The only sound I could hear just before I fell asleep yesterday was the occasional automated recording of a woman's voice coming from a nearby vending machine which seemed to be triggered by movement and I hoped it was the little dog rather than some fat hairy wild boar. I seemed to be fast asleep until just before midnight when the sound of torrential rain woke me up. Thankfully the hut provided sufficient cover to keep the rain well away from my tent but now that I was awake, it felt incredibly cold like it had been in other places early on in the pilgrimage. As usual I failed to get back to sleep again and when my alarm sounded at 5 o'clock I started updating my notes. Once it started to get light outside I decided to take my tent down before people started arriving. When I was out of my tent I realised why it had been feeling so cold and the reason was that that it had actually been raining and snowing.
Just before 7 o'clock I was all done with packing up and I could see some activity in the restaurant opposite where I had received the onigiri yesterday. The restaurant didn't serve food until a little later in the morning but one of the women had told me she would make me some udon if I came in in the morning. I went over to the restaurant and asked if I could wait inside because my hands and feet were freezing cold. The staff who were opening up seemed to be different from those I remembered from yesterday but they seemed to know that someone had told me that they would prepare udon for me. I received a pot of hot green tea and a hot water container to top it up. I sat down and started to work on my notes again and about 15 minutes later I received a very large bowl of udon.
While I was eating another two pilgrims came in and we were all served very nice hot ginger tea. One of the pilgrims was someone I had met back at the Ohenro Salon. He was looking at my udon so I told him I would like to buy some for him if he didn't mind. I had received a ¥1000 osettai at the Ohenro Salon plus I had also received 3 big onigiri from this very restaurant. He sat opposite and we shared the same pot of tea I had received earlier until his udon arrived. He was quite young looking but I deliberately didn't try to get any information out of him. He seemed to be like a few of the walking ohenro-san I had seen along the way who were roughing it out around Shikoku. If he had lost his way in life then I already knew that he wasn't alone in that.
He had several pin badges on the stole he wore around his neck. We had both received finisher's pin badges yesterday and when he had finished eating he asked me to choose one of the other two he had on his stole. Both were 1200th anniversary pin badges and I selected a more traditional design which included the Sanskrit character for Kukai plus others around the edge of the pin badge. He seemed to really appreciate that I had shared some udon with him and even though I felt a bit guilty taking his badge, he seemed happy to give it to me. He left the restaurant before me and when I was ready I paid for the udon and thanked the shop staff again for being so kind to me. I gave another 3 photographs and as I left one of the women who had made the most effort to converse with me gave me a small sponge cake. I was always happy to receive osettai but I now also wondered how much some of the Japanese ohenro-san were getting. The other younger ohenro-san I had shared udon with had seemed to be a better candidate for osettai than me. Maybe it was for that reason that it was good to share osettai because it was like a stream kindness that continued to flow as long as it kept moving.
I had not taken any photographs of Ōkuboji (#88) yesterday so after praying again at the main hall I walked about and took a few photographs. People usually left their staff at this temple before leaving and there was a very large glass display at the centre of which was a huge staff which protruded out of the top. It in turn was surrounding by hundreds and hundreds of staffs that ohenro-san had left behind. These included the regular cheap wooden staffs like mine, the more expensive metal staffs and some rather unusual looking staffs made from twisted pieces of wood. I asked the staff if it was OK to take the staff home and she said it was no problem. In fact she suggested it was a good thing to do. I told her I had one more at home and to that she responded by saying that I should really have walked with the same one again. She didn't of course say it directly but that seemed to be the gist of her reply. I retrieved my pack and got ready to leave. I exited via the main gate, turned, bowed and then continued on my way.
