It was about 10 o'clock when I finally finished updating my notes last night and with no one else at Drive-in Suisha I decided to turn in and get some sleep. However, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't fall asleep. After getting in and out of my tent a few times I gave up and just lay there willing myself to go to sleep. Sleep finally arrived in the very early hours and a few hours later when I woke up again it was 06:50 and I could hear the pitter-patter of falling rain.
I had caught the weather forecasts back at the Youth Hostel so the rain was not really a surprise but the sound of rain was never a good start to the day. I was still feeling tired from a lack of sleep and with the rain falling, I was actually in two minds about what to do. I could stay put for another day or I could plough on. It wasn't raining too hard so I got everything packed up but no matter how hard I tried to will myself to move, my brain would not engage my legs. I stood around dithering for nearly 20 minutes remembering the words I'd heard from a Miyoshi-san who I met during my first pilgrimage right here at Drive-in Suisha. He was a veteran of 23 walking pilgrimages and he had said that whenever it looked like it might be really wet he usually ended up staying put. The last time he had given me such advice I had continued on towards Kongofukuji (#38) and walked into and through a veritable storm. Today I didn't have the wise counsel of a Miyoshi-san so I thought I would wait for someone to turn up and at least ask about the weather for the rest of the day.
The first person to turn up was a really old man and he was walking very slowly from his car towards the washrooms which were just behind me. When he got near I accosted him about the weather. He pulled out his mobile phone and pulled up the weather forecast. He said there was a 40% chance of rain in the morning and 70% chance of rain in the afternoon. I did a quick bit of maths and figured that that was a 110% chance of getting wet and the main issue was, to what degree. I thanked the old man and let him continue on to the rest rooms. While he was in there I prepared an osamefuda and a photograph for him and when he emerged I gave it to him and thanked him for helping me. Sometimes when I gave a photograph I dreaded the feeling that they might feel compelled to give me something in return. Thankfully, the old man didn't give me anything but he did something much better. He put his hands together and chanted the short powerful mantra three times and then shook my hand. That for me was one of the nicest osettai offerings I had received since starting the pilgrim. I watched him walk to his car and then drive away.
After the old man left I stood around dithering some more and as I was dithering another person walked past and used the rest room and then walked back to his car. There was just a casual greeting between us but quite unexpectedly he returned and handed me 1000 yen and said it's very cold today so please take care of yourself. I just didn't expect it and insisted he wait until I wrote out another osamefuda and gave it to him along with a photograph. I had not even started for the day and I wasn't even sure I would start, but people were being incredibly kind to me. Having received another 1000 yen I thought maybe it was a sign to push on, so I got my pack on and headed into the rain.
Today I had my ohenro bag safely tucked away inside a large bin bag which was in turn inside my back pack. As a result I had extra items in a thick plastic bag slung from the side of my pack. This made the weight distribution a bit lopsided and definitely impacted how easily I was able to carry the pack. However, more serious than the lopsided weight distribution of my pack was the strange pain in my right leg. On the way back to Drive-in Suisha I had sensed a slight pain in my right shin, the kind of pain I sometimes developed as a result of running. I had hoped the overnight rest would sort it out but there was a niggling pain as I set out. However, with my energies focused on keeping myself dry I forgot about the pain and continued on.
My first break was at the first rest hut about 4km on from Drive-in Suisha. As I approached the hut the heavens opened up and the rain started coming down in torrents. The only good news was that I hadn't been caught out in the open because I ended up spending a lot longer at the hut than I had expected. While I was in the rest hut I was able to study a large map posted on the wall which showed the ohenro trail. It was different from the one I had in my guide book but all it really did was avoid the road. The rain was not letting up so I decided to continue and sticking to the road route, an hour later I stopped again at a local Community Center. It was a brief stop to make use of the rest room and to take the weight of the pack of my shoulders but I was soon back out in the rain again.
I had not had any breakfast before I left Drive-in Suisha although during the night I had eaten a small loaf of caramel bread. The caramel bread had kept me going and just as I was thinking about where my next meal was going to come from, I heard the sound of a car horn behind me and looking behind me, I found a woman leaning out the driver side window offering me a sweet bun and a can of cola. It was completely unexpected but I had some of my photographs inside the zip-lock bag containing my map book so I quickly pulled one out even as she protested about not needing anything. Thankfully I gave it to her before she managed to drive away. The usual custom is to write out an osamefuda but many people who gave me osettai would often say the osamefuda wasn't necessary. Writing out an osamefuda would have been quite impossible to handle in the rain anyway so the photograph in it's own protective sleeve was easily whipped out and handed over.
