I woke up feeling I had slept really well but when I looked at the time it was just after midnight. I had been a sleep for only 3 or 4 hours but I felt surprisingly refreshed. It was way too early to be getting up and after a while I finally managed to nod off again. I woke a few hours later to the sound of my fellow ohenro-san getting his things together. It was coming up to 04:30 and he had planned to be gone by 03:00 so he hurriedly got his things together and left. Alone again, I picked up where I had left of last night and finished writing my notes and then managed to get another hour of sleep.
When I did finally get up, I got myself ready and went out and to pray at the main hall and get a stamp. The stamp like every other temple was 300 yen and getting one was just a small way of contributing towards my stay in the tsuyado last night.
During the first pilgrimage, I had received a small slip of paper with an illustration of the temple deity each time I had got my book stamped. During this pilgrimage I was getting the same small slip of paper but it was accompanied by a red commemorative one to mark the 1200th anniversary of the pilgrimage. Toyogabashi (#8) had three very different looking slips including one depicting Kukai resting under the bridge.
Miyoshi-san had not known too much about Toyogabashi (#8) but he had definitely liked it very much and I decided to get one for him too. When I asked the man in the stamp office if he could do the stamp on a separate piece of paper, he retrieved a pile of them that had already been prepared and gave me one along with the 3 temple slips. My plan after I got home was to send the stamp along with a photograph of Miyoshi-san sitting in front of the altar in the main hall. I hoped the surprise would remind him of the temple and also of our meeting.
Before heading on there was another important place to visit and that was the spot under the bridge. The last time I had been there, it had given me goose bumps at the thought that Kukai himself had slept at that very spot. This time there were no goose bumps as I stood and prayed in front of one of the two reclining statues of Kukai. As I did so, several pigeons perched themselves along the length of the statue. When I had finished my short prayer I decided to deal with the pigeons because they were obviously after something to eat. I took out my emergency dorayaki and shared half of it with the pigeons. They could manage the spongy part while I finished of the sweet bean paste middle. I bowed one last time and then headed for the nearby supermarket. Like I had done last time I bought the exact same food and after eating it outside, I continued on at a very slow leisurely pace.
The plan today was to go as far as a Sennin-yado Daishido and the total distance was going to be only about 20km again. It was an overcast start to the day but it was forecast to brighten up so was expecting a nice gentle day today. However, before I could really get myself going my mind turned to thoughts of coffee and up ahead I spotted a Lawson. I got my coffee and dorayaki and ate it outside and while I stood there I figured I'd might as well print of a few more photographs. I ended up printing 33 more and while I was placing them into clear plastic sleeves I noticed a customer watching what I was doing so I handed him one with nothing more than a nod. I gave one each to the staff before heading out.
The route today was pretty easy and all I had to do for the first couple of hours was follow Route 56 towards Uchiko. I continued at a slow steady pace and like last time what I really liked was the landscape. After stopping for drink break outside the Yamazaki Shop I followed the arrows away from Route 56 through into a small residential area and then onto a muddy track which brought me to a sports ground and then a large, very green looking pond which I remembered from last time. The pond was home to a pair of black swans and whether they were the same pair from last time or not I wasn't sure but I was waiting for them to emerge from their little floating hut so I could photograph them. As I was doing this I looked up and from my right I saw Beno and Susanne coming towards me with big smiles on their faces. I had last seen them several days ago on the way back from Kongofukuji (#38). They both looked fit and well and after exchanging a few updates we calculated that we might bump into each other again at Furuiwayaso tomorrow. They had booked themselves to stay there and I was planning to just use the hot spa and then sleep outside.
After following the arrows for a while I arrived at Uchiko Antique Street which was lined with lots of small shops and plenty of places eat. My plan was to get to Uchiko Fresh Park Karan. The last time I had stopped there I had enjoyed an interesting ice cream combination. The flavours were not the usual boring rum raisin, strawberry or vanilla type flavours. Last time I had tried a ginger and mountain potato combination. When I arrived at Uchiko Fresh Park Karan I found a busy market and after getting through the throngs of people I got myself a double ice cream cone. This time it was a black sesame and wheat flavoured combination. I headed to a nice little seating area overlooking a small river and sat myself down to enjoy my treat.
I ended up spending a whole hour just relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. Thinking that the pilgrimage was becoming a little too easy, a sudden jab of pain in my leg reminded me of my present hardship. Rolling up my trouser leg I noticed the portion of my leg around around my shin had swelled again. The worrying part was that the swelling seemed to resemble the consistency of soft dough. I gently rubbed some Tiger Balm on the painful part and took a couple of pain killers.
