We have a long trip from Tokyo to Cape Ashizuri. We first need to take the plane followed by a hopefully scenic train journey before we get on the car for the final leg. We barely make it to our plane out of Narita bound for Kochi due to the train line suspensions caused by power outage. As the first leg is over and our train leaves Kochi Station, it does not take long to realize that I am in for something new. We pass through the forestry areas followed by rough coastlines. I am bravely looking for usual suspects, otherwise called mood killers for me in Japan – ugly concrete buildings, endless power lines and factories enjoying amazing coastal views ruining the experience for the rest of us. However, Shikoku surprises me with very little to disturb the visual pleasure of a train ride. I was already counting the days until this trip since I have been invited by a friend at school to her familys temple in a very remote corner of Shikoku, Cape Ashizuri, and I am now even more excited.
It is already almost dark when our train stops at Nakamura where we get off the train. We are greeted by my friend Mizuki`s family, the Priest Nagasaki and his lovely wife. They are today also accompanied by a visitor trainee priest who is down to help Priest Nagasaki with his Obon visits. Next week is Obon holidays in Japan dedicated to remembering and honoring the deceased family members. Given the number of the houses to visit, the priestreial visits start early with the actual Obon dates being reserved for the families who lost a family member within year 2019.
Nagasaki family treats me to a delicious feast at a restaurant near the station. Seared bonito is the main feature of the meal and appeals to my taste buds as an admirer of raw fish. I am lucky that my otherwise extremely unadventurous taste buds managed to develop an appreciation for raw fish, making my life in Japan much easier.
The Remote Cape and the Temple
Once the dinner is over, I am warned that there is still another hour of car ride ahead of us before reaching our final destination: Cape Ashizuri. This warning is a music to my ears – as the distance between the destination and the nearest airport/train station grows, as we all know, this is usually a sign for a more rewarding destination. It is now almost 8pm and we drive by the ocean even though it is invisible at this hour. Once we reach the temple grounds, though still invisible, it is evident that ocean dominates everything here. The only sound that I hear all through the night is the sound of waves. The temple is tucked between mountains and the ocean – making me think of my usual query. Which one impresses me more? For today and this specific visit, the answer is the ocean but I know the next time the query arises, my answer may be different.
My kind hosts show me my room among many of the guestrooms in their house adjacent to one of the most beautiful temples that I have seen in Japan – Kongofukuji Temple. I peacefully sleep in my vast tatami room just to open my eyes shortly before the day break. Walking on my toes, I get out of the house and walk up to the lighthouse five minutes away from the temple. I am greeted by a dream view including everything I like – lighthouse, cliffs, trees and raging waves. Even that moment alone feels worthy of the long trip. It is around 5am and already evident that that it will be a very hot and humid day today. After the breakfast taken at the big refectory of the temple, I am given the temple tour by my friend. Mizuki also patiently guides me for a Buddhist pray and takes me to the parts of the temple that I would not have access to as a regular visitor.
Walk by the Cliffs
It feels as hot and as humid as Tokyo but I am determined to take a solo walk by the amazing cliffs. Part of the road reminds of beautiful West Forest Road in Yakushima but without the lovely deers or monkeys. I am however warned that there are a lot wild boars in the area, which recently hurt the lovely Mimi – the cutest dog of Temple Kongofukuji. After about an hour of walk, I end up at a small cafe – Cafe 69 Log – positioned at a place with nice ocean views. The cafe is run by a surfer lady who kindly allows me to pick on her brain about the many wonders of the area. We are soon joined by two travelers from Osaka who kindly offer to give me a ride back to my temple. They were kind enough to not openly say it but they may have been worried about my wellbeing and mental state given the level of humidity and the walk that I was planing to engage in.
The next day is spent riding around the cape with Mizuki who kindly takes me all over the place noticing my love for photography. We visit the aquarium, take a boat ride on the bay, visit a rocky beach and end the day with a tasteful dinner at the temple. Everywhere feels very quite. The place gives me a similar sense that I used to get when traveling in Northern Scandinavia. The quietness leaves such a strong mark in your mind and that is what you miss the most when you leave. Thats what you keep daydreaming of, even more than the beautiful landscape.
I previously had the experience of staying at a temple in Koyasan. Koyasan is the center of Shingon Buddhism brought to Japan by Kobo Daishi. While Koyasan is located in Wakayama, Shikoku is the actual birthplace of Kobo Daishi and the place where he is known to have practiced intense meditation. Shikoku is sure a wonderful candidate for such practice with its mountains and ocean side caves including Hakusan Cave near Kongofukuji Temple. Shikoku is today home to one of the most known pilgrimage routes in Japan along with Kumano Kodo where the pilgrims try to cover 88 different temples on foot in six to eights weeks on average.
My stay at Jokiin Temple in Koyasan was an amazing experience but my stay at Cape Ashizuri feels even more special in many ways allowing me to observe the daily routine of a family in charge of a temple and how the temple relates to the everyday life of the area that it is surrounded by. It is a place of worship but also something bigger and greater than that. Like a center holding things together for the surrounding community. It is also very relatable and not as intimidating as I thought that it would be. People are very welcoming and surprisingly easygoing. It is sure one of those lifetime experiences, which adds a whole new dimension to my life here in Japan. I feel very grateful for that.