As usual I was up early and updating my notes. It was still only 04:00 when I decided to head to the Family Mart for a hot coffee and a dorayaki. I was the only customer in the Family Mart and since they had seating plus free wifi I ended up spending a little much longer than I had planned. A second coffee and dorayaki later, I gave a photograph to the sole member of staff and headed back out.
It was dry when I left Hagyu-an but after leaving the Family Mart the ground outside was wet and the expected morning rain showers it seemed had started. It had only been a very light shower and if it remained like that then it wouldn't be too bad . My nemesis was heavy rain and heat. Heat more than rain was what really slowed me down. Rain, if I could keep myself from getting soaked was not so bad but it completely changed the way I interacted with people along the way. The difficultly was that it seemed to dampen spirits all round.
After returning to Hagyu-an I continued to update my notes and around 06:00 Olaf and Philipp stirred, got up and got themselves ready to leave. They were not planning to go all the way to Sankakuji (#65) and thought as far as Shikoku Chuo City with it's relatively large number of hotels would be a good place to aim for. I had not really done my maths regarding how far it was to Sankakuji (#65) but I figured it was something like 25km. I also knew it was possible to camp in the hut within the temple grounds but that unlike the fully enclosed rest hut at Yokomineji (#60), this one was an open hut. The fact that it was possible to camp there had made it a possible target for me but it depended very much on the weather.
The pilgrim who had kept a look out for us yesterday came in to say goodbye before leaving. The other pilgrim who I had last stayed with back at Toyogahashi (#8) came in, said something and disappeared too. Olaf and Philipp told me they were heading for the Family Mart closest to Hagyu-an for a coffee and then heading on along Route 11. Before leaving Hagyu-an I wrote out a name slip, slotted it into a photograph sleeve and pinned both to the wall.
I also photographed a few of the other photographs already on the wall. Many included the elderly woman I had met yesterday posing with groups of monks who had stayed there and there was even one of her with former Prime Minister Kan. I photographed the front of the guest book which had the address of Haygu-an and the full name of the old lady. When I got back I planned to send her some more photographs like I hoped to do to the many places I had already stayed at. With everything done I raised the shutter to let myself out and as instructed the previous evening, left it open and headed on towards the nearby Route 11.
It wasn't raining as I left but I had dressed in my waterproof jacket and I had my pack covered to guard it against any light showers. I had not gone more than about 50m and was heading along a short river stretch leading up to Route 11 when an elderly woman on the other side shouted out a morning greeting. I waved at her and she pointed to the far end near Route 11 meaning she would meet me there. She got back into her car and drove the short distance and waited. She approached me with something quite large in her hand. I wondered what it was and as she handed it to me she said it was seaweed which I could eat when I felt hot and tired, adding that it would give me extra energy. It was a very kind gesture and something wholly unexpected and coming so soon at the start of another day, it really seemed to give me a lift.
I'd been going for nearly an hour along Route 11 when it started raining. I had already passed by a few convenience stores but up ahead I could see a Circle K and outside I could see a single pack and a walking stick. I wasn't sure but I figured they probably belonged to Olaf or Phillip and as I got closer I spotted the pair of them sat at a side counter drinking coffee. They both greeted me and I set my pack down and got myself a coffee and a snack. Before enjoying my third coffee of the morning I got the photocopier machine set up to print out 50 new photographs and while they quietly started popping out I sat back down and enjoyed the coffee.
Olaf and Phillip left the Circle K a little ahead of me. I remained behind for another 15 minutes slotting the photos into clear sleeves. Before leaving I went to the check out and gave 3 photographs to the shop assistant and told her it was a present for her and the other 2 staff in the store. Maybe not understanding me or not hearing what I had said, she tried to look for a bar code on them to scan them but was quickly joined by her co-worker who had seen me putting the photographs into the sleeves and knew they were not salable items but a gift. Without really say much more I left and continued on ahead.
The rain was not heavy but it was definitely persistent and a little further on I came up on Olaf and Philipp again. Philipp had covered his pack with a convenience store rain jacket and invested in an umbrella. With the rain getting heavier I stopped again outside another convenience store. I didn't fancy going too far in this rain and risk getting completely soaked so I asked a man if there was a hot spa anywhere nearby. He told me the only one he knew about was one much further on in Shikoku Chuo City. With a new plan in mind I started walking again at a more determined pace.
I soon came up on Olaf and Philipp again and they were on the other side of the road sheltering in a shop door doorway. I continued on and diverted away from Route 11 for a few kilometers and then rejoined it again a little further ahead. About 90 minutes later I was at Enmeiji (#12) a bangai temple I had stopped at briefly during my first pilgrimage. The rain had stopped after I got going again and not long after the skies cleared up and the sun came out.
It had started to feel a lot warmer so after a final break at a convenience store and stocked up with supplies for the evening I pressed on. My thoughts were that if I got to Togawa Park by 2 o'clock or so I could take a quick rest and easily make it to Sankakuji (#65). There were two route options going forward, one was to stick close to Route 11 and the other was to head towards the Matsuyama Expressway. I detoured away from Route 11 and headed in the direction of the Matsuyama Expressway which I knew I needed to cross under to make my way to Togawa Park.
The route closer to Route 11 seemed to be a bit longer and was the one I had taken the last time. Walking alongside the elevated Matsuyama Expressway turned out to be the harder of the two options. The route was a constant up and down and as it got warmer and warmer the going got harder and harder. After a forced rest for a cold drink from a vending machine I finally crossed under the Expressway and was relieved to see the sign showing the route towards Sankakuji (#65) via Togawa Park.
