I could hear the pitter patter of rain outside as we all settled down yesterday evening but during the night the rain had worsened. A few times, loud claps of thunder woke me from my sleep and the pitter patter had been replaced by something altogether more audible. Next morning I was up early as usual and looking outside it didn't look good. The rain was not as heavy as it probably had been over night but it was constant. The first thought that crossed my mind was that maybe I could spend another night at Kikuya. However, before getting too stuck on that idea I still needed to visit Byodoji (#22) and the others were readying themselves to head on, rain or no rain.
Before I left for Byodoji (#22) Shiori asked me about any other lodgings I knew about. I told her about the long list that was on my first website and I also showed her a second list that I had compiled before I left for Shikoku. The list on my website was based on one I received at Ryozenji (#1) at the start of my first pilgrimage in 2011. The extra list was made up of the most likely places I was going to stop at and included places I knew about and those given to me by pilgrim friends. I'd found most of the places using Google Maps and screen grabbed photographs of them and included additional information relating to their general suitability as a place to stop. Shiori was carrying a very large pack and it was crammed full of more contingency items than even I was carrying. Having shared as much information as I could I got myself ready to leave for Byodoji (#22).
I was going to return to the zenkonyado after finising at Byodoji (#22) so I threw on my rain jacket, wrapped my ohenro bag in a bin liner and with an umbrella for added protection headed out into the rain. It was just a short walk to the temple and when I arrived, the temple had just opened up for the day and still largely deserted. I really liked Byodoji (#22) during my first pilgrimage and today, even with the rain coming down, it looked great. I particularly liked the view of the main hall which sat at the top of a long flight of steps. The other good thing about it was that the front portion of the prayer hall was completely open and you could go inside to perform your prayer ritual. On a wet windy day like today that was definitely preferable to standing out in the open under the eaves. Having finished my prayers I stayed for a little while to take some photographs.
As I was getting ready to head back down to the daishi hall I watched a short squat shape hidden completely under a full length black poncho topped with the conical shaped hat come slowly up the flight of steps and into the front of the main hall. After getting a better look I realized it was the sendatsu who had given me the cute little hexagonal trail marker yesterday. We exchanged greetings and a word or two about the weather and then continued on with our respective duties. As I headed down to the daishi hall I thought her choice of a full length poncho was perfect rain gear for a wet and windy day like today. I had a separate rain jacket, waterproof trousers and a pack cover which had already failed to fully keep the pack and it's contents dry. In addition to that I had to improvise some makeshift protection for my oheno bag. A