I had slept really well but as usual I was awake again very early and when I looked at the time it was just 1 o'clock. I had planned to be on my way by 05:30 so I thought about updating my notes which I had not done before going to sleep yesterday. However, unlike most days when I struggled to get back to sleep my attempt at a quick snooze proved to be unexpectedly successful because when I woke up again it was 04:45. I quickly got working on my notes and included as much as I could about what I had done the day before and then threw my things back into my pack and was ready to leave just after 6 o'clock. Before I left, I stood in front of the altar to pray. It was just a simple prayer of thanks, words or thoughts beyond that I couldn't express because for some reason I suddenly felt overwhelmed by that deep sense of gratitude I sometimes felt. A feeling that no longer needed words but expressed itself in tears. It didn't happen often but it had happened a few times.
I had left a photograph and the osamefuda on the altar the previous evening and with one final look around, I put out the light and slid the doors to the daishido shut. I turned and bowed and then headed back out onto the coastal road and continued my journey. The journey today was hopefully going to include 5 temples and the plan was to stay at the tsuyado at Senyuji (#58), a place I had stopped at during my first pilgrimage too. After a long walk to the first temple all the temples were relatively short distances from each other with the final one, Senyuji (#58) probably the most demanding because of the short sharp hike to the top. Before that I wanted something to eat and I wanted to charge my camera battery just in case it decided to die on me. The only place I thought I could maybe do that was at a convenience store and when I got to the first convenience store I bought a coffee and a double dorayaki and after paying, asked the man serving me if he would mind letting me charge my camera battery for a little while. He readily agreed and came out from behind the counter to look for a free wall socket and on finding one I handed him my charger into which I had already placed the battery. I thanked him and stepped outside to enjoy my dorayaki and my coffee.
A full charge would normally take an hour but even a short charge was better than the risk of the battery running out. I went back in and asked the man to choose a photograph he liked and just handed him the whole lot. I left him to look through the photographs and went over to the printing machine with my SD card and quickly set it going to print another 50 new photographs. This took another 10 minutes and got me a little more charging time. I returned to the man and he had selected a photograph he liked. He handed the remainder back to me and I returned to wait for the new batch to be processed. I had seen the man show the photograph to the woman working in the shop too and as I readied to leave I also got one to give to her too. The man was no longer at the check out and behind the woman I could see the photograph I had giving him lying face up. I extended my hand and gave her the photograph, telling her the photograph was for her. I also asked her to thank the man for letting me charge my battery. I headed out and was putting my pack back on when the man re-appeared on the other side of the glass doors which gave me the chance to give him a few small bows as I backed away and then continued on my way again.
The next stop I was looking out for now was a small road side stall which let walking pilgrims take a small ceramic gift. The area was famous for kawara tiles, a type of Japanese roof tile used on older homes. The last time I had taken a small flat frog shaped ornament and let it dangle from my walking stick. This time I also picked a frog shaped ornament but one without a string. The meaning behind the small frog was that the word for frog sounded like the word for return home. Before leaving I pinned a photograph and my osamefuda to the backboard of the stall and was then on my way again.
The early morning chill slowly gave way to warm sunshine as I neared the huge petrochemical plant. After rounding the petrochemical plant I passed a shop with the words ice cream in katakana in the shop display so I decided to go in and get myself an ice cream. Along with the money for the ice cream, I gave a photograph to the woman in the shop and then continued on way. I had been walking along the main road but the route detoured away and started passing through residential areas again. The best part was that the cherry blossom was finally starting to bloom. It would probably be another week or so before they it was in full bloom and by then I would probably be back in Kagawa again which was something I was really looking forward to very much.
My pack this morning seemed to be misbehaving and causing a bit of discomfort and that was probably my fault for not packing it carefully before I set out from Asanami Daishido. That and of course the generally warm day made the going a little tougher at times than it had been for the past few weeks. I stopped for a rest and got myself an energy drink from the vending machine. A little more energized after the quick rest break I pressed on and soon arrived at Enmeiji (#54). I found the main hall completely screened off and undergoing a major refurbishment. I could see the sign for the daishi hall but saw someone praying in front of a smaller building which I figured could be the temporary main hall. I went to the stamp office and asked where the main hall was and the lady pointed at the smaller makeshift building so I returned and went through the usual routine. After finishing at the daishi hall I returned to the stamp office. The woman in the stamp office turned out to be really friendly and after finishing with the stamp I let her choose a photograph she liked. She chose one of a dragon shaped water fountain and tried to explain that she was a dragon. Not a mother-in-law type of a dragon but a Chinese dragon in the same way that I was a monkey. She liked another photograph of some flowers so I let her take that one too.
After leaving the temple I headed out through a huge cemetery and some kind of memorial park, and then on into the center of Imabari. It was at the next temple that I had met someone who had offered to treat me to lunch and had brought me udon in the nearby shopping area during my first pilgrimage. I had been in a bit of a rush that day even though I had made a much earlier start. Today I just wanted to get to Senyuji (#58) without any rush. The following 4 temples were all reasonably close to each other so unless I got lost I was expecting everything to go smoothly.