I didn't really have a clear plan about how far I would go today. I was not really sure I would make it all the way back to Ryozenji (#1) in one go and the truth was I didn't want to try and cover 42km all the back to Ryozenji (#1). I wanted to stop at a hot spa to get myself cleaned up and also do all my washing before getting to Ryozenji (#1). Ryozenji (#1) would be my final temple visit in Shikoku before I left for Koyasan and I wanted to look presentable when I visited. My pack too felt a little heavy today and maybe that stemmed in part from a feeling that the pilgrimage itself was almost over too. The good news as I headed on was that it had stopped raining and although it still felt a little cold it was starting to brighten up. There was little or no passing traffic and it actually felt quite deserted at times. The first human contact came when I neared a small road construction crew with two old men at either end directly traffic. It seemed like one of those thankless jobs and most of the people employed to do such work were old people. They would be stood probably for hours on end in all kinds of weather to make sure the construction crew remained safe. As I neared the construction area the old man I was approaching stepped into the road and waved his flag to indicate I could walk past. When I got to the other end the old man on this end greeted me very cheerfully and also bowed to me. The bow seemed a little unnecessary but I liked his cheerful manner so I stopped briefly to give him a photograph before continuing on. His friendly manner and the simple act of giving a photograph also seemed to lift my spirits and return me to the more upbeat feeling I usually had when I was walking.
A little over an hour later I came to the border of Kagawa and Tokushima. I crossed over and stopped, turned and bowed in the direction of Kagawa. It was 24 years ago that I first came to Japan and maybe if I had never come to Japan and Kagawa in particular I would never have thought about returning to Japan. If it had not been for Kagawa maybe I would never have thought about ohenro. What if I never returned to Kagawa again ? If anyone had been watching me they would have thought me very odd but it was my Kagawa and it seemed like the right way to express my thanks. As I continued on a thought came to me and I realised that when I looked back on my life, the most significant events were not only connected but had coalesced into a continuous stream that seemed to clearly explain where I was in this life of mine.
I continued on and a little while later stopped for a quick break to eat the last of my snacks. It was proving to be a hard day for reasons I couldn't quite understand. I wasn't sure if it was because there were now no more temples to visit or if it was related to the fact that ohenro for me was rapidly drawing to an end. After I got going again I stopped once more at a small udon shop. The shop was just setting up for the day and although I had already had udon more udon didn't seem like such a bad idea. I waited about 20 minutes for the udon to be prepared. It was nice and filling and after I had finished I gave the man ¥1000 and he went outside to one of the vending machines to get some change. I wasn't sure how much he was going to charge me and I had assumed about ¥700 but he charged me only ¥400 which seemed very reasonable. I gave him a photograph and continued on my way. I still had about 10km or so to go before I got to my next destination which was going to be Gosho no Sato, a place where I could use the hot spa.
The sun came out and that seemed to make the going a little harder. I stopped at the souvenir shop on the approach road to Kiritakiji (#10) to pick up some gifts. Along the way I was greeted by an elderly woman and her overly protective chihuahua which she had tucked into a small bag slung over her shoulder. She asked me if I would like some tea and I said yes, expecting a small cup of hot green tea. She disappeared inside and emerged with a bottle of green tea. I told her to choose a photograph and she picked one she liked but there was a second one she seemed to like so I let her take both. The extra photographs I had printed out to send to Yuka's mother had now almost all disappeared. I thanked the old lady for the tea and carried on.
The elementary school up the road seemed to be over for the day and the small children in their yellow hats were all streaming out and heading of in various different directions. Those coming towards me I would greet or they would greet me. I spotted a group of 5 small girls coming towards me and I stopped to give them all a piece of candy each. Children always had that look on their face which was a mix of surprise and total fascination. One of the girls blurted out - “He's a foreigner !” and I just replied “Yes, you're right !” A little way behind the 5 girls were 3 young boys so I gave an extra 3 pieces of candy to one of the girls and told her to give it to the boys. Rather than waiting, all 5 of them ran back towards the boys shouting “Suge !!” meaning “Great !!” I greeted them all again as I passed and could hear their happy chatter behind me as I continued on.
