Selfie of Kazu and Viv at Temple 4
Statue of traditional pilgrim at Temple 5
Japan’s “Other” Temple Route on Chita Peninsula
(Please note: this article has a lot of photos, so please be patient and scroll through them all. And enjoy!)
In Japan, the most famous Temple Pilgrimage Route is on the island of Shikoku. There are 88 temples associated with the Buddhist monk Kukai, born 774. Pilgrims (called henro), who wear white clothing and special conical hats and use a walking stick, have been undertaking the journey for a long time, for ascetic, pious or tourism reasons. Traditionally the pilgrimage to all the temples is done on foot, but nowadays many modern pilgrims use cars, buses, taxis, bicycles or motorbikes. It is not necessary to complete the pilgrimage all at once, nor to visit the temples in order: someone we know said his grandfather had done the whole pilgrimage and split it in to 4 trips. The whole course is about 1,200 km (750 miles).
There is an imitation, or smaller version, of this pilgrimage on one of the two peninsulas near Nagoya, in Aichi prefecture. It’s on the Chita Peninsula (the one that has the Nagoya Chubu Centrair International Airport just off it on its artificial island).
A Guardian at the entrance gate to Temple 21
Selfie at Temple 5
The starting point (temple #1, Sougenji Temple) is at the northern part of the Chita peninsula not far from Zengo station. The 88-temples route in Chita-Shikoku was planned in 1809, relatively recently compared to the “real” pilgrimage. It is not well known and hard to find information about it. But, luckily for me a Japanese friend, Kazu, who teaches at a university in Nagoya, came to meet me at Centrair Airport (where we were staying, for Rod’s JRS conference). He planned that we would try to visit a few of the temples on the route and had mapped out some that were reasonably close to the airport.
This route is similar in concept to the famous Shikoku route, but not as pretty (as far as I
At Temple 88, telling the story of the monk who proclaimed this route
can tell from pictures) nor as walkable in many places, as this peninsula is rather built-up. There is some agriculture, with crops like vegetables, fruits, grapes, rice paddies, small hills and patches of woodland, but there are far more factories, industrial areas and small towns. Buildings are a mix of modern and old-style with black-tiles roofs and curved eaves.
But, it was still fun to track down some of these temples, all of which have signs proudly announcing what number temple it is. To do this temple route you definitely need a car and a Japanese driver, as not much is sign-posted in English.
As with the Shikoku Temple Route, a famous scholar-monk proclaimed this route of 88 temples, and we found a banner about him at Temple # 88. People can get a booklet of coupons that you leave at each temple In a special box as you visit. Some of the temples also have stamps, like a route passport. If people complete the whole circuit, it’s a total of 194 km.
If you walk the whole Chita Temple Route it is 194 km
I asked why there are 88 temples, and it seems most likely because 88 is the number of human wishes/needs according to Buddhist belief. In addition, 8 is a favored number and double 8 is even better.
We started at Temple #88, En-tsu-ji temple, which is 1,200 years old. Its main purpose is to show that a God/Buddha protects the lower part of the body. It’s a very small temple, set in a quiet grove of trees, and is a lovely peaceful place. You can’t get into the temple—just look from the outside—and there was no-one else there.
Next we went to Kannon-ji temple, # 86. It dates from the Edo era and a scholar called Hosoi studied here. Bigger than the previous one, it’s on a slight wooded hill with houses on the one side. The main hall is lovely dark wood, and the other buildings behind it (study and meeting rooms) in a pretty lighter wood.
We moved on to Temple # 5, the Ji-zo-zi temple, which is close by. It’s a very attractive complex, with statues, some trees but a more open feel generally, raked gravel and special big stones. It has a number of statues holding small children and is dedicated to helping pregnancy and childbirth.
Temple 5 is a bigger complex
Statue at Temple 5 shows caring for children
Beautiful door of Main Hall at Temple 5
Entrance gate to Temple 4
Temple # 4, the En-mei-ji (en-mei means long life) temple, is bigger than the ones we’d seen so far, and has a number of other small shrines and buildings besides the main hall. The complex is fairly open, with some trees, shrubs and many chrysanthemums in pots, along pretty paved pathways. It dates from the Kamakura era and is about 600 years old. Interesting is that it’s connected to the famous En Ryaku-ji temple complex on Mount Hiei in the Kyoto area, which was started in the early 800s. It apparently has a number of treasures, notably embroidered works, but we didn’t see any of those.
Number at Temple 21
Entrance gate to Temple 21
The final temple we visited that afternoon was #21, the Jo-raku-ji Temple, the biggest of all that we saw today—a huge complex of many buildings, founded around 1484. It is based on the Nishiyama Jodo sect of Buddhism. It is right in the middle of an urban area, surrounded by a wall. It was hard to find parking and the entrance, but once inside we could feel the peace, even though there were a number of visitors, and the gardeners were busy trimming trees and shrubs, especially the pine trees. Most of the buildings are in wood, but there is also a smaller red shrine and gate.
Small temple at Temple 21
Altar in small temple, temple 21
Main Hall, Temple 21
Jizo at Temple 4
Thank you Kazu for a lovely informative afternoon.
All of the temples, big and small, had many stone statues of heads and torsos with red bibs or red caps, or sometimes white bibs and caps. Some were painted partially red. They are usually grouped, often in a row, but we also saw just one or two together. Sometimes there are flower pots in front too, which makes for a pretty scene. These rows of miniature statues are called jizo. Jizo are tiny guardians, protectors of travelers, women and especially children. I will try to write more about them at a later time.
Thanks to Kazu for this extra information: After babies no longer need drool bibs, the parents take the bibs to the temple and put them on the Jizo. This is to pray for the growth of their kids. Parents typically put red drool bibs as red means honesty and a pure heart in Buddhism.
Thanks also to Kazu for sending the maps and explanations about the temples (in Japanese).
I found one blog with some entries about walking part of this