I slept really well and after waking up around 4 o'clock I continued for quite some time typing up my notes and thinking about yesterday. It really felt like the spirit of Kukai was alive and well because it was through the people that I met along the way that I really appreciated this feeling.
Yesterday had started positively with the seaweed osettai and except for the wet weather, the day had gotten better and better. After arriving at Ken and Keiko's home it had been total comfort. I had been typing my notes up for a couple of hours when I heard someone pottering about in the kitchen. I assumed it was Keiko getting breakfast ready so I got up and started to pack up. I returned the room to it's original state and lit some incense and placed it on the family altar. I could hear Ken talking to Keiko so I slid open the door between my room and the dining room and waited for them at the table.
Ken joined me and asked if I had slept well. I don't think I could have slept any better and if things weren't already great, Keiko served up a wonderful breakfast. It started with a bowl of yoghurt, fruits, honey, brown sugar and a sprinkling of chocolate powder. That for me would have been more than enough but there was much more to come. It was followed by a bowl of rice, some fish, fried vegetables and bacon.
Both my hosts had gone out of their way to make me feel as comfortable as possible and I felt very much at home. Ken had set 8 o'clock as the time to leave and drive me back to Sankakuji (#65). After taking photographs of each other, Ken drove me back to Sankakuji (#65), this time taking the old pilgrim road. In the past the old pilgrim road had been the main road heading towards Kobe.
Keiko also very kindly gave me a small box containing some locally produced cookies which she told me also had a very long history. When we arrived at Sankukuji (#65) there was a quick opportunity to take a few more photographs including one of all 3 of us together. I then stood and watched them drive away. I was quite sure I would remember them both because it confirmed in my own mind that the journey between the temples was just as important as the temples themselves and one reason for that was people like Ken and Keiko.
As I turned and looked up the steep steps leading to the main gate I recognized Faisal slowly and carefully making his way back down. I waited for him to get to the bottom before catching up with what he had been up too. It was good to see him and not long after Faisal, Mr Almost 70 also came down the steps. I had not seen him for several days and it was good to see him too. I decided to share the cookies I had received with both of them.
Keiko had said that the cookies were really nice but I never actually got to find out for myself. I had received so much already that it seemed kind of right to pass on some of that kindness to others. When they both left I headed up to the main hall to pray and mainly express my gratitude for having stayed with Ken and Keiko. With prayers done I headed back down the steps and rejoined the ohenro trail.
The early part of the route was a beautiful tree lined stretch and with the sun streaming through the trees it just made for a great start to the day. Along the way I came upon a delightful scene of two young girls playing together outside. The playful scene and their laughter reminded me of the animation movie My Neightbour Totoro. In that movie two young sisters, Satsuki and her younger sister Mei live in a very rural place and the story is all about their friendship with the friendly spirits living in the woods. The younger of the two girls reminded me of Mei and as I walked past neither of the girls seemed to notice my presence. After continuing a little further, I stopped and looked back. All I could see were terraced fields, a handful of homes, a big blue sky and these two sisters playing together. I wished I had stopped and given them some candy or greeted them but maybe it was enough to just observe their happy play.
I stopped briefly at Hanada Rest Hut to remove my extra layers and further on I stopped again at an interesting zenkonyado which was a covered space right next to someone's home. It comprised a single tatami mat with net curtains that could be drawn round to keep out bugs and provide a little privacy. There was also a refrigerator, table and chairs. Best of all was that it was in a nice quiet little neighbourhood. After passing through these small residential communities and just before I joined Route 192 I stopped briefly at Jofukuji (#14) another bangai temple. It was a very interesting temple but I only stopped to look around and take a few photographs before heading on.
The gradient gently picked up as I headed along Route 192 which led to another quick break at a ohenro hut. Inside I found a middle aged ohenro-san having a smoke. We didn't talk much but I gave him a photograph and then pinned another to the inside of the hut. I got going again and a little further on I passed through the Sakaime Tunnel with the hope of stopping at an udon restaurant just on the other side.
I had stopped at the restaurant during my first pilgrimage and I was looking forward to a proper break and for something to eat. When I arrived I found the the few shops there all closed. It wasn't really such bad news because thanks to Ken and Keiko looking after me, the extra snacks I had bought yesterday had not really been touched at all. I got a drink from a vending machine and had some of the snacks before heading up.