I finally made it to Goshou no Sato just after 4 o'clock. The distance had been relatively short, maybe a little over 20km but it had taken about 7 hours with the various stops a long the way. Goshou no Sato seemed to be quite busy, there were shops, restaurants and the hot spa. I was interested only in the hot spa and after paying it wasn't long before I was showered, shaved and enjoying a good soak in the various hot baths they had. I spent about 45 minutes in and out of the hot baths and then got myself dressed and headed out to retrieve my pack back which the staff were keeping for me behind the counter. I wanted to get my laptop and camera battery charged up so I asked if I could plug myself in somewhere. They very kindly let me use a spare socket which happened to be in a huge tatami room with a TV, a row of 4 or 5 massage chairs, a massage corner where someone could give you a real massage. There were also just plain old cushions and low tables where you could just sit and relax.
I plugged myself in and started updating my notes and occasionally watching the TV. The TV program was a typically crazy kind of Japanese show. Two men, the hosts of the program, would ask random strangers if they could come and use the bath in their homes. The poor accosted strangers would invariably say yes and they would go to the person's home and both hosts would undress and try out the bath together. Between updating my notes on my laptop and watching the crazy show a full 90 minutes passed and it was starting to get dark outside. I had not decided 100% where to stay but the principle target was the main gate at Anrakuji (#6), the same place I had stayed at on the very first day I had stopped after starting at Ryozenji (#1).
As I was packing up, one of the customers who was using the massage chair near where I had left my pack started to speak to me in English. He turned out to be a very young looking 50 year old called Kaz. He had quit his job of 19 years and had 2 months before starting a new one and he said he felt ohenro would be a good thing to do during that time. It was his second day and he was staying in a minshuku nearby and the owners of the minshuku had dropped him of to use the hot spa. I ended up sharing lots of information about tsuyado and zenkonyado with him. These two words are Japanese but many Japanese people I had met didn't know what they meant because they were just not part of the everyday vocabulary. I let him choose a photograph and then told him about some of the really good places where he could stay for free or at very little cost. Places like Tabi on Yado Misono in Tano Town and Untangura in Utazu immediately came to mind. I also told him about nice tsuyado places like the one at Kiyotakiji (#35) and Kanjizaiji (#40). Staying in a minshuku every night for 40-45 days at a cost of ¥5-7,000 per stay quickly worked out to a lot of money and he agreed he would like to save some money. I could have stayed and talked to him much more but outside it was now quite dark and I really needed to press on so I wished him luck and was about to leave but ended up in the restaurant instead. I had a quick fried chicken set meal and then got myself ready to leave.
As I left I passed a photograph to the cleaning staff who had helped me when I was asking about getting myself plugged in somewhere. When I got outside I was surprised how dark it actually was. There was lighting around the hot spa area but the road leading towards where I was going was was almost pitch black with no street lighting at all. When I finally got to a street light I set my pack down and got out my headlight. My headlight needed new batteries but the light was bright enough for me to see far enough ahead and to the sides to avoid falling into the open drainage ditches. I made rapid progress towards Anrakuji (#1) and although it would be too late to check with the temple staff about staying so I hoped no was there when I got there. As I turned off the main road and headed to Anrakuji (#6) I saw a couple of pilgrims leaving the car park area and heading to what I figured was their place to camp. The initial thought was that the main gate was probably fully occupied but even if it was I could just come back and join them.
The light in the main gate was off when I arrived so I flicked the switch and headed up the narrow steps. When I got to the top I discovered a Dutch couple lying in one corner under all the blankets. I soon discovered it was their first day and about an hour later we had all fully updated each other about everything. They were both carrying a lot of gear but no sleeping gear and they were planning to stop somewhere based on wherever they happened to end up. I shared what information I had and then we all bedded down again for the night. I was too tired to think about anything in particular and I thought I would finish updating my notes tomorrow. It had been a long day today and at times quite tiring but I was happy to be back in the main gate at Anrakuji (#6) the first place I had stopped at when I started my pilgrimage and now the last place for me before I headed back to Ryozenji (#1) tomorrow to complete the circle.