I slept really well for the first time since starting the pilgrimage. There was virtually no noise and no distractions to wake me up so I got a solid 5 hours of sleep. When I woke up and looked at the time it was 03:40. I had set my alarm for 05:30 so I tried to get back to sleep but as usual it was impossible to get back to sleep. I wanted to get to Zenrakuji (#30) nice and early so I could give myself the maximum amount of time for what was forecast to be a very nice day.
Yesterday I had laid out all the contents of pack my pack on the floor to make it easier to pack everything away the following morning. I put them all inside a large plastic bin bag and for the first time I realized how much stuff I was really carrying and also how much the clothes alone were contributing to the overall weight. There were some scales in the apartment so I used it first to weigh myself and then myself and everything I was carrying. In 2 weeks of walking I had managed to lose probably close to 3kg and my weight was back below 60kg. After a bit of calculating my pack and the contents of ohenro bag together weighed 17kg. That was about the same I had been carrying during the first pilgrimage. In hindsight, I could say that I should have brought less or invested in a better quality pack but I was now reasonably comfortable and my body seemed to have adapted to carrying such a load each day. Carrying a more sensible amount would have made things a lot more comfortable but maybe it was also a metaphor for the unnecessary burdens I always seemed to carry along with me.
When I drew back the curtain and looked outside I could see a very clear sky and apart from the early morning chill it looked like it would be turning into a very nice day. An almost near full moon was also visible in the early morning sky which the overcast skies of the previous few days had prevented me from catching a glimpse. I got myself ready and before heading out I made sure everything was in it's place in the apartment. I did one last check to make sure I had not forgotten anything and then left for the temple at 06:25. Before leaving I left a further two photographs on the kitchen table as a small thank you for the rice ball and the pot of tea I had received yesterday.
From Rainbow Hokusei, Zenrakuji (#30) was no more than about 10 minutes walk away and when I got there, there was not a soul in sight. Someone had already been there because there were single candles burning at each of the halls. I sat down and prepared my osamafuda and decided the goal of the day today should be gentleness. Gentleness in thought, word and action was something that made life much easier and I saw it often in every day life in Japan. Acting gently didn't always make life easier but it seemed true to say that it made it less difficult at times. Yesterday I got splashed by passing traffic many times, got lost, got soaked, got lost again, got to the hotel without any food, got told I might have to share with a stranger and many other minor irritations like this, so today I figured would be a good day to consciously set this as a small goal for the rest of the day.
I finished my prayer rituals at each hall and without the usual distractions it felt really different. Early mornings I had found previously and during this pilgrimage too, to be the time I liked best. There seemed to be very different atmosphere not just because of the general sense of calmness in the mornings but also because there was a sense of things coming back to life again, as the overnight cold slowly thawed. Having finished with prayers and taken a few photographs I headed to the stamp office and my vow for the day was about to be tested. There was no one in the stamp office but on the counter was a small bell so I picked it up and gave it a tinkle. A few moments later a man appeared from the back with the kind of look that suggests he was none too pleased to be disturbed. I generally loved watching those who carefully almost lovingly put the stamp in my book but I got the distinct feeling I would not be starting my day with such a lovingly inscribed stamp.
Without responding to my greeting he took the book in one hand, banged the stamps in and scribbled whatever it was he scribbled every day, closed it and pushed it back towards me. I held out the 300 yen and he pointed to the counter so I placed the coins on his writing mat. It occurred to me that I could be sarcastic and ask if he enjoyed his job but instead I just took out a photograph and told him I gave one to everyone who was kind to me. Maybe that was a little sarcastic too but that was not the intention. This time round I didn't feel any special attachment to my stamp book but saw it as more of a necessary and important record of my pilgrimage. He took the photo and kept looking at it but without saying a word. I wasn't particularly waiting for a reply and after gathering my things I left feeling I had passed the first test of the day.