As I continued on I thought about how things always seemed to work out and how help just seemed to materialise when you most needed it. I decided I would save the food osettai for much later and as I continued on a little further I spotted what looked like a small cafe. I walked up to the front door for a closer peek and sure enough it resembled the Ohki Cafe just much smaller. There were 2 elderly men who were readying to leave as I went in. The woman owner seemed a little surprised but relaxed when she realised I could manage a little Japanese. I asked if she was serving any food but she said it was still a little too early for lunch. However, she ended up cooking me some udon and giving me what little rice she had left in her rice cooker. Her apologies for not being able to offer anything more were totally unnecessary because I was perfectly happy with what I had been given.
She sat down near me and told me about a young Korean ohenro-san who had stopped by yesterday and I figured that must have been Kan. Then the conversation turned to why she enjoyed meeting the walking pilgrims and her main reason she gave me was that they gave her energy. I told her the reason I liked meeting the people who helped the walking pilgrims was because they gave me energy. I had often wondered why people were so keen and willing to help the walking pilgrims. There was probably many reasons and the fact that some felt they were getting energy from doing so confirmed in my own mind that it was a mutual and a mutually beneficial relationship at that.
During my first pilgrimage I had been an almost casual observer as I walked around the temples. Absorbed in my own thoughts I hadn't really paid the same kind of attention to the people around me as I did this time. This time I was observing the ordinary people going about their daily lives and I felt far more positive about what they were doing than what I was doing. The words of praise for me as a walking pilgrim were not necessarily misplaced because there was a degree of hardship involved in getting up and walking 25, 30 or 40 kilometres each day. However, what I saw around me were ordinary people getting on with their every day lives. Fisherman getting ready to go out to sea, farmers working in their fields, shop owners waiting patiently for customers and many other such things that suggested their lives were maybe harder than that of a walking pilgrim. There were probably many who had no interest in ohenro but there would have been many more who would never experience what I was experiencing because they had no other option but to work. Maybe it was for this realization that I felt fortunate about doing ohenro and at times considered it as somewhat self indulgent and selfish on my part.
I gave her a photograph and an osamefuda, then decided to let her choose one she liked. She chose a different one and along with the my osamefuda she taped it to the wall. She had many osamefuda on one wall and over time she had taken down the older ones and stacked them neatly in small little piles. Maybe collecting the osamefuda was a little bit like collecting merit stamps for some. For the udon and rice she charged me only 300 yen which seemed like a good deal. I got my things together and got ready to leave. She saw me the door, I turned and bowed and then continued on my way.
I followed the trail towards Hirata Station and continued on as steadily as I could. The pain in my right shin had returned and sometimes there was a painfully sharp twinge which stopped me in my tracks but I kept going without really pushing hard. I had been wondering where or how I had picked up the injury to my shin area. The only thing I could think that could have caused an injury was something which happened when I detoured down onto Ohki Beach yesterday. My right foot had slipped on a small rock causing it to over extend. This was the only thing I could think of because I had been doing really well up until today.
About 10km from Enkoji (#39) I stopped in what I think was the final rest hut and inside I found Mr Muri. This time it was my turn to say to him how fast he was. He had backtracked yesterday after visiting Kongofukuji (#38) and probably leapfrogged me while I was dithering at Drive-in Suisha over whether to stay or whether to continue. Having met him a few times now it was very easy to chat with him. He shared some candy he had received as ossetai and asked how I was doing. I told him my leg was hurting a little and that I planned to see if I could stay in the tsuyado at Enkoji (#39). He seemed to suggest that they didn't have tsuyado at Enkoji (#39) and that maybe I should phone ahead and find out. If they didn't I could always just camp at the Sukumo ohenro hut about 6km on from Enkoji (#39). Mr Muri was 66 and he too seemed to be suffering from some foot related issues but he looked very fit and healthy for his age. I applied a sports patch to my shin and then pressed on at a slower pace with still plenty of time to get to Enkoji (#39).
About 2km from Enkoji (#39) the pain at times was enough to make me come to a complete stop. Gently flexing my foot a few times would cause the pain to subside and I would then continue on again. It was too early to be thinking negative thoughts but there was always the chance that I had picked up a similar injury to Inoue-san. About 1.5km from Enkoji (#39) I missed a trail marker and would have continued on had the pilgrim a little bit further behind me not called out and pointed to the marker and the direction I should have gone. I retraced my steps and followed him at a distance. As the pain returned I found myself falling further behind and arrived several minutes after him at Enkoji (#39).
