I had turned in quite early yesterday evening and managed to get a few hours of sleep. When I woke up just before 6 o'clock and took a look outside it looked like it had rained heavily overnight. I had not checked the forecast and had gone to bed expecting it to be nice and sunny like it had been when I arrived the day before. The fact that it was wet didn't really matter because I knew from the first pilgrimage that there would be plenty of sunny days and with it a share of rainy days too. During my first pilgrimage, after leaving Ryozenji (#1) the rain had started coming down and continued for most of the day until I made it to Anrakuji (#6) later that evening. The rain on that occasion had made its way into my pack and the colour from my neck band had run into my white ohenro jacket but it had failed to dampen my spirits.
Everyone still seemed to be fast asleep as I pottered about getting myself ready. I tidied up my room and wrote out a thank you note along with my osamefuda and left it where it would be found. Dressed in all my ohenro gear and my waterproof jacket I quietly made my way outside. The sky was grey and overcast but there were only spots of rain falling now. Yesterday had turned into a great day and I wasn't going to let a few spots of rain spoil the start of my second pilgrimage. Before heading away, I repeated what I had done every morning at every place I had stopped at during my first pilgrimage, I turned and bowed in the direction of the guesthouse. It was a habit I had picked up from Takuya and it was a habit I intended to practice during this pilgrimage too.
It took me only a couple of minutes to get to the front gate of Ryozenji (#1) and even though it was only just after 7 o'clock there were already a few pilgrims there in full gear ready to pray and begin their journeys. I went through my routine of bowing at the gate, washing my hands and mouth, lighting a candle and incense, dropping my osamefuda into it's container, putting some money in the offering box, quietly chanting the sutras, a personal prayer and finishing with 3 namu daishi henjo kongo. The main difference this time was that I was going to recite the sutras. I had decided on 3, including the main heart sutra.
The feeling at the main hall was none too dissimilar to how I had felt when I had stood there at the start of my first pilgrimage. It was the same mixture of emotion and gratitude, and it felt like I was being given a second chance to do something I had not expected to do again in this life time. After completing the prayer routine at the daishi hall I headed back to the main hall and the adjoining shop where yesterday I had been somewhat overwhelmed by the kindness that had been shown to me. I wanted to sign the pilgrims log book for those starting out on their pilgrimage but more than that, I wanted to see the woman who had been so generous to me
After adding my details to the pilgrims log book which included name, age and home address I flicked back a page or so and discovered a few non-Japanese names. A Laura from the US had departed just a few days earlier and a young 22 year old named Faisal from the UK had left just the day before. During my first pilgrimage I had met fewer than a handful of non-Japanese pilgrims during the whole journey. This time, I had already met Das and now I knew of at least 2 others who I was likely to cross paths with in the near future. With the pilgrims log book signed there was now only one more thing left to do before I also set out and that was to greet the woman who had been so kind to me yesterday. I knew she was at the temple because I had spotted her in the shop when I arrived. When I finally had the chance to greet her she seemed to be as delighted to see me as I was her. She came over and shook my hand and wished me all the best for my journey. For me, this was the perfect start.
I headed back out into the main hall and walked past a large group of elderly pilgrims assembled in front. I felt calm as I walked towards the main gate. After passing through the gate I turned and bowed and then headed towards Gokurakuji (#2). Although it had stopped raining, the sky was still very overcast and heavy clouds stretched out across to the horizon. I was still dressed in my bright red rain jacket but for some reason I felt the weather wouldn't be too big a factor for me today. I had only been going for about 5 minutes when I came up on a 7 Eleven convenience store and decided to stop and get a coffee and something to eat.
When I went to pay, the young man at the counter maybe realizing I was setting out on my pilgrimage, wished me well on my journey ahead. The warm friendly gesture was not something I had expected and as I sat in the shop drinking my coffee I decided I was going to give him one of my photographs. I had about 80 with me and I had planned to give them to people who I met along the way but for some reason I decided I wanted to give one to the young man at the counter. I picked a photograph I liked and before leaving the shop I went back to the counter and just handed him the photograph and told him it was a present for him. It was definitely not something he had expected and the look on his face was priceless. He seemed to be completely lost for words seemingly unsure how he should respond to me. I didn't need to hear his words because his expression was enough. I walked away with him still holding the photograph in his hand and looking towards his co-workers as if seeking help so that he could find a way to respond. I had a feeling there and then that it was not only going to be a good day but it was going to be a good pilgrimage. I also made up my mind that I was going to give photographs to many many more people.
