Finding Prince Shotoku's light in Horyuji tour

Horyuji temple in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture, Japan, holds organized hikes twice a year in which participants walk the "Taishimichi" - routes with historical ties to Prince Shotoku (574-622), a tireless promoter of Buddhism during the Asuka period. 

Each of the two events - held on Feb. 22, the anniversary of Shotoku's death, and Nov. 22 - takes participants along a different route of about 20 kilometers. The autumn hike starts at Horyuji temple and ends at Tachibanadera temple in Asuka, the prince's likely birthplace. Shotoku is said to have commuted along this route between the palaces of Ikaruganomiya and Oharidanomiya as part of his official duties. The winter hike travels from Horyuji temple to the prince's mausoleum in Taishi, Osaka Prefecture. This hike follows what is believed to have been the route along which the prince's coffin was carried during his funeral procession.  

I joined about 80 other trekkers for the event on November 22. The hike started at 8:30 a.m, led by people carrying a statue of the prince on their shoulders. I got the chance to hear lectures along the way from Masahiko Okada, a Nara prefectural government official specializing in cultural heritage and preservation. "The Taishimichi is designed to connect Ikaruga and Asuka via the shortest distance by cutting diagonally across the land. Traces of the Taishimichi can be found in the current roads and irrigation ditches," Okada said.  

Upon entering the Byobu area of Miyake, Nara Prefecture, we were greeted by about 50 kindergarten-aged children playing Japanese drums to welcome us. Byobu is said to have gotten its name from an anecdote in which locals accomodated the prince by setting up a byobu folding screen. Osamu Inuida, a chief of the community association, proudly said, "This area is the birthplace of omotenashi [Japanese traditional hospitality]."  

Meanwhile, at Tomondokitsuki shrine in the neighboring Tomondo area, locals honored us with a traditional dance called tenpyonomai.  

I was taking part in the 42nd iteration of an event that began in 1997. Mie Omura from Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, was participating for the second time. "I feel like I'm breathing the same air that Prince Shotoku did," she said.  

During the stroll, Genmyo Ono, the chief priest of Horyuji temple, explained to us about "Wakodojin," an expression used by Prince Shotoku. It means "hiding one's inherent light in order to interact with and save people in the physical world." Ono said, "Please find the light of Buddha or a deity along the route."  

Shortly before arriving at Tachibanadera temple, my legs grew stiff. But a view of the sunset peeking out over Amakashinooka hill eased my pain, and I managed to continue toward the goal. Perhaps I had seen the "light" that Prince Shotoku was referring to.  

- - -  

The hike from Horyuji temple to Prince Shotoku's mausoleum in Taishi, Osaka Prefecture, will be held on February 22, 2018. Participants must be physically fit and 69 years old or younger. The fee is 1,000 (yen (about $9). Applications must be submitted by February 10. For details or to apply, call Horyuji temple at (0745) 75-2555.

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