I had fallen asleep around 10:30 the previous evening but was awake again at 01:30 and then never really got back to sleep. At around 04:30 I got up and came down to the lobby and started to update my notes again and wait for the sunrise. It was still dark when I was joined by Mr Muri and the other pilgrim who was in the dorm room. Mr Muri had just come down for a cigarette but the other pilgrim was dressed and was soon gone. Mr Muri finished smoking and then returned to the dorm. I remained in the lobby area updating my notes, thinking about the day ahead and watching the sky come alive outside.
The sky was relatively clear but there were still large white clouds here and there in the sky. Once the sun came up from behind a bank of cloud things started to warm up again and it looked like it would turn out to be a good day weather-wise at least. I returned to the dorm room and Mr Muri was now also ready to make a move and not long after that he too was gone. I decided to pack up and head out too. I had thought about leaving my pack behind and returning to collect it but I figured I might as well keep moving once I left.
Earlier when I had popped outside to photograph the sunrise I had exchanged a few words with an elderly man who told me he rented an apartment nearby and came to the Tosa Kokumin Shukusha every day for his meals. I had asked him about how to get to Shoryuji (#36) and he'd given me some general directions and told me it was very easy. I knew the long way which was to go back down and the winding road but I also knew there was a trail but wasn't quite sure exactly where it started. After returning my key to reception I was about to head out when I bumped into the old man again and he offered to show me the way because he said he went to Shoryuji (#36).
First however, the old man decided he wanted to show me me Okunoin Shrine which was connected by a small path directly from the back of Tosa Kokumin Shukusha. Okunoin Shrine turned out to be a very nice little place and the old man said he visited the shrine regularly. The old man's name was Abe-san and after we had said some prays at the shrine we headed for Shoryuji (#36) and again I just followed him along some wooded trails and after clambering down some small stretches, what I would describe as henro koragashi bits we arrived at Shoryuji (#36). Along the way Abe-san pointed out lots of small details about the jizo statues and about the buildings at Shoryuji (#36).
Shoryuji (#36) was one of my favourite temples during my first pilgrimage and on that occasion I had arrived early in the morning and really enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere. This time as we headed up the long flight of steps the place had that same sense of peace that I remembered. The only real difference was that compared to the early morning warmth today it felt decidedly chilly. Coming down the steps I spotted Inoue-san, we chatted briefly before he continued on his way down. Abe-san was then explaining something to me about one of the statues when suddenly a huge entourage of bus pilgrims appeared from behind us and led by their perfectly attired monk guide they literally pushed past us and formed an endless line stretching all the way to the very top.
That put an end to what I had hoped would be quiet prayer rituals because when we got to the top, the front of the main hall was thronged with 30 or 40 chattering pilgrims. Had I been on my own I would have just waited for them to finish but Abe-san told me to light the candles and incense and not wanting to be rude I did as instructed and then went through my usual prayer routine which took me several minutes. After I finished I moved to the daishi hall. Abe-san was also praying but he was done very quickly. As I was going through my routine he came up to me and said hurry up or words to that effect. Again not wanting to be rude I complied but felt a little harried by his actions. I could understand why he was telling me to hurry up and the reason was, it was freezing cold. Anyway I omitted the heart sutra but managed the rest of my usual routine and then headed back down the flight of steps with Abe-san. Had I been alone I would have taken my time photographing the temple but for some reason I felt I had been hijacked again like I was the day Mr No Name had frog marched me to Fujidera (#11) after volunteering his services on me.
Abe-san was 74 years old and spoke in a very strong dialect and although I understood much of what he said, I didn't catch everything he said. On the way back down I discovered that he had volunteered to help me not just to Shoryuji (#36) but from what I could gather he intended to accompany me along the Yokonami Skyline route on his bicycle as far as Susaki. He was reasonably mobile but I was a little concerned for him and hoped he would change his mind by the time we got back near to Tosa Kokumin Shukusha via the trail we had arrived. He seemed to be dragging me away even before I had had a chance to get my stamp done but I told him I wanted to get my stamp so he led me towards the stamp office.
