The rest hut turned out to be really great. It had felt a little cold outside but once inside the rest hut and the door shut it was reasonably comfortable. I fell asleep very quickly but a few hours later I was awake again and doing what I always did when I woke up, updating my notes.
Around 4:30 I started to slowly pack up my things and take my tent down. By about 5:30 I was almost fully packed and it was starting to get light outside. I had shown Olaf and Philipp photographs I had taken of Mt. Ishizuchi yesterday and both were keen to go so the three of us headed up just after 6 o'clock to take a look. I knew what to expect having seen the view yesterday and with the morning sun just beginning to light up the peak it was a very different but equally impressive sight. After taking a few photographs we all returned to the rest hut, finished packing and then went out to pray at the two halls.
I had collected my stamp yesterday so today I just needed to pray at both halls before heading down. The early morning atmosphere was unlike at any other temple I had experienced because all I could really hear was birdsong. All the birds seemed to be busy chattering away and making sounds which I almost never heard in the city. With prayers done I got myself ready to head down. I hadn't gone very far when I spotted another vending machine at the start of the descending route just outside the temple so I got myself a hot coffee and ate one of my two emergency dorayaki. The distance to Kōonji (#61) was just under 10km and the weather this morning was clear and sunny.
During the first pilgrimage I had hiked up to Yokomineji (#60), made my way back down and then managed to cover the next four temples with the last one proving to be a bit of a rush. This was followed by a long soak in a local bath house, food at an udon restaurant and a night in a simple business hotel. Today I had expected things to be a lot more leisurely given that the hard part of hiking up had already been done and getting through the first 4 temples required covering only about 15km and then a further 10km or so to Hagyuan where I planned to stay.
Olaf and Philipp had set out just a little ahead of me and I soon had them in sight again but they pulled away on the steeper descending parts. Aside from being extra vigilant on the descent my slower pace could also be attributed to the fact that I kept stopping just to enjoy the early morning silence and take photographs. About an hour later though, I found Olaf and Philipp taking a break, greeted them and continued on at my own pace. There were no other walking pilgrims that I had seen heading down but I came across some who were heading up the descending route including one who I had left Senyuji (#58) with yesterday. He had walked down much faster than me and I had only briefly seen him again at Kokubunji (#59).
It seemed some pilgrims took what seemed like the slightly longer route up to Yokomineji (#60) via the descending route rather than come up the road and then the final steep 2.2km mountain trail. Many people had talked about the hike up to Yokomineji (#60) via the designated ascending route as very difficult but coming up the descending route meant doing a lot more of a mountain trail.
The 2.2km of mountain trail on the ascending route was actually not as difficult as people had said. It was steeper in places but it was in some ways easier because because of steps cut into the path. If I was to to compare the final 2.2km to Yokomineji (#60) I would say the hikes up to Shosanji (#12), Kakurinji (#20) or Tairyuji (#21) were actually more difficult.
After coming off the mountain trail it was a gentle walk all the way to the first temple of the day, Kōonji (#61) which I arrived at just after 10 o'clock. I was feeling thirsty and hungry so I got myself an energy drink and ate my contingency backup emergency dorayaki.
Kōonji (#61) is one of the oddest looking temples on the pilgrimage. The main hall looks more like a huge town hall like building with a couple of smaller buildings including the daishi hall of to the side. These smaller structures aredwarfed by the overall size of the main building. I went through the usual prayer routines and got my stamp done. I then headed inside the huge main building an inside I found a large assembly hall with a huge gold coloured Buddha statue. I didn't spend too much time inside and was soon back oustide in the wide open concourse at the front of the main building.
I spotted Olaf and Philipp so I went over and asked if they wanted to stay in Hagyu-an. They were interested so I called and the man who answered said it was a fine day and wouldn't we want to keep walking. I explained we were still some way away and were not expecting to arrive until around 4 or 5 o'clock. It was a fair question because the overall distance was not that far but there was still another 3 temples to get through and I was not planning on rushing. So, with a place to stay all sorted out I was expecting a leisurely and relaxed day ahead.
I soon left Kōonji (#61) and headed the 1.4km to Hōjuji (#62). Hōjuji (#62) is a tiny little temple but not as tiny as the smallest one which I would say is Kan'onji (#16). I went through my prayer rituals and then headed to the stamp office only to find a sign saying that stamping would recommence at 1 o'clock. The time was 12:15 so that meant a 45 minute wait. Had I avoided a break at a Family Mart a little ealier I would have breezed through Hōjuji (#62) and been on my way to Kichijōji (#63).
A few more pilgrims who had finished praying at the temple started to gather around the stamp office too. As I sat enjoying the warm sunshine a young woman came up to me with a bag of something in one hand and a written note in the other and told me it was osettai. The message read something like, please accept this food and enjoy your journey.
If I had not stopped at the Family Mart I would have mostly likely missed meeting the woman and receiving the osettai lunch. I thanked her and told I would share it with my 2 fellow overseas pilgrims who I spotted coming into the temple. Before I could say anything else she dashed away and returned with a man who was carrying 2 more helpings of lunch osettai which Olaf and Philipp now received. Again it seemed a little too much but before she let I let her choose 2 photographs.
