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わたしの四国旅 (6)  旅した人:ハビエルさん

Javier Camara, Spain   Ehime, Unpenji area


The temple sitting above all 88 temples. The highest temple of the Shikoku pilgrimage route, perched on top of a mountain between two of the four prefectures of Shikoku, Tokushima and Kagawa, Unpenji was my destination on a rainy November day.

I woke earlier than usual, around 05:30 as I knew it would be a tough day ahead. After a heart-warming breakfast at Okada’s, a local inn down the valley, I thanked the owners who wished me good luck. They even prepared for me some onigiri, rice balls, to take with me as I wouldn’t find any restaurant ahead. I wasn’t the first to leave the inn though. Japanese pilgrims seem to wake up always earlier than me!

I started climbing the mountain fearing 2 things: rain and my legs. My 100-yen raincoat was already useless as it was torn by a tree branch the previous day. As for my tired legs, I had my good old friend Kukai in the form of a pilgrim staff, the long wooden stick that saved me from falling on many occasions.

The misty atmosphere during the climb to Unpenji, the huge cedar trees hiding the sky, and the absence of people around made me reflect about life. It seemed as if I was the last person on Earth walking towards the unknown. I could even hear my own heartbeat, playing from andante to presto. The climb was getting harder.

During the pilgrimage, once in a while you lose the sense of space and time. You don’t really realize for how long you have been walking or where you are. Carrying your phone in your backpack, leaving it hidden only for emergencies is my way to go. After all, a pilgrimage is about walking and yourself, not about walking yourself and your phone. I couldn’t tell how long I kept climbing, all I remember is I stopped 3 times to drink water, once to eat a rice ball and another to…you know, watering the plants.

Finally, the strange sound of humans could be heard from afar. I was getting closer to Unpenji. Nature turned into pavement, pavement into a road, and the road led me to Temple 66.

When I stopped to bow at the entrance of the temple, I realized it was raining and it was cold.
I had heard Unpenji has great views from the top. I would need another visit in the future to enjoy the views of the Seto Inland Sea. Right now, it seemed the temple was floating on a cloud.

After visiting the complex, finishing my last rice ball and getting my stamp, I stumbled upon a statue, two statues, three statues…I started counting them. I stopped after 30, since there many more. They were Arhat statues, Buddha’s apprentices, all with different shapes and forms, all so…human. 500 in total.

I remembered during a visit to Nenbutsu Temple in Kyoto that my local guide asked me to look for my own face among the 1200 Rakan statues. She said that if you look carefully, you will find yourself. I asked her, but all these statues are all…so Japanese! How can I find my own face?

At Unpenji I spent over an hour, carefully inspecting each face, each expression of this life-size statues. Giving up, I sat down among them, thinking how hard it had been to reach the temple, but how rewarding would be to climb down and reach civilization again.

I couldn’t help but noticing that another pilgrim was inspecting the Arhat statues. I kept sitting, trying not to move, as if I was the statue number 501. Maybe the pilgrim would see my face and see himself reflected.

This is the closest statue I couldn’t find that looked like me. Not the man, but the animal!