As I was heading for the main gate a very old woman was pushing a wheeled trolley chair into the temple. She was stopping and praying briefly at various spots and upon noticing me remarked in Japanese that I was doing something great. She then lifted the seat of her trolley chair and pulled out her purse and gave me ¥100. Seeing what she was about to do I pulled out a photograph and after receiving her osettai, I gave her the photograph which she very graciously accepted. I really liked the old people because they seemed to understand the ohenro spirit in a very different kind of way and even if they didn't give you something, their words of encouragement always carried a great deal of weight. I left the temple feeling good and headed towards the next temple, this time sticking to the ohenro trail much better than I had yesterday after leaving Kokubunji (#30).
There was a bitter chill in the early morning air but it was slowly starting to warm up. The plan today was to get to Sekkeiji (#33) and stay in the tsuyado there. With Zenrakuji (#30) done and the time barely 07:30 I had a feeling it was going to be a slow relaxed leisurely sort of a day. What I wanted now was my hot coffee and my dorayaki. This morning I had had nothing to eat and just had some hot tea before leaving Rainbow Hokusei. Ahead I knew there was a Family Mart but my guide book also indicated an udon restaurant.
As I made a bee line for the Family Mart I found myself veering towards the udon restaurant instead. The udon restaurant had just opened and I seemed to be the very first customer. It was a self service restaurant and all the food looked very appetizing but in the end I just got myself a small bowl of bukkake udon and a vegetable croquette. As I sat down the Beatles “It's been a hard day's night” started playing on the sound system. A few more Beatles songs later I was happily fueled and ready to tackle the rest of the day. Before I left I returned to the food counter and presented a photograph to one of the staff and then headed back out and picked up the trail markers again.
I had not gone very far when a Japanese pilgrim fell into step along side me and started chatting to me. He was a 65 year old from Osaka. Most older pilgrims I met along the way tended to be a little reticent to talk and open up but my friendly pilgrim this morning was chatting away like we were the best of friends. We walked together towards Chikurinji (#31) but as we headed up a steep wooded trail he soon fell behind and then completely out of sight. The trail continued up to and through the botanical gardens. I was hoping I would see some pretty blossoms but it was still too early and the best blossoms were yet to appear. I left the garden through the main gate and ahead I could see the steps leading up to the the temple. I climbed up the steps bowed at the gate and then proceeded on. The stretch from the main gate back up another long steep flight of steps is one of the most beautiful of any of the temples. Left and right of the stony path, everything is covered in a green moss and after the rains yesterday the deep mossy colour looked particularly vivid, especially with the sun streaming through the trees. The view looking back down the steps from the top was equally stunning.
It was turning into a really beautiful day and the atmosphere at Chikurinji (#31) was simply fantastic. After finishing my prayers at both the prayer halls I looked about the temple grounds just taking photographs. Chikurinji (#31) has an impressive looking 5 storied pagoda and many other interesting structures. A sign not too far from the daishi hall caught my attention because the English translation read “One Wish Jizo”. I climbed the steps to where it pointed and found a small structure lined with small doll like figurines. It seemed from what I could understand that a single wish could be made at this particular spot. After my sometimes less than gentle thoughts yesterday I decided to pray for all my bad habits to be vanquished. That was bundling up quite a lot of bad habits into one wish but I prayed quietly that this one wish would be granted.
The stamp office was next on the to-do list but it was back down the steep flight of steps so before heading there I decided to take a bit of a rest and connect to the temple wifi. There was a sign indicating that wifi was available so I connected and for the first time in many days I checked my email and fired of a few quick replies. For someone who was ordinarily glued to his computer screen the loss of connectivity had proved no hardship at all. Disconnected once more from the real world I headed back down to the stamp office and another test of my goal for the day.
There were two women sat next to each other at the counter in the stamp office and I offered my stamp book to the first one who looked up. I used the polite Japanese expression I always used when offering my stamp book and she repeated it to the other woman who continued to keep her gaze down at whatever she was doing or more likely not doing. The stamp woman scribbled something quickly into my book, snapped it shut and handed it back. Again without any hint of animosity for her “let me get back to doing something interesting" attitude I again took out a photograph and told her I was giving one to everyone who was kind to me. I left them probably discussing the finer points of my photography skills but inwardly I felt a little bit amused and a little bit saddened by their behaviour. In a positive sense they were in fact being kind to me, not that they probably realised because by doing what they did they were helping me with my goal for the day. I wanted the stamps in my book to be done as nicely as possible, even lovingly but for me ohenro this time was not really about the stamps and on the whole it is not even about the temples.
