Watch the video of my B&W photos taken at Taiyoji Temple during our temple stay (shukubo):
Above: Kannon hall at Temple #32
With only four temples left on my itinerary after a long third day, I was getting a bit into trouble as I was running out of time. Normally the last four temples take 2 days to visit with trips by infrequent buses or by taxi but I had only one day left of my vacation before I had to start to make my way to Narita to catch the plane back to Europe. Luckily, our friend could take a day out of her busy schedule and drive us to the last of the temples. Kannon-sama immediately rewarded her with the most perfect autumn day and beautiful autumn colours in the mountains around Chichibu.
Above: Kannon hall at Temple #31
There is a reason these are the last of the temples on the pilgrimage: These are the most beautiful of the pilgrimage and they are a reward for the effort of the whole pilgrimage.
The wooden Kannon hall at Temple #32 is half built into the rock and has an awesome veranda. I climbed all the way to the top of the mountain ridge where a Kannon statue is placed, quite an adventure to reach this statue as you had to pull yourself up for the rock face with help of old iron chains and faded steps people had hacked out in the rock ages ago.
Coming down from the temple, we ran into a little old lady who was collecting ginkgo nuts, I described the encounter here.
The sanctum of Temple #31 came as a reward after climbing the 200 odd steps to reach it. The location with the rock and the waterfall was fabulous.
Reaching Temple #34 felt like an ending and the monk was very kind and interested. We sort of celebrated a bit, taking photos of me with my now completed nokyocho (納経帳) and he threw in a few good luck charms for free for good measure. Maybe the Japanese pilgrims are a bit more solemn but it felt great having completed the task I set for myself.
Afterwards we went to Mangan-no-yu, the nearby onsen, to relax and recover.
I felt really great for having completed the pilgrimage, but it felt a bit awkward for having taken the car for the last four temples, but then again, the description suggest buses or taxis for these temples which comes down to the same thing. The whole experience was very rewarding mainly because it finally, after all these years of visiting Japan, brought me into contact with so many Japanese people. All thanks to the kind people of Chichibu.
It has now become clear to me: we, as tourists, spend way too much time in the large cities and then we all visit the same famous shrines or temples and we think we visited Japan. Tokyo – Kyoto – Osaka – Hiroshima – Tokyo is the standard itinerary and if we are adventurous, we throw in Takayama as well or join the large crowds at the temples in Nara.
Having lived in Holland, France, the UK and Sweden, I think I know the romantic image people have of Japan and why so many return slightly disappointed and convinced their image of Japan was just a pipe dream. People should break out of the mould and visit the Japanese countryside; that’s where the true Japan is to be found! That’s where Japan still exists!
Above: Temple #28 under the rock
Since I had sort of messed up the official route by visiting more temples the second day of pilgrimage, I had to wing it a little and try to reach Temple 30 in a day so I would have only one more day left.
My route this day was: Temple #24 Temple #25 Temple #26 Temple #27 Temple #28 Temple #29 Temple 30. Between Temple #29 and Temple #30 I took the train from Urayamaguchi station to Shiroku station as I was running out of time and the walk between those two temples was over two hours. The only time I felt uncomfortable walking along a major road next to heavy traffic was just after leaving Temple #24. The caretaker at Temple #24 had warned me about the dangers and how right he was: it was a very curvy and tight road with loads of trucks and fast driving cars coming around almost blind corners with no pavement for me to walk on.
Above: Peaceful Temple #30 with its beautiful garden.
I was now really walking through the countryside and the pilgrimage had really grown on me by this time. The temples were getting further apart again after they were rather close together on the second day. I also started to get the feeling that fewer and fewer pilgrims would reach these temples and sometimes it took a bit of puzzling to find the location where to get the stamp as I don’t read kanji and a kind note on a door telling a pilgrim were to go was a big barrier.
I guess because I was carrying this large camera and camera bag around, this day monks and caretakers would regularly show me folders or photo albums full of photographs of the temple. Really helpful if you don’t have much time to find the best angle for your shots 🙂
You must visit Temple #26 to get the temple stamp but it is worth to climb the stairs up into the mountains and visit Iwaidou, the secret Kannon Hall of Temple #26. From there you can hike directly to the Giant Kannon statue that towers over Temple #27.