The woman, probably the same friendly person I met last time and just as friendly this time greeted me and then carefully stamped my book. I gave her a photograph but then decided she should choose one she liked. She said she liked them all but swapped the one I had given her for one she liked more. Abe-san who had been waiting outside joined us in the small stamp and was trying to engage her in conversation too but she seemed to avoid this. I got the feeling Abe-san probably passed by the office often to chat and maybe he behaved like the way he had with me at the prayer halls a little earlier. He could certainly talk when he got going. Anyway with the stamp done we headed back up the trail and emerged back near Tosa Kokumin Shukusha. I thanked him for helping me and thought he might take that as a hint that I would be fine on my own but he told me to go ahead and that he would catch up on his bicycle. He was harmless enough so I didn't really mind if he did join me and so I continued on my way along the Yokonami Sklyline.
During my first pilgrimage I had taken the inland route towards Susaki and it had been great walking along at a very leisurely pace enjoying the beautiful blue sky and blue waters. Today I had opted for the Yokonami Skyline route in part because I wanted to try something different but also because I hoped it would be like the Minami Skyline route I had taken a week earlier. It was a nice sunny day but surprisingly cold and with a strong sometimes gusting wind making it feel even colder. The constantly undulating route along the Yokonami Skyline made sure the steep little stretches kept me feeling nice and warm. The views of the ocean whenever I cleared the trees to my left were really great. I continued alone for about an hour wondering if Abe-san would really join me or not. Several times I looked back up the steep inclines but there was no sign of him at all. I figured he must have changed his mind and decided to stay back.
Whenever I stopped to take photographs it definitely felt very cold and when the wind blew you could feel the wind chill. The strangest thing was that despite the fact that it was sunny I would sometimes walk into very light snow flurries. At first I thought they had to be cherry blossom petals but with no cherry trees around they definitely turned out to be snowflakes. When I arrived at a parking area and observation point I decided to stop for a quick break and as I sat there Abe-san popped up beside me on his bicycle. Thankfully he didn't have one of those regular bicycles single gear bikes with, his had several gears and an electric motor assist to get up steep inclines. He got off his bicycle and explained that the area where we had stopped sold ramen and other foods on Sundays and that a lot of people came up here to eat and enjoy the view. A hot bowl of ramen would have been a nice way to enjoy the view but today was not Sunday.
It was getting colder and there was no mistaking that what I was seeing sometimes were definitely light snow flurries. Looking further towards where I would be heading it looked like the clouds were literally unloading more snow flurries or possibly rain. After we got going again, Abe-san started of by pushing his bicycle next to me but the steeper inclines must have been a little tough going so after a while he cycled on ahead of me and I would find him waiting for me to catch up. The final time he did this was about half way along the Yokonami Skyline route and he had stopped to tell me about a statue of a samurai that had been erected overlooking the coast. I only knew about the Ryoma Sakamoto statue at Katsurahama but an information board close by gave details of many other statues along the Kochi coastline and several of these were statues of famous samurai.
Abe-san and I then sat in a small park and he was saying things but I wasn't really paying much attention. I was actually a little concerned for him because not only had it gotten a lot colder but the wind had really picked up too and we were high up on an a relatively exposed coastline. I shared some mochi snacks I had picked up the day before and as we got up to move on he seemed to have a change of heart and said he would head back. He came forward and extended his hand. I shook his hand and told him to take care returning on his way back towards Tosa Kokumin Shukusha. We were about 10km or so from the start point so hopefully it wouldn't be too long before he got back.
Abe-san was actually from Chiba Prefecture which was quite close to where I lived and while we were chatting he told me to take down his telephone number which he had written in felt pen on his phone. He said he would be back there next month and maybe I could telephone him. This morning I had been a little worried about how to tell Abe-san that I wanted to take my time at Shoryuji (#36). I had also thought that he would interrupt my flow when I discovered he had volunteered to come along with me, but as I watched him cycle back the way we had just come, I was really glad I had had the chance to encounter him earlier in the morning. I didn't know too much about him and I had avoided asking any personal questions, but I got the feeling he was a lonely old man who just wanted to talk to people. Maybe I was not the best person in the world for that task but I was glad I had spent some time with him. He would certainly be someone else I would remember when I left Shikoku.
