Part of a trip concentrating on East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan, North and South Korea), continuing in South Asia (Bangladesh, India) and ending on the Arabian Peninsula (Oman, United Arab Emirates).
Japan – Shikoku
– third part of my visit to Japan in September/October 2015 –
Shikoku is one of Japan’s main islands and is south of Honshu. Shikoku is considered a bit of a backwater and the most traditional of the islands. Historically, it had been rather isolated but that changed with the construction of three imposing bridges linking it to Honshu. I arrive by ferry from Hiroshima and the trip is fabulous. The ferry is near empty and I can have a seat with a perfect view as we move through Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, most of the time close to the shore of one of the many, many islands.
Dōgo Onsen Honkan, a Meiji Period wooden public bathhouse dating from 1894 is Matsuyama’s claim to fame. Seperated by sex you can choose from several hot baths. I have seen better spas, but none with as much history and style. Between the onsen and my hostel is a string of brothels. Matsuyama Castle is an impressive sight. Matsuyama is also home to eight of the eighty-eight temples in the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
I become a witness of the Matsuyama Dogo Autumn Festival which is advertised on the local tourism website as “a festival for real men!” The main feature is eight large portable shrines from eight local towns clashing each other. Battles take place twice for each shrine. The portable shrines are jolted against each other while the “Mikoshi Mamori” (defenders), the young men supporting the shrines, push with all their might. Two men are meanwhile standing on/clinging onto the shrine, directing and encouraging their “defenders”. It is violent and absurd. As I leave the casualties of the last fight are carried away. Real men should maybe engage in something else.
I exit the bus near temple 44. The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a multi-site pilgrimage of 88 temples associated with the Buddhist monk Kūkai. A popular and distinctive feature of the island’s cultural landscape, it has a long history. Large numbers of pilgrims, known as henro and often recognizable by their white clothing, sedge hats, and walking sticks, undertake the journey. The pilgrimage is traditionally completed on foot, but modern pilgrims use cars, taxis, buses, bicycles, or motorcycles. The standard walking course is approximately 1,200 kilometres long and can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days to complete. I only walk from temple 44 to temple 47. The temples are not spectacular but if you know how to look for the small interesting things you will find them. The landscape is very beautiful.
I take the train to Yawatahawa and leave Shikoku in the same way I arrived, by ferry. But not back to Honshu, but on to Kyushu.