Sunday, 13 January 2008

Temple No.30 Hōun-ji (24kms)

I now have only 3 temples remaining in the Shikoku pilgrimage route of Chichibu (No.s 31, 33, and 34). These are naturally the most far afield but today I cycled the 24km round trip to the fourth-last awkwardly peripheral (on the map) temple, No.30 Hōun-ji. Today was very cold but also unusually blustery, at times the icy wind cutting through small gaps in my scarf or socks (not allowed)! The forecast snow never came but the maximum temperature was 5 degrees. I was alerted to the hazardous nature of the road as a motorscooter a little way in front of me slid over on a tight bend combined with a painted patch of road. I ran to help him lift up his scooter and gather himself together, offered my phone and tried to check if he was alright. He assured me was, though there was no way his knee survived unscathed from being fallen on and he sat down to ring home and did not remount however he declined any further assistance. I was horrified that the car drivers immediately behind did not even stop (maybe he tweaked my motorcyclist sympathies) and ironic given my (un)profound grasp of Japanese language for moments of crisis. Anyway, thereafter I continuously noticed patches of almost invisible black ice, inconveniently often in the shady gutter and edge of the road where cyclists must be much of the time. At times, therefore, I took a very cautious pace down hills and low gears over rough corners where the muddy and sharp debris gathers and freezes in the constantly wet conditions.

Despite a number of long hills, extended parts of this journey were pleasantly flat and on the return journey (when dusk and colder-ness were encroaching), I was able to keep up a steady 27km/hr in a high gear, just a little over my comfort zone. Some of the most striking photo opportunities were from the bridges that spanned deep gorges and vivacious rivers. Once again, Temple No.30 Hōun-ji finds itself at the top of a very tall hill, as temples are prone to be. As one ascends into the shade-shrouded hillside, the cold seeps in and everything adopts a cool blue hue. I really notice when I download my photos, the vast colour spectrum differences with Australian light. The water, too, bubbling and raging in the icy rivers is blue-grey or occasionally luminous turquoise unlike any colour we see in murky green or brown Australian creeks and rivers, reminiscent rather of the glacial springs in Austria and France feeding directly from the melting snow. I have to say, despite the incumbent freezingness and gloomy, dim, shady photos, the gardens of Hōun-ji were very elegant and far more cultured than some. I like the Jizo statues who, instead of wearing crochetted red berets or knitted orange ones, here had carefully developed caps of live green moss! Quirky. The pool and receptacle for the downpipe (?) (rather down-'chain' of bronze bells actually) were frozen. The shrine itself was behind closed doors, presumably also to exclude cold and damp but one could slide back the shutters for a little glimpse inside. Apparently the principal deity of the Kannon Hall is the sensuous Nyoirin Kannon, allegedly carved by the Eight Century Chinese Emperor, Hsuan-tsung in the image of his beloved concubine, Yang Kuei-fei and the statue is said to have been brought to Japan in the Fourteenth Century by a priest from Kenchō-ji. There are other treasures in the temple such as rare Sixteenth Century nameplates of pilgrims. The chief monk's house (?) adjacent was also magnificent, adjoining the ornamental garden and bearing a majestic curved copper roof-line. Maybe life as a hilltop monk wouldn't be too bad. A huge stone lantern marks the steps to the shrine and the Kannon building nestles into a thickly wooded cyprus forest. Like in Yokoze, the neighbouring village of this Kannon, Shiroku, is renowned for its preservation of a (distinct) puppetry tradition and sometimes performances are given in village festivals, invoking older people to reminisce about the traditional arts practised in the communities before the Sino-Japan War and Pacific War that gravely changed villagers lives (according to Enbutsu).