Yesterday had been a long and tiring day and I'd fallen asleep very quickly, slept well but as usual I as up early. The plan today was to walk to Tano Town and stay at Tabi-no-yado Misono, a zenkonyado I had stayed at during the first pilgrimage.
Das left for breakfast and I got my pack together and headed outside. It was a cold start but nothing at all like the cold starts in Tokushima and it wasn't long before it started to warm up. The first temple was about 6km away and as I walked slowly along the coast road I suddenly realised that the whistling sound of the kites had disappeared. The kites had been replaced by cute little birds that constantly flitted from one perch to the next. Each time I had tried to photograph one I was either too slow getting my camera ready or they would be flying off to their next perch. The one I spotted this morning seemed to be particularly cheeky because it appeared to be flitting along side me, never letting me get close enough and never stopping long enough for me to find it in the view finder. Eventually it stopped in one spot long enough for me to capture a nice photograph. This little encounter seemed to set the tone for the rest of the day and I would find myself stopping often just to take photographs of birds, plants and anything that caught my eye.
The route was vaguely familiar and getting lost was not really going to be an issue because apart from a few minor detours it was the trusty old friend Route 55 again. I arrived at Shinshoji (#25) and as I stopped to take a photograph of the long flight of steps leading to the main hall Das emerged from a small side street. I motioned to her to move into frame so I could capture her too. As I was doing this a pilgrim exited the temple and walked slowly past me. I bowed my head in his direction as a way of greeting him and then continued towards Das. The pilgrim however returned with wallet in hand and proceeded to give me 1000 yen as osettai which he asked me to share with Das. It was totally unexpected and when I tried to give him a photograph he said he couldn't accept anything. So all Das and I could do was say thank you to him. Yesterday Das had turned down my offer to split the 1000 yen saving I had made for sharing her room but today thanks to this pilgrim, she got the 500 yen which I thought she had deserved.
The last time I arrived at Shinshoji (#25) it was raining and there was a long line of bus pilgrims making their way up the stairs umbrellas unfurled. Today there was no one there so I made my way up the steep steps passing under what I discovered on the way down was the bell tower about two thirds of the way up. Those wanting to ring bell would have to do it here before heading on to the main hall. A few more steps past the bell tower was the main hall. The main hall was was very small but it had a beautiful vantage point. I looked around for the incense burner and the glass cabinet for the candles but I couldn't find them anywhere until I noticed a sign on the door of the main hall. I slid the door open and what I was looking for was actually all inside. I went through my usual prayer routine and then headed back down the long steps, this time stopping briefly to take a look inside the bell tower. The daishi hall was right at the bottom of the steps next to the stamp office and with prayers done, I got my book stamped, gave the woman in the stamp office a photograph and headed back outside again.
Das and I left together but feeling a bit lazy to check my guide book I followed her at a distance relying on her better navigation skills. Kongochoji (#26) was not too far away but the final 600m was up a mountain trail which turned out to be a lot more demanding than I remembered, not that I actually remembered the mountain trail itself. The main hall at Kongochoji (#26) was also something I had forgotten because looking at it again it looked really impressive both in terms of it's shape and it's size. I washed my hands and mouth and set my pack down and got ready to go through my prayer rituals when I noticed a large group of pilgrims coming towards the main hall. It was the same group of pilgrims who were arriving at Shinshoji (#25) as Das and I were leaving. I decided to wait for them to all finish before going through my own prayers.
With everything done and no more temples on the agenda today I felt more relaxed and spent a little time taking photographs and when Das and I were both ready to leave we set out for the main gate, turned bowed and then wondered which way we were supposed to go. Memory man that I definitely was not, I couldn't remember but according to Das's guide book it was to the right so to the right we went. We skirted along the side of the temple and then followed the trail markers back down along wooded trails and through fields all the way to Route 55 and Kiramesse michi-no-eki. I had not eaten anything except for some chocolate back at the minshuku so I was up for having a proper lunch and Das seemed keen on the idea too. The michi-no-eki didn't really have much to offer so we headed to a nearby restaurant. The restaurant was very busy so we put our names down on a waiting list and joined a few others. Most of the customers seemed to be local elderly people.
