I had set my alarm clock for 5 o'clock and for the very first time since the pilgrimage started I actually woke up when alarm sounded. I had slept very well and wanted to sleep more but after a couple of snoozes I got up and finished updating my notes.
I could hear the rain falling and it looked like the final part of my journey to the Ōkuboji (#88) today would be a wet one. I turned on the TV and the weather forecast reported that it would be raining for most of the morning but clearing up in the afternoon. I hoped that once I got through Shidoji (#86) and Nagaoji (#87) that the final stretch to Ōkuboji (#88) would be dry.
As I packed everything up again, I realized one of my good socks was missing. It had to be in the laundry-changing room adjoining the shower room so I headed down to take a look. The door to the laundry room was open and when I stuck my head through the hanging curtains the lady owner of Fujiya was stood naked on the bathroom scales. I was out of there in a flash and I heard her call out that she would be out in 5 minutes by which time I was already half back to my room. A few minutes later I heard her call up and say it was safe to return or at least words to that effect. When I returned I found that my poor sock had been flung unceremoniously out into the corridor. I retrieved it, packed it away safely and with one final check to make sure nothing else was going to be left behind I headed down stairs.
As I booted up in the door way I triggered the sensor which opened the front door which sounded an alarm which brought forth another woman who I had not seen naked. The naked woman was maybe trying to spare any blushes, mostly likely mine but it had happened so fast that I had barely got more than a peek. Anyway the other woman very kindly offered me a can of hot coffee and told me to take care. I for my part had prepared a photograph together with one of my osamefuda which I had already left on the side. I pointed to it and thanked her for taking care of me and and then headed out into the rain and on towards Shidoji (#86).
Shidoji (#86) was just a short walk up the road and I immediately made for the stamp office which was inside a larger building which included a shop and an area for eating and drinking. I asked the staff if I could leave my pack there and of course they had no problems with that. I had for the first time since starting the pilgrimage prepared my osamefuda in advance. For my final day I just wanted everything to go very smoothly at the temples and I didn't want to waste any time preparing or checking for anything. The rain had eased up a little bit but it was still falling when I headed back outside. I prayed at both halls and for some reason, as I stood in the rain in from of the daishi hall my emotions ambushed me again. It was my final day today in terms of the 88 temples and so many good things had happened since the very start. I couldn't recall them all but last night's dinner with Yuka's parents was just one of many many such good happenings.
With prayers done I headed back into the building with the stamp office and got my stamp done. I then handed all my photographs over and told the woman to take as many she liked. I only had about 20 in my collection now and I was planning to print out more just as soon as I found a convenience store. The woman chose a couple she liked but she seemed to like many more so I told her to choose more and in the end she selected a total of four. She then said something about giving me something and I replied that all I wanted was a single plastic shopping bag to cover the top of my ohenro bag. As I was preparing to leave she walked over and gave me a tenugui cloth as a gift. I thanked her again and then continued on my way to Nagaoji (#87).
My guide book indicated a few convenience stores along the way and apart from coffee and dorayaki, I neededto print out more photographs. I wanted enough to give out at the remaining temples, any other places I stopped at and a few more to send to Yuka's mother.
The first place I came upon was a Co-op supermarket I had stopped at during my first pilgrimage. It was 09:45 and most places usually opened at 10 o'clock but this particular one had opened it's doors at 09:30 so I went in and bought an assortment of snacks for the rest of the day and the evening. My plan was to camp out in the rest hut next to Ōkuboji (#88). With supplies taken care of I headed on and was soon at a 7 Eleven. They didn't have a spot for customers to sit down like other 7 Eleven stores so I set my pack down and printed of another 15 photographs. I then had my usual coffee and dorayaki and before leaving gave a photograph to the friendly person who had served me. I had done it without an explanation and she had looked happily confused as she accepted it.
