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.
The route I took for the first day was pretty standard: Temple #1 Temple #2 Temple #3 Temple #4 Temple #5 Temple #7 Temple #6 Temple #8 Temple #9
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.
We visited the Tokyo Jidai Matsuri in Asakusa which was quite a disappointment as it was awfully boring with the parade going on so very slowly, police and other guards going mad with with their whistles and keeping everybody so very far away that we left rather early. The costumes and little dances were fabulous, however the matsuri just didn’t have any soul and fell flat.
We had, of course, previously visited the Kawagoe and Hannō matsuri and those were grubby, old fashioned with tons of fun and full of soul.
Around Temple #32 of the Chichibu pilgrimage, we ran into this old lady who was collecting the ginkgo seeds from the local ginkgo biloba tree. She told us that she was almost blind and had to sift through the leaves with her hands to collect the seeds by touch. The last two years, the tree had yielded a lot fewer seeds than previous years.
If you are familiar with the Japanese countryside, you might know that farmers often sell vegetables, fruit, pickles, mushrooms, nuts, etc on the side of the road in ramshackle little wooden sheds where you pick what you want and drop the indicated amount in a tin or jar.
We bought all she had collected that day, two bags of about 50 seeds for ¥200 per bag, which made her happy to receive some pocket money. Later that day, when we visited one of those large omiyage centres on the way back from Chichibu, smaller bags with ginkgo seeds went for ¥400.
If it isn’t hay fever season, it is flu season and facial masks are everywhere almost all year round. While recent studies have shown that wearing a mask when you’re ill can prevent you from infecting others, I have the feeling that most people here expect masks to help prevent them from infection.
View from Kawagoe Station at night, shot by holding the camera against the window from the coffee shop. Not a perfect technique, yet a photo full of atmosphere!
I don’t like buses, and I especially don’t like buses in Japan where there is so little leg space and people don’t seem to approve of my sticking my legs in the aisle. And then there are so many traffic lights that it feels like you’ll never arrive. So you cannot blame me for wishing I was on that train.
The buses really go out of their way to pick the smallest roads to drive on, but small roads don’t imply quiet roads: there are lots of oncoming cars and bicycles really do their best to hide themselves with malfunctioning lights, no reflectors and dark clothes, only to betray their existence at the last minute by the umbrellas they are holding in the strong winds.
My wife, of course, loves the buses as the JR station is a 10 minutes walk and the bus stop is only 200 meters down the road.