四国遍路:六十六番の雲辺寺 – Shikoku Pilgrimage: Unpenji Temple (#66)

Just as I did a couple times last year, it was time to don the hats, staffs, and shirts for the Shikoku pilgrimage.  Encompassing 88 temples across the island of Shikoku, twice a year we go on a walking tour to one or a few of the locations in my prefecture.  This time around it was arranged to go to Unpenji Temple.  This one is buried deep in a mountain range, and sits at the highest elevation of any of the temples.  We had to drive about 90 minutes or so to reach this spot, located in the very far southwest corner of Kagawa.  I’ve always enjoyed these and had little doubt that it would be completely worth it.  As if the event itself wasn’t good enough on its own, this time I would be joined by Kanako.  She was just as excited to participate as I was to have her, since she hadn’t done anything like this either.  This sort of thing doesn’t really exist elsewhere in Japan and many people across the country will come to make the 45ish day hike.

So, we had to get to the bus station around 6:00am, which was a bit rough on the sleep.  On the way there I chatted with my friends, and Kanako slept.  Along the way, we stopped at a dam that was built some 90 years ago.  It is the largest multiple arch, stone dam in Japan, which I guess makes it special.  We walked down by the water for a bit, took a group photo and also enjoyed the view from the top.

Honenike Dam.  It was really about twice this width, and largely built by hand.

After our time at the dam, we boarded back on the bus to bring us closer to the temple.  We unloaded from the bus, and then had the hosts from the city office give us a little run down about the pilgrimage in general, and Unpenji specifically.  Since it was my third time making a leg of the loop, I knew the basic procedure meanings already.  Once we got our Henro costumes sorted, we were on our way.  We had a 6km hike on largely paved, though entirely uphill roads before we got to the temple destination.  It bordered on strenuous at times, but posed no significant problems to either of us.  The scenery was quite lush, and we spent the majority of our time in forests and fields.  Unpenji is certainly one of the most remote stops, though incredibly scenic.  When we had a break in the foliage, being on a mountain, we could gaze far off into the horizon.

At the temple, we got a mini history lesson.  With the autumn leaves finally starting to show their shades, all set as a backdrop to the already beautiful temple fare, it was picturesque to say the least.  In our free time, we ate lunches that we had all prepped and carried, but also walked the grounds a bit.  There was an eggplant that you could sit on and make a wish, which I of course had to go for.  Having dressed as an eggplant for a past Halloween, there will always be a special connection that we share.   One other nice place was at the top of a tower upon the mountain.  From there, you could see all 4 prefectures that comprise Shikoku.  The view was wonderful.

On the road up to the tower.  Our surroundings were perfect.

After getting everyone gathered together again, we pressed on along the path to get back towards the bus.  This was an all downhill trek, on a rough and rocky path.  This was a bit hard on the legs, but we managed.  This was another 5 kilometers, making for a total of 11 that day.  Along the way, we ate some wild berries and romped through a field of burs.  For this section of the hike, Kanako was at front, chatting with her new friends, while I hung back and chatted with some of my gents.  One of the treats on the descent were a few hundred uniquely carved statues.  They were really interesting, and some had some incredible outward appearances.

Just a small sample of the statues.

Back on the bus, we were all beat, but really satisfied with the amazing weather and opportunity the had to offer.  I know that Kanako really enjoyed it as well.  I’ll be looking forward to the spring outing too; I still have a lot of these temples to get to.

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