After leaving Sankaku-ji, I walked for a while and noticed from a road sign that I had entered Tokushima (from Ehime), although I would have to visit sacred temples in Kagawa.
No.66 Unpen-ji is not only the highest of the 88 temples, but it is also a sacred temple in Sanuki (Kagawa prefecture) despite being in Tokushima prefecture.
The pilgrimage route to Unpen-ji is a steep uphill climb and it’s one of Henro Korogashi (遍路ころがし). There are many Jizo statues in the mountains, which are somewhat reassuring when climbing such steep slope.
On the way up to Unpen-ji, I encountered a pilgrim who’s doing Gyaku-uchi (pilgrimage in reverse order). According to him, it was on his 9th pilgrimage! He said, one time, he had broken his leg near the Cape Ashizuri and had to ask his son to pick him up… and that the son was very angry with him… Even so, he came back again, clearly suffering from “Oshikoku-byo (Shikoku Disease)”.
“Shikoku Disease” is used for a people who’s going on a pilgrimage even after finishing the Shikoku pilgrimage. The symptom is desire to experience nature and simple humanity as it was in the past, and to repeat the pilgrimage to 88 sacred temples in Shikoku twice, three times, and so on. It is no surprise that some people make the pilgrimage 50 or even 100 times.
By the way, the steep slope in the mountain up to Unpen-ji was indeed tough. I wondered how long it would last, and was relieved when I finally hit the prefectural road. It was indeed cold, probably because the altitude was so high. When I arrived at Unpen-ji, there was still snow on the ground.
Unpen-ji has been rebuilt in many places, including the main gate and the main temple. I personally was bit disappointed (I like the old ones)… Although it is located at the highest place among 88 sacred temples, Iwaya-ji is much better in terms of atmosphere.
Otanomi-nasu is interesting. It is said that if you go through the hole in the eggplant and sit on the other eggplant at the end, you will receive double the blessings.
The five hundred disciples of the Buddha at Unpen-ji are very expressive, and there’re indeed many of them. I think if you look for hard enough, you might even be able to find one that looks just like you.