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Meiseki-ji in Seiyo

Temple No. 43 of the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage

Meiseki-ji, the Temple of Brilliant Stone, is No. 43 on the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage. It’s the only pilgrimage temple located in Seiyo. Once it must have stood in splendid isolation on its hillside, but now a new expressway runs right past it. Fortunately, it’s only a one-lane expressway, and it can neither be seen nor heard from the temple precincts.

The road up to Meiseki–ji is steep, with a cypress forest on either side. However, once you get out of the car park and past the souvenir shop, the temple precinct proper begins and here there are deciduous trees of great height and apparent age. All the temples tend to be mossy with ferns, but I fancy that Meiseki-ji has an extra helping of moss.

Steps lead up to a very impressive main gate, topped off with unusual glossy brown tiles with an orangey-copper hue. Next to this gate stands a very graceful structure with the same brown tiles, carved dragons with white eyeballs, and an amazing menagerie of slightly more conventional animals on beams that protrude under the eaves. Close inspection shows that these are the animals of the Chinese zodiac.

Every temple on Shikoku’s pilgrimage route has a building called the Daishi-do to venerate Kobo Daishi, the founder of the pilgrimage. The one in Meiseki-ji is decorated with the dragons that seem to be something of a theme at this temple. Unlike the other main buildings, the Daishi-do is tiled in grey. Next to the Daishi-do stand two large cypress trees which are ‘married’ with a Shinto rope made of rice straw. The Main Hall or Hondo has the same brown tiles as the main gate, and the decoration of the roof gable is all dragons and interesting square holes.

I visited Meiseki–ji in June when the new foliage is at its greenest and the summer insects are beginning to emerge. When a busload of pilgrims began chanting in front of the Main Hall, a couple of cicadas in the cypress trees piped up at an amazing volume, sounding just like electric buzzers. They nearly drowned out the pilgrims.

To the left of the temple, a pilgrim’s path (henro michi) winds up through the woods towards Uwa. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the temple to the historic area of Unomachi in Uwa.

Meiseki–ji is one of three pilgrimage temples located relatively close together. The others are Butsumoki-ji No. 42 and Ryuko-ji No. 41 in Uwajima.

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