I had been waking up early most mornings but when I woke up from my sleep morning had not even arrived because it was still only 2 AM. As much as I tried, sleep never returned so after a couple of hours of turning this way and that I finally got up just before 5 o'clock and started to pack my things away. Outside, the temple was still shrouded in darkness but I could make out someone wearing a headlight praying at a small Shinto shrine on the temple grounds. Probably a regular morning visitor used to seeing people coming and going from the tsuyado, she simply said take care and added that it would be wet for much of the day. How wet it would be, would be something I would understand very well by the end of the day.
I had been asked to pay my respects at the main hall before leaving so I headed to the main hall and expressed my thanks for my stay in the tsuyado at Sekkeiji (#33) and also for a safe journey for the day ahead. It was still dark as I left and headed towards Tanemaji (#34). I had not gone too far when the first signs of rain appeared. It started gently enough but almost immediately it started coming down in bucket loads. I took shelter under the eaves of a small factory and pulled on my rain gear and fortified my pack with a large bin bag before pulling over the pack cover. As extra precaution, I wrapped my ohenro bag in separate plastic bag even though everything inside was already safely protected inside zip-lock bags.
By the time I arrived at Tanemaji (#34) I was dripping wet and the rain was literally bucketing down. I went directly to the stamp office so I could leave my pack somewhere dry before going back out to pray. As I entered, someone I took to be one of the temple monks appeared from the back assuming I was probably there to get my booked stamped. I told him I just wanted to leave my pack there and would return in a little while. I just hoped I hadn't set the karmic wheels of another violent scribbling in motion. Back outside I managed to pray at both halls without getting any more wet than I already was. The main prayer hall was quite small at the front but seemed to stretch much further back.
With prayers done I returned to the stamp office for my stamp. The same monk reappeared so I handed him my book along with the usual polite expression requesting for my book to be stamped. As I turned away to get the photographs out of my bag I heard a massive thud as the first stamp went in, followed by two more thuds. I didn't look at what had been done to my stamp book but simply put it back in it's plastic wrapper and returned it to my ohenro bag. I gave the monk a photograph and told him it was osettai from me and that I was giving them to everyone. He hadn't spoken up until then but he turned out to be quite a friendly monk and maybe it was just his large size that resulted in the thunderous sound when he put in the stamps. As I headed out of the stamp office he told me to turn left at the main entrance and to keep going. As instructed I turned left out of the main gate and kept going.
I eventually arrived at the Niyodogawa Ohashi Bridge, a long bridge over the Niyodogawa River. On the other side of the river I knew there were a variety of places to eat and also several convenience stores. All I had eaten before I left Sekkeiji (#33) was a single onigiri and I was thinking that a hot coffee and a dorayaki would be a rather nice treat to compensate for the wet weather. I stopped at the very same Lawson I had stopped at the last time. The only thing that had changed was that the small table and chairs they had inside were no longer there so I exited and squatted down outside to enjoy my treat.
Feeling re-energized and with Kiyotaki (#35) not that far away I put my pack back on and pressed on. The rain had eased up a little while I was outside the Lawson but it was just a temporary respite. About 10 minutes later the skies opened up and it started coming down in bucket loads again. As I headed up the last final steep twisting stretch to the temple coming towards me was Das. She had managed to leapfrog me by quite a margin and I discovered she had done that as a result of two successive days of very long walks. Her plan today was to make it to Shoryuji (#36) and then continue on somewhere further towards a bus zenkonyado. I was not familiar with a bus zenkonyado but she seemed to be confident that it existed. In fact, it looked like she had really found her rhythm and was beginning to flow. At the rate she was now going I was quite sure she would continue to pull further further away.
As I stood chatting to Das the rain intensified and even bigger bucket loads of rain started coming down. Not really sure if I would be seeing her again, I told Das to take care and the pair of us headed in opposite directions. If the rain had not been falling so incessantly I would have spotted the trail marker and not missed the turn which led to the main gate. I realized my mistake when I got to the top of the steep twisty road because to my left I could see a long flight of steps with what looked like the main gate right back down at the bottom. I wanted to follow the correct protocol so I slowly went all the way down the wet stone steps, exited the gate and then stopped to take a photograph.
As I was doing this I was joined by Inoue-san. I probably looked like a drowned rat but he always seemed to be immaculately turned out. He had really good quality gear and today he was in full rain gear and as usual, wearing his hat and looking every bit the walking pilgrim. I offered to snap him on his smartphone with the steps stretching up behind him. With that done, we bowed and went through the gate and up the steps on to the temple buildings. After my initial confusion over the main gate I forgot all about the ritual of washing my hands and mouth and headed straight for what I thought was the stamp office. What I thought was the stamp turned out to be the tsuyado. I recognized it as such because of photographs I had seen on someone's website. It was a great tsuyado. There was a main area at the front with a large table and many chairs, two separate tatami rooms on the side, a small kitchen and fairly large altar. It would have been a great place to stay. Not only that, the temple sat high up and commanded a great view too.
I was joined by Inoue-san who was equally surprised with how good the tsuyado was. I was in no hurry to head back out into the rain so I got chatting to Inoue-san and learned a little more about him. I had met him several times since first meeting him on the way to Onzanji (#18) and slowly I had started to learn more about him. He was the same age as me and like me single. Unlike me he was going to return to a job after finishing ohenro. I had often watched how he prayed at the temples and he always took his time and always did everything with great care and that was something I really liked very much. Also, unlike many other pilgrims, he did everything quietly.