As I was getting ready to leave a man asked if it was OK to sit at my table which of course it was and so he sat down with his young daughter in his arms. She averted her gaze and kept looking down. When I was ready to leave I held out a photograph for her but she didn't make a move until her father told her to take it. I then held out a candy and that she took without any prompting at all.
It had turned into a beautifully sunny warm day and after I got myself going again I kept up a very slow pace and stopped whenever I felt like taking a photograph or stopping just to enjoy the scenery. I was on Route 379 and the route twisted and turned with the twists and turns of the Oda River. The scenery was extraordinarily pretty with small clusters of homes located along and overlooking the sides of the river. The prettiest place I found was undoubtedly around a place called Ose. The trail deviated away from Route 379 and followed a smaller parallel street which was punctuated at each end by extremely nice rest huts.
As I continued on through one of these diversions from the main road a couple of very young girls greeted me so I gave them each a piece of candy and continued on my way. About a minute later they came racing up behind and presented me with a small box of chocolate cookies. I had seen them come out of a house when I met them so I assumed an adult had suggested they give me something. Whatever the circumstances it was incredibly sweet. They really seemed to want me to have the cookies and although it felt like I was taking their treat, in the end I reluctantly accepted and said thank you. However, before letting them race away again, I gave each of them a photograph.
A little earlier on the way to Uchiko Fresh Park Karan I had phoned Sennin-yado Daishido and been told it would be no problem to stay there. The place was supposed to be somewhere a little further on from where I received the osettai from the little girls, so I paid extra attention to my guide book and my surroundings. I spotted a small faded handwritten signboard with details of what I believed were directions to Sennin-yado Daishido. Sadly I either took the wrong route or I completely missed it because when I came to a tunnel I definitely knew I had gone too far. I called Sennin-yado Daishido and told the man where I was and he confirmed what I already knew, that I had gone too far. He asked if I would return and initially I said yes but after walking back the way I had come, I looked in my guidebook again and with it being just 3 o'clock and plenty of daylight left I figured I could press on to the next small town and camp in a hut which Hagimori-san had told me about. I called Sennin-yado Daishido and told the man that I had decided to press on instead.
I felt a bit annoyed with myself but I told myself everything would be fine and the hut was just 5km away or about an hour or so if I picked up the pace a little. After passing through the Yoshinogawa Tunnel I spotted a very different hut and it looked big enough to easily accommodate my tent, it was overlooking a river and there were a couple of homes not too far away. I had enough snacks but no water but about 200m ahead I could see some vending machines so after getting some water from the vending machines returned to the hut.
The hut turned out to be one I had seen in online posts and not only was it quite big, it had a separate wooden construction with a shower in it. I quickly set up my tent and then a quick cold shower. It was cold but quite bearable because the sun was still shining and the water was not as cold as it could have been. I actually felt great after my quick cold shower. In fact it was almost as if the hut had found me rather than me finding the hut. If I had stayed at the Sennin-yado Daishido I would not have had the chance to shower so it turned out to be great.
With everything arranged in my tent I was busy enjoying the surroundings when a car pulled up and a man and woman got out. They looked like a couple out on a date and I initially thought I had invaded a space where they maybe sat and chatted. However, after greeting them and chatting to them I discovered their were no romantic undertones to their stopping by the hut, they had simply parked up near to the hut in order to pay their respects at the family grave which was situated at a cemetary away to my right up the side of a hill. Before they went away though I gave the woman all the photographs and told her to choose one she liked. There were a lot of photographs so it took her a while to choose one see liked. There seemed to be two she really liked and both were of flowers so I told her she could have them both. When they returned from paying their respects the man stopped by the hut to wish me luck and to tell me to take care.
It was still too early to settle down for the evening but I got into my tent to keep myself warm. Today had been another very gentle and very relaxing sort of a day with nothing more difficult than putting one foot slowly in front of the other. I'd enjoyed another interesting ice cream combination and handed out photographs to numerous people I'd met along the way. The unhurried pace was what I realized was making the biggest difference to how I was experiencing my second ohenro. The scenery all along the way had been great but the highlight was definitely the two young girls holding out the small box of cookies.
Even though I had missed out on staying at Sennin-yado Daishido I felt strangely happy with how things had turned out. Things working themselves out had been my experience during the first pilgrimage and it seemed to be the case during this pilgrimage too.