I slept really well and after waking up early as I always did I actually managed to get back to sleep again until Matthew got up around 5 o'clock and started packing up. He was travelling light and efficient and it wasn't long before he had everything sorted and was heading into the main part of the house for breakfast. I got myself up and started updating my notes and a little while later Matthew returned and said breakfast was substantial and very tasty. I didn't chat to Matthew very long because he had another very long day planned and was soon out and on his way.
I continued to work on my notes for another hour or so and then quickly started getting my pack together and tidying up the sleeping quarters. Just before 7 o'clock I headed to the main part of the house where Noriko-san had prepared a very nice breakfast and some additional rice balls to take with me. Irie-san turned up a little later and continued where he had left of yesterday evening and topped me up with some more rice. I somehow managed to finish almost everything but just couldn't manage a final bit of salad.
With breakfast done I didn't want to leave straight away so I asked if I could stay just a little longer to continue work on updating my notes. They of course said yes so I spent another hour working on my notes but mindful that I might be delaying their plans I quickly got everything packed and headed back inside to say my goodbyes. I photographed Irie-san and Noriko-san next to the Utangura sign outside their house. Noriko-san photographed me for their own website because like me, every ohenro-san who stayed at Utangura was photographed and put up on their website. I would now be there twice and this time alone. I thanked them both again and and then set of towards the first temple of the day Tennōji (#79).
The route today was also going to be fairly straightforward and all I really needed to do was keep following the trail markers. Irie-san who had earlier dropped of the woman ohenro guide back in Sakaide had remarked that the cherry blossoms looked really good. He certainly wasn't wrong there, they had survived the rains and this morning they seemed to look especially nice. I passed through the same long shopping mall I walked through during the first pilgrimage. Sakaide looked busier than Marugame but the same signs of change I saw in Marugame were also evdient in Sakaide with many shops boarded up.
I had been going for nearly an hour as I neared Tennōji (#79). Just short of the temple I came upon a beautiful cherry blossom scene. The ground was literally carpeted in cherry blossoms. Individual petals were floating down from the trees and it looked like it was snowing. I was close to a small shrine and the petals were falling gently all over the graves and small statues. Cherry blossoms in full bloom always looked great but there was a very different kind of beauty in the way the petals gently floated to the ground when their time was up.
A little further on and just before the entrance to Tennōji (#79) I was treated to another similar cherry blossom scene. The ground again was covered in fallen cherry blossoms and this time whenever a gentle gust of wind blew the trees shed more of their petals all over the ground. I stopped to enjoy this before continuing on into the temple part of the grounds at Tennōji (#79). The grounds were shared with a shrine and the two smaller temple buildings were situated next to each other in a far corner of grounds. I was done with my prayers fairly quickly and after taking a few photographs I headed to the stamp office.
A bus group of pilgrims had just assembled in front of the main hall as I was finishing at the daishi hall so when I got to the stamp office the 2 staff were busy going through a small stack of stamp books and scrolls. There was a single pilgrim waiting his turn and then me. The person who had brought the stack of books to be stamped encouraged the person waiting ahead of me to hand in his book. He did and I noticed that the person he had handed his book to was doing the stamps but was not rushing. The second person doing the stamping seemed to be in a different gear and had two stamp books open at the same time and was trying to finish as fast as she could. I wanted the first person to do my stamp so when it came to my turn to hand over my book I encouraged the pilgrim waiting behind me to go ahead.
When the more careful of the two had finished with a scroll I continued to wait rather than offer my stamp book because it would have meant jumping the queue ahead of the man with many stamp books and scrolls. He however encouraged me to go ahead so I watched as the stamp was carefully inscribed into my stamp book. The book was then returned to me in a very formal manner. I had no chance to say anything except thank you because I didn't want to delay the man who had encouraged me to go ahead. Before leaving I selected two photographs and waited for the man who had done my stamp to finish the one he was doing it. When he was done I presented one photograph to him and the other one to the man with the many stamp books. The man with many stamp books seemed the more surprised but before he could really say anything I was already on my way out and heading on.