As I continued my way down from Chikurinji (#31) I was greeted by a woman coming up towards the temple. She stopped to ask where I was from and continued with the other usual questions I was often asked. It was always kind of nice when people greeted me and took an interest. I gave her a photograph and told her to take care on the way up the stone steps and then continued on towards Zenjibuji (#32). It had turned into a beautifully sunny day and ahead of me I could see two pilgrims stood beside a small white van. As I got closer I recognised one of them as the friendly pilgrim and the other one as someone I had met a few days ago. They were on the receiving end of some hot tea osettai from an elderly local man who seemed to be busy telling them tales. They excused themselves when I arrived and I sat down and enjoyed a hot tea and answered a few questions. I didn't want to spend too much time relaxing because I wanted to get to the next temple so I gave him a photograph and readied to leave. As I got my pack back on again he went to the front seat of his van and returned with a gigantic grapefruit like object and said it was a local variety of mikan. I now literally had my hands full with everything I was carrying already but I accepted it in good spirit and carried it in my hand all the way to Zenjibuji (#32).
I felt hot and a little exhausted when I arrived at the temple. My goal for the day had been testing me repeatedly, with cars passing too closely, the guide book not always being clear and the increasing heat. I wasn't getting full marks for all my efforts but I was doing pretty well. I decided to deal with the mikan first and the best thing I could think of doing with it was to eat it. I used all my strength to peel back the skin and then ate the fleshy parts and spat out the pips into my palm creating a small mountain of peel and pips by the time I had finished. Along the way I had thought about giving it to someone else as osettai but now that I had eaten it all I was rather glad I hadn't. There wouldn't be another convenience store for about 5km after leaving the temple and I had been starting to feel hungry again.
I started getting ready for the prayer rituals and realised I had only one candle so it was back towards the main gate and along to the stamp office. I decided to get my stamp while I was there. With the extra candles I also got some more incense too. The woman was a little bit more careful than the last two temples and after she had finished putting the stamp in I gave her a photograph and also explained why I was giving photographs. The stamp office was not so busy so I got talking to her about Hagimori-san who she knew about and asked her about the tsuyado at Zenjibuji (#32). It was just after midday so a little bit too early to be thinking about staying but I told her that I thought it would be a great place to stay because the views from the temple really were quite wonderful. From the elevated position I could see all the way along the coast towards Katsurahama and it really looked very nice. Spending the night up at the temple with a clear night sky would make it a really great place to be. Today however it was not going to be the case because the plan was to continue and stop at Sekkeiji (#33).
Over the last few days I had been choosing the photographs I had been giving to the stamps offices mostly because some of them were related to the temples or I just based my choice on my reaction to the atmosphere I found when I visited the stamp offices. The woman at Zenjibuji (#32) had been really chatty so I decided to leave all the photographs with her and told her to choose one she really liked and if she wanted to, to choose a different one to the one I had given her. I returned to the main hall and continued with the prayer rituals. After finishing at the daishi hall I returned to the stamp office and found she had chosen a different photograph which she told me she liked better. I collected all the others, thanked her and headed back down from Zenjibuji (#32) and on towards Sekkeiji (#33).
I had plenty of time today to make it to Sekkeiji (#33) and I wanted to take a slightly different route to the route I had taken last time. Last time I had taken the route via Katsurahama which involved walking over the high port bridge along a quite narrow footpath but this time I thought I would try the free ferry service which ran an hourly service. I decided I would try to make it for 14:10 crossing which gave me plenty of time to check whether I could actually stop at Sekkeiji (#33) and also give me time to consider walking on towards Tanemaji (#34) which I knew also had a tsuyado.
