I slept really well again but as usual I was up very early. It was way too early to get up so I finished updating my notes from yesterday and then managed to get back to sleep until my alarm starting going at 5 o'clock. I didn't really want to get out of my comfortable slumber but after several short snoozes I finally got up and started packing up. Miyoshi-san still appeared to be asleep but he started to stir as soon as I put the light on and then got himself up too. My plan was to be out walking again by 06:30. I was only going to be walking about 20km at most but I wanted to arrive at Meisekiji (#43) early so I could enjoy the peaceful still atmosphere of the place.
Just before I left the owner popped in to give me some onigiri. I had not expected anything but it was a very nice gesture. I put the onigiri aside and continued packing. Miyoshi-san was checking the weather forecast on the TV and confirming what we both knew already, that the weather was going to be fine for several days ahead. As I carried my pack, ohenro bag and walking stick to the front door, Miyoshi-san followed and insisted on removing all the newspaper I had stuffed into my boots. Yesterday as I was stuffing newspaper into my boots I was going to stuff some into his walking shoes too but he had stopped me doing this. This morning he was stopping me from stopping him from doing the opposite. He was still dressed in his yukata but he stepped outside with his camera and took a photograph of me standing in front of the minshuku and then another of the two of us together. With that, we bowed and shook hands and I continued on ahead, turning again to wave him goodbye one more time. I had really liked Miyoshi-san just like I had really liked the Miyoshi-san I had met during the first pilgrimage. It was encounters like these that had made for some of the more memorable moments the first time and I was quite sure I would recall this particular encounter with the same good feelings in the future.
It was a nice easy walk towards Meisekiji (#43) except for the final short little uphill stretch to the main gate. As I neared the main gate, up ahead I recognised Das standing in front of the main hall with her back to me. By the time I headed through she was on her way to the daishi hall. I found a few other pilgrims including the young woman who was also at the minshuku last night. I had not expected to see any people so early at the temple but as I sat preparing my osamefuda, candles and everything else I got a quick chance to talk to Das. With my deliberately slower pace, my somewhat painful leg and her plan to cover 40km today and then keep pushing the following day, the chances of us meeting again were slim. I had met Das at Ryozenji (#1) and along the way we had stopped at the same place on about ten separate occasions. With tentative talk of possibly meeting up again at Koyasan or somewhere in Tokyo if I managed to get back before she was due to fly home, we wished each other the best and continued with our respective plans for the day.
Everyone had left by the time I started my pray rituals at the main hall but I was interrupted mid stream by a noisy gaggle of little old ladies all dressed immaculately in ohenro gear. I moved onto the daishi hall as they continued their noisy assault on the main hall. After finishing at the daishi hall I spent a little time taking photographs and was heading towards the main gate when I was joined on the way out by the little old ladies again. The two slowest ones were stepping gingerly down the steps because of their age and I was stepping down gingerly because the pain in my leg sometimes had the tendency to suddenly flare up into a really big pain. The one at the very back started chatting to me and offering the usual praises. At 83 herself she was the liveliest of this merry little group. We all continued through the main gate, turned bowed and then said our goodbyes including one of the most commonly used expressions between pilgrims - ki o tsukete – meaning take care.
The only thing left to do was to get my stamp, so I headed to the stamp office and got my book stamped by someone who I imagined could well have been the grounds keeper. It felt like I had just caught him in the stamp office on some errand and since he happened to be there, he'd taken it upon himself to stamp my book. As I observed his brush strokes I had a strong feeling that could well have been right. Anyway I thanked him and gave him a photograph as I always did at each temple and then got ready to move on again. Again I couldn't quite remember the onward route from last time so double and triple checked in my guide book until I noticed a sign pointing to a mountain trail just to the left of the main gate as I faced it.
The temple was now just as I had hoped it would be, perfectly silent and bathed in warm bright early morning sunshine. The short mountain trail turned out to be especially beautiful with the sun streaming down through the trees. The calm was only broken by the sound of my footsteps and the occasional bird cry. It was such a lovely setting that I had to stop so I could try and capture the moment as a short video clip. There were places and settings that I instantly felt a connection with and it was usually because they radiated this incredible stillness broken only by the sounds of nature. The mountain trail was not very long and about 20 minutes later I was back out and heading towards Route 56. I stopped briefly to check which way to go and then continued on at a very slow gentle pace.
After leaving the minshuku earlier this morning I had only gone a few hundred yards before I remembered that I had forgotten to pack the onigiri the owner had given me. I was not so worried about that but I had wondered if I had forgotten to pack anything else. That had all been forgotten now but I was looking forward to seeing a convenience store so I could get myself a hot coffee and dorayaki. I saw a sign for Circle K and was soon inside paying for a coffee, an onigri and a dorayaki. There were two very young men probably university students on spring vacation manning the checkouts and after getting my coffee I gave them both a photograph each and then headed out and found a spot in the sun to enjoy my morning treat.
