When I woke up it was still dark and my fellow ohenro-san had already left. I waited for it to get light and then headed to Bishamonten, a tall tower like structure with a huge statue on top. I had visited it yesterday and discovered you could go all the way to the very top and walking around the base of the statue on the outside. The door to the Bishamonten was unlocked so I went in and made my way up the circular stairwell. The walls on the way up had prints of each of the 88 temples including one for Okunoin at Koyasan and it was as if I was doing a quick mini pilgrimage. The door at the top was also unlocked so I stepped outside and rather than finding the clear views I had hoped for, I found a very hazy looking sky which made it impossible to enjoy what would otherwise have been great views. What was interesting looking down towards Kagawa however, was the many small reservoirs dotted about the landscape. It reminded me of the story of Kukai having overseen the reconstruction and completion of Mannoike, a reservoir which was crucial to that local area. I remained at the top for about 15 minutes hoping the sky might clear up but it didn't look like it was going to ,so I headed back down.
Today was Day 38 and during my first pilgrimage I was already back at Ryozenji (#1). After Unpenji (#66) I still had another 22 temples, about 200km and the whole of Kagawa prefecture but I felt in no great hurry to start heading down. I walked about near the 500 rakan statues. The rakan statues are life sized figures representing disciples of the Buddha and the most interesting thing about them is that each and everyone had a different expression. Each also seemed to show a unique personality. They looked very different in the early morning light than they had done the first time I had seen them. On that occasion I had woken up to a wet and misty Unpenji (#66) and the whole atmosphere had looked a little bit more solemn. I had photographed a lot of of individual statues that I felt drawn to but today I took just a few. After finishing with the rakan statues I headed for the daishi hall where I left some simple prayers, prayers for the journey I had completed through Ehime and for the journey ahead into Kagawa.
It was past past 08:30 when I collected my pack from the tusyado and followed the arrows leading to the descending trail. The rakan statues continued as a long line for a couple of hundred metres and it almost felt as if they were standing there to see me off. It was a nice send off and a little further on I joined the descending mountain trail. It was a beautiful warm sunny morning as I headed down and the path was far gentler than the uphill stretches yesterday. I kept the pace slow and stopped often to take little breaks. I met a handful of people coming up the trail and an older pilgrim who passed by as he headed down at a far faster pace. I continued on and a couple of hours later I finally reached the road and headed towards Minshuku Aozora which most pilgrims seemed to aim for if they decided to head down after Unpenji (#66).
As I walked along the road there was a definite feeling of being back in Kagawa. Each prefecture had it's own unique character and for me Kagawa was all about green fields and the fields here were a beautiful deep green and more numerous than I remembered seeing in the other prefectures. It felt great to be back again. Along the way I met an old woman who greeted me so I gave her a photograph because it was my plan to give away as many photographs as possible now that I was in Kagawa. After giving her a photograph she decided she wanted to give me something and she ended up giving me 300 yen which was not really something I wanted her to do. I tried to give her a second photograph but she insisted she was happy with the one she had and refused to take another.
It had been almost 3 hours since leaving Unpenji (#66) when I arrived at Daikōji (#67). I entered the temple and after climbing the first flight of steps I stopped to look at the huge tree at the top of the next flight of steps. The tree was not only huge, it looked impressively old. Unlike my first pilgrimage when it had been raining, upon entering the temple grounds I was greeted by the sight of beautiful cherry blossoms everywhere. I set my pack down and just sat down to enjoy the atmosphere. There was a large bus group praying at the main hall so I waited for them to finish before starting my own routine and by the time I started at the daishi hall they had finished and were heading out. The stamp office which was at the font of the main hall still seemed to be busy ploughing through the huge pile of stamp books probably belonging to the group that had just left. I decided to wait a little longer and proceeded to photograph the cherry blossoms.
As I was taking photographs an even bigger group arrived at the temple and the group started to assemble just beside the main hall. I decided to get my stamp done before they came under another avalanche stamp books, scrolls and jackets that needed stamping. There were 2 helpers with the new group that had just arrived and they were busy piling up everything that needed stamping on some benches close by. I joined a small line of other pilgrims who were waiting for their stamps and I felt a little bad because I wasn't sure if I was pushing in ahead of the huge piles of stamp books or not. I didn't wait too long to get my stamp because the staff inside seemed to break from doing the big piles to stamp the books of individual pilgrims. I thanked the man in the stamp office and gave him a photograph before I left.