Back on my own again, I picked up the pace and continued on all the way to the Susaki ohenro hut. As I approached the hut I noticed a man and a woman, both pilgrims, sitting in the hut eating. The man recognised me and I tried hard to think where I had met him. It turned out I was sitting in the outdoor hot tub chatting to him just yesterday at Tosa Kokumin Shukusha. I didn't recognise him in his ohenro clothing but I quickly recalled his friendly manner. The woman was his wife and they were both walking together and they seemed to be having trouble with their smartphone. They wanted to call ahead to a place they were planning to stop at. The smartphone was not responding to anything at all and I was not really the best person to be asking about smartphones because I was still using a battered old style mobile phone but I suggested they could use it. The place he called was not answering and after returning the phone to me he wrote out and gave me his osamefuda. I gave his wife a photograph and then passed her the whole lot so she could choose one she liked. She ended up liking two so I told her to take them both. In return she gave me something she said her daughter had made. It was one of those small dangly things people hang from their phones. They then got ready and continued on and although I left only a few minutes later, I never came across them again.
My plan was to get to Kawauso-no-sato Susaki Michi-no-eki, eat something and possibly camp there. When I got to the michi-no-eki the restaurant I had stopped at last time was not there and with it still being quite early I decided not to stop and continued on. The plan now was to get to Tosa Kure and camp in a hut I had read about online and one Hagimori-san had said was suitable to camp in. Along the way I came across a Lawson and decided on my usual coffee and dorayaki treat. As I entered another pilgrim I didn't recognise greeted me and said we had met at Tosa Kokumin Shukusha. I couldn't actually remember but after getting my treat I joined him outside. He turned out to be one of two pilgrims way ahead of me on the Yokonami Skyline route. More interestingly he was originally from Takamatsu Kagawa and his great great grandfather (I'm not sure how many greats) was a samurai at Marugame Castle, the very same town I had lived in for 2 years during my first spell in Japan 24 years earlier. Not only that he was now living in Kawasaki and I had also lived there for a couple years. After finishing our break we both set of together and continued ahead at our respective paces.
I was looking out for the 3F convenience store I had stopped at during my first pilgrimage. I had arrived there very late and the manager had given me a bottle of tea as osettai and told me to sleep in the coin laundry next door rather than continue on in the dark. I had actually wanted to give him or someone in the shop a photograph and also stock up on some food supplies for the evening. When I got close, 3F had become Lawson and a sign outside notified everyone of a grand opening in about a week. There were no other shops marked in my guide book but as usual I did have an emergency dorayaki so I figured that would be enough until I discovered somewhere else. Luckily, as I headed in the direction of the hut which was along the ohenro trail I spotted a sign for the Marunaka supermarket. I picked up plenty of supplies and hurried on to the hut and quickly set about putting up my tent. It was just starting to get dark and the temperature had taken a real plunge as soon as the sun had started to go down.
The hut was large enough to easily take 2 possibly 3 tents with wash room facilities next to it. It was also not as isolated as some huts I had seen. It was next to a small river and there were plenty of homes around plus the it was only about 1km from the supermarket and other shops. After eating and cleaning myself up as best I could I settled down for the evening. It felt bitterly cold so I burned a few sticks of incense hoping the comforting smell would somehow distract me from the cold. It didn't warm me up at all but I loved the smell of the incense I always burned at the temples. Today I had managed to cover 35km at a reasonably leisurely pace. Abe-san had been the main influence today and I hoped very much that he had made back safely to his home near Tosa Kokumin Shukusha. It had been one of those quiet sorts of days and the stretch along the Yokonami Skyline had provided for many reflective moments.
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