Monday, July 28, 2014

Staying Overnight at Iwamotoji!

Front view of the temple lodgings.
   Four of the temples in Kochi Prefecture that are part of the Shikoku Pilgrimage offer lodging for visiting ohenro-san. For this article, we visited one of those four temples, Iwamotoji in Shimanto Town, where we stayed the night at the lodging facilities for pilgrims.

   Iwamotoji was built in the Tenpyo era (729-749), and it was established as the 37th sacred temple in the Shikoku Pilgrimage by Kukai during the Konin era (810-824). Iwamotoji is home to several historical structures, such as the main temple where the temple’s principle object of worship is enshrined, which is across from the building that houses lodging accommodations.

   As soon as you enter the lodging building, the front desk is on the right, surrounded by purchasable pilgrim clothing, snacks, and other souvenirs.
 
 
1200th year anniversary commemorative pins
—for sale this year only!
  The building is two stories; on the first floor are communal facilities like the bath and dining room, and on the second floor are the guest rooms. We stayed in individual 6-tatami mat rooms, but when groups or many individual guests stay at the temple, they offer a large communal room for sleeping. The entire building is no smoking, but there are outside smoking areas.
The inside of a room.

   Our rooms were simple, but they were very clean. A toothbrush and a towel were on top of a pillow and futon set against the wall. By the window were a small television and low table. The accommodations did differ from a typical ryokan inn in that each room had a stone stand for an ohenro-san’s walking stick and the restroom and wash area are communal rather than private. It may also feel inconvenient to share the common trash can in the hallway.
 
   Dinner was served at 6:00 PM, and the guests all ate together. We were under the impression that because we were at a temple, the meal would be simple and heavy on the vegetables, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was indeed Japanese food with a focus on vegetables, but there were meat and fish (sashimi, no less!), and in a certain way, it was a gourmet meal that betrayed our expectations. However, the temple staff mentioned that they would cook okayu porridge for any guest who may be having stomach problems.
The gourmet dinner which betrayed our expectations.

   After a quick rest, we decided to take a bath. The communal bathing facilities are gender segregated, and each bath was big enough for around 10 people. There was also a separate shower. There were not many guests on the day we visited, so each guest could use the bath by themselves. The bath is open from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM, and those who do not wish to bathe with strangers can consult the temple staff.

   Guests can sleep whenever they like because there is no lights-out time, but we slept early so that we could attend the religious service held at 6:00 AM the next morning.

   Iwamotoji is in a town located at the high altitude of approximately 300m. It is inside of a geographical basin surrounded by mountains, so it has a tendency to get cold in the mornings. Fog hung over the town on this particular morning, and the temple grounds were wrapped in chilly air.

   During the religious service, guests may recite sutras and chants with the chief priest. Those in attendance are handed a sheet of paper with the sutras written in kanji and Sanskrit, but Japanese hiragana and katakana are also included. Sutras written in romaji are also provided for those who can’t read hiragana or katakana, so there is no need to worry.

   The service lasted around 15 minutes, but we were seated the whole time, so it was a comfortable experience. Afterward, the priest gave an educational talk for around 15 minutes, so even those who do not understand the sutras can still get a taste for the world of Buddhism. We definitely recommend attending the service!

 
The chief priest standing
in front of the main temple.
   After a typical Japanese breakfast of miso soup, grilled fish, white rice, dried seaweed, etc, we were able to sit down to talk directly with the head priest. We spoke mainly about foreign ohenro-san, and we will include the highlights of the conversation below.

   The number of foreign ohenro-san suddenly increased following one particular incident. In 2004, the series of Japanese pilgrimage routes in the Kii Peninsula in western Japan known as Kumano Kodo became a UNESCO world heritage site, so many foreign tourists came to visit. One of the routes on the Kumano Kodo is on Mount Koya, which is also home to the large monastic center founded by Kukai and visited by many ohenro-san who have completed the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Foreign tourists, especially Europeans, who happened to see the ohenro-san dressed in white visiting Mount Koya soon took an interest in the Shikoku Pilgrimage. As if to support this phenomenon, a book written in German about the Shikokou Pilgrimage has been donated to the temple.

   Moreover, although the head priest said that the temple gives no special treatment to foreigners, they do offer vegetarian meals for those who do not eat fish and meat as well as sutras written in romaji for those who cannot read hiragana, as mentioned above. The temple staff try their best to meet the needs of their guests.

   The temple lodgings are for ohenro-san, but anyone is allowed to use them. Whether you are doing the Shikoku Pilgrimage or not, we highly recommend staying a night in temple lodgings to see a new side of Japan!
 
Iwamotoji’s Basic Information----------------------------------
 Address: 3-13, Shigekushi-cho, Shimanto Town 〒786-0004
 TEL: 0880-22-0376
 Directions: About one hour from downtown
 Kochi by car (if using highway), about one hour from Kochi Station (by express train, get off at Kubokawa station and walk 10 minutes)
 Check-in: 3:00 PM
 Check-out: 10:00 AM
 Price: 6,800 yen (one night, two meals), 4,300 yen (without meals)
 Highlights: Art that covers the ceiling of the main temple (including art of dragons and Marilyn Monroe)

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