As I stood drinking my coffee a man came towards me and just started talking to me. He told me he had done ohenro twice and said he was surprised at seeing so many foreigners and also young Japanese people doing ohenro these days. My Japanese was not particularly great but people seemed to stop and talk much more when they realised I could understand some Japanese. With my coffee running out I took out the photographs and told him to choose one he liked. He picked one he liked and then got his wallet out which was not really what I wanted to see him do and pressed 200 yen on me. That for me was the only downside of giving a photograph to some people because maybe it compelled them to give me something back. The 200 yen was almost another 7 photographs worth so I accepted it and told him to choose one more.
Today the route was going to be fairly straight forward and I was planning to stick mainly to Route 56 for much of the day. I planned to come to a finish at Toyogahashi (#8) a bangai temple with tsuyado. My plan also included stopping at the small factory where I had received osettai the last time I had passed this way. This time I wanted to give them my own osettai in the shape of a few photographs. I was maintaining a slow steady pace and maybe the only minor issue was the occasional chill wind which blew sometimes. A bit of a chill could always be easily fixed and a little further up I spotted a Sunkust and headed in and got myself another hot coffee and dorayaki.
I was definitely in dawdling mode again today and with no real need to rush, stopping again and again was not going to be a real issue. After getting myself going again I soon came upon the hut that I had been told would have been a possible place to camp in. It was one of the official ohenro huts, a nice design but situated in a restaurant car park and right next to Route 56. Possibly a little noisy but in a great location as far as access to shops and places to eat were concerned. I stopped only briefly to take a look and then continued on. To stop myself from dawdling and stopping too much I set myself the goal of reaching the Tosaka Tunnel and taking a break somewhere before or somewhere after. I couldn't remember exactly where the small factory was in relation to the Tosaka Tunnel but I knew I had a little way to go.
Despite setting a target and vowing not to stop so much I kept stopping to take photographs of anything and everything that caught my eye. It was a really beautiful sunny day and the landscape in particular looked very nice. I also kept following the arrows which sometimes took me away from Route 56 and into small pretty residential areas. Not expecting to see it so soon, I then suddenly spotted a sign outside a factory and recognised it as the place I wanted to stop at. I crossed over and headed towards the small office. A woman inside noticed me approaching and got up and slid open the door for me and welcomed me inside. I deliberately greeted her and her colleague with the Japanese expression for long time no see and probably had them thinking who this stranger was.
I quickly explained how I had stopped at the factory almost 4 years ago and that I had stopped again to say thank you. The woman went into the back and re-appeared with an assortment of sweets, snacks and a very nice chilled drink. I got out all my photographs and told her she could choose any two she really liked. The young man in the office also got up and joined us and started looking through the photographs and in the end they seemed to have 3 they really liked and were deciding which one to return until I told them to take all three. The woman then offered to make me some hot green tea which I was more than happy to have and after finishing that and enjoying an extended break of almost 30 minutes I thanked them and left. Like last time, they had been really hospitable. This time I had received their business cards so I was already planning on writing to them when I got back. The factory turned out to be situated about 1km from the Tosaka Tunnel.
Jun had mentioned the Tosaka Tunnel and said a few years ago a foreign pilgrim had perished their after being struck by a car. It wasn't necessary to take the tunnel because there was also a slightly longer trail that took you around the tunnel. One of the main reasons why it was a little dangerous was because there was no dedicated footpath inside the tunnel so you basically had to walk as close to the wall as possible with traffic sometimes passing a little bit too close for comfort. There were signs however, asking motorists to keep a look out for walking pilgrims and there were also high visibility reflective bands available at each end of the tunnel. I retrieved two such bands from a small cabinet and wrapped one around my ohenro bag which was always slung across my front and stretched the other along my walking stick. I also changed the batteries on my head light and put that on too. The Tosaka Tunnel was 1100m long and it definitely felt a little unsafe at times because of the constant stream of traffic and the fact that some motorists were not really paying attention to the warnings. The main worry was the large trucks but thankfully most seemed to be going in the same direction as I was. I always walked in the direction of oncoming traffic because I could nod my head and use my headlight to indicate my presence. One or two cars came hurtling towards me but spotted me early enough to slow down and move over a little as they passed. I also seemed to find renewed levels of energy to make it through the tunnel as quickly as I could. Once out the other end, I returned the reflective bands to another small cabinet and resumed my slow dawdling pace.
The tunnel is at the top of a pass and once through you get through, you are treated to some really great views before you gently head back down towards central Ozu. A car was parked up in a lay by up ahead and when I got closer a woman got out of the front seat, gestured for me to stop and then appeared to get something from the back seat. They turned out to be two rather large and very nice looking oranges. I offered to take just one and in return I gave her a photograph. I was already looking forward to sitting down somewhere and tucking into the orange and the perfect place soon came into view. Fudakake Rest Area had some rest rooms and some lovely seating areas so I stopped and enjoyed the orange. I was now only about 7km from my target and it was not even midday yet.