Kiyotaki (#35) stands at the foot of a small waterfall and as a result of the damp conditions everything is covered in a dark green moss. The rain on this day simply added to this damp mossy atmosphere and the pink cherry blossoms created a beautiful contrast. After managing to get through the prayer rituals and remaining reasonably dry in the process I headed to the stamp office. My stamp office encounter led me to consider referring to the stamps as scribbles from now on. This was not in anyway a reflection on anything the man in the stamp office had done, in fact quite the opposite. He did put what looked like a scribble in my stamp book but it was quite a magnificent looking scribble and I commented as such when he finished. I gave him a photograph I had chosen for him but decided to let him choose one he liked. I only intended for him to have one but he ended up with two and given how beautifully he had scribbled in my stamp book maybe I should have given him a third.
From Kiyotaki (#35) to Tosa Kokumin Shukusha was about 15km and it was 11:25 as I left the temple. I had already decided against going directly to Shoryuji (#36) and my plan was now to visit the following morning when the weather was forecast to be much drier than today. That, and a wish to enjoy the same peaceful atmosphere I had found there the last time I had visited. On the way down the rain got even worse but the good news was that at least it wasn't blowing a storm because that would have made everything ten times worse. As I stopped at a crossing, I spotted a Family Mart and the thought of a hot coffee and dorayaki popped into my head. I figured a treat would help to propel me the final 12km to my final destination.
I entered the Family Mart and found a quiet corner near the self service coffee machines to set down my things. When I pulled back the plastic bag I had wrapped around my ohenro bag water literally flowed out and created a puddle on the floor. The rain had gotten everywhere and looking inside I could see water in the bottom of my ohenro bag. My pack was also soaked because the water had gotten behind my pack cover but the contents were relatively safe because everything inside was inside a large bin bag. I emptied my ohenro bag of all it's contents and then poured the water out into a small wash basin nearby. The contents of my ohenro bag were thankfully in individual ziplock bags so everything was still nice and dry. The extra bin bags from the 100 yen shop had more than proved their worth.
As I stood drinking my coffee I started fiddling about with the options on the photocopy machine. With the menu in English mode, my fiddling about led me to a discover that I could print photographs. I had wanted to print some more so I tried it out and they turned out to be pretty good. The colour quality was not as good but they came out reasonably well and now I didn't need to rush around looking for a print shop or a print machine like I had in Aki City a few days earlier. I just needed to find a convenience store with a clever photocopy machine and with most convenience stores having clever photocopy machines I could now print extra photographs anywhere I found a convenience store. I printed 10 photographs and put one aside to give to the shop staff.
Before leaving the shop I was joined by another pilgrim I had met just a little earlier at Kiyotaki (#35). He was also booked into Tosa Kokumin Shukusha and he asked me how long I thought it would take for me to get there. I said about two to two and a half hours and he replied “Muri muri !!” which means “Impossible impossible !!”. What Mr Muri didn't know was that I enjoyed a physical challenge. I had climbed up and down Mt. Fuji almost 30 times including a couple of double climbs and done all sorts of crazy running challenges. I was definitely up for the challenge. After giving a photograph to one of the staff and apologizing for the puddles I headed back out into the rain.
I was carrying 18kg today after picking up a liter of water yesterday. I tightened all the straps and headed on. Mr Muri was just a few short steps behind me and the route was pretty straightforward. I was soon up to speed and putting distance between myself and Mr Muri. Ahead of me I could see two more pilgrims who I slowly caught up and passed. I made a quick stop at a convenience store to pick up a few supplies and and then continued to push over the final 2-3km with the rain coming down like you wouldn't believe. Up the final 1km steep tight twisting road to Tosa Kokumin Shukusha there were literally torrents of water streaming down the sides of the road. In places the water was inches deep and completely covered my feet. When I finally arrived at the front desk I was maybe a few minutes over 2 hours but the challenge had got me to my final destination far sooner than I would probably otherwise have managed.
My main wish now was to get cleaned up and to get all my gear sorted out and dried. I got several old newspapers from the hotel staff and stuffed them into my boots. My boots were absolutely drenched but a few changes of newspaper later I had the worst of the wetness out of them. Most of the contents of my pack had survived fine. My ohenro bag had water in it again but everything was still safe. Next I wanted to shower but the staff told me the regular onsen was not available until later in the evening but that I could use the outdoor hot spa.
The outdoor hot spa was a relatively small 8 foot square tub with a few shower points around the the side. It was mostly covered but exposed on the side facing the sea. I undressed in a small adjoining changing room, shaved and showered. Despite the chill, it felt really good stepping into the hot spa. It felt absolutely great sitting in the hot water with just my head emerging from the water looking out onto a wide expanse of sea and a moody looking sky. In fact there was no hint of tiredness or fatigue at all as I was joined by several other pilgrims who sat back to ease away their aches and pains.
My feet were my main concern because when you push yourself hard your feet take a beating but my feet seemed to have survived the challenge. Compared to the first pilgrimage my choice of footwear – good quality hiking boots and toe socks – had helped prevent any serious foot problems. After a brief chat with one of my fellow pilgrims I got myself out of the the hot tub, dressed myself in clean clothes and went back inside again. I put my wet clothes into the washing machine and then just sat looking out at the sky which had started to clear up. As the sun came out a double rainbow appeared in the sky and I all but forgot that I had spent the past 10 hours or so in a constant downpour.
Tosa Kokumin Shukusha turned out to be a really great place. The dorm room was for 6 but there were only 3 staying, Mr Muri being one of them. I liked Mr Muri despite his lack of faith in my ability to cover 12km in 2 hours. The theme today had also been gentleness and along the way that had been tested many times and maybe I didn't do too badly. In spite of the physical hardships today, ohenro life was a relatively easy life compared to life back in the real world and maybe what I needed to do most was to endure the real world challenges in the same spirit that I was enduring the challenges of ohenro.