Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pilgrimage Adventures - Part 1

Almost a year ago, I had the most amazing, whirlwind of a weekend with my friend, Tina! 17 temples and shrines, a wonderful hotel, friendly people, and about 700 kilometers added to my car. It was an experience I will cherish forever and I learned a few things I wanted to share with those who are interested in doing a pilgrimage in Japan.

I'm not exactly sure how I came across the site for the Izumo Shinbutsu Pilgrimage, but as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to do it. I have been curious about temple pilgrimages since I read about the 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Shikoku a few years ago. 88 temples seemed a little overwhelming, but I found myself thinking about it from time to time. Wondering if there was a way to do it. I thought, maybe if I take my time and do it over a year I could complete it. Then, I stumbled upon the Izumo Shinbutsu Pilgrimage website. Very informative AND it's only 20 temples and shrines. I thought 20 would be a good one to start with. I was also really excited when I saw that this one was a combination of shrines and temples since the other ones I had seen were temples only.

Why did I want to do this pilgrimage? I love the temples and shrines in Japan, and I have become quite obsessed with collecting the temple stamps. I have 2 full books so far! I also thought this would be a good way to see temples, shrines, and areas of Japan I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise. Many of the temples and shrines in this pilgrimage are not mentioned in a lot of tourist sites, and if they are, they are listed way at the bottom so most people don't bother. We saw some amazing countryside and visited some really beautiful temples and shrines on this trip! I know I would not have seen most of this if I hadn't decided to do this pilgrimage. I am not a buddhist, but I do offer a donation and a prayer at any shrine or temple I visit. My mother was quite excited when I told her I was doing this, but then she looked at me with a very stern look on her face and said, "You better not just go there and take pictures and get your shuin and leave! You better show some respect and offer a donation and prayer!" I assured her that I have been doing this already and that seemed to make her happy. I will admit though that I used to be one of those people who just took pictures and got my shuin, and left. I didn't want to ruin my perfect daughter image so I kept that information to myself.
If you're not sure of what to do at the temples and shrines, here is some information that might help. You may have noticed an area with water and wooden cups with long handles around the entrance of a shrine or temple you have visited. This is for people to cleanse (or purify) themselves before entering the temple or shrine. I typically grab the handle with my right hand, fill it with water, and then pour it over my left hand. I then switch hands and do the same to my right. Now you can head to the shrine or temple. Once you go up to where the donation box is, gently place the money in the open slats on top and take a very small step back. If you are at a shrine, bow twice and then clap your hands twice. Keeping your hands together, say a quick prayer or just enjoy a moment of silence. Bow one more time. If you are at a temple, bring your hands together and bow. Say your prayer or enjoy a moment of silence.

I know I opened with how we visited 17 temples and shrines over the weekend and this is a 20 temple/shrine pilgrimage. We had already visited 2 shrines and 1 temple on previous trips to the area. So, that left us with 17 more to visit to complete our pilgrimage. Tina and I decided we would do the remaining 17 over a weekend. So, I sat down and wrote out a plan based on where the temples/shrines were located and I ended up with an itinerary that had us visiting 8 on the first day and 9 on the second day. I also managed to find a hotel that was a perfect stopping point and had an onsen bath. They had me at onsen bath. After driving all day and walking around 8 temples/shrines, I figured our bodies would really appreciate a nice long soak in a hot bath. I was so right.

We left at 0700 on a Saturday morning and after a quick stop at the 7-Eleven (COFFEE!! and money), we were on our way. It was about a 3 hour drive to our first shrine so we arrived a little after 1000.

Our first stop was at No.18, SUSA SHRINE.

This shrine is mostly known for the beautiful giant cedar tree in the back that is believed to be 1200 years old.

After we got our shuin (temple stamp), said our prayer, and explored the grounds of the shrine, we headed to the next place on our list.

Our second stop was at No.17, MINEJI TEMPLE.
The drive to this temple was quite interesting. Some of the temples and shrines we visited involved driving on some very small roads to get to them. When I say small, I mean there was barely enough room for one vehicle, but it was a two-way road. There were a couple of times over the weekend that I really thought there was no way we were anywhere near a shrine or a temple, but I would round a corner and there it would be. This was one of those.

This temple was surrounded by some beautiful scenery so we had quite an area to explore before getting our shuin and saying our prayers.
While we were walking around exploring, we ran into a couple of ladies who asked us what brought us to this particular temple. When I explained that we were trying to complete the pilgrimage, both of the ladies said they were doing it too. One had only completed a few and the other didn't have too many left to visit. They asked us how far along we were so I explained that we were planning to complete the pilgrimage that weekend. They were both pretty surprised that we were trying to visit 17 temples and shrines in 2 days. They were also surprised we had driven from Iwakuni just that morning and planned on driving back to Iwakuni the following evening. We spoke for a few more minutes before parting ways. They were very sweet and wished us both safe travels for the rest of our pilgrimage.
We headed down to the temple and purchased our shuin before heading over to offer our donation and prayer at the temple. Then it was time to get back on the road.

Our third stop was at No.16, SUGA SHRINE.
I was very excited about this one because when I was researching and planning this trip, I read on the Shinbutsu Pilgrimage website that this was known as the first shrine in Japan!

This shrine was not very big and the grounds area was not very large. There is a hiking path behind the shrine, but we were starving by the time we got here so we walked around, said out prayers, got our shuin, and went in search for a place to grab some food.

Here is the shuin we received from the Suga Shrine -

We were hoping we would find a place to eat on the way to our next shrine, and we did! There was a soba place on the side of the road that didn't look like much from the outside, but it did look like it had been there for a while. Soba sounded good to us!
They make their own soba noodles from scratch, and the owner is a wonderful older gentleman who had passed on the family business to one of his children, but still loves to come in and chat with the customers. He asked us where we had come from and what we were doing in this area. I explained that we were on a pilgrimage and he chatted with us for a few minutes while we waited for our food.

They brought out the dipping sauce for the soba, along with some pickles and little appetizer-like items.

Then, they brought out our soba noodles and toppings. I loved the stacking bowls that the noodles were served in!

The soba was delicious, and Tina was kind enough to pose with the empty bowls on our table.

When we were leaving, the owner stopped us and gave us some roasted sweet potatoes and some grapes. We were so thankful to have met such wonderful people!

Now we were ready to continue on our pilgrimage. We had five more temples and shrines to get to before we headed to our hotel for the evening. I couldn't wait to soak in the onsen bath!

To be continued....

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