Japan Temples: The Amazing Mountain Cave Temples of Shodoshima Part II
Kiyotakisan, Hotogega-taki, Sekimondo 小豆島
This second group of Buddhist temples on Shodoshima are towards the middle of the island, on the lower slopes of Hoshigajoyamakensozan, at 816 meters, both the highest point on the island and also the whole of the Seto Inland Sea, though all three temples are at less than half that altitude.
Kiyotakisan is temple number 14 on the pilgrimage, and at an altitude of just over 450 meters, is the highest of them all. Like the other mountain cave temples, it is located at the base of a tall, vertical cliff of exposed rock.
The path leading up to the gate is lined with assorted statues, and entering the gate you can see a most unusual carving over it - a sleeping cat. The path run along to the main building but a side path leads up to a ledge with yet more statues, with of course, Kobo Daishi and Fudo Myo among them.
A chain lies hanging down the slope - this is the beginning of the ascetics training course. Up above a "window" in the rock face. Further along the trail. A group of more statues including a largish Buddha and yet another Fudo Myo.
A set of steps cut into the rock lead up and behind to a natural altar at the base of the overhanging rock. Back down below the main path leads to the Daishi-do, a modern building enshrining Kobo Daishi.
From the temple grounds the views are stupendous. The main hall is a traditional temple facade fronting a small cave. In the Honzon, the main deity enshrined is a Jizo, but it is kept behind locked doors on the altar.
Out in front an unusual bronze statue of figure lying on its back. At various parts of its body the blue patina is worn away by thousands of hands that rub the statue before transferring healing merit to their own bodies.
High up in the cliff face are two more caves, both vermillion fronted in steel and glass and accessible by ladder. These house yet more Fudo Myo statues but unfortunately the gate giving access is locked. The path ends at another large Fudo Myo statue, but a smaller path leads around the corner.
Here, among a jumble of boulders that have broken off from the cliff are more statues and a couple of small caves holding statues. Small maple trees dot the area, making for a fiery and vibrant display in the autumn.
18-3 Yasuda Otsu, Shodoshima-cho, Shozu-gun, Kagawa 761-4411
Tel: 0879 82 0441
There is no public transport to Kiyotakisan so a rental car or taxi is needed. It is located on the Shodoshima Skyline Road, a scenic road around the mountains that leads to Kanakei Gorge. For walking, the pilgrimage trail begins down below at Awaji Dam. It is listed as the most difficult hike of the whole pilgrimage, but I did not find it so.
Hotogekataki, number 20 of the pilgrimage looks more like a traditional temple, and is the smallest of the three. After ascending the steps from the road there is a Daishi Hall on the left and a large, curved concrete bell tower on right.
To the left of the steps that lead up to the cave is a pool fed by a sacred spring. This is a temizuya for purifying yourself before entering. A statue of Fudo Myo watches over.
In front of the cave entrance is a viewing platform that has wonderful views out over the lower reaches of the Kankakei Gorge, one of the three top gorges in Japan.
The cave entrance is quite narrow but inside the cave opens up into a dome-shape and from the middle a natural stone pillar appears to be holding up the roof. Statues lining the walls of the cave are illuminated by candle, and in front of the natural pillar a statue and altar to Fudo Myo again. The main altar to Yakushi Nyorai, the "Medicine Buddha," is at the rear of the cave.
The most unusual thing in the cave though is the wood stove - during the colder part of the year the old lady attendant keeps it going to warm herself and the cave interior. The steel stovepipe goes out through the cave wall and can be seen protruding from the cliff face.
Kankake Dori, Shodoshima-cho, Shozu-gun, Kagawa 761-4433
Tel: 0879 82 1061
Hotogekataki is a couple of hundred meters from the Inotani bus stop on the bus route that runs from Kusakabe Port to Kankakei Gorge Ropeway. It is the same bus stop used to reach Sekimondo Temple. However, the bus does not run during the winter months, so access then is only by taxi or car.
Sekimondo, temple number 18, and the last of this group of three cave temples, is just a one kilometer walk from Hotogekataki, but it is a very steep kilometer.
Sekimondo is located at about the midpoint of one of the two walking trails of Kankakei Gorge, and can therefore be approached from the bottom walking up, or from the top walking down.
It is in a narrow, steep valley, flanked on either side by formations of rock outcroppings, many of which have names. Sekimon means "stone gate" and refers to the natural arch stone bridge under which the main temple hall lies and through which the trail passes.
Crossing the vermillion bridge over the fast moving stream, the natural courtyard has a thatched bell tower and a statue of gleaming white stone. In the cliff face below the natural arch is a cave fronted by glass.
Steps lead up and one enters through the floor. Inside is dark and lit by candles and lanterns, not too different really from any other temple, except here the walls and ceiling are of rock. There are several altars, the main one being to Fudo Myo, the fierce, fanged, deity holding a sword in one hand and a rope in the other.
Fudo Myo was a favorite of the ascetics who spent time in these mountain hideouts undergoing training, so its not surprising to find statues of him here.
Back outside you can see a large carving of Fudo in the cliff face beside the temple. It looks like a cliff carving but in actual fact is sculpted out of stone blocks and then assembled. More buildings dot the steep and rocky gorge leading upwards, and way up high there is some type of hexagonal hut perched on top of a rock that must have fantastic views down the gorge, but the upper section of the temple grounds is roped off.
From in front of the main hall the path slopes upwards and then passes beneath the great arch of stone overhead and then heads up to the ropeway station at the top of Kankakei Gorge passing several more rock formations.
168 Kankakedori, Shodoshima-cho, Shozu-gun, Kagawa 761-4433
Tel: 0879 82 2160
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