I instantly recognized Togawa Park as the place I had stayed during the first pilgrimage. It was in the middle of a very nice neighbourhood and I had camped in a great hut. Today the same hut was draped completely in red and white cloth, being readied I think for a local festival or maybe just for the start of the cherry blossom season. Today I had no plan to stop because of a warning from Hagimori-san who had told me the hut was off limits as a place to stay. He hadn't really explained why but it seemed the park and the hut were for the exclusive use of the local community. I continued through and picked up the mountain trail leading to the temple.
The trail turned out to be really nice and just like the trail down from Yokomineji (#60), it too was full of birdsong. I couldn't remember hearing this much birdsong before and it was probably because my attention during my first pilgrimage had so often been on imaginary encounters with wild boars. This time, my senses seemed to be much more attuned to everything around me and it made the walks through the forest and mountain trails a real joy.
A few hundred meters short of the temple I passed an old man and woman working in their field and waved at them. They waved back and after taking a few more steps I stopped, took out a photograph and waved the photograph at them. The man decided to come across the field to see what I was doing and when he got close I gave him the photograph and said it was a present. In fact I gave him a second photograph too and as he shouted an update back to his wife she held up an orange so he returned to her to get it, and then returned back to give it to me. I thanked them and continued the very short distance to the temple.
A long steep flight of steps leads up to the temple gate and as I started to make my way up I greeted several people. About half way up a woman going down on the other side of the central rail greeted me and asked me where I was from. I told her I was from England but living in Japan. Her husband was still further up the stairs and asked me to pose with his wife so he could take a photograph of the two of us. When he got closer, he and his wife exchanged a few words in Japanese and the next question was why don't you come and stay at our house. I was somewhat blown away because I just didn't expect anything like that to happen and after asking them if it really was OK I agreed. I told them I would rejoin them at the bottom of the stairs after finishing with business at the temple.
I quickly headed up to the temple and the first thing I needed to do was buy some osamefuda because I had only one sheet left. The stamp office however told me they had none for sale so I thought I would just ask someone if they could just give me one. I put my things down and waited for someone to show up. An elderly couple in very nice ohenro gear were the first to turn up and were kind enough to give me one of their osamefuda. I thanked them with a photograph and then headed to the prayer halls to go through my prayer rituals.
After getting my stamp I asked the woman to choose a photograph. The other two staff also became interested after she had finished I gave the remaining photographs to her colleague next to her. He picked one and returned them to me. The third member was possibly their son so I selected one for him and gave a third one to him. I then headed back outside and was packing up when the the one I had assumed was the son came out out to me and gave me a tenugui cloth. I thanked him and quickly headed back down the long flight of steps.
I found my hosts for the evening waiting for me near the bottom and as we headed to their car which was parked about 10 minutes walk away I found out they were both retired teachers. The woman, Keiko was a former English teacher and her husband Ken was a former history teacher who I later discover was keenly interested in preserving and sharing the history of the pilgrimage related to his town. They told me they had hosted other ohenro-san at their home many times, including other foreign ohenro-san .
Their home was a short drive away and when they asked what the first thing I wanted to do was, I asked if I could use the shower. I quickly showered, dressed and put my dirty clothes were in the washing machine. Keiko was preparing dinner and Ken was showing me a slide show presentation he was putting together about the local temples in the area and their relationship to the pilgrimage and Kukai. An hour earlier I would never have imagined I would be sitting in someone's home like this.
Ken was keenly interested in the pilgrimage and together with a volunteer group had been working on clearing trails to other sites of interest in the local area. He was also very interested in learning about the reasons why people did ohenro and keen to learn about reasons why I was doing it. I had said a few times that it was for the purposes of self reflection and occasionally gone as far as saying that I was doing it for a second time because I was a fool. That was an unusually harsh criticism of myself but it seemed to be an easy way to express one of my reasons for doing it. I told Ken the story of the mountain monk who I had met on the third day of my first pilgrimage.
I still remembered what the mountain monk had said because his words were simple and easy to understand. He simply said, whatever you do, do it kindly, do it earnestly and do it patiently. He had once been part of a temple community but had not been able to get along with others and his present circumstances suggested he was now struggling to eke out a living. Life has a way of humbling you and the monk's story more than any other had resonated with me.
Wearing pilgrim attire and walking was not enough to make anyone special. As I walked along I encountered ordinary people and it was they who helped me to appreciate what I came to describe as the ohenro spirit. A spirit that kind of magically transformed how I looked out on the world because the world through ohenro eyes looked altogether different. I'm not sure how much of this Ken was able to understand but he and Keiko were now also a part of what made ohenro special for me.
Dinner turned out to be great. It was fish, vegetables and rice and it was a real change from the usual snacks I had been eating most evenings. I felt completely at home but just couldn't believe my luck despite my hosts telling me they were the ones who were lucky to have met me. For me, it was the first such experience but even without such hospitality I knew how kind some people were to walking pilgrims and I already knew that this experience was one I would think about many times in future.
What I could share with them were my photographs and I asked Ken and Keiko to choose as many photographs as they liked. Ken wanted to show them to the audience he was going to give a presentation to and selected 5 photographs. I was happy for them to take as many as they liked and ended up selecting another 15 or so for them. I also showed Keiko the gift I had received this morning. When she unwrapped it, it turned out to be a large plastic container full of strips of dried seaweed. It was far too much for one person to eat and carry around so that turned into a gift for Keiko.
With dinner over, I retired to the front room and put out my bedding. Tomorrow I would pass out of Ehime and head up to to Unpenji (#66) which was actually in Tokushima and then down into my home prefecture Kagawa. The journey was not over yet but meeting my hosts today had been a really wonderful experience. It was an experience which underlined what was both the spirit and the magic of ohenro. Too tired to think about doing my notes this evening, I just tucked myself into my futon and promptly fell asleep.