And so my journey continued! On Monday 7th December, working now rather than holidaying, I took the bus from Kobe across Awaji Island (淡路島) to Tokushima (徳島).
This was my first time to visit any part of Shikoku (四国), and I have to say I was pretty excited! The journey across Awaji Island was stunning! I don’t have any photos that really do it justice, but it all looked something like this:
After arriving in Tokushima I first had some work to do (visiting hotels), but by early afternoon I was free to see what Tokushima had to offer. Visiting hotels is an important part of my work when I visit Japan, but fortunately so is sightseeing! I headed off to the main attraction in Tokushima – the Awa Odori Kaikan (阿波おどり会館). Tokushima is famous for the Awa Odori (阿波おどり), a festival that takes place annually between 12th and 15th August. As soon as you leave Tokushima Station it’s clear how proud the city is of its summer festival – there are signs of it everywhere!
Luckily for me, whatever time of year you visit Tokushima you can get a taste of the Awa Odori at the Awa Odori Kaikan; a museum which celebrates the festival and holds daily performances of the dance used in the festival. The Awa Odori Kaikan is at the base of Mount Bizan (眉山) and it is possible to get a joint entry ticket to both the museum and the Mount Bizan ropeway.
I headed up the ropeway first – it was such a beautiful day and I’m a sucker for a good view from a high place!
The museum was quite interesting, and the show was fun. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting – I didn’t realise there would be quite a bit of talking (in Japanese) – but I enjoyed it nonetheless. When I entered the theatre they gave me an explanation sheet in English, but I followed much of what was said. Sitting in the front row, the compère immediately singled me out as the one foreigner in the crowd (which was mostly made up of old people and families), and by the end of the show he had got me up and dancing on the stage! Luckily, as I was alone, there’s no evidence of this except for on the cameras of a few Japanese old ladies!
I love a festival, and although this wasn’t quite the same as the real thing it certainly made me smile! I’d love to go back to Tokushima one day for the real Awa Odori.
Dancing down the street, I headed back to Tokushima Station. I had one more journey before I could rest for the night. Tonight’s accommodation was going to be a little different. Rather than staying in one of the business hotels in town, I was staying in a temple called Tatsue-ji (立江寺) in nearby Komatsushima (小松島). Why? Well, Tatsue-ji is temple number 19 on the Shikoku Pilgrimage (四国遍路), which consists of 88 temples. Many of the temples are said to have been founded or restored by the monk and scholar Kukai (空海), better known by his posthumous title Kobo Daishi (弘法大師). You might remember me mentioning Kobo Daishi recently in my post about returning to Mount Koya – Kobo Daishi introduced Shingon Buddhism to Japan and founded Koya-san. Having done a section of the pilgrimage trail known as the Kumano Kodo, and having now visited Mount Koya twice, starting on the 88 temples of Shikoku seemed like a good idea.
After arriving at Tatsue Station (a teeny, tiny, unmanned station in the middle of nowhere), I walked through the countryside cursing my noisy wheeled suitcase for five minutes or so.
There really was no-one here, let alone any other foreigners! I found Tatsue-ji easily enough, despite the lack of English signage, and had a bit of a nose around.
When I reached the building pictured directly above a man greeted me by name – they were expecting me. The man wasn’t a monk, and in fact he explained that the monks were all away that day dealing with some funeral related business. Too bad – that meant no prayers to observe or join in with.
The temple corridors were empty and echoey. The man showed me to my room, which was basic as I would have expected for temple lodgings. Shared bathroom facilities were across the hall, but as I was the only female guest this didn’t bother me.
After leaving me to settle in my room for a short while, the man came back. He was clearly worried that I might be bored, and could tell I was too nervous to explore the temple by myself, so he offered me an impromptu tour. He took me to the main room where the monks would have been chanting and praying by now, and let me take photos even though you’re normally not allowed. I was quite moved by the giant seated Jizo Bosatsu.
Dinner was a strange affair. Rather than eating in my room as one might at a ryokan or indeed at my temple lodgings in Koya-san, I was called to a separate room where I found I was dining with the temple’s only other guest. He was a man in, I would guess, his late 50s or early 60s, and he was a pilgrim of sorts. He didn’t speak English, and his Japanese was hard for me to understand, but I as I ate I ascertained that he was some sort of artist, his mother had passed away, and he was perhaps a little lost in life. He didn’t eat his dinner, but instead ordered sake from the temple staff. He sat and watched me eat, talking at me the whole time as he swigged his alcohol. I tried to converse, but the situation was way above my Japanese level, and to be honest I just wanted to eat. At one point he told me he liked the Beatles and started naming songs. ‘Help’ was his first choice. I nodded.
I hadn’t expected a dinner companion that night. What I had expected, or rather hoped for, was shojin ryori, the beautiful tofu-based Buddhist cuisine usually served in temples. Unfortunately I didn’t even get that. The food was fine, but it was nothing special.
I returned to my room as soon as was politely possible, and upon doing so I found I had another companion:
Now, I’m not too precious, but there was no way I was sleeping in the same room as a gekkoy-thing. I snapped the unwanted visitors picture and marched off to find the man who had shown me around before. I didn’t know how to explain my situation in Japanese, and when I showed him my photo he just smiled and said “yamori”, which apparently is a gekko house guardian. I think at some point in my panicked state I may have said something like “iranai!” (I don’t need it!), and eventually he realised my distress and came to my room with a pair of rubber gloves. We said “sayonara” to the yamori as he dropped out of the window, and the man smiled at the worried looking gaijin in his temple. He told me the temple grounds would be lit up for a few hours yet, so I could go out and explore if I wanted to. I already had my coat and camera, so I thought I might as well.
There is nothing creepier than wandering around a temple in the dark on your own! But it was quite cool…
I didn’t sleep very well that night. The night seemed to drag on forever, it was cold, and I kept imagining yamori crawling over my face.
Breakfast was also in the company of the pilgrim, but this time he did at least eat something. Again, we tried to talk, but conversation was hard and I really wasn’t awake enough. I longed for coffee. The sun was still rising as I left the temple not long after 7am and made my way back to the station.
I took the train along with a bunch of school kids back to Tokushima, and then on to my next destination.