Apart from the bright flashes of lightening followed by deafening claps of thunder which woke me up a few times I slept really well again. The weather over night had taken a turn for the worse and when I finally woke up at 04:30 I could hear the rain falling. I headed downstairs to make myself a cup of coffee and then spent the next hour or so updating my notes. Jun had said that I could stay another day if my leg was hurting but staying another day, as inviting as that sounded, would have been a little too much osettai so I had made my mind up to to make a move even if it only meant getting as far as Mima michi-no-eki which was just 9km away. My leg was still hurting so I took a couple of pain killers and returned to my futon with a frozen gel pack from the freezer, put it directly on my lower leg and fell asleep again. When I woke up an hour later my leg seemed to feel a little better.
It was still raining when Das and I left at 09:30. Das went ahead of me and I followed at a distance. The rain was not so heavy early on but I had dressed in full rain gear and taken extra steps to make sure the contents of my pack and the pack itself didn't get too wet. I spotted Das stop at a cafe a little further on but my own plan was to press on all the way to Mima michi-no-eki and eat something there. The rain was intermittent but about an hour in it started to come down quite heavily and with nowhere to really take cover I just kept walking. I passed some beautiful looking cherry blossoms that I would have loved to have photographed but it was simply too wet to risk taking my camera out. The best I could do was just stop and look. Then it was head down and a steady pace all the way towards Mima michi-no-eki.
Just before the michi-no-eki I spotted a Lawson and thoughts of hot coffee and dorayaki led me straight to the front door. I needed to replenish my emergency dorayaki supply and get some extra supplies because the plan now having got to Mima michi-no-eki reasonably early was to press on and get closer to Meisekiji (#43). I didn't know of any zenkonyado type places so it was going to be a choice between camping out or minshuku. That choice I was going to think about when it became necessary to think about it because the weather was expected to clear up early evening. I ended up stocking up on quite a few snacks and with seating available, I enjoyed my coffee and dorayaki inside the shop.
Yesterday I had given away a lot of photographs as I had the previous day so while I was in the Lawson I printed another 50. I gave one each to the two friendly shop staff before heading back out and pressing on towards Ryukoji (#41). I hadn't gone very far when I approached a woman standing outside her home and as I got near she seemed to dash away towards what looked like a bag of shopping. I got the feeling she was probably going to give me something but I continuing walking and only stopped after she called out to me. She walked over with 3 mikan oranges and although I said one would be enough she insisted, so I took two and asked her to hold my guide book for a moment. I pulled back the bin bag I had wrapped around my ohenro bag and pulled out the photographs and gave her one. She then offered the third one too so I took it, thanked her and continued on my way. It was always amazing how these friendly little encounters always gave me a lift. These types of encounters were what in my head now, was something I thought of as the ohenro spirit. It was present in lots of ways but it was in the ordinary actions of the people I met every day that I appreciated it the most.
I arrived at Ryukoji (#41) and made my way up the stairs leading to what at first glance is quite a confusing sight. The approach to the temple is marked by a stone Shinto gate and as you head up the stairs you see a Shinto shrine with a red gate at the very top. The prayer halls turned out to be either side of the Shinto shrine situated a little bit higher up. It was almost as if the temple and the shrine were either contesting for supremacy or maybe co-operating in a happy alliance by sharing the high ground. It had stopped raining when I arrived at the Ryukoji (#41) but before I had a chance to start my prayer rituals, a large bus group turned up and assembled around the main hall so I waited for them to move on to the daishi hall before starting my own. I coordinated my own prayer rituals so that I didn't disturb them and didn't feel disturbed myself.
I still couldn't recite the heart sutra from memory and the only way to feel it's effect was to recite it slowly and carefully. Trying to recite the sutras when there was a whole group reciting different sutras usually made it very difficult to concentrate on the main focus of my prayers. Anyway, with my own prayers done I stopped to watch and listen to a young woman guide who was looking after a small group of pilgrims. What was really interesting was her use of a large conch shell which she kept blowing into for quite a long time before reciting her sutras with her group. I thought about videoing her but figured it could be a little bit rude so I listened and watched some more and then headed for the stamp office.