Thinking back to my first pilgrimage I had virtually no recollection of temples 2, 3, 4, and 5. They had all disappeared in a bit of a blur that first day back in 2011. This time I wanted to take my time and try not to miss too much. When I arrived at Gokurakuji (#2) I found a very nice temple with lovely statues and beautiful landscaped grounds. I couldn't however figure out where the prayers halls were but after questioning a group of elderly pilgrims who seemed to be mostly loitering around I discovered both halls up a short steep flight of stairs. The loiterers from the snatched conversations I could make out, didn't feel like they were in the right frame of physical health to risk the steps. I thanked them and headed up to the two halls and went through my prayer rituals. As I left for the stamp office a man questioned me about where I was from and gave me his business card and told me he was from Ehime. It was the usual friendly curiosity I had experienced before and something I expected a lot more of as the journey progressed.
The stamp office was at the back of a shop selling a large amount of ohenro supplies and souveniors. The woman in the main part of the shop welcomed me in and directed me towards the back where the stamp office was. I presented my stamp book to the woman behind the counter and after she had stamped and returned it to me, I passed her a selection of photographs and told her to choose one she liked. Surprised by my request, she called over the other lady working in the front of the shop and together they chose one they liked. In return, I ended up receiving a couple of very nice biscuit like snacks. I thanked them and then continued back out the main gate and along a narrow path to the side of the temple.
Maybe I hadn't followed the arrows correctly but when I arrived at Konsenji (#3) I found I had entered through a back entrance. I headed straight back out through a side entrance and then back in again through the main gate wanting to make sure I was following the correct protocol. I had zero recollection of Konsenji (#3) even though it had beautiful statues all about the temple grounds. To the side of the daishi hall was a water well and the legend associated with it was that if you could see your reflection in it you would live to 92 and if not, you would die within 3 years. Was I going to live another 46 years or die within 3 ? I decided to take a look and photographed my reflection in the well and then went and sat down to jot a few notes about the temple.
As I sat making notes about the temple an elderly lady dressed in very nice ohenro gear started up a conversation with me. She told me she had completed ohenro many times and proceeded to take out and present me with a red coloured osamefuda. Instead of returning the gesture by giving her one of my osamefuda I let her choose a photograph instead. After chatting to her a little more I continued walking about the temple grounds taking photographs. As I was doing this I bumped into the young woman who had come into the restaurant near Bando Station. I decided not to ask her too many questions this time but let her choose one of my photographs instead. Like everyone else she seemed happy with her choice. I then headed for the stamp office and after getting my book stamped I let both the women in the stamp office choose a photograph each and both like the young woman earlier seemed delighted. The plan had not necessarily been to give photographs to the staff at the temples but the reaction I had been getting made me decide it would be nice if I could give photographs to every temple. The positive response I kept getting made it worthwhile and if I needed more photographs, I had the digital copies on an SD card and all I needed to do was find a shop with the self-service print machines.
I left Konsenji (#3) and continued towards Dainichiji (#4). For the first time the route left the residential areas and snaked in and out for short distances along wooded trails. Immediately after leaving such a trail, one lined with tall bamboo trees I came across a small temple complex marked as Aizen-in in my guide book. It didn't seem to be a temple related to the pilgrimage but it was a beautiful little place. Outside one of the buildings was a hot water container, an assortment of teas, coffee and some snacks. I decided to take a break and have a tea. I set my pack down and as I was looking through the teas, a woman came out from an adjoining house and started to chat to me. She prepared the tea for me and told me to have some snacks. This was my first real osettai for the day and one of the ways I was going to respond to all osettai was by giving a photograph. The woman chose a photograph and then continued talking about something I couldn't really understand. She returned to her home and a few moments later a man, who I assumed was her husband, approached and started speaking to me.
