It was still only 04:30 when I woke up after a few hours of very restful sleep and as was often the case, I started updating my notes. Yamamoto-san seemed to be up very early too because a little while later I could hear her pottering about downstairs. When the three of us pilgrims were ready we headed downstairs for what turned out to be a simple tasty traditional Japanese breakfast comprised of rice, miso soup and some grilled fish.
The plan today was to visit Konomineji (#27) and Konomine Shrine only. Konomine Shrine was situated a little further up the mountain from Konomineji (#27) and although not really part of the pilgrimage, Yamamoto-san kept telling us it was a great place to visit. With regards to a place to stay, my tentative plan today was to go to an onsen in Aki City, stay as late as possible and then camp out in a rest hut just on the edge of Aki City. The alternative, depending on time was to push on and camp out further on in one of many other huts. The only free place I was aware of was Hagimori Zenkonyada.
The weather today was overcast and not as warm as yesterday which was probably a good thing because the final stretch up to Konomineji (#27) was 3km in length and pretty steep. Like last time, Yamamoto-san gave us directions to a friend's house where she said we could leave our packs before heading up. Just after leaving Tabi-no-yado Misono I bumped into Inoue-san. Inoue-san was the pilgrim I had forgotten I had met after having met him just a few hours earlier. After that initial mix up, we always seemed to stop and chat whenever we bumped into each other. He said he had stayed in a minshuku close by and that he'd met an American pilgrim called Leah. I still hadn't come across Laura who I knew had set out a day or so before me from Ryozenji (#1) but it looked like there was a chance I might bump into Leah.
Das was walking up ahead and like yesterday I was relying on her navigational skills. We were following the trail markers but I was expecting her to divert and head for the place where she was gong to leave her pack. Unfortunately she over shot the point where she should have turned so we crossed paths again as she headed back. I had carried my pack to the top last time and I intended to take it up with me again so I continued on up, relying on the trail markers to stop me from taking a wrong turn. Last time I had visited Konomineji (#27) I had been in great shape and I had literally powered it to the top. This time I kept it to a much gentler pace.
As I rounded a bend I suddenly came face to face with an non Japanese female pilgrim and my first utterance was to ask whether she was Leah or Laura. Surprised, she told me she was Leah. I told her that a Laura had set out a day or so ahead of me and that I had just heard about her from a fellow pilgrim. We didn't chat very much and after giving her a photograph I continued on my way. I arrived at Konomineji (#27) feeling tired but pretty good at having done it with a full pack again. There were only a handful of people at the temple and after leaving my pack in the stamp office I went through my usual prayer rituals. Before returning to the stamp office I decided to head further up to visit Konomine Shrine.
According to a sign near the daishi hall, Konomine Shrine was about 400m away. I followed a narrow road and continued up and up until I came to a very very long narrow flight of rocky moss covered steps leading up into the trees. I figured it probably led to the shrine but I stuck with the narrow road and a few minutes later I arrived at a very isolated looking place. Another short steep flight of steps led up to the main shrine building. Maybe it was because of the overcast sky but there seemed to be a very sombre feel to the place. I prayed in front of the main shrine building and then headed back down to Konomineji (#27) and back to the stamp office. I got my book stamped and gave the lady a photograph.
She had started dealing with someone right after doing my stamp but as soon as she finished she came over and gave me orange as osettai. Giving a photograph to the staff in the stamp office had become a habit and although there was no wish to receive something in return, it was always nice when I did. Osettai I was beginning to understand in my own way as, not only about giving but also receiving. My own feeling now was that when you gave something there should be no expectation of reward, and when you received something there should be no compulsion to give something in return.
After finishing at the temple and before heading down I sat down to eat something. Yamamoto-san had given us a good breakfast but I was feeling hungry again. I ate the rice ball that Yamamoto-san had prepared as osettai but saved the orange for later. What I really wanted was a hot coffee but that would have to wait until I came to a convenience store. I put my pack back on and then slowly started to head back down again. I was not in any hurry so I stopped often just to take photographs. The most interesting sight I came across on the way down was a cockerel farm. What was interesting was that the birds were huge standing well over a foot tall and each one was confined to a wire dome like pod which gave them only space to sit down or stand up. They were all standing up and not really up to much. I figured the wire pods were probably the only way to keep them from fighting each other because they certainly looked mean enough to give each other a good pecking and kicking.
Once down the mountain road I rejoined Route 55 and came up on Inoue-san again. He had gone up and come straight back down without visiting Konomine Shrine which was the reason he was ahead of me again. He looked exhausted and said he was going to take a break so after a brief chat I continued on my way. The rain was holding off but there seemed to be a constant threat of rain and the first thing I wanted to do when I got to Aki City was get some plastic bin bags to protect the contents of my pack when the rains really did arrive. Heavy rain was not expected until tomorrow but I wanted to be better prepared than I had been on the way to Yakuoji (#23). The other thing I wanted to do was print more photographs. Even after arriving with plenty and then printing some more back in Tokushima City I had been giving them away at quite a rate.