After getting my book stamped I presented the women with a photograph. She had finished with the stamp books from the big group so I decided to show her some more photographs and let her pick a second one. I then headed back down the steps to the bottom and started looking around for the markers to the next temple. I could see the road sign pointing to the next temple but closer inspection of my guide book suggested I should have exited the temple at the top of the long flight of steps so back I went. However, before getting to the steps I got chatting to a couple of local women and they told me to go back to the Shrine gate at the bottom, turn right and to keep taking right turns until I came back out on to the main road that lead directly to Butsumokuji (#42). I thanked them and took a few right turns and sure enough emerged on the road with Mima michi-no-eki and then continued all the way to Butsumokuji (#42). The trail from the Ryukoji (#41) proper would have taken me onto a wet and probably very slippery mountain trail.
The rains had stopped completely by the time I arrived at Butsumokuji (#42) and I saw a different even bigger bus group at the main hall so I thought I might as well get my book stamped first. However, helpers with the large group were getting everyone's books stamped so having made the decision to get my book stamped I just waited patiently. There was just one person in the stamp office and he was furiously stamping and scribbling away. It may have been better to have come back after he had regained his composure but I continued to wait patiently. I let an elderly lady who had queued up behind me go ahead of me and then finally got my stamp done. By the time I had finished at the stamp office the large group had finished their prayers and were heading back out to board their bus again. I went through the usual rituals at each hall and then spent a little time looking around taking photographs. Before leaving I headed back to the stamp office to give the man a photograph. I waited while an elderly ohenro-san queried the man about the best route to take towards Meisekiji (#43). What I overheard from the conversation was that the mountain trail was not accessible and that after a certain point it was best to stick to the road.
The man at the stamp office was much more relaxed and composed and the temple itself was perfectly quiet. Thinking that I was going to save a little time by getting my stamp done before praying had not really saved me any time at all. All I had achieved was a high speed scribble in my stamp book. The pace at which he was stamping and scribbling had picked up after I queued up and was up to fast and furious pace as soon as another two ohenro-san joined the queue up behind me. Next time I would just have to show even more patience than the patience I had shown patiently waiting for the stamp. With the elderly ohenro-san gone I asked about the route too, initially in Japanese and then in English when I got an inkling that the man could actually speak English. He in fact spoke excellent English as a result of having lived in the US for some time. Anyway, he said part of the mountain trail was closed and suggested sticking to the road after a certain point. I gave him a photograph and then continued on my way.
As I headed on I could see that the the sky up ahead was starting to clear and a patch of blue sky was emerging through the rain clouds which had been unloading bucketfuls of water on me just an hour earlier. In the distance I could also make out the elderly ohenro-san moving quite briskly and turning left before disappearing from view. I kept my guide book handy and kept following the arrows and soon joined the first section of a mountain trail. It was one of those tree lined mountain trails that continued up and up. The ground was very wet after the torrential rains last night and the rains earlier today. My leg had been surprisingly well behaved and it was only when I pressed my foot in a particular way that I sensed the pain in my lower shin. I was extra careful and after twisting this way and that I emerged back out on the road section. I continued on and spotted the elderly ohenro-san again at the start of the next mountain trail section but this one had been roped off. I continued a little further round and found him looking at a map on the side of the road. We greeted each other and then just seemed to naturally fall into step with each other. My fellow ohenro-san was Miyoshi-san, a retired teacher aged 70. He just seemed to be one of those naturally friendly talkative type ohenro-san and I was actually glad of the company through the wet mountain pass.
The mountain pass was cold and misty and it got even colder when we entered a long straight tunnel which was behaving like a giant wind tunnel. After exiting the tunnel we came up to another road side map which presented us with the choice of a descending mountain trail or a twisting and much longer road route. Miyoshi-san asked which way I would prefer to go, either was fine with me but I suggested the shorter mountain trail so down the mountain trail we went. I had descended first but each time I stepped down I could feel the pain in my right shin so I stepped aside and let Miyoshi-san go ahead. The pace wasn't that slow but he kept looking back and waiting if I fell any distance behind. Parts of the trail were quite waterlogged and others resembled a small stream because of the heavy rains. Again it was just a short mountain section and we soon appeared back on the road again with signs indicating we were just 5km from Meisekiji (#43).
