Friday, 18 January 2008

Temple No.34 Suisen-ji, Higashiyamato + wanderings

On Friday, we took our first train trip (my bike and I) ... an experiment in folding him up and fortunately not having to share the train carriage with too many people off-peak. The three remaining temples are naturally increasingly remote and so I decided to take a local train a few stops up the line to Minano from where the cycle to Temple No.34 Suisen-ji and back was around 17kms (with a few minor grocery detours) and consistently cold, somewhat windy.

The final temple in the Shikoku Pilgrimage trail of Chichibu (assuming one approaches it sequentially), one might anticipate something more spectacular but this modest, quiet temple, attended by one monk, marks the end of the road and here pilgrims have ceremonially left their walking poles (tenugui), some straw hats, rosary bracelets and other indications of appreciation and completion. The Kannon Hall enshrines a Fifteenth Century wooden statue of the thousand-armed Kannon. The 1814 building contains paintings and sculptures with motifs of Daruma and flying angels. There is a cave with a narrow rock entrance through which pilgrims used to crawl after completing their 34-temple journey, to symbolise rebirth via Mother Earth (tainai-kuguri), changing into new clothes and leaving behind their walking sticks and old clothes, re-energised and renewed. A long line of statues of different Kannon poses guard the pathway up the hill to the Kannon Hall and when I was there, the washing pool and natural spring waterfall were rimmed with ice.

On Saturday, Kakizakai Sensei collected me for our usual 7am drive into Tokyo Higashiyamoto for lessons. On this occasion, Fuji-san was visible across the tea-fields and suburbia, snow-covered symmetrical and majestic, magically the only snow-covered peak amongst many mountains but towering seemingly twice as tall as the rim of other mountains encircling Tokyo.

Pursuing an address for Edwin jeans I had seen in a cycling magazine (pronounced 'Eduwin'), I located with unusual ease (with the Japanese address system) denim Goretex-lined windproof jeans on Jingumae in Harajuku. Perfect - only I wish I had discovered this ingenious product a few months ago but they should be handy on the bike in Sydney crossing the Harbour Bridge too. Next brief stop was a Mejiro Shakuhachi shop thence Ikebukuro and Miso ramen.

My mother asked a few days ago what kind of tractors Japanese farmers used to plough their immaculate weedless vegetable plots that are dotted amongst houses (as I was remarking and marvelling at the lack of weeds and richness of soil). An Australian-proportioned tractor could never manoeuvre in the tiny agricultural blocks here. Instead, machines like these Honda hand-guided motorised single-furrow ploughs are pushed or steered along by the farmer wearing rubber boots!