I couldn't understand but eventually it turned out he was asking me if I wanted to get the temple stamp. I agreed and he told me it was different from the usual ohenro temple stamps because it was done using a different kind of brush. He disappeared with my stamp book and when he returned and showed me the stamp, it was definitely very different from the usual stamps. The strokes looked like that they had been made using a flat piece of charcoal rather than a soft brush. The man turned out to speak reasonably good English and continued to tell me about his own ohenro experiences. Having finished my tea and snacks, I thanked him and was almost through the small main gate when he and his wife suddenly called me back. When I turned round, in her outstretched hand was a small plate on which was a freshly grilled slice of sweet potato. I took it, thanked them both again and turned to walk away. I stopped after a few steps, took a bite and then turned back to them and told them it was delicious before continuing on my way. It had been simple encounters like this that left me feeling so good during my first pilgrimage.
Dainichiji (#4) was not so far away and on my way there I met the elderly woman ohenro-san from who I had received a red osamefuda at Konsenji (#3). She was returning from Dainichiji (#4) and seemed to be looking a little exhausted so I asked her if she was OK. She explained that a large group of bus pilgrims had tired her out. I sympathized with her and wished her well before continuing the short distance to Dainichiji (#4). Like the last 2 temples I could not recall it in the slightest. It was a very small temple and the daishi hall seemed to be undergoing complete renovation. The main hall and daishi hall were connected by a walkway and along the length of it, behind a glass enclosure was a long line of 33 Senju Kannon statues. Why I was unable to recall any of this was probably a result of not really knowing what I was doing and rushing through the temples on that first day back in 2011.
The best thing at Dainichiji (#4) turned out to be a guide who was looking after a large group of bus pilgrims. I had already seen a few large groups of bus pilgrims and every group had a guide. The guides all seemed to have their own slightly unique style and way of conducting the prayer rituals. What I really liked about this young looking guide was the way he chanted and the way he led his group. When I prayed at the temples I would quietly read the heart sutra and the other sutras from a small laminated piece of paper I had prepared. I was still a long way from being able to read let alone chant the sutras and when others were nearby chanting I found it almost impossible to concentrate. On this occasion I decided I would wait for the group to finish not only because I wanted to concentrate when I read the sutras but more so because I really wanted to hear the young guide chant the sutras. If I ever learned to chant the sutras it would have been like he was chanting.
The weather had been beautifully sunny when I arrived at Dainichiji (#4) but as I left it was all overcast again. Jizoji (#5) was not so far away so I just followed the arrows and turned into what I thought was Jizoji (#5). I was struggling to figure out which building was the main hall and which was the daishi hall so I asked an old man who turned out to be having exactly the same problem. A little further away was another temple so we both headed towards it down a long flight of steps. I asked some people coming towards us if the temple ahead was Jizoji (#5) and they told me it was. Again like the last 3 temples I had absolutely no recollection of Jizoji (#5). In a way, it was good because the path leading to the temple was lined by small trees with beautiful pink and white blossoms. The contrast they made against the white walls of the temple building was really great. Turning the corner at the end of the path I entered directly into the main courtyard of Jizoji (#5) with it's huge tree right in the middle. I had entered another temple the wrong way so I headed out of the main gate, re-entered after following the correct protocol of bowing first. The wind had picked up and the sky looked like it might start raining so I found myself rushing to get everything done. The gusting wind was making it difficult to light the candles and incense but after getting everything done I headed back out the main gate, picked up the pace a little and headed towards Anrakuji (#6). I had plenty of time but I wanted to get there either before it started raining or early enough so I could secure a spot in the main gate where I was planning to stay. The alternative would have been to camp in the car park area but it was the main gate I wanted to really spend my first night like I had the first time.