Miyoshi-san was booked into a minshuku further on but he couldn't quite remember the name. In my guide book I had earmarked one possible stopping place called Michibiki Daishi and when we got closer I discovered it was a tiny wooden building with small altar inside. Just inside the sliding door was space for one person to sit down or lie down and in that space I found the pilgrim who I had first met at Tabi-no-yado Misono back in Tano Town. He had been suffering from severe blisters but he had managed to get ahead and was now well and truly entrenched in that space for one person. Had it been empty I would almost certainly have stayed there for the fact that it looked like such an interesting place to stay. As it was, my attention now turned to one of 2 huts further on closer to Meisekiji (#43) and with the weather clearing up I was not too averse to staying out again.
Miyoshi-san and I continued on and a little further on we came to a minshuku called Miyako and the couple who owned it, were standing outside. Miyoshi-san referred to the name of the minshuku he thought he was staying at and it turned out to be Miyako. I had not really planned on a minshuku but I asked the couple how much for a room without meals would be and they said 4500 which seemed reasonable. The decision was also guided by the fact that my feet were wet, there were at least 5 continuous days of good weather forecast and on top of that I quite liked Miyoshi-san. Even though I hadn't tried myself, Miyoshi-san tried to get them to give me a discount and asked if I could get a discount if I shared a room with him. I was telling him not to worry so much and although we ended up sharing a very large tatami room together I didn't get a price reduction. For me that was perfectly fine.
Miyoshi-san had been offered a bottle of beer for his trouble and he had continued to try and seek something more for me. I had my extra supplies of food but I think his insistence had led the owner to at least offer me a large freshly made rice ball. I opened the bottle of beer and poured a glass for Miyoshi-san and he seemed hopeful that I would also join him for a beer. During the first pilgrimage it was also someone name Miyoshi-san who had offered me, on that occasion, some sake. It was after that that I had started to enjoy a beer or two almost every night. This time however I was more adamant about sticking to my vow not to drink and ended up toasting him with a cup of hot tea instead. After a little beer Miyoshi-san was much more relaxed and a lot more talkative. I couldn't understand everything but as before the feeling was good. Just a couple of hours earlier I had bumped into him and here we were sharing a room at minshuku talking about life and ohenro.
Another two guests had also arrived and the owner kept returning to the room to tell Miyoshi-san that dinner would be served soon. Eventually he got himself showered and went of to have his dinner. He returned a little while later showing signs of having enjoyed quite a lot more beer. He told me that one of the guests was really interesting and that I should come and join them. When I joined them a little while later I discovered that the interesting person he had referred to was in fact the musical ohenro-san who had given me 1000 yen osettai as I had headed back towards Drive-in Suisha. The huge smile he had had on his face that day when I first met seemed to a permanent feature on his face. He just seemed to be on of those really jolly people who wanted to make everyone else feel jolly. Why he was doing ohenro I didn't really understand but Miyoshi-san, the other guest and the couple who owned the minshuku nodded approvingly to whatever he was saying.
I was just handing out photographs to people I was meeting but musical ohenro-san was doing something a little bit more creative. He had already done it for the others but he asked me to write down my name for him. He then took a blank post card and re-created the name using a calligraphy brush, adding a few artistic touches and his personal stamp to it. To that he then added some words of advice which he said matched the personality and character of the named person. He said he had been creating hundreds of these as he was going around. I certainly liked what he had created although I couldn't read what he had written. In return I gave him a photograph and let the others choose some too. With the conversation starting to slow and everyone looking to move back to their rooms I settled my bill with the owners and joined Miyoshi-san back in our room.
Miyoshi-san said he had not really thought about why people did ohenro. He was doing it because he was interested in Buddhism and he had visited places in India, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia in pursuit of that interest. After telling him about the reason I was doing ohenro and why I was doing it for the second time he said he realised that people were doing it for lots of reasons. Another day had come to an end. It had been great day and as usual there had been some very friendly encounters. I was particularly glad that I had met Miyoshi-san. He was just one of those characters I sometimes met that I instantly took a liking to and even when there was not much talk between even the silence between us seemed like just another way of communicating.
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