I veered away from Route 192 and headed up towards the start of the mountain trail. After a short sharp climb I found myself at the start of the trail. I stopped to enjoy the view for a moment and then slowly made my way up. It had turned into a very warm day and once I got going I just kept up a slow steady pace and after what seemed like a long one hour I cleared the mountain trail with only a relatively short 2.5km of an asphalt track leading to the temple.
A few hundred meters back along the asphalt track I could make out the tell tale shape of another pilgrim but I couldn't make out if it was someone I knew or not. I zoomed in on my camera and whoever it was, was actually walking backwards so rather than wait to see who it was, I continued on towards Unpenji (#66). About 500m from the temple I was surprised to see Mr Almost 70 coming towards me. I was surprised because the descending route I took last time was the other way into Kagawa, and he seemed to be heading the wrong way. I asked him where he was staying and he mentioned a minshuku which if my memory served me right was definitely the other way. He also had an inkling himself that he may have been going the wrong way and after double checking in my guide book we returned to the temple together and I showed him the trail markers towards Kagawa. It was a good job I had bumped into him or may well have gone much further the wrong way.
I spotted the pilgrim I had seen earlier walking backwards and now close up I realized it was a young woman. We didn't say anything but washed our hands and mouth, bowed at the gate and headed in towards what we both thought was the main hall but in fact turned out to be the daishi hall. That got us chatting and she turned out to be from just outside Tokyo and from the same city I had been living in until a few years ago. I gave her a photograph and left her at the daishi hall while I headed for the main hall.
On the way to the main hall I found Olaf and Philipp sitting outside the stamp office. They had ended up making it to Sankakuji (#65) and sleeping in the hut on the temple grounds. Their plan had been to make it as far as Shikoku Chuo City and find a hotel but maybe like me they too had decided to push on after the weather cleared up. I told them about the tsuyado at Unpenji (#66) but it was only 3 o'clock and they seemed intent on walking down and getting closer to Daikōji (#67).
After finishing my prayers at the main hall I decided to get my stamp and confirm my stay in the tsuyado. With my stamp done and a photograph given I headed back to conclude my prayers at the the daishi hall. I went through my usual prayer routine and again expressed my gratitude for the kindness that I had received yesterday and the kindness that I had received ever since the start of the pilgrimage. For some reason my mood seemed to shift as I stood at the daishi hall. It wasn't really just yesterday with Ken and Keiko, or the kindness I had experienced since the start of this pilgrimage, but there had always been a steady stream of kindness that I had been recipient of throughout my whole life. Without recalling any specific incident in particular I felt that I I had not always really appreciated the many blessings that had come my way.
With prayers done I headed to the Ropeway Station. The Ropeway Station had a visitor shop that sold souveniors including the typical kinds of boxed snacks that Japanese visitors bought as gifts to give to family, friends and co-workers. I bought a box of biscuit like snacks and headed back to the tsuyado. On the way I met the young woman again and she seemed to be heading for the trail leading down so I waited for her and when she got closer I gave her one of the biscuits for her journey down.
There was still plenty of daylight left and I could have made it down in a couple of hours but Unpenji (#66) was another of those temples that I really liked. It was situated at 900m making it the highest of all the 88 temples. The present temple buildings were all very modern but the place had a feel about it which I really liked.
When I got back to the tsuyado I discovered I had been joined by the same young man who I had shared the tsuyado with at Toyogahashi (#8). We chatted only briefly and like last time, he said he was planning to make a very early 4 o'clock start the next morning. With no electricity or lights in the tsuyado I burned some of my candles and thought about the day.
It had been a relatively short day today and the thing I could recall most was the happy carefree sight of the two young girls playing together. I sometimes thought about how the children fared in these remote areas but when I saw how happy they were, maybe they had everything they needed. My mood had seemed a little melancholy again at times and that was maybe because I had now covered 75% of all the temples. In terms of distance it was now just another 200km or so back to the start.
Tomorrow I would be back in Kagawa, a special place that had been my home for 2 years during my first spell in Japan almost 25 years earlier.