Along the way I passed a number of places including 2 huts which would have been reasonably OK if things didn't work out with the main gate. The only issue though would have been mustering the energy to go backwards. About 2km from Anrakuji (#6) I fell into step with an older Japanese ohenro-san from Tokyo. He was a surprisingly young and fit looking 73 year old and he said after 15 years of making excuses for not doing ohenro he had finally run out. The reason he was doing the pilgrimage was in memory of his wife who had passed away 15 years earlier. This wasn't information he just happened to share but a result of being asked. On this pilgrimage I wanted to find out the reason why other pilgrims were making the journey. I knew why I was doing it but it was something few others really talked about and without wanting to pry I was curious.
He was the first real ohenro-san I had met and had a chance to speak to since leaving Ryozenji (#1). I asked him if he had met any other ohenro-san and asked specifically about Das since I had not come across her since leaving Ryozenji (#1). He told me he had spoken to her at one of the other temples which meant she was still somewhere behind us. I had told Das that I would be staying in the main gate at Anrakuji (#6) so if she was running a little late then I thought there was a chance I would meet her again later. When we got to Anrakuji (#6) I headed first for the shukubo to ask if it was OK to stay in the tsuyado in the main gate. It was coming up to 3 o'clock so there was a chance I could have been told I was too early because I could still have made it to the next temple. The answer I got however was what I wanted to hear so I thanked the staff and headed to the main gate to drop off my pack. There was no one in the main gate so I laid out a a blanket in one corner and put my air mattress and sleeping bag on top to reserve my spot.
Back outside a large bus group had just arrived and were being ushered into the shukubo so I waited for everything to calm down before going through my prayer rituals. After praying at both halls I went back inside the main hall again to get my book stamped. The stamp office was located just to the left of the altar. There was a man and a woman doing the stamps. The man was closest so I passed him my stamp book and while he put the stamp into my book I gave the woman all my photographs and told her to choose one she liked. She picked one she liked and seemed very pleased with the choice. Over the course of the morning I had been giving a photograph to every temple and I had now decided I would give a photograph to every single temple along the way. With everything completed I headed back outside again.
After signs of rain a little earlier the sun was back out again and I felt too lazy to walk too far from the temple. Next to the temple was what looked like a souvenior shop come coffee shop so I headed in and got a hot coffee and a packet of crackers. That would be my dinner for the day. I returned to the main gate and was tapping away on my small laptop when I heard English being spoken somewhere below me. I dashed down the stairs and looking up the street I called out to a couple of people one of whom I assumed was Das. It was her so I walked over to find out what kind of a day she had had where she was going to be staying. She seemed to be in good spirits and told me she had had a good day. The women in the stamp office at Konsenji (#3) had been worried about a lone female ohenro-san so they had given her the name of someone who provided cheap lodging not far from the temple. The person Das was with was that person and he was now going to drive her back towards Konsenji (#3) and then return her to Anrakuji (#6) tomorrow morning for a 08:30 start. I told Das my plan tomorrow was to stay at Kamo-no-yu and with that I returned to the main gate again.
I wondered if anyone else would come and stay but as the evening wore on no one turned up and it looked like I would be spending the night alone in the main gate with a giant bell hanging over me. For me, it was the place I most wanted to be. It reminded me of the first pilgrimage and also of Takuya who I had befriended at Ryozenji (#1). It was thanks to Takuya that I had come to learn about the main gate as a place to stay and later on about the many other cheap and free lodging places. Today, with the experience of that first pilgrimage aiding me, everything had seemed a lot easier. I didn't really have any particular expectations but all I wanted was to take each day as it came and do my best. I felt I had got off to a good start. I was already interacting relatively easily with everyone I had met along the way and people were responding to that with their own kindness. I was being more mindful of the prayer routine and although I was still making a hash of reading the heart sutra I was slowly, if only very slowly starting to make some progress. The decision to give out photographs had turned out to be the best thing I could have done. The reaction each time had been really wonderful and as the day had progressed I had decided that what I really wanted to do was show my appreciation to everyone, regardless of whether I was on the receiving end of osettai or not. By the time I had finished my mental recollections of the day, except for the small pagoda, the temple grounds outside had fallen into darkness. It was probably time for me too to put out the lights so I lit a couple of candles, went down the stairs, switched off the main light and returned and slipped into my sleeping bag. My second ohenro journey was well and truly under way and it had been a wonderful first day.