lying across a small valley, so close it seems amazing that we hadn't seen it before. This is Mt. Buko, which our guide books had mentioned as being a dominant and constant companion for this portion of the pilgrimage. With the rain and fog of before we hadn't seen it previously. But now the morning sun shines brightly down on it, picking out white highlights where snow still drifts on the peak. It's faintly triangularly shaped and the horizontal stepping at the top makes it seem like a giant natural pyramid. Deep valleys etch long, vertical lines down its sides. Oddly, the man-made intrusion of the stepping seems to only enhance this mountain's majesty. Humans may have engraved their mark on it, but they're just ants pushing mounds of dirt around. The mountain endures, taking this reshaping and making it its own.

Rounding a bend we can see our goal, the temple perched higher up the hillside, but it's unclear how to get up there. Something that looks to be a driveway goes up past a vineyard, but seems to dead-end into an old stone retaining wall. A sign points vaguely up, and we assume it means to take the driveway. This part of the climb is not as gentle as the first part, and makes us earn our pilgrim stripes. Part way up there's a small roadside shrine to Jizo. Pilgrims fall under Jizo's care, he being responsible for travelers and small children. We pause a moment to pray that our feet hold up for the day. A sign next to the shrine says that this Jizo was erected on June 16, 1737. It's clear that neither the sign nor the shrine building are that old. How many generations of people have maintained this shrine, that it still looks so fresh?

When we arrive at the temple it's still a little early, and the buildings haven't opened yet. It gives us time to appreciate the view. From our vantage point we have a vista looking out across the entire valley. Houses are nestled in the flat land of the valley, slowly giving way to tree-lined mountainsides as the valley meets the foot of the mountain. We have an unobstructed view across to Mt. Buko. With no houses to frame and diminish it, it's even more magnificent. It's hard to not keep staring at it.

The temple itself is tucked up on the side of its own hill, with the main buildings being built on a strip of flattened land carved off the side of the slope. The grounds are not large, sandwiched in between the hillside and the sharp descent back the way we came. It seems set in its own little nook, sheltered from the rest of the area by a wooded hill curving off to the side. Behind the hall we can see a reasonably sized graveyard stretching up the hillside to the ridge.

The main hall is fairly large, with a modern, worked-metal roof. An aged plum tree sits in front, just starting to blossom. The white of the petals contrasts starkly with the black of the temple and the bright blue of the sky. To one side sits a secondary temple building -- little more than a three-sided shed sheltering the image there.

We make our devotions and ring the bell at the temple office to get our inscriptions. The husband and wife who run the temple are friendly, and chat with us while we wait for our calligraphy. They have a few items on sale in addition to the usual collection of charms and amulets. One item catches our attention: A copy of the Hanya Sutra, but with pictograms used in place of the usual kanji characters. This was the old way that people remembered the sutras, we were told. Back in the day, not everyone could read the kanji. But they could look at the pictures of things they knew -- pots, and bellies, and long-nosed demons -- and figure out from that which sounds to say. The couple asks us if we've been up to the graveyard yet. We hadn't; we frequently won't go into temple graveyards unless there is a grave of some historical notable. We have little business being there, and it's the sort of place one should tread with respect if they are entering. The couple encourages us to go up to the graveyard before we head on our way. We thank them, and do so.

It's a Japanese-style cemetary, of course, and completely different from what we in the West think of as a graveyard. According to custom, people are cremated after they die, and their ashes are interred in family grave sites. The sites are marked by tall, thin stone pillars with the family name engraved down their length, so the graveyard is a forest of granite trees. Small holders cut into the rock serve as vases. There is no grass in a Japanese graveyard, just stone and gravel with flowers tucked here and there, offerings left by visitors. They're all very tidy and well tended. Someone (likely the temple staff) removes the flowers when they wither.

We follow the road along the side of the temple that takes us high up into the graveyard. Turning around we understand why we were told to come up here. Mt. Buko looms even more grandly, this time with the roof of the temple popping up into the foreground. The peaked temple and the peak of the mountain echo each other appealingly. The view was worth the climb. It's what this temple is famous for, and appears on both the lotus leaf for this temple, and the special anniversary stamp. This has been the most scenic temple so far.

We go through the graveyard on our way back down, mostly to see how the view changes. Some of the graves are decorated oddly. One notable one contains a pair of old bomb shells, apparently World War II vintage. We make our way quietly down through the graveyard, then on down the hill, retracing our steps back to temple 7.