The stairs leading up to the main building.
Pilgrimage plays an important role in Japanese society. In the past it was to temples; today it takes many forms. My brother in law and his friend made a pilgrimage, you might say, to real places near Tokyo that served as the settings to Gibili animations. Train fans make pilgrimages to out of the way local lines and wait for just the right chance to take their photos. My goal to ride every train line in Kansai and go to every sento in Kobe (at least to start out with) is somewhat of a pilgrimage. While the examples above are of the modern variety, the Buddhist temple routes which came before them are still very, very popular. I wonder: Has the history of going on these pilgrimages created today's popularity of non-religious pilgrimage and collecting in general?
Before my father in law passed away, and well before I met my wife, my family began such a pilgrimage. It's been on and off for many years. A day trip out to a temple and back built up over time collecting stamps and signatures on the Saikoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage. (Here is a photo of what the stamps look like from an earlier trip.) Monday my family went to the next to last temple on their pilgrimage: Mimurotoji in Uji, Kyoto-fu. The temple was busy with people even on a Monday afternoon because of the tons of hydrangeas (ajisai in Japanese) planted in the temple's gardens. A board on the temple grounds boasts 10,000 of them, along with 20,000 azaleas (tsuzuji) and 1,000 rhodoendron (shakunage).
I love going on these day trips. I get to drive might be one reason, but in reality it's the chance to get out of the city and, even in the crowds, have a sense of peace. It's amazing how these temples are hidden in the landscape and even more amazing how beautiful they are. Mimurotoji I have to say was my second favorite only after the hidden, sylvan beauty of Okadera in Nara-ken.
Because I've accompanied my Mother-in-law and Yuko on these trips, I've gone to temples and places I wouldn't have seen otherwise. Besides that, there's the peace one gets from going to these places and in hectic, stressful Japan. So as my Mother-in-law closes out her pilgrimage, Yuko and I will begin ours and maybe in a few years we will have our own scroll of stamps to help us remember all the beautiful temples we have been to.
Mimurotoji 三室戸寺 is located in Uji, Kyoto Pref.. The closest train station is Mimuroto (三室戸) on the Keihan Uji line. It is also accessible from Uji (宇治) station on the JR Nara line. The grounds are open from 8:30-16:30 (16:00 in the winter). It costs 5oo yen for admission to the grounds.