Above: Iwaidou — the secret Kannon Hall of Temple #26
Above: the Giant Kannon statue of Temple #27
Temple #28 was very impressive underneath its massive rock and Temple #30 was very peacefully located in a carefully constructed garden.
From Temple #30 I returned to Shiroku station and from there to Seibu Chichibu station.
Maybe a nice anecdote: When I walked up the hill to reach Temple #30, I passed three kids who were dillydallying on their way home after school. After exchanging “konnichiha’ as I passed them, they practiced their English on me but after a few replies to their “hello” ‘s and “how do you do”’s I walked on to be able to use the last light of the day for my photos as the temple was on a slope facing north and the sun had already set behind the mountain. By the time I had collected my stamp and finished my prayer, the kids showed up at the temple and very enthusiastically started relating the whole ‘adventure’ to their father, the monk of the temple when they discovered me again taking the last of my photos. Their story cut short and they mumbled ‘ah, ano hito’ after which they became all very shy all of a sudden 🙂
Read all about the last day of the pilgrimage here.
Above: Giant Ojizō-sama, Temple #10, Chichibu
A few days later, I set off for the second day of pilgrimage. This time I left much earlier and walked from Seibu Chichibu station to Temple #10 to continue at the next temple from where I had left off last time.
The recommended route for the second day would cut off at Temple #18 and return by train to Seibu Chichibu station, but as it was still early and I was still fit, I decided the push on and take an advance on the next day.
Above: Ojizō-sama statues, Temple #19, Chichibu
At Temple #11 I had an amusing chat with the caretaker about from which country Häagen–Dazs ice cream originated and at Temple #16 I received a bit of chicken for lunch 🙂
From Temple #18 until Temple #23 I kept bumping into the same person so it became a bit of a habit to have a short chat at every temple. I loved these little interactions with strangers, this happens so rarely – too rarely when visiting Japan.
At Temple #15 I ran into a group of five pilgrims and we had a long chat. They asked me where I was from and long after we had said goodbye, I could still hear them talking about Holland. I ran into the same group at the end of the day at Seibu Chichibu station as they had just returned from Temple #19 and it felt like meeting friends.
Temple #12 was meticulously kept and at Temple #13 everybody was served a cup of tea (supposedly good for eyesight) and a short manga featuring the temple and explaining its background and why it does have a kindergarten associated with it. Temple #20 was very beautifully situated.
Temple #17 and the old bridge between Temples #19 and #20 had featured in the well-known Anohana anime and when I arrived at Temple #17 a couple of girls in cosplay were posing with their DSLR on a tripod. They had come on bicycle, so they were clearly going from location to location and, this I remember vividly, they were quite impressed with the sound of my Pentax 645NII medium format film camera 🙂
From Temple #20 one really starts to enter the countryside with the very rural Temple #22 as highlight for this day. After visiting Temple #23 it got dark and, coming down the hill again, it was a straight shoot into town back to Seibu Chichibu station.
Read all about the third day of the pilgrimage here.
Above: Temple #2 in the middle of the woods.
In October and November 2013 I walked the 34 Kannon temples pilgrimage in Chichibu in four days and I wanted to share my experience in case other people are interested and keen to walk it themselves. If you want a summary: it was awesome! Wholeheartedly recommended! !
Leave a comment or drop me an email in case you want to know more, I’d be more than happy to help you out.
I had read about the pilgrimage last time I visited Chichibu and this year I came prepared and had bought a second hand copy of Chichibu: Japan’s Hidden Treasure by Sumiko Enbutsu which turned out to be very useful and full of background information although it is perfectly possible to make the pilgrimage without it and pick up the booklet in English at Temple #1.
On day one, I took the bus to Misawa Minano from the bus station next to Seibu Chichibu train station to Temple #1 (Fudasho-Ichiban stop) where I arrived around 11:00 and where I bought a nokyocho (納経帳) which is a little book to collect the temple stamps and this book was my companion during the pilgrimage. There is a choice of different versions and I went for the one made of washi (Japanese paper.)
Above: The page for temple #18 in my nokyocho.
