Sunday, July 11, 2004

Shikoku 93 blog.

Instead of transcribing material for publication here late last night, I communed with the nearby fireflies and the faraway stars. More on that tomorrow. Maybe. For now, an item of the past.

July 13, 1993.

The rains of the previous weeks, which continued into the week I took my trip to Shikoku, greened the whole island, especially the stubby mountains surrounding Oboke gorge, which is nestled in the middle of the island, and the drop to the sea at Cape Ashizuri, which forms Shikoku's extreme southeast. Even the cities -- Takamatsu and Kochi -- proved greener than almost any others I’ve seen in Japan, especially on their outer edges, which is still semi-agricultural, where rice grows in row upon row of clustered stalks. The park at the foot of Kochi Castle sported a vast number of tall dense trees, undergrown by thick shrubbery, which made me think of Black Forest trails.

Naruto is the strait between Shikoku and a smaller island, Awaji (known for olives, of all things), and I went one day see its famous whirlpool, supposedly on the major maelstroms of the world. I must have caught it at the wrong time, or maybe I was expecting drama that Naruto doesn’t have. It looked like a patch of choppy water. Immediately above it, however, was the admirable suspension bridge to Awaji, the longest of its kind in Asia.

Another day I visited a cave called Ryigado, near Kochi. It’s the first cave I’d ever visited in Japan [and, as it turned out, only cave]. Not a grand cave in the style of Carlsbad or Mammoth, but a well-appointed smaller one. Interestingly, the course of the tour was generally upward. You emerge near the top of a (very small) mountain, and walk back down on the outside, after ascending on its inside.

Just before I arrived at Ritsurin Park in the small city of Takamatsu, the sky had opened up for a while, soaking everything, but by the time I got there, it had stopped. That meant I had to place practically to myself, a rare, rare treat indeed in this country, even in the lesser prefectures of Shikoku. Ritsurin is an astonishingly large Japanese garden – my references say 780,000 square meters – created by the lords of this part of the island during the early Edo period (early 1600s). I wandered around for quite a while. The entire scene was newly wet, including the gnarled dwarf pines and the edges of the fish ponds and the foot bridges and islets. It was as immaculate a piece of landscaping as I’d ever seen, even compared with the gardens of Kyoto.

Shikoku is well known for its circuit of 88 temples established by Buddhist sage Kobo Daishi. People visit them all 88 as a pilgrimage, but I contented myself with seeing a handful, such Zentsuji. The sage himself was born in the town of the same name, and the temple’s fame meant, unlike Ritsurin, I visited in the company of numerous others, mostly bus pilgrims, I figure. But the grounds easily absorb the pilgrims, and there’s plenty of room to admire such things as the temple's vaulting five-story pagoda. Not unique, but certainly impressive.

The major Shinto site on the island I visited was Kompira, formed by a complex of buildings strung along an endless series of stone staircases. In style, Kompira is actually more like a Buddhist temple, since it had once been one, before Shintoists shanghaied the structures with the aid of the Meiji government. I was exhausted by the time I got to the top, but the view was worth it. I could see the plain below, strings of green mountains further away, and the twinkling lights of the Seto Ohashi (great bridge) far in the distance.


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