The next temple was Nankobo (#55) and it was spread out over quite large grounds with several extra buildings beyond the two prayer halls found at most temples. The main hall was reasonably obvious even without any markers being present but I seemed at a loss as to which of the other 3 buildings was the correct daishi hall but I was soon helped out by a fellow pilgrim who I had been bumping into for several days now. So with prayers all done I headed for the stamp office and there was a bit of a queue and only one person stamping. The person doing the stamp was probably the same person I had met previously at this particular temple and I remembered him being really friendly. He was trying his best to stamp as quickly as possible and every now and then pressing a buzzer to summon more help. He was eventually joined by a woman and the queue shrunk to just a few people including myself who happened to be at the end of the line. After finishing his next stamp he asked non-walking pilgrims to join the woman's side and walking pilgrims to come to him. I was the only walking pilgrim in the room so I apologised to the couple waiting ahead of me and went to his window.
He, if he was the same person from last time was as kind and friendly as the person I had remembered. He asked me a few questions as he did my stamp and once he had returned my book I asked him to choose a photograph. He chose the same dragon photograph the woman at the last temple had chosen. He then dashed of and returned with a tenugui cloth as a gift for me. The other woman doing the stamping seemed to be interested in what was going on but was busy dealing with someone so I left an extra photograph with the man and asked him to give it to her later. I also gave another photograph to the woman who was ahead of me and still waiting for her stamp. With everything done I headed back out and on to the next temple.
I exited Nankobo (#55) and walked down a side street beside what looked like a school and up ahead on the school side of the fence I could see a couple of young students and someone who turned out to be their teacher chatting to an older schoolgirl on the road side of the fence. The older schoolgirl was cycling past me by the time I reached the group, the teacher greeted me and asked me where I was from followed by the usual type of questions. I ended up giving a photograph to the teacher and sweets to the four small girls. Simple little encounters like this were always nice and I headed on hoping to find a convenience store so I could get something to eat. I still had about 4 hours or so to complete just 3 more temples with a distance of about 10km between them. I took a 20 minute break at a Circle K and picked up extra supplies for the evening.
As I got near to Taisanji (#56) I could make out the temple buildings to my right. I remembered following the route in the guide book last time and just getting lost very close to the temple and having to ask someone where the entrance was. There appeared to be only one entrance rather than the 2 approaches indicated in the guide book plus none of the life saver little arrows to help. After following the guide book hoping to find an entrance with a gate I gave up and returned to what appeared to be only entrance which was minus any gate. Taisanji (#56) was nice and simple and looked really very well kept. It also offered tsuyado and it was somewhere I had thought about stopping at but with plenty of time I was reasonably confident of making it to Senyuji (#58). I completed my prayer rituals carefully, got my stamp, gave a photograph and was heading back out when a man heading towards me asked me to wait a moment. From his bag he pulled out a nice cold bottle of tea and handed it to me. For no real reason that I could understand, people sometimes showed this sort of kindness. I thanked him and gave him a photograph before continuing on.
I picked up the trail again and started following the arrows. Maybe it was because I was thinking too much about getting to Senyuji (#58) or maybe it was just because of the heat but I didn't spot the sign on the other side of the road for the path leading to Eifukuji (#57). I had walked about 200m past the point I should have turned so I retraced my steps again missed the small sign directing pilgrims up a narrow path from the road. There was a second path so I followed it and continued past a shrine gate thinking it was the shrine gate marked in the guide book but then I came to another shrine gate and continued round to what I assumed was the temple. It was definitely a temple but not the one I was looking for. I retraced my steps again and I heard a small van come roaring up behind me. Rather than roar past me the van slowed so I waved my hand for it to stop. The car stopped and I asked the woman driver if she knew the way to Eifukuji (#57). She may have been roaring around in order to get somewhere because apart from thrashing the hell out of her poor little van, she had cream stuck around her face suggesting she was eating and driving when I brought her to an abrupt halt. She seemed non too pleased to be answering my silly questions and answered that the temple was not very far away and then roared away again. I already knew it was not very far away, I just didn't know where it was. I passed by a barbers shop and apologized for interrupting him while he was in the middle of giving a cut throat razor shave to a customer lying prostrate in his chair. He came out and pointed me back to the road I had been on and said I should follow the sign. I thanked him and returned to the spot where I was about 15 minutes earlier.
The large sign the barber had mentioned was probably further on and meant for those driving so I asked another man who started checking on his mobile phone. He was dressed like a postman but was not in fact a postman. Another man on a bicycle joined in to help but he too only seemed to know the general direction and as I thanked them and continued ahead I finally spotted the red trail marker pointing down a narrow path leading away from the road. I turned back and thanked them and then continued on down the path.
From Taisanji (#56) you follow the trail and walk across the bridge over the river and then turn right. Once you pass a stone shrine gate on your left the trail marker is about 20 yards further on right leading you down the side of a house and along a trail across the edge of a field. Anyway I was soon at Eifukuji (#57) and as I headed up the final little stretch a long line of bus pilgrims were heading down and away from the temple. I went through the prayer routines but in a less relaxed manner had I not gotten lost but with everything done I now had a little under 2 hours to cover the final 2.3km to Senyuji (#58). Before heading on I picked up some candles and also another ice cream which I didn't really need but a treat was a treat.