The book contains a page of each temple and at each temple the monk or caretaker will add stamps in red and some calligraphy. The donation expected for this service was ¥ 300 at the time I did the pilgrimage but this can be subject to change of course.
All temples are remarkably different and exceedingly beautiful and access is free. This was a little bit of a surprise as I had previously visited Nara and Kyoto where it is quite normal to pay ¥ 500 or ¥ 600 for entrance to a temple that is nothing special.
As Temple #9 is conveniently close to Yokoze train station and as the sun sets already around 17:00 in the afternoon in October, I decided to call it a day and return to Kawagoe where I was staying.
Especially in the Yokoze area of Chichibu the signs indicating the different temples are many and I didn’t have a lot of trouble finding my way. When I started I had no idea what to expect and I was surprised about the number of people making the pilgrimage. Some of them by car, others on foot like me.
At several temples I received a little gift in the form of a snack or a book about the pilgrimage which I found rather touching.
The other pilgrims and the people of Chichibu were really friendly and curious about a non-Japanese walking the pilgrimage and it was easy to have a quick chat with the different people who I met on my way and I think that the interaction and the friendliness of the people I met were a key contributor of the success of my pilgrimage experience.
Read all about the second day of the pilgrimage here.
There is now a free Android app to guide you through the Chichibu 34 Kannon Temple pilgrimage packed with loads of information and details of the temples.
One of the most rewarding things we did this trip to Japan was a temple stay (shukubo) at Taiyoji temple (Taiyo-ji). Deutsch hier. Français ici. We had done a temple stay at Koyasan before but this was a much more satisfying experience. Not that we didn’t enjoy our stay at the temple on Mt Koya, on the contrary, but there is a reason why the Taiyoji shukubo is considered the best of all shukubo experiences in Japan.
Imagine an isolated temple on the top of a mountain in a glorious area of Japan and only 2 hours away from Tokyo. This is not the endless urban area of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or Hiroshima anymore, this is not the well-trodden route most tourists in Japan stick to for even repeat visits, but this is the Japan I would like all tourists to Japan to enjoy.
As part of the shukubo we copied the sutra in calligraphy, participated in all Buddhist services, chanted the sutras and enjoyed a morning zazen session. The shojin ryori, the vegetarian food served in Buddhist temples was delicious and at the end of the day the rotenburo (outdoor bath) waited.
If you would like to stay at Taiyo-ji temple longer than just one night and are willing to help out with the cooking and serving of the shojin ryori, cleaning, etc., this is perfectly possible and you wouldn’t need to pay full price. Had I known this, I would have stayed for a week, what a chance to learn to cook the shojin ryori!
How to get to Taiyoji
We took the train from tiny Ohanabatake station in the middle of Chichibu to Mitsumineguchi station and continued by bus in the direction to Nagatsugawa via Kawamata and alighted at the bus stop serving Taiyoji temple. From there we walked the rest of the way by turning to the right over the bridge over the Arakawa River from the bus stop and following the tarmac road leading up for the mountain. From time to time, wooden signs indicated the way. After about 4km, we arrived at the fishing spot with a tiny soba/udon restaurant and followed the sign for the temple leading up for a steep and ancient pilgrim’s path lined with Ojizō-sama statues which brought us directly to the temple.
Alternatively, get a taxi from Mitsumineguchi station or call ahead to Taiyoji and somebody will come and pick you up from Mitsumineguchi station.
I created a book of our temple stay experience and put it online, I am sure you will recognise your stay at Taiyo-ji Temple in my photos!
While camping in Vic-sur-Cère in the Cantal region of France in the early 1980s, we came across the Red-backed Shrike and its larder of which I took some photos that I just recovered. While browsing the Internet I came across quite a few photos of Red-backed Shrikes itself but not many of the larder.
Looking back at the slides I recovered the other week, I cannot help but feel ambivalent: there is the soft, sweet feeling of lost youth: the pretty girls we met, the hot days on the beach and the long, dark nights. However, the feeling that is now the most prevalent, is the feeling of missed photo opportunities: What possessed me to waste so much film on all those ancient ruins while there were so many interesting characters and scenes about that would now have been a treasure? Instead I came away with a collection of lousy touristy postcards shots….