I wasn't sure if choosing to wait for one person over another to do my stamp was the right thing to do or not but I was willing to be patient and enjoy the simple aesthetic beauty of the way some people carried out the task. It was like an art form all of it's own and even with zero understanding of calligraphy it was easy to feel the difference as it was to see the difference in the manner in which they were done. More importantly, even though I had often told myself the stamp book was not important, the truth was, it was something important. I wasn't doing the pilgrimage in a half hearted manner so it was not wrong to expect others more intimately connected with the pilgrimage to do their best also. By best however, it didn't necessarily mean perfect because I myself was far from perfect.
With temple business done it would have been nice to have spent more time looking around but the temple seemed unusually busy. Part of the reason was that there seemed to be some kind of walking relay event going on and one of the check points was just inside the temple grounds. So after exiting the temple I completely forgot about stopping to look back at the unique red Shinto gate. The gate I recalled from my last visit was red in colour and seemed to be constructed in such a way that it kind of resembled 3 gates joined together. I had remembered to stop, turn and bow after passing through the gate but I had just not remembered that I had also wanted to enjoy the view of the gate as I headed away. By the time I had remembered what it was I had intended to do, my thoughts had already turned to coffee and dorayaki.
There had been no convenience store for my regular morning coffee break but I spotted a Lawson which appeared to be on the other side of some fields and the railway line. If I continued along the marked ohenro trail I would cross over the railway line much further on so I cut down through the fields and asked a man working in one of them if it was possible to cross over to the Lawson from where I was. He came over and after the usual conversation about where I was from, he told me to skirt along the edge of the field and walk past an apartment complex and keep going. I followed his instructions and almost right away I was at a level crossing and on the other side was the Lawson.
There was a standing counter on the side so I set my pack down and got a coffee and dorayaki. The person who served me was an incredibly formal and very polite young man and I decided I was going to give him a photograph before I left. When it came time to leave however, the young man was busy serving someone else and another member of staff called me over to her checkout. I didn't have anything I wanted to buy so I just gave her a photograph and asked if she could give it to her colleague when he was free. She had a slightly confused look but I was sure the young man would probably be happy to receive it.
It was coming up to midday, the weather still looked like it would remain fine and I was starting to think about where to stay for the night. Irie-san had mentioned rain during the night and the truth was, I didn't really know about any good outdoor covered rest areas. Last time I had walked from Utangura all the way through Ichinomiyaji (#83) and onto a zenkonyado about 3km further on. It had been a bit of a mad dash that day to get to the final temple and I had regretted not spending more time at the two mountain top temples. I decided to call the only available place I was aware of near to Shiromineji (#81) but they were fully booked. I decided I would pray at Kokubunji (#80) and then take a look at the places close by. After praying at Kokubunji (#80) I ended up walking to a minshuku called Azusa. All I knew about it was that it was 4000 yen without meals.
The building at the front was a very new looking udon restaurant so I went in and asked the man behind the counter if any rooms were available and he said there were. He then took me out and a little further back was an older building. He gave me the choice of a Western style room or a Japanese style room. I just opted for the Japanese style room and the only real difference was that I would be sleeping on the floor rather than a makeshift bed. The place was very old , the tatami that I expected was covered with a large carpet but I had already decided to stay so there was really nothing more to worry about. I paid the bill and as I started to unpack my things. I noticed that musical ohenro-san had stayed in the same room because one of his personalized artworks was in the room. He had obviously made more progress than I had after I met him at Daikōji (#67) because I had basically called it a day at that point even though it was still only midday.