It was then on towards Nagaoji (#87) which was just a case of following Route 3 for most of the way. As I continued on, on the other side I spotted a group of about 10 walking pilgrims dressed in brightly coloured rain gear and all wearing their conical shaped hats. My route guide suggested continuing along the Route 3 but one of them was gesturing to me and pointing to a marker going down a track away from the main road. I decided to follow on behind them along what what was the Shikoku trail in my book. I chatted briefly with the person at the back and after a while he called ahead to the others that there was traffic coming through, meaning me. They kindly stepped aside allowing me to pass them by and continue on at my own slightly faster pace again.
As I got closer to Nagaoji (#87) I noticed that many of the small trail markers had been removed or painted over. I knew Nagaoji (#87) was close but there were quite a few little turns before I emerged onto a bigger street and saw an overhead sign indicating just where the temple was. I went through all the usual routines at Nagaoji (#87, got my stamp, handed out some photographs, snapped a few more photographs and then continued on to my next stop which was going to be the Ohenro Salon.
A few minutes after leaving Nagaoji (#88) I came to a crossing and noticed a Lawson to my left. I was not planning to stop anywhere for lunch proper so I figured a quick coffee and dorayaki break would see me through to the Ohenro Salon. During my brief coffee break it had also finally stopped raining and an hour of walking later I arrived at the Ohenro Salon. I hadn't stopped at the Ohenro Salon during my first pilgrimage for the simple reason that I had walked right past it without knowing anything about it.
Since that first pilgrimage, I had discovered that it was the place where you could find out more about the history of ohenro and also the place where you received a certificate proving that you had officially completed the 88 Temple Shikoku Pilgrimage. The fact that Ōkuboji (#88) was still another 8-11km ahead depending on which route you took was maybe not really an issue because I couldn't really imagine someone not completing their journey without visiting the final temple. I looked carefully through the finisher's book and noticed Faisal's name and Olaf's name. Das had already completed the pilgrimage but her name didn't appear to be in the book and I figured she had probably continued straight to Ōkuboji (#88).
The woman in the Ohenro Salon was a Keiko Hasui and she served me some hot green tea and some incredibly tasty ohenro snacks. She also asked me to take a seat and write my name and address in the finisher's book. She then set about carefully filling out an official looking certificate and having done that she presented it to me, together with a small badge and a DVD containing scenes of the pilgrimage and Shikoku itself.
For my part, I asked her to choose a few photographs, in fact I told her she could take as many as she liked. She selected several she liked including the one of me and I gave her one of my own personal favourites for good measure. I then just walked around the place looking at some extremely old stamp books and all kinds of other ohenro related items from years gone by. Of particular interest was the many different varieties of osamefuda from those who had done the pilgrimage more than 100 times. The colours and patterns were beautiful. Of interest too were very detailed pencil sketches of every one of the 88 temples. There was also a large relief map of Shikoku with each temple location lighting up when you pushed a corresponding button associated with that temple.
The Ohenro Salon was really great and I could have quite easily spent much more time there. Time however was pressing and I had to cover 11km if I took the road or less if I diverted away to the mountain path. I asked Hasui-san what she thought about the mountain route. I had not taken it before but I had heard it was quite steep. Another ohenro-san who was in the Salon said it was quite steep and there were chains to help people get up and down. Hasui-san further commented that the ground was likely going to be slippery especially after the heavy rains over the past few days.
iven the state of my left leg I decided the mountain route was probably not the best choice today. I said my goodbyes to Hasui-san and left the Salon and hadn't gone very far when she came out and handed me ¥1000 as osettai and told me to get something warm to eat when I got to Ōkuboji (#88). I was a little taken aback but the truth was, people had been kind to me and that kindness had continued in some form or other since the very start of the pilgrimage. I thanked her and then continued on along the road route.
The road route was without a walking path and extra care needed to be taken to avoid the large trucks and fast approaching traffic which seemed to come hurtling around blind corners. Thankfully the road route was only about 6km and the very final 5km to the Ōkuboji (#88) along a much quieter stretch well away from passing traffic.
After joining the final quiet stretch I started thinking about what to include in my prayers when I got to Ōkuboji (#88). Ōkuboji (#88) didn't spell the end of the pilgrimage but for me, it represented an symbolic milestone. After the final 2km which continued up and up for what seemed liked ever, I finally caught a glimpse of the temple buildings. Unlike the first time, there was no strong emotion reaction tihs time. I washed my hands and mouth and then headed to the stamp office.