After washing my hands and mouth I headed for the stamp office to drop of my pack. I asked if the staff if the temple provided tsuyado and they said they didn't. With that, I figured it would be the circular hut and camping out again. I told them I would return after praying at the halls. After finishing prayers I returned to the stamp office to get my stamp and after giving the man a photograph I headed back outside. Outside I met the ohenro-san who had stopped me walking the wrong way and we got talking while he had a cigarette. Mr Muri joined us too and asked about tsuyado and I told him they didn't have one so I would be camping out. He said there was a hotel for 3,500 yen and took me back to the stamp office to show me details about Hotel Flex and others on display there. I got the number and called and found they had a single room so I booked myself in. I wanted to get myself cleaned up for sure but more than that I was quite concerned about the injury and booking into a hotel seemed like the sensible thing to do. Mr Muri had probably already known that Enkoji (#39) didn't have a tsuyado but had politely not said anything but I was very grateful he had told me about Hotel Flex.
I thanked Mr Muri for his helpful suggestion. The other ohenro-san Mr K, who had prevented me going the wrong way offered to accompany me to central Sukumo. We both left and as we rejoined the ohenro trail the pain in my leg seemed to lessened and without a break we covered the 6km to the Sukumo ohenro hut and then continued past until we came to a Lawson. Mr K wanted another cigarette break and on seeing the Lawson my thoughts naturally turned to coffee. I asked Mr K if he wanted one and he did so I went in and got two. I had told Mr K earlier that I actually didn't know the exact location of the hotel and he had kindly called the hotel back for me. I only understood that it was by a school and there was a High School marked in my guide book so that was where I figured it was. The staff in the shop were really friendly and helpful and told me the High School was not too far away. I gave them a photograph each before leaving and joining Mr K outside again. After his cigarette and coffee Mr K went into the Lawson to use the rest room and on the way out got more exact details of where the hotel really was. It turned out to be near an Elementary School about 7-8 minutes away and not the High School marked in the guide book. Mr K had probably saved me from going round in circles looking for it.
Mr K was actually on his way to Sukumo Station. He planned to get changed, eat something and wait for his 20:30 night bus back home to Osaka where he lived. He was one of those ohenro-san who did the pilgrimage in parts. He was 41, unmarried and working as a probation officer. He had reached the age he said where he had been thinking about the direction his life was going and wanted to think about what he should do next. I had quite enjoyed talking to him and listening with interest to what he had been saying as we had headed towards the hotel. I suggested he could change at the hotel I was staying at and that I could join him for dinner at the Mos Burger where he planned to eat. At the hotel he got the staff gave him the OK to get changed in my room. I suggested to Mr K to quickly make use of the shower in my room too while I went to investigate laundry the facilities. By the time I returned Mr K was all showered and dressed in fresh dry clothes again. I stuffed my boots with newspaper I had picked up earlier from the cafe put on my slippers and then headed out towards the station with Mr K. Sukumo Station was about 20 minutes away close to Route 56.
Mr K said he would treat me to a Mos Burger dinner and after giving his order he asked me what I wanted and not having paid much attention to what he had been ordering, I said I would have the same. What I didn't know was that he had ordered himself a double burger and another regular burger, fries and drink. I had actually wanted to treat him but he had beaten me to it so I I decided I would give him the 1000 yen osettai I had received that morning. After enjoying our burgers and exchanging contact details he seemed to be mindful that I probably needed to get back to the hotel. I gave him a photograph and the 1000 yen osettai I had received this morning. I always kept money received as osettai separate from my own money so I was happy I could give it to him. Osettai in whatever shape or form it came seem to be like a flow of kindness. It was something that could be transmitted from one person to another. As I left he saw me to the front of the restaurant and outside he repeated that it had been really good meeting me. It was a mutual feeling and with a handshake and a bow I turned and headed back to the hotel.
It had been a tough day today because of the rain and because of the pain in my leg. Both had contributed to a very different experience compared to the last few days. The pain in particular seemed to test my faith but I had absolutely no intention of giving up. The osettai I had received in a variety of guises all day long was much more than I had expected and it probably did a good job of combating any really negative thoughts. Meeting and spending time with Mr K had been positively thought provoking because he had been happy to talk about his reasons for doing ohenro and about what he was getting from it. Today more than any other day since I started walking, I felt there had been a noticeable change in the kinds of thoughts that seemed to percolate through my mind as I walked along each day. It had been a gradual process but it was something I had clearly become aware of.