After entering Ozu the route deviated along some old historic streets then rejoined Route 56 which crossed over a river giving great views of Ozu Castle. Had it not suddenly gotten colder I would have spent more time near the river side but I continued on. I pulled out my unconnected smart phone and tried to see if I could pick up any open wifi connections and looking at the list I noticed it was trying to connect to a 7 Eleven network and looking up I noticed I was very close to a 7 Eleven. I had already had 2 coffees in the last few hours and another would have been too much so I just stood outside and checked my messages. As I was doing this a man came out of the shop and started chatting to me. In fact he asked if I wanted some coffee. I didn't really but I knew he was offering osettai so I joined him and another man inside at the small seated area. He offered me his own snack which he had not started eating yet but that I kindly refused. I had not really planned to stop for a coffee so I kept my pack on and just stood chatting to them.
The man's friend was very quiet but the man chatted non-stop. I gave them my photographs and told them to select one each that they liked. The both ended up choosing the same one. The man then asked where I was going to stay and I told him I planned to stay at the tsuyado at Toyogahashi (#8). He told me he was the head monk of a Zen temple close by and if I wanted to, I could come and stay there. This was a very nice offer and under different circumstances I would have probably jumped at the chance but my first wish was the tsuyado at Toyogahashi (#8) simply because of it's association with Kukai sleeping under the bridge. I did however, ask him to do me one favour and that was to phone Toyogahashi (#8) to check if the tsuyado was open and available. I dialled the number into my own phone and handed it too him and he was good enough to speak to the temple staff and confirm that the place was open and available.
While I was enjoying my coffee with the two men, two young boys also joined us in the small corner by the main entrance which I now realised was starting to cause a bit of a headache for people entering and leaving the shop. As I readied to leave I spotted Miyoshi-san and quickly rushed out and asked him to come inside. It was about 2:30 so my first question was where he was going to be staying. He told me he had booked something in Uchiko which was about 12km further on. After chatting a little more to the man from the Zen temple we both excused ourselves, I thanked him for the coffee and he repeated that I could come and stay at his temple if I had any problems with the tsuyado.
I had not really expected to see Miyoshi-san again so it was great to see him. I told him the tsuyado was very good and that he should consider stopping there too. Miyoshi-san was definitely impressed at the many shops, restaurants, coin laundries and the hot spa which was just a short walk from Toyogahashi (#8). I showed him the small tsuyado and even though it was fairly basic it was a very adequate place to stop especially with all the facilities close at hand. Plus, best of all, the whole legend of Kukai having slept under the bridge. Miyoshi-san didn't really known too much about Toyogahashi (#8) and I could sense he was really interested in the place. He wanted to go into the main prayer hall because the main deity was one he particularly liked. He asked one of the staff if he could go into the main hall and they said he could. So I watched him go in and sit and pray in front of the altar area and then go to the very back to stand and pray in front of the main deity itself. I then took him down under the bridge where the statue of a sleeping Kukai can be found. Sadly he couldn't stay long and mindful that he still had a a couple of hours of walking ahead I didn't delay him any longer than he had already been delayed. Had he not already made a booking further ahead I am quite sure he would have ended up staying and it would have been a good evening chatting with him again.
I returned to the tsuyado, arranged some blankets on the floor to reserve myself a space and then got myself ready to go to the hot spa on the other side of the main road. Entry to the hot spa was a very reasonable 360 yen and after getting shaved and washed I enjoyed a good 20 minute soak in one of the hot baths. Dressed again, I headed back out and on the way back to the tsuyado I picked up some food supplies from a nearby supermarket. When I got back I noticed someone else had also left their belongings there. I got the feeling it could be the young man who I had seen in the tiny Michibiki Daishido yesterday evening. I turned out to be right because a little while later he turned up having also been to the same hot spa and the same supermarket I had been at a little while ealier.
We didn't talk too much because his plan was to get to sleep quite early and then get up at 3 o'clock and head on. It was his first ohenro and maybe like I was doing during my first pilgrimage, he was trying to cover longer distances by setting out very early. What I had discovered this time was that when I walked the two longest distances - 43km and 41km - I had maintained a steady pace and kept my rest breaks very short. I told him about some of the other good rest stops that I knew about and with that we put out the light so he could get some sleep. I continued tapping away on my laptop updating my notes for the day but after a while, feeling sleepy I too tucked up inside my sleeping bag and tried to get some sleep.
It had been a slow day in terms of distance covered and it was on days like this that I sometimes wondered if doing the pilgrimage again was serving any other purpose than being just an enjoyable hike. That said, it was true my habitual thoughts and actions had not really changed too much but my mind was definitely calmer and with a calmer mind it was easy to engage with everything around me. The things that I would ordinarily miss I noticed and the wonderful stillness of the forest trail this morning was maybe a good example of that. The stop at the factory and the people I had met along the way had also contributed to making it a good day. Bumping into Miyoshi-san again and seeing how much he had enjoyed Toyogabashi (#8) was also something I enjoyed very much. All in all, it had been a very nice day and whether any purpose had been served or not today, I was especially happy about being at Toyogabashi (#8) again.
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