I just came across a set of slides that I took in 1985 during a trip to the islands of Tinos and Mykonos in the Cyclades with my younger brother. I’ll be posting the proper photos on my blog but I am very amused by some of the snapshots I took on the way back.
As the ferries back to the mainland can be easily delayed by strong winds, we made our way back to Piraeus early from which we immediately departed to Marathon Beach which we used as base for trips to Athens and a swim in sea in the mornings and evenings. Quite a few other people must have had the same idea as we met up with several of the girl backpackers we had met on the islands.
The photo on the left is our pitch on the Marathon Beach camping which we shared with all the other backpackers. None of us did bother pitching tents although the mosquitos feasted on us. Love the Walkman and the compact cassette tapes in the photo. I remember going to local restaurants with a few of the girls and when we couldn’t decide on the order, we would go to the kitchen and select our food from the dishes cooking on the hob.
The photo on the right was taken on Athens airport, I remember our plane leaving around 4 or 5AM so we had gone there the evening before. The girls are posing for the camera that I had put on top of a bin, my brother is half-asleep and I cannot keep my eyes off the girls we had spent the last week with. After arriving on a very cold Schiphol airport hours later, we never saw them again
**Update** Read all about my amazing experience of walking the Chichibu 34 Kannon Temple pilgrimage here. Very much recommended if you’re looking for a unique experience for your trip to Japan! **End update**.
Before you read on, note that there is now a free Android app in both English and Japanese to guide you through the Chichibu 34 Kannon Temple pilgrimage, the app is packed with loads of information and details of the temples. You need really need it this! See also here.
Next time I’m in Japan, I am thinking of walking the 34 Fudasho Kannon temples pilgrimage in Chichibu which is located at an easy distance from Tokyo or Saitama. I’m not religious but I have to admit that I’m a bit fascinated by Buddhism ever since enjoying a temple stay in Mt Koya and I do think that meditation does help me to face everyday life and enhances my photography.
In preparation of that 100km (63 miles) walk, I started with making a map of all the temples .
To summarize the most important points: There is an Android App in English for this pilgrimage and there is a book in English available from several of the temples. It is probably best to pick it up from Temple 13 which is located close to the train stations in the middle of Chichibu if arriving by train. There is a tourist information office just outside the train station where you can pick up the map and bus information related to the pilgrimage. The signs along the walking route are small, and can easily be missed. They are about 15cm wide and 30cm tall, and are placed at knee height on walls and posts. The signs for the automobiles are a meter wide and two meters high, and are easier to see but they do not always follow the roads most suited for walking.
From other sources I gathered this information: Make sure to buy a 納経帳 (nōkyōchō) stamp book from the first temple that you visit to collect temple seals that you can get for a small fee.
The CHICHIBU: Japan’s Hidden Treasure Tuttle Guide (Revised Edition) by Sumiko Enbutsu dedicates the whole first section to the pilgrimage (about 100 pages) and contains thorough descriptions of the temples, the routes (including maps) and other noteworthy details of other sights along the way, and is a pleasure to read.
If you cannot find the Tuttle Guide, don’t worry, you can pick up “A Brief Guide to Chichibu” by Geoffrey Tudor at the one of the temples (where I got it for free) or possibly at the Chichibu tourist information. and this book is even more useful during the pilgrimage than the Tuttle Guide.
To get started, visit the tourist information at the Chichibu Seibu station. After you collect all the information at the tourist information, make your way to Temple #1. Temple #1 is 15 minutes by taxi from Chichibu Seibu station or take a Seibu bus from the Chichibu Seibu station (bus stop 2) and alight at the Fuda Sho Ichi-ban stop. I took the bus and asked the driver for the Fuda Sho Ichi-ban stop and he told me when to get off. At Temple #1 you can buy your 納経帳 (nōkyōchō) stamp book (recommended, it makes a perfect souvenir) and the traditional pilgrim clothes. I didn’t buy the clothes and walked the pilgrimage in my normal clothes but next time I will buy the sleeveless jacket, the bag, the conical hat and especially the pilgrim staff.
One final recommendation for those considering walking the pilgrimage or visiting Chichibu: You ought to combine it with a temple stay at nearby Taiyoji temple. I did the pilgrimage and the temple stay during the same trip and loved it, just loved it!