After a relatively short wait we were asked if we minded sitting upstairs in the tatami room rather than wait for a table down stairs. We had no problem at all sitting on the floor so we headed upstairs. The added bonus of sitting upstairs turned out to be the view because from the second floor we had a great view of a beautiful deep blue sea and an equally bright blue sky. I was going to get myself the basic lunch set but Das asked me to ask the waitress for a recommendation. The waitress told us that the area was famous for fish and she suggested Das try the local sashimi. Thinking about the osettai I had received this morning I thought maybe I could treat myself a little and asked the waitress to change my order to the same sashimi set as Das. The waitress however, sensibly suggested I get a different sashimi set. This turned out to be a very good idea because the food was really was great. Das and I spent nearly an hour in the restaurant and on the way out I asked one of the staff where our waitress was and on finding her I gave her a photograph and thanked her for helping us.
It was just coming up to 1 o'clock and Tabi-no-yado Misono was about 20km away. It was a fairly gentle walk so we expected to be there around 6 o'clock. The telephone number for Tabi-no-yado Misono was marked in the guide book Das had but no one seemed to be answering. I decided to call again later and the pair of us set of and soon split up again. One place I really wanted to visit again was a small bread shop in the Antique Street area. Takuya and I had stopped there during the first pilgrimage and the old lady who was managing the shop had been incredibly kind to both of us. She had given us freshly baked bread and a hat each and had refused to accept any money.
I entered the shop and found a very limited choice of things to buy but I picked up a two small cakes and waited for someone to come and take my money. Of course, I was hoping to see the old lady because I wanted to give her something. Instead of the old lady, a middle aged man turned up, so I handed him the two cakes and he quickly disappeared into the back and returned with a bread bun which he said was osettai. As he was bagging everything up I asked him where the old lady was and he replied that she had passed away. She was already very old and frail when I had last seen her so what he said didn't come as too much of a shock but I didn't know how to respond to him in Japanese.
Instead of trying to find the right words I told him that I was doing my second pilgrimage and that I had met the old lady during my first one. I also told him that she had been incredibly kind and this time I had wanted to give her something. I handed a photograph of flowers to the man, assuming that maybe it was her son. On this particular photograph I had the Japanese word for gratitude. He didn't seem to know how to respond to my gesture and tried to include an additional loaf of bread as osettai but I told him it was too much and not really necessary. I didn't know how to express my condolences to him but I think it was enough that I had simply stopped by at the shop. He somehow understood I had come back to thank the old woman for her kindness and the look on his face was enough for me to know that he appreciated the gesture. After I exited the shop, I turned to bow and found him already bowing in my direction. Even under the circumstances, I was glad I had stopped at the shop because as I walked away I felt I had performed the most important duty of the day.
I caught up with Das and gave her one of the two cakes and then continued on my way. I continued for well over 2 hours before stopping outside another shop I had stopped at during the first pilgrimage. I really wanted some hot coffee but the local shop had none so I got some water and sat outside to eat my cake. The last time I had sat here I had been joined by a young boy who sat beside me and just started asking simple questions. I couldn't understand very well but I remembered giving him chocolate. Today no such thing happened except for seeing a cute baby with his mother in the shop. As I sat there watching the traffic going by I spotted Das walk by on the other side of the road. She had her headphones plugged in and seemed completely oblivious to my attempts to attract her attention. A few minutes later I got up and set of in the same direction.