It was 16:35 and I wanted to get my book stamped first and then share some photographs with the temple staff. Before entering the stamp office I set down my pack outside and put on all my ohenro gear. It had been quite some time since I had worn all my ohenro gear. Maybe the last time was on the first day when I started the pilgrimage and after that I stayed mostly in my white jacket and kept my hat on the back of my pack.
I got my book stamped which the lady did nice and slowly. I then waited for one more person to finish getting their stamp and then presented her with the photographs I had left. One particular photograph I had was of the name of Ōkuboji (#88) in Japanese script and it was from something I had photographed at the temple the first time. I had kept it aside to present at Ōkuboji (#88) and along with that, she chose the one of me and one other. I told her to take as many as she wanted but she said she was happy with three.
With the important task of getting my stamp done and sharing a few of my photographs I headed out to the main hall. I lit and placed a candle in the glass cabinet for candles, placed 3 sticks of incense in the cauldron like receptacle for incense, placed my osamefuda in it's special container and an offering in the money box. I then very carefully went through the Heart Sutra. Probably for the very first time since my pilgrimage started, I managed to do it without a hitch. I then pressed my hands together and raised them in front of my face, closed my eyes and prayed for a much longer time than I had at any other temple.
I had made it safely to Ōkuboji (#88) with the help of many many wonderfully kind people who had helped me every step of the way. It was through their kindness that I had experienced what I had come to understand as the ohenro spirit. I begain my prayers by expressing my gratitude for the kindness I had been shown.
As I had walked from temple to temple I had also often reflected on why I was doing the pilgrimage again. One simple reason was to find that calmness again and try again to make positive changes in my life. It was only through my own efforts that I was going to transform my life for the better. After I left Shikoku, the future, as it always had been, was going to be in my own hands so I just prayed for the strength and courage to do the right thing. I stood there for what seemed like a long time and then moved on to the daishi hall where I went through the same actions and a much simpler prayer. I then returned to the stamp office, picked up my pack and headed back out through the main gate.
The rest hut was quite large and even with tables and stools there was plenty of space to put up a tent. The temperature however had suddenly gotten very cold and just as suddenly all the shops seemed to have closed up for the day too. It felt like I was all alone so I called the only minshuku just a stone's throw from the temple but they told me they were full. Tent in the hut was what I was going to do but I wanted to make sure it was OK to do that before I got myself set up. There was a notice on the hut but it seemed to say nothing about tents but just to reassure myself I headed to the shop opposite. They had shuttered up but the light was still on so I slid open the door and inside 3 women were still tidying up for the day. I asked if it was OK to stay in the rest hut and more than that, if it was OK to put up a tent. They told me it was no problem. I asked if they had any food and my meaning was whether they were still serving any food and not would they would give me some food. They were not serving any food now but I heard one of the women say something about osettai and a little while later I had 3 large warm freshly made onigiri in my hands. To thank them I gave them some photographs, thanked them many more times and then headed back outside to the rest hut.
I quickly set up my tent and arranged my things inside. After a little while, the lights in the shop where I had received the onigiri went out and the women drove away. The only souls left seemed to be me and a small dog which sat patiently in the middle of the road opposite the rest hut staring straight ahead. I went to a vending machine to get a hot drink, greeting the dog and stopping to see what the dog was looking at. He or she just seemed to be looking up the road as if waiting for someone but looking at nothing in particular. I returned to my tent and put on a few extra layers and enjoyed one of the still warm ongiris and several of my sweet snacks that I had picked up from the Co-op earlier in the day. As I lay in my sleeping bag feeling more than a little cold I was glad everything had turned out just the way it had. I was glad I was alone in my tent next to Ōkuboji (#88) because it seemed like the perfect place to be. I had now visited all 88 temples but the pilgrimage in Shikoku was not over yet because I still wanted to walk all the way back to Ryozenji (#1) and that is where I would consider the Shikoku part of my pilgrimage to be over. That said, I had reached an important milestone in my second Shikoku pilgrimage.