The approach to Senyuji (#58) was partly up a steep twisting road and then a tough little climb after passing through the temple gate. With the pack really digging into my shoulders I was glad to finally get to the top, take the pack off and sit and relax. After feeling rested and chatting briefly to my fellow ohenro-san who I had been bumping to all day and who was staying in the shukubo lodging I went through my prayer rituals and then to the stamp office. The man at the stamp office was a relatively young looking monk and he greeted me in English, queried where I was from and then asked a few more questions. I told him I had stayed at the temple before and asked if it would be OK to stay in the tsuyado again. He replied it would be no problem at all. I had a photograph of the something I had snapped at Senyuji (#58) during my first pilgrimage and presented it as my osettai to him. He recognised it and I then him all the photographs and told him to choose one more. He ended up choosing the one of the marching monks at Koyasan because once again, like the two other monks I had met, he also recognized one of the two monks at the at the head of the procession. He selected that one and and then dashed of and returned with a tenugui cloth as a gift for me and told me to enjoy my stay. He also told me that someone would call me around 8 o'clock so I could use the hot bath. Finally, he told me to assemble in the main hall just before 6 o'clock for the morning prayer service. He also told me that only one of the rooms was currently being used as a tsuyado and to use the first one only.
When I slid open the door of the tsuyado I noticed the space in the first room had two makeshift beds and plenty of bedding on some desks at the back of the room. I set my pack down and arranged all my things on one of the makeshift beds. I sorted through all the clothes that needed washing after I took a bath. The door to the room was shut but a little while later, a young man opened the door and came into the front room I was in. He looked like a young trainee monk and in fact turned out to be just 17 years old and was undergoing some sort of training and also helping with the running of the temple. I still had most of my oranges with me so I gave two of them to him. He returned the gesture a little while later with some snacks of his own and a pot noodle. I accepted the snacks but returned the pot noodle.
I got myself settled in and wasn't expecting anyone else to turn up but about 7 o'clock the door opened and in came Hagi-san. Hagi-san turned out to be a 76 year old and he was doing his second pilgrimage but this time in reverse. He was carrying a 75 liter pack and given his age he looked as strong as someone half his age. The two of us just seemed to hit it of and he spoke to me in English for almost the whole time we spend together. Hagi-san took the other bed and took out all his things. He didn't really have a lot but what he did have looked very good quality. He had a small stove and the first thing he wanted to do was eat, so he heated himself some water and prepared some noodles. Dinner for me was just a few of the snacks I had plus a drink from the vending machine outside.
Most of what I did during this pilgrimage to sustain myself was purely functional. I had no real strong desire to eat proper meals and the only times I really treated myself to proper meals was when I was with someone else. After Hagi-san and I had finished eating I shared all the information I had on cheap lodging places that I knew of. Hagi-san seemed very impressed that I had so much information which he himself didn't know about but he was happy to take down telephone numbers and other details I gave him. Later that evening he called his wife to update her about his day and tell her where he was. I overhead him telling her how I had given him so much detailed information.
For me Hagi-san was the perfect kind of walking pilgrim to spend time with because he was both friendly and very easy to talk to. One of the most impressive things besides his age was the preparation that had gone into his second pilgrimage. He told me he had spent 18 months writing out the heart sutra by hand. 216 times. The reason he had done it 216 times was because he was visiting all 88 temples, plus the 20 bangai temples. He was placing his hand written heart sutra at each of the two main prayer halls at every single temple. He had written them on very thin paper and bundled them together and put them in a waterproof bag. He took one out to show me and it was easy to see why it had taken him 18 months to complete all 216 of them. The older pilgrims never ceased to amaze me and Hagi-san was absolutely no exception. He was the oldest walking pilgrim I had met so far and easily one of the fittest looking of any pilgrims I had met.
It had been a long day day and probably the warmest of the pilgrimage so far so and I was really looking forward to that nice clean feeling again. Around 7:30 someone who worked at the temple stopped by and said we could both now use the bath. The paying customers naturally had first priority but it was a real bonus that we could make use of the facility. Hagi-san, myself and the temple helper got ourselves cleaned up and whilst the temple helper left fairly quickly, Hagi-san and I soaked a bit longer in the hot tub. Dressed in fresh clean clothes it was then back to the tsuyado. I got all my clothes in the washing machine and got on with updating my notes for the day. When my washing was done we both settled down for the evening. Hagi-san slipped on a balaclava type hat, slipped into his sleeping bag and was soon snoring away. Looking back over the day it had been another one of those special ohenro days. Staying at Asanami Daishido had turned out to be one of the many special experiences on this journey so far and maybe the tears were a sign of just how important a place it had been and what this journey meant to me personally. Today had been another day of interesting encounters and a better appreciation of the fact that this journey was being shaped by forces both beyond my control and those completely within my control. The prayer this morning after I arrived at Enmeiji (#54) was - be grateful always.
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