22. Monster Mash

21 Apr

Ushi-OniMutant Squirrel: Statue of the mythical ‘Ushi-Oni’ at Negoroji Temple

Last night I had explored the centre of Takamatsu, which was just a stone’s throw from my coffin-sized room. The place was big enough to have an entertainment district running off a north-south covered corridor which seemingly stretched for miles, and I walked past bars and clubs being advertised by enthusiastic people waving flyers at the passing business suits. The stamina of Japanese people never ceases to amaze me.

They will get up super early to commute to work in a sardine tin, and continue to work throughout – save for perhaps a quick powernap at their desks at lunch – but always showing the required deference and politeness to their superiors and customers all day and often right up until night has fallen, when they will hit the town, briefcases in hand, to smooze with their bosses/colleagues. Where their families fit into this kind of lifestyle – if they have any – is unclear. But my experiences in Japan have led me to the conclusion that they have their work dial set far, far too high. Japanese people are often incredulous when I tell them of my former seven-hour days and four weeks of holiday per year; amongst some Japanese, even taking a single day’s holiday is seen as being disloyal to your company. No wonder there are so many “accidents” on the railway lines running through urban Japan; with precious little opportunity to escape work and let off steam, some simply can’t take the pressure of what is expected of them by society.

Takamatsu’s sole tourist draw was a Japanese garden, which apparently was one of the most famous in Japan. I have to say I wasn’t beating down the gates to see it, so instead I set off mid-morning to call in at the temples I had bypassed on my journey home yesterday. The journey back as far as Zentsuji was uneventful, and I turned The Steed around and ticked off the colourful Dōryūji, Gōshōji, Tennōji and Kokubunji with its bridge/moat combo, bringing my tally of temples so far on this trip to 80.

I felt I needed to squeeze in a couple more temples for the day, so I pedalled slowly into the mountains to the west of Takamatsu to pop into Shiromineji and finally Negoroji, which was the most interesting of the clutch of temples today. Set up in the mountains in a dark forest, the temple had an imposing statue of a strange creature that reminded me somewhat of a mutant squirrel. A nearby sign in Japanese displayed another picture of this beast together with some text. I later learned that the monster was an ushi-oni part of Japanese folklore, and that one such beast was said to terrorise this mountain some four hundred years ago. At least, it used to, until a heroic archer came along and popped an arrow through it. Ever since then the beast had been little more than a wall ornament in Negoroji temple, where its horns are displayed. Not knowing of the story until after my visit, I never noticed the horns, but I am certain that David Attenborough would be very interested indeed in this entirely new species.

My efforts in climbing the mountain rewarded me with a pleasant view of Takamatsu from which I freewheeled down into the western suburbs to be absorbed by the anonymous city once more.

Back at the hotel I had a good sort through my bag, throwing away any unnecessary crap I had accumulated and compacting everything down. Feeling purified, I curtailed any knees-up action tonight, instead choosing an early night, for I had a big day tomorrow. If all went to plan, I’d visit the final six temples of the pilgrimage and my clockwise traversal of the little island of Shikoku would be complete.

44 miles

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