Gordon: I recently realized that we have provided no background information regarding the Shikoku pilgrimage. It is a circuit of the island of Shikoku (the smallest of the four major Japanese islands) with visits to 88 Buddhist temples. These temples are connected with Kūkai, also known as Kōbō Daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.
Kūkai was born on Shikoku in 774. He studied in China for a period of time, returning with some valuable texts. He established the famous monastery at Mt. Kōya (now a UNESCO site), and became associated with a number of miraculous occurrences, many on Shikoku. He died in 835 at Mt. Kōya, but he is still believed to be meditating in his tomb. Monks at Mt. Kōya still bring him food every day.
Most of the 88 temples on the pilgrimage route claim some connection to Kūkai. For example, he carved statues for Temples 24 and 25, which we visited today. At Temple 26, also on today’s itinerary, Kūkai engaged in a debate with a tengu, a mythic creature that was a sort of demonic bird of prey. Kūkai prevailed and the tengu was banished.
We are staying in the seaside town of Kiragawa. As we entered the town Ruth commented on the number of well-maintained traditional houses. It turns out that Kiragawa has national recognition for its century old homes, and is something of a tourist attraction. We also noticed that the town is decorated with homemade carp kites. An exchange with our delightful hosts through Google translate established that these have been hung in honour of the forthcoming Boys Day.