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Buddhist Hell and Beyond

Shikoku Trip Day 1

Japan consists of four main islands, from north to south they are Hokkaido, Honshū, Shikoku and Kyūshū. I say main islands because further south there are also the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, which is known as the Japanese Archipelago. In almost two years of living in Japan, I've never been outside Honshū (I guess Mijajima is considered as part of Honshū as well).

Not long ago Andrew and I found ourselves exploring a haikyo hotel on the East coast that overlooked the bridge from Honshū to Shikoku and we began to lay plans for proper trip across the Inland Sea.

Shikoku is the smallest and least populated of the four main islands and it's connected to Honshū by three main routes, each consisting of two or more bridges. We opted to drive down to the Western most route, which hops across the Inland Sea, from island to island, by a series of nine bridges.

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The original plan was to stay overnight on the Honshū coast and start island hopping early in the morning, taking our time and exploring the smaller islands along the way. However we soon realised that this would mean getting on and off the highway several times, paying the base charge each time we rejoined it and really putting the cost up, so after a couple of stops we resigned ourselves to just following the main route across.

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Our main goal for the first day was a Buddhist temple I'd seen in a Japanese magazine all about 'roadside Japan'. On the face of it, it's a typical temple with typical buildings and decoration.

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Though there did seem to be quite a few interesting sculptures and carvings around. These ranged from the usual icons, to the more supernatural and even included some impressive pieces reproduced from a famous series of Indian Buddhist carvings.

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Thanks to Haru's previous explanation I also recognised a place to pray for 'lost' children.

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My personal favourite though was this dragon sculpture, rising out of the ground.

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However, it isn't just its sculpture collection that makes this place interesting; this temple is actually part of a famous trail that passes through 88 key temples all across Shikoku, making it a key stop on an historical pilgrimage route.

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Early pilgrims would have walked for weeks, or maybe months, complete this arduous journey. Modern pilgrims have the luxury or turning up in their cars, or with tour groups, and of renting pilgrim clothes on site.

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My main reason for wanting to come here though was to experience Buddhist hell!!! Which apparently lies just behind this doorway!

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Several temples around Japan have entrances to hell, and, although each is different in the details, the basics are the same. They comprise of a dark corridor or room, sometimes dimly lit with demonic sculptures haunting them, sometimes pitch black. They mark a passage through fear or ignorance to illumination and rebirth, symbolised by passing through the darkness or by finding some sacred object hidden in the dark.

This specific 'hell' was a rising passage and was regrettably short on demons; instead childlike innocents squatted in the dark leading us on.

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At the end of this 'ordeal' we were spat out on to the hillside behind the main temple, near the heavenly dome. This was evidently mean to be a place of light and peace with godly figures, but time and decay had reduced the godheads to crumbled ruins that seemed better suited in hell. Somehow it seemed quite profoundly prophetic (and amusing).

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The huge statute of the same emaciated prophet we'd seem earlier also sat here, rocking that thin and vulnerable martyr chic that's so popular in religious circles.

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Then, being the pure souls that we are, we passed within and up to the highest level of spiritual attainment - where, if I understood correctly, the truly enlightened can get some kind of basic woodwork qualification (Jesus, carpenter, it all ties in)! Yes, for some reason the end of this metaphorical and metaphysical journey was a room full of strange and twisted wooden carvings.

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Well, I obviously failed to have my moment of satori, and have probably damned myself to a few reincarnations at the lower end of the food chain to boot, but I did enjoy the mix of religion, superstition and downright bizarre that we uncovered there. Andrew assures me that there are still better Hells to uncover out there, so I'll keep searching for the ultimate underworld experience.

For now it was back to the car, we still had to drive half way across the island to get ourselves in the right area to check out some interesting looking haikyo the next day. Putting a rough destination in the sat nav we set off across the mountains that run East-west across the whole island. Luckily, by pure chance, that put us on a collision couse with this place -

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- the ultimate roadside junkshop.

This place was just incredible, and I'm so glad that Andrew never minds doing sudden U-turns on small roads to check out odd stuff we passby as this place is a treasure trove of the wierd and wonderful; behold!

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And that is just a fraction of the amazing collection the two proprietors had pieced together over seven years. Perhaps the best moment was when I asked one of them if he had a favourite item and he replied 'The Samurai swords.' then casually reached into a battered old wardrobe and pulled out a beautiful katana; a perfect bizzaro-road-trip moment.

We drove on without further incident until it was getting dark, then getting into the area we wanted to explore in the next day we set about finding a place to stay for the night - so let's end today's entry on a cliff hanger.

Did we survive the night staying in the incredibly horror-movie-sequel-sounding 'Hotel III'

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(Spoiler - We did, well I'm writing this aren't I?)

Posted by DKJM74 06:32

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