The walk into Aki City turned out be nice and gentle and being next to the sea again, very calming too. It finally started to rain as I got into Aki City so I picked up the pace and headed in the general direction of the 100 yen shop I had stopped at during my first pilgrimage. On the way I spotted a Fuji Film shop and decided to go in and get some more prints. I asked the lady in the shop if she would give me a discount if I printed a large number like they did back in Tokyo. She didn't say anything but I selected 45 copies and waited for them to be printed somewhere in the back. While I was waiting for the photographs to be printed I explained that I was doing my second pilgrimage and if she liked she could choose a photograph from among the ones I still had left. She ended up choosing one and she liked it so much that she removed a print from a photo frame on the counter and replaced it with the photograph she had chosen. Not only that, she gave me 500 yen as osettai which was entirely unexpected.
I left the shop feeling good and then just up the road I found the 100 yen shop I had been looking for. As I approached the main entrance a lady exiting the store immediately started to talk to me. First she asked me if I thought she really looked Japanese or not. She seemed to think she didn't look very Japanese although she looked quite Japanese to me. Next she told me that she was 58 and finally she insisted on taking my photograph and then another with the two of us together. I told her I needed to buy some bin bags from the shop so she accompanied me in and helped me to find them. She then wanted to buy me a drink and picked up a large bottle of mineral water which I discouraged her from buying. It wasn't that I didn't want anything from her, I just didn't want to add to the weight I was already carrying plus her friendly attitude was osettai enough for me. I thanked her for helping me and continued on to the edge of Aki City and stopped at a Lawson for a well deserved coffee and a dorayaki. I had been in a bit of hurry the past hour or so because I had started to think that maybe I could call ahead and see if I could possibly stay at Hagimori Zenkonyado.
As I sat enjoying my coffee I called Hagimori Zenkonyado several ties but no one answered. I wasn't unduly concerned because further along there were plenty of huts where I could stop but sleeping inside was always better than sleeping out when the weather was cold and there was definitely a risk of rain. A few minutes later I got a call back from Hagimori-san and when he enquired about where I was I sensed he was a little annoyed with my answer and it was my own fault for not contacting him much earlier. I was still about 12km from Nishibun Station and he thought it would take me about 3 hours to get to get there and told me to give him a call when I got there. I felt good enough to do it in well under 3 hours so I finished my coffee, checked the time and put my pack back on. I then picked up the pace and made it to Nishibun Station in just over 2 hours, even stopping just short of the station to pick up some snacks including a can of Suntory Premium Malts. The Suntory Premium Malts was a peace offering in case he was still in a sticky mood. I called him when I reached the station and a couple of minutes later he turned up on his motorbike and told me to follow him. We skirted under the railway tracks and then back up along the tracks to where he had built several wooden huts.
No one else was staying at the huts and I figured I had probably interrupted his evening which explained why he seemed a little bit annoyed. To fix the problem I offered him the can of beer and initially he completely refused to take it and I wasn't sure if he was just being Japanese or simply refusing so I didn't push it on him. He seemed to mellow after realising I could speak a little Japanese and from being annoyed he spent the next 2 hours sharing lots of information about places I could stay for free or at very little cost. He had produced his own list of places and said I could mention his name if I wanted to try and stay at any of them. Of particular interest were the rest huts or places where camping or staying over night was not really encouraged and also prohibited. He particularly mentioned a fantastic hut in Togawa Park in Shikoku-chuo City where he said it was prohibited to stop. Takuya, myself and another pilgrim had slept in that very hut during my first pilgrimage. He ended up telling me about all the huts he could remember where you could and couldn't stop. He also shared information about zenkonyado which I knew little or nothing about. I also got the impression that all was not harmonious and peaceful in the land of zenkonyado providers but I avoided making any comments.
Hagimori-san finally left around 8 o'clock after showing me inside the other huts. In total there were 4 huts and he said they could sleep about 12 people. He gave me the key to the hut I was going to be in and told me to leave it there the following morning. Before he left, I apologised again for not giving him more notice and also thanked him for sharing lots of great information with me. I quietly passed the beer to him too and this time without any protest he just put it in the front basket of his small scooter and sped away. Having had no clear idea where I was going to sleep this morning I had seemingly struck lucky again. The hut I was in was big enough or 2 or 3 people and there was plenty of bedding and blankets. The only minor issue was that there was no electricity in the huts and the only light came from a strong flood lamp on the opposite side of the path outside. It looked like it had been set up for the express purposes of illuminating the huts Hagimori-san had built.
It had turned into another really interesting sort of a day. I had really enjoyed the walk up and down to Konomineji (#27) and Konomine Shrine. Unlike yesterday when the sky and the sea were both a beautiful blue, today it was a grey blue but the cooler temperatures made the walking much easier. There had also been the usual friendly encounters with people and maybe the highlight for me turned out to be the lady in the Fuji Film shop placing the photograph she had chosen into a photo frame displaying it on the shop counter. Another ohenro day had come to an end and there was much I had to be grateful for and not just for what had happened on the pilgrimage so far.