A very similar kind of thing had happened when I was last at this temple during my first pilgrimage. On that occasion I was with two younger Japanese pilgrims and I was singled out for a can of osettai coffee. None was given to my two fellow young Japanese pilgrims and I had felt a bit bad taking it but take it I had to do. Philip tried to give his osettai to another waiting pilgrim but was politely told it was not needed. The 3 of us all decided to keep the food for later and eat it at Hagyu-an. Olaf and Philipp then left for the convenience store again and I stayed put at the temple. The stamp office was operational again by the time Olaf and Philipp returned and it wasn't long before the 3 of us set of for Kichijōji (#63) which was just 1.5km down the main road.
Kichijōji (#63) is a temple that has two small elephants guarding the entrance. The previously colourful ceramic elephants appeared to have been retired and replaced by slightly larger and more sturdy looking stone elephants. Apart from that, everything looked like it was last time. The only difference was a beautiful looking cherry blossom tree in full bloom.
The main highlight at Kichijōji (#63) turned out to be a cute little toddler dressed in an equally cute little white ohenro jacket. The jacket came down to the the little girl's knees but combined with a red stole, she looked super cute. I asked her parents if I could photograph her and although they didn't mind she seemed to be aware of her star status and refused to smile. Even after she had received some candy osettai from me and some biscuit osettai from another pilgrim she refused to smile. I watched as she continued on up the steps in front of the main hall and have a toddler tantrum when she insisted on taking care of her parent's osamefuda herself. All done at Kichijōji (#63), it was now on to the last and final temple of the day, Maegamiji (#64) which was 3.3km away.
It was clear that I, Olaf and Philipp were not going to make it on time to Hagyu-an. Time had clearly speeded up today because the walking pace had slowed to about a 1 km/hour since Kōonji (#61). I tried to redress the balance by pressing on ahead to Maegamiji (#64) and went through the prayer routines and then returned to get my stamp done.
From the expressions on the faces of the stampers, they appeared to have endured a long slow day too and displayed the kind of enthusiasm you would expect from career bean counters who had been counting beans all day long. For me, my daily temple duties were complete and after a quick stop at the bath house I just wanted to get to Hagyu-an as quickly as possible without being too late. Clearly something had gone haywire with universal time today and even with a best guess scenario, the time of arrival would still put us 2 hours late. I didn't feel too good about this because they were offering us a place to stay as osettai.
The bath house was a little bit further on from Maegamiji (#64) and the three of us were in and out of there fairly quickly. Had it not been for Philipp's alertness I would have left my white jacket behind. In my rush to get dressed I'd left it in the changing room. Thankfully Philipp had picked it up and brought it out with him. Rushing around was definitely not a good way to be doing ohenro. Despite the rush I had nevertheless managed to give photographs to several people including the staff.
I was also feeling really hungry again and the unfairness of being singled out for the osettai lunch that I had received at Kichijōji (#63) was a distant memory as I quickly gobbled it down before we got going again. We needed to cover as much ground in the next 2 hours as we had covered in the past 9 hours. I had done my calculations based on taking Route 11 but Philipp had suggested taking the parallel route which was also marked as an alternative route in the guidebook.
Having already shown a skill for not being the greatest of map readers I failed to notice that the parallel route zigzagged far from Route 11 and was adding an extra few kilometers. On closer inspection of my guide book I realised we were following a route that was adding more distance than I had accounted for. I had been setting the pace with a bit of a power hike but the realization that we were now going to be even later seemed to take all the wind out of my sails. The 3 of us all slowed to dawdle as we passed along a nice stretch of river.
Once we re-joined Route 11 the urgency to try and get to Hagyu-an returned and after a quick stop to take on some coffee and a quick snack we all pressed on as quickly as we could and although we were now walking in the dark we were able to find Hagyu-an without too much trouble. From the outside it looked like a regular house but it seemed to extend quite far back inside. A small front room had the young pilgrim I had last stayed with in the tsuyado at Toyogabashi (#8). To the side of this room was a long narrow space with room for up to 4 more people. The front had a metal shutter which opened onto the road and had been left open to help us find the place. We had not seen the open shutter and had made our way inside through the front door. Inside the room to the side we found a fellow pilgrim who had been put on sentry duty and said he had been waiting for us. I phoned the number for Hagyu-an again and it was answered by an elderly sounding woman who turned up a few minutes later.
She was older than I had imagined so I held her hand to help her into the long narrow room. I apologized for turning up so late but she seemed happy to have us there and offered hot tea and snacks. I did what I usually did and asked her to choose any photographs she liked. She took her time looking through them and picked 3 that she really liked. The old woman had been supporting pilgrims for many many years and on the walls were photographs from her younger days surrounded by very serious looking monks who had stopped at Hagyu-an over the years.
She apologized for not being able to offer us food but said there were many shops and restaurants nearby. I wanted to get something to eat so I excused myself and headed out to look for the Family Mart which she said was just around the corner. Instead of the Family Mart I ended up going to a 24 hour family restaurant and getting myself a simple set meal. It felt good to be eating a full meal again. When I returned to Hagyu-an, Olaf and Philipp had already settled themselves down and it wasn't long before I gave up trying to update my notes and decided to turn in too.
It had turned into a much longer day than I had planned for. Rushing around was definitely not the best way to enjoy ohenro but it had been another interesting day for some self reflection. And Hagyu-an had turned out to be a perfect place to come to a stop at.