Ishiteji is simply one of the most spectacular temples you will see on the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage of Shikoku. It is here that a central theme of this pilgrimage is made plain. I hope you will allow me a few lines here to unravel the legend of the relationship between Koubou Daishi (Kukai) and a man named Emon Saburou.
Emon Saburou was a man who lived in Ebara village, and he was believed to be very wealthy and important in the community. It is said that one day there was a lowly pilgrim who came to his door begging. Emon Saburou pushed the pilgrim away and gave him nothing. The pilgrim came the next day, and the pilgrim was refused again. the pilgrim came again, and again, and again, and again, and again. Each time the pilgrim was refused. On the eighth attempt of the pilgrim begging the rich man, Emon Saburou lost his temper and smashed the pilgrims begging bowl on the ground. The bowl broke into eight pieces.
The pilgrim left and was not seen there again.
The very next day, one of Emon Saburou’s eight sons mysteriously died. Every day after that another son died. After eight days all the sons were dead. Emon Saburou understood what he had done to bring this terrible karma on him and decided to mend his ways.
Emon Saburou set off on the ohenro trail in search of the pilgrim hie pushed away, now understanding that it was Koubou Daishi. The rich man, who had lost so much, walked the pilgrim’s path in the ordinary clockwise manner twenty times but could not catch up to Koubou Daishi. On the twenty-first attempt, Emon Saburou decided to walk counter-clockwise in the hopes of meeting Koubou Daishi.
Near temple 12 Emon Saburou met the Daishi at the bottom of the mountain. Eamon Saburou begged forgiveness of Koubou Daishi as he felt his own life slipping away from him. Koubou Daishi forgave and asked the weak and dying man if he had any final wishes.
Emon Saburou, having seen the terrible selfish errors of his way, asked to be brought back in the next life as the lord of Iyo Province so he could lead well and true, using his money and power to serve others. Koubou Daishi took a small stone, wrote on it, and pressed it into Emon Saburou’s hand. The once wealthy and powerful man died.
Koubou Daishi buried the repentant pilgrim beside the ohenro trail and planted Saburou’s staff as a grave marker. The staff grew into a giant cedar tree.
Years later, in the 17th century, Ikitoshi Kouno, the daimyo of Yuzuki castle, and his wife had a baby boy. This boy was special and unique, but he held his left hand in a clenched fist. No amount of persuasion could open the little hand. When the young boy was three years old a priest came and was able to use prayer to pry open the little fingers. When the boy opened his hand all present could see the stone he held. The stone read, “I am the incarnation of Emon Saburou”.
The child grew up, and he became the ruler of the Yuzuki castle. The temple was renamed as “Ishiteji” (Temple of the Stone Hand).