After leaving the temple I stopped outside to get my bearings again and as I looked around I spotted musical ohenro-san coming towards me. He was his usual happy and smiley self and told me he had just met the old woman I had given a photograph to. We didn't talk much but I watched as he set up his camera opposite the main gate, walk to the gate and strike his customary big smile and thumbs up pose for another one of his photographs. He was blogging and uploading photos constantly and he had taken some great photographs on his rather expensive point and shoot camera. My plan now was to meet Tori, someone I had met through an online ohenro forum. She was from the US, had a Japanese husband and lived very close to the ohenro trail on the way to Daikōji (#67). After a few calls I found myself retracing my steps back the way I had come and a few minutes later I saw her walking towards me with her 2 dogs in tow.
Even before we had had a chance to talk much I was asked if I wanted to stay. I had not even seen Tori's home but for the second time in 3 days someone was inviting me to stay at their home and I was more than happy to accept. I wanted to get across Kagawa as slowly as possible so even though I had only walked a very short distance today I was happy to call it a day and relax. After getting to Tori's home, meeting her in-laws who lived right next door, her husband and their son it wasn't long before I was showered and sitting happily in fresh clean clothes again. Tori's husband was working from home and their son who Tori told me was on spring vacation wanted to go to a local udon shop.
The udon shop I was told had until recently been just another udon shop but after being featured on local television had started attracting customers in their droves. On top of that Tori's husband had been featured on the show happily slurping his noodles so was also now a bit of a local celebrity. He drove us the short distance there and when we arrived the car park was full of cars and inside it was full of happy looking customers. The staff recognised Tori's husband, seated us and took our orders. When the udon arrived I was a bit surprised at how large my bowl was and how full it was. It turned out I had misunderstood the waitress and ordered a double helping by mistake. I thought she had asked me if I wanted thick noodles or thin noodles, in fact she had asked me if I wanted a single helping or double helping. It didn't matter because along with with oden and tempura which we had eaten while we were waiting, I managed to finished all the udon too. I decided our udon excursion was going to be my treat for Tori and her family for kindly inviting me to stay at their home. Had I not met Tori I would have slowly headed on and probably camped somewhere at or near Kotohiki Park in Kanonji.
Back at Tori's home she helped me hang out my washing and then I just sat down on the sofa to recover from the udon. I had not had access to wifi for quite some time so Tori got me onto their home network and as I sat back to check my messages and update my notes Tori's cat decided to jump up and see what I was doing. After trying to sniff and gently paw my face, she licked my arm and then decided to fall asleep in my lap. It was still beautifully sunny day outside and walking would have been good but at that moment I seemed to be perfectly contented with Tori's cat sleeping in my lap. Tori's husband suggested going to an outdoor hot spa later in the evening and that was something I was definitely keen on. The afternoon just shot by and I did little more than update my notes. When Tori's husband had finished his work he started preparing dinner. His son and I also helped out and with 3 sets of hands we soon had things cooking nicely. We were going to have a typical Japanese dinner, a meat and vegetable stew, a very tasty chicken dish, miso soup and plain white sticky rice. It was simple home cooking and and it was one of the best meals I could remember on the journey. With dinner over, Tori's husband suggested the hot spa again and although I would have loved to have gone I decided an early night was what I really needed.
I was happy to be back in Kagawa and happy to be staying at such a friendly place where I could speak easily and clearly talk about my experiences during ohenro and also explain very simply why I was doing it. Tori seemed to speak like a native and whenever I wanted to say something to Tori's husband she instantly translated everything into Japanese. Some things about ohenro however could never really be explained very well because those things could only be understood through experiencing them. Stopping at Tori's home was one such experience, and like my stay at Ken and Keiko's home a couple of days earlier, I knew this experience too would be one of those special ohenro experiences. I shared a few of my photographs with everyone and with that done, I retired to my room. It has been a relatively short day in terms of walking but it was a special because I was back on familiar territory again and that more than anything else felt great. I was on the home stretch and I wanted to enjoy every moment of it. I decided to leave the task of updating my notes to the following morning and with an inviting space made out for me it was not long before I was fast asleep.
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