After a short break I went out in search of a convenience store. I found a Lawson about 15 minutes away but continued on towards the Marunaka supermarket which was another 15 minutes further up the main road. I picked up enough supplies for the evening and then stopped at a Family Mart for a coffee before returning back to Azusa. The sky had almost cleared up and it had really warmed up very nicely. I was wondering whether I had made the right decision to stay put because with such fine weather I could have probably made it through to Negoroji (#82) and then figured out somewhere to stay. Anyway there was no point thinking about it now and after returning to Azusa I decided to head back to Kokubunji (#80) and enjoy the atmosphere a little more. I had not really spent much time there when I had arrived a few hours earlier.
It was coming up to 5 o'clock so the place was now very quiet and after taking a few more photographs I found myself back near the daishi hall. On a bench nearby I spotted the young looking monk who had greeted me earlier when I got my stamp done. He was playing with the temple cat or possibly the temple cat was playing with him. Whichever it was, they seemed to get on remarkably well with each other. I got chatting to him about something or other and that led to a very interesting conversation about the history of the temple. His father he said was the head priest at the temple but his main job, was to work in the stamp office and to find ways of raising funds to help with the upkeep of the temple. One particular project he was currently working on was the construction of a large new statue. The last such statue of it's kind had been destroyed in a fire in Kyoto but once this new one was complete in 2018 it would be the only one of it's kind in Japan. He then disappeared inside and returned with magazines on various Buddhist statues around Japan.
Things got even more interesting when he decided to give me a personal tour of the temple and point out the key historical artefacts which I would never have recognised or understood. Rather than just tell me, he took me back out into the temple grounds to an area where all I could see where some large rocks but he told me they were the foundation stones where the original main hall had once stood. He then took me to another spot where there were more large stones and he said it was the place where there had once stood a 7 tiered pagado. I had only seen a few 5 storied pagodas and I could only imagine that a 7 storied pagoda would have been quite an impressive sight.
He then took me outside the temple grounds to show me what had been the boundary of the temple as it once stood. The temple grounds had once been much much bigger than they were now and part of the original wall had been reconstructed just to help give an idea of how big the original temple was. Then he pointed to a 1/10th scale model of what the whole temple complex had once looked like. It included a vast area enclosed within a high outer wall, a 7 tiered pagoda and most impressive of all, a massive main gate with a smaller inner gate. The original smaller inner gate was now the main gate and even though the present temple was still pretty big, it was nowhere near the size of the original temple.
It had been a very interesting history lesson about the temple and after being shown the 1/10th scale model I thought my personal tour of the temple was over but that turned out not to be the case. Earlier I had been talking about seeing the cherry blossoms falling like rain near Tennōji (#79) and he said he would take me to see a famous cherry blossom tree. I thought it would be close by but he told me to head back to my minshuku and said he would come and pick me up in about 15 minutes. I headed back and got a nice photograph of some cherry blossoms plus a banana and a bottle of tea which I thought I could give to him as osettai since he seemed to have given up a lot of his time and and because I had heard his stomach rumbling.
When he arrived at Azusa I discovered he had come with his mother so I gave the photograph to her and told him the banana and tea were for him. He drove us both about 15 minutes up towards Shiromineiji (#81) and stopped near a spot where there was a single huge cherry blossom tree. The tree was named 'omoide zakura' and it was very different from ones I had seen before. The colour of the cherry blossoms was slightly different and the trunk and branches also looked very different.
We had arrived a little too early to see it lit up but it looked really great just as it was. After spending about 20 minutes there he drove me back to Azusa. He thanked me for the banana and tea but said it was not necessary and that I had been kind enough. He had been kinder to me than I had been to him but I respected his wishes and took the banana and bottle of tea with me. My friendly young looking monk was Jun and I was really happy that he had helped me learn more about the temple and also taken me to see the special cherry blossom tree.
As I settled down for the evening, it felt like it had been a very interesting day. I was really happy that I had returned to take a second look around Kokubunji (#80) because apart from being a temple I had really liked during my first pilgrimage, this time the experience had been even better because of the personal tour I had been given. Thoughts about wishing I had pressed on were forgotten.
As was often the case, things always seemed to work out far better than I usually imagined they would and today, like most days, had been no exception.