Japan (October 2018): Uwajima and around

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Uwajima is a port town with a small but beautiful castle donjon, an intriguing fertility temple (Taga Jinja), some notable traditions such as bullfighting and pearl farming, and two nearby Henro temples (#41 and #42). Moreover the seafood is fresh, delicious, and affordable.

 

Early morning view of Uwajima from my hotel room.

 

Views over Uwajima from the castle, first toward the sea, next toward the inland mountains.

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The initial Uwajima castle (Uwajima-jo) was built in 1595 by Todo Takatora, a daimyo (feudal lord). In 1666 the castle was reconstructed and expanded by Date Munetoshi, the second lord of the Date clan that ruled Uwajima and its region for nine generations. The remaining donjon is one of the twelve donjons that survived the Meiji restoration. It is 15.7m high and sits on an 80m-high hill overlooking the town.

 

Old stone stairway leading to the castle.

 

Views of the castle.

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Tenshaen garden, located southwest of the castle. Created in 1866 by Muneta Date, the seventh ruling lord of the Date clan, it consists of a promenade around a pond that is shaped like the Kanji character for ″heart″. Muneta Date, who reached the age of 100, is famous for having been the oldest feudal lord in Japan. He is said to have enjoyed his old age spending much time in this garden.

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Majestic gate at the entrance of the Date clan′s gravesite, southeast of the castle.

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Uwajima is one of the few places in Japan holding bullfighting tournaments. Each fight involves two bulls and is somewhat similar to a fight between two Sumo wrestlers. It starts when the bulls lock horns and ends when one bull runs away or no longer shows any fighting spirit. Such tournaments occur only 5 days per year; unfortunately, I was not in Uwajima on anyone of them. The statue below, located outside the Uwajima train station, represents a bull dressed for a fight.

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The three shrines and temples below (Warei-jinja, Jonen-ji, and Taga-jinja) are all located north of Uwajima′s city center, on the northern side of the Suka-gawa. They are close to each other.

 

Massive stone torii gate with Warei-jinja (Shinto) behind it, on the other side of the Suka-gawa, with the Miyuki bridge between them.

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Miyuki bridge leading to the entrance gate of Warei-jinja.

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Egret in the Suka-gawa.

 

Warei-jinja.

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Inside Jonen-ji (Buddhist).

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The entrance of Taga-jinja (Shinto), with its strange alignment of stone statues. People come here to pray for longevity, good health, and fertility. A number of fertility-related objects are scattered around the shrine precinct.

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Main building of Taga-jinja. (Note the wood carving partially visible on the left of the shrine in the first photo below.)

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View of the wood carving located on the left side of the shrine. Approximately two meters in length and cut from a single tree log, it is certainly the most emblematic object in the shrine precinct. In the past such fertility-related objects were more common across Japan, but the spread of puritanical values from the West led to their partial removal during and after the Meiji period.

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In Iyo-Yoshida, a small village located roughly 6km north of Uwajima city center (see aerial map below): views of the river, a small old lantern tower on the riverside, and the fishing port.

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From Uwajima I went to two Henro temples, first Butsumoku-ji (#42), and then Ryuko-ji (#41). A convenient local bus goes from the Uwajima train station to the entrance of Butsumoku-ji. A pleasant 3.4km walk in the countryside (among rice fields, but along a road with little traffic) connects Butsumoku-ji to Ryuko-ji. Another 1.5km walk from Ryuko-ji leads to the Muden station with trains to return to Uwajima.

 

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Entrance gate of Butsumoku-ji (#42).

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Shoro (bell house) of #42 with thatched roof.

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Main hall at the center and Daishi-do (hall dedicated to Kubo Daishi) on the left.

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Inside the main shrine.

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Henro pilgrims praying in front of the Daishi-do.

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Carvings mounted on the two wooden pillars that support the roof overhang of the Daishi-do.

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Small shrine next to the Daishi-do.

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Statues in the temple grounds.

 

Ryuko-ji (#41).

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The seven lucky gods (Shichifukujin) present in many of the 88 Henro temples. The ″missing″ one below is hidden behind the god on the right.

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Ryuko-ji was originally associated with an Inari shrine (Shinto), but the two were separated in 1868 when Shinto and Buddhism were forced to break apart at the beginning of the Meiji restoration. The weathered buildings in the photos below are located behind a torii gate above the two previous Buddhist temples. They are the remains of the former Inari shrine. However, they are certainly not abandoned and at least one of them is still clearly in use.

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This building in the back is not remarkable, except that it protects a smaller, but much more interesting red building (second photo below).

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Carving of a fox on the red building (left) and stone statue of a fox in the precinct (right). Such fox representations are typically found in Inari shrines where they serve as guardians.

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