Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage, No.s 1-9

 The trail to shrine No. 1, Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage

Distance:1.2 km
Time:  15 mins running, 30 mins walking
Terrain: flat with short, steep hills
Trail condition: Reasonably cleared, some vague parts, mostly shade
Other sites along the way: Yamori Beach

As I mentioned in a previous post, you do not have to start the pilgrimage at No. 1. You can do the 88 shrines in any order you like. Some people even do them backwards, starting at No. 88 and ending at No. 1! Since you have to pass No.s 80-83 to get to No. 1 for the Shiraishi Pilgrimage, we started our pilgrimage at No. 80, which was also a nice easy section to start with.

This time, I'll take you from No. 1 to No. 9 which is a little more difficult. To get to No. 1, follow the skinny paved road I left you off at in a previous post No.s 80-83. Remember, you chose to continue even though I told you this part of the route is haunted...

Directions: You'll follow the skinny paved road until you see a Western-style cottage. The skinny paved road turns left here, but don't turn. Instead, follow the dirt path straight in front of you, keeping the cottage on your left. Follow this lovely, shady path (notice the beautiful rocks the island is named for--Shiraishi means "white rock") until you get to the top of a hill. At the crest, listen for the sound of the sea. You'll also see an orange and white post on the right. Directly across from this post is the entrance to the next part of the pilgrimage. As you can see, it's a bit of a secret entrance. And dark...

Secret entrance to get to Shrine No. 1

Once you pass through this tunnel of yoshinoki (a type of bamboo grass) you'll be in a clearing. If you keep moving forward and bearing right, you'll soon be on a cleared trail. From here, just follow the trail while I tell you a bit of history about this part of the island.

You should still be able to hear the waves and the sea below to the right. Down there is a beautiful sandy beach called Yamori Beach. It is haunted. The history of the beach goes back to 1185, during the Gempei Wars. The defining territorial battle between the Heike and Genji was a sea battle fought at Dan'no Ura in the Inland Sea. The sea-savvy Genji knew the tides very well. Twice a day the tide rushes into the Inland Sea through three openings: to the north-east from the Pacific Ocean via the Kii Channel, to the south-east from the Pacific Ocean between Honshu and Shikoku via the Bungo Channel, and to the south-west from the Sea of Japan between Honshu and Kyushu via the Kanmon Strait. The latter is near Dan'no Ura. The tides rush in and out through these narrow straits and channels creating a strong current. When the tide comes in, the water rushes into the Inland Sea and meets at a mid-point very near Shiraishi Island. When the tide changes and goes back out, the current also changes direction.  The Genji, knowing the characteristics of the Inland Sea very well, timed the battle to take place just at the turning point of the tides, when the out-tide would be strong enough that the Heike wouldn't not be able to advance against the retreating force. The Genji were able to win the battle and conquer the Heike. Hundreds of dead Heike warriors floated down through the Inland Sea past these islands, turning the sea red with their blood. Many of the corpses washed up onto Yamori Beach below here. There is a firm belief among the islanders that the Heike ghosts linger on that beach, one of the most beautiful spots on the island.

Kitagi Shima, the island you can see directly across from this beach, also had warriors wash up on their shores, and thus called it chi-no-hama, or Blood Beach. There are thousands of warriors believed to still be at the bottom of the Inland Sea in the form of crabs that bear a resemblance to the Heike warriors’ faces and the helmets they wore in battle. Despite 800 years having passed since the battle, it is still beleived that Yamori Beach is haunted. No one will buy, sell or develop the land here. 

By now the trail has probably turned right and down a small hill (passing a well on the right). When it dead-ends into another trail, take a left and continue on this well-cleared path. Take note that you'll actually pass shrine No. 3 (on the left) and 4 (on the right) on your way to No. 1. You can stop and see these now, or hit them on the way back.

What exactly do you do when you stop and "see" a shrine? Well, it's up to you. If you stop and look, you'll notice some coins have been left in front of the stone deity, offerings by previous pilgrims. I usually leave some small change as offerings and say a mantra or prayer. It's probably wise to at least thank the kami (gods) for this beautiful pilgrimage trail!

Now you will begin to enter a bamboo forest. The trail gets very narrow here and it's easy to fall into the abyss to the right, so be careful. You'll pass some stone stairs that lead to a house that is no longer there, and you'll pass an abandoned well. Finally, you'll see an old dilapidated house that will give you the willies as you scoot past it, careful not to wake up any ghosts inside. Once you are past that, you'll find shrine No. 1 Ryozenji and No. 2 Gokurakuji at the end of the trail.

This is a beautiful spot to stop and listen to the wind rustle through the bamboo, one of the most beloved sounds of the Japanese people.

 The path to No. 1 and 2, Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage

Now go back the way you came. I usually run like hell after passing by the collapsed house, and feel safe again by the time I hit shrines No. 3 Konsenji and 4 Dainichiji..

Shrines 5 Jizoji, 6 Anrakuji and 7 Jurakuji are on the side of the hill, down to the left of the trail you are now on. You will have to go down a steep path to each one, and then climb back up to the main trail to get to the next one. These paths are not well marked, but look for them on the left, immediately after shrine No. 4. If you see a path, it should be taken.

At the bottom of No. 7, however, you can take a shortcut. Keep going down till you hit the sea below and walk over the rocks to the beach. Alternatively, you can go back up to the main trail and follow it out through the bamboo tunnel you took to get in (then turn left onto the original trail and follow this all the way down to the beach). This is also an alternate route to get to the next section of the pilgrimage, No.s 10-17.

Just at the bottom of the trail, on the left, is shrine No. 9 Horinji. What happened to No. 8? Good question. Remember, this place is haunted. For the time being, Shrine No. 8 remains a mystery. This is the end of this section of the pilgrimage, No.s 1-9.

Don't forget about the battle between the Heike and Genji which is one of Japan's great historic epics called "The Tale of the Heike." This battle had a profound influence on Shiraishi Island's culture and customs, which we will revisit later on the pilgrimage. 

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