It had turned into a beautifully warm sunny day and as I walked along at a gentle pace but my thoughts were of hot coffee and dorayaki again. I had skipped my usual treat this morning for a tasty bowl of udon so up ahead I made a quick stop at a Family Mart. The young man serving in the shop seemed to me just as friendly as the one I had met at the very first convenience store I had stopped at after leaving Ryozenji (#1) so after paying for my coffee and snacks I gave him a photograph. It was the very same one I had given at the convenience store on that first day. He also put on the same kind of look I had seen on the young man on that first day and seemed really pleased to have received something. Back outside I enjoyed my treated and suddenly mindful of the fact that I needed to get to the ferry terminal for 14:10 I started walking away only to realise I had left my walking stick behind. Thankfully I had only gone about 10 yards or so before I realised my mistake and with the stick in hand I pressed on again. I got to the ferry port with a few minutes to spare. There was another pilgrim waiting and one or two local people. The ferry crossing took just 7 minutes to cross to the other side. The views from the Katsurahama would have been really great today but the view from the ferry crossing was pretty good too and a different experience from last time. From the ferry port on the other side it was just a straight road all the way to the Sekkeiji (#33).
After performing all my rituals I went to the stamp office and watched the woman do the stamp in the kind and almost loving way you would wish every stamp to be done. I wanted to give her a photograph next but I thought I should ask about the tsuyado first. She immediately got up and came out from behind her counter and asked a fruit seller who had stall set up on the temple grounds to show me the tsuyado. I thanked her and walked over to the man who showed me to a slightly larger than normal portacabin just a few yards away. Inside it was fairly spartan except for a blanket and a few other items but it was perfectly adequate for my particular needs. There was a supermarket just a short walk away so I set my pack down and headed of the temple to get some food.
On leaving the temple I was greeted again by a pilgrim who had greeted me when I first arrived at the temple. He was carrying the scrolls that some pilgrims used to collect the stamps. He looked younger than me and after the usual questions he said he was doing the pilgrimage because his mother was in hospital. He added that he couldn't get time off work so he was doing it by car whenever he could. I told him I wanted to give him a photograph for his mother and pulled one out I thought would be nice. I gave it to him but then thought it might be better if I let him choose one that he thought his mother might like better better. I gave him the whole stack and he was looking through them one by one and then just stopped at the one and only photograph of me from my last pilgrimage and said he would like to give that one to his mother. He then shook my hand and thanked me many times and even as I walked away he repeated the same words many many times. As I continued on to the supermarket I thought again that it was encounters like this, along with those in the stamp offices, the old ladies praising your efforts and a myriad other little things that made ohenro such an interesting and rewarding experience.
I got myself some food and drink and returned to the tsuyado but before eating I headed back to the stamp office to let the woman choose a photograph. She liked one of some plum blossoms and made her choice very quickly. For the man selling fruit outside, I gave a photograph I had taken on the summit of Mt. Fuji. I then sat on the floor of the tsuyado and ate my food. After that I just wandered about the temple grounds taking photographs and enjoying the warm sunshine. The friendly pilgrim who I had met on the way to Chikurinji (#31) turned up and told me he had taken the 15:10 ferry and that he was staying right opposite the temple. I showed him the list of free and cheap places Hagimori-san had given me and told him to photograph the list for himself in case he wanted to use any of them later in the journey. A little while later I met Inoue-san who I had last seen just after coming down from Konomineiji (#27) and he too was staying at the same minshuku as the friendly pilgrim. After that a few more pilgrims came and went and then temple staff started to close up for the day.
As the evening wore on the whole place fell silent. I had taken a quick nap after the temple closed and then stayed up late updating my notes and thinking about the following day. I planned to set out early and get to Tanemaji (#34) as close to opening time as possible, then Kiyotakiji (#35) and finally the 14km or so towards Shoryuji (#36). The plan was to stop at Tosa Kokumin Shukusha. From photographs I had seen of the place, it appeared to be located high up and had wonderful views of the coastline. The weather forecast sadly was for cloud and possibly rain tomorrow but how severe it might be was something I would have to find out about tomorrow. It had not been a particularly long day and in terms of distance I had only walked about 20km. The temples and the walks between them had all been really nice. Plus, there had been the usual nice little encounters with people along the way. If anything, I wished I had been even more leisurely getting to Sekkeiji (#33). Having said that, if I had been a little more leisurely then maybe I would have missed out on some of those nice little encounters I had had throughout the day. Missed out too on those simple moments to reflect a little more on the bad habits I needed to banish. It had been a good day and another ohenro day was over.
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