I soon caught up and we walked together again for a little while and when the trail diverted away from Route 55 onto a wooded trail, Das stopped to take a break and enjoy the views and I continued on. As I was nearing what turned out to be the end of the wooded trail I heard a rustling sound in the bushes but kept calm and continued going on. I tried not to think about wild boars and just kept going. I was striking my stick a little harder on the ground just in case they got any clever ideas. If it was an animal it would probably just go away and with no attack materializing I figured whatever it was had now gone. As I turned a sharp bend and looked down the trail I saw a cat sitting perfectly still looking up in my direction. I stopped to take a photograph and then a second, this time zooming in on the cat's face. When I looked in the view finder I saw that the cat's attention was not focused on me but on something behind me. I turned my head and not far behind me was an old man carrying a huge bamboo pole on his shoulder. The noise had most likely been him and he had come upon me very quickly and very stealthily. I turned back to the cat and the cat did an about turn and dashed of down the trail. I greeted the old man and then continued along the trail which ended near some houses.
I stopped to photograph some flowers and the old man who was not too far behind stopped in front of one the houses and after putting down the bamboo pole, waved at me and disappeared inside. I rejoined Route 55 again and stopped at a nice spot facing the sea and ate the bread I had received back at the shop. I tried calling Tabi-no-yado Misono again on the number given and again there was no answer. I checked the number I had on my own lodging list, it was the same number but still no answer. I tried one more time using the mobile phone number I also had on my lodging list and this time I got through to Misono-san. Misono in fact is the first name of Yamamoto-san and Yamamoto was the name I remembered her by. When I asked if it was Yamamoto-san she replied it was. I quickly told her I had stayed at her place before and if it was OK, I and a friend wanted to stay this evening. She sounded her usual energetic self and said it was no problem and that she would be back at the house around 6 o'clock. With lodging all sorted out I waited for Das to catch up so I could tell her the good news. We both had plenty of time to get to the house by 6 o'clock and that was the approximate time of arrival I had given to Yamamoto-san.
As we crossed over the bridge which divides Nahari Town from Tano Town a car stopped ahead of us and I instantly recognized Yamamoto-san as the driver. She was all smiles and laughter and actually on her way to pick up another pilgrim who she said was struggling with foot problems. She told us to go straight to her house and have a shower and wait for dinner. We continued on, found the house, rang the bell and just went straight inside to the surprise of the man who Yamamoto-san had mentioned was there. I had assumed he was another pilgrim but it turned out he lived at the house. He showed us to the second floor and pointed out where everything was and everything seemed to be just as I remembered. It wasn't long before I was showered and dressed in clean clothes again. Yamamoto-san returned with the other pilgrim who turned out to be a young man suffering from very severe blistering on his feet. He headed back out to the nearby shops to get some first aid bits and pieces and Das and I put our clothes into the wash and headed downstairs to see what Yamamoto-san was preparing for dinner.
Yamamoto-san's place easily ranks as one of the very best on the pilgrimage trail as far as zenkonyado type places are concerned. The house is modern and well equipped but what makes it stand out as a great place to stay is that Yamamoto-san really makes you feel very welcome. After a long day of walking it really was great to be able to wind down with good food and feel completely at home. Yamamoto-san was her usual chatty and exuberant self and her main story this time was about her new venture cultivating tomatoes in a computer controlled greenhouse. She said she had 8000 tomato plants and hoped it would help to spark a new mini industry in the area. The man we had found in the house when we arrived and one who had turned up a little later were staying with her and both working on helping her develop this into a more successful business. She was at an age when most people would be thinking of taking it easy but she seemed to full of ideas and full of ambition.
Before heading back upstairs I gave everyone some of my photographs and then went to check up on the washing and get ready for some well earned sleep. It had been another really great day and a beautiful blue sea had provided a wonderful backdrop for much of the day. Das and I had enjoyed some great food at the restaurant near Kiramesse and then more again thanks to Yamamoto-san. My overriding thought today was one of gratitude and my thoughts had all been calm and positive. The visit to the bread shop reminded me again that acts of kindness have a life all of their own. The old lady sadly was not there any more but her kindness was the reason I went there. If the man in the shop had been the son, even if my question had rekindled painful memories, maybe there were also gratifying thoughts that a stranger who had only ever met her once, had not forgotten her kindness. Yesterday I had been thinking about a final battle with the demons after returning home, today the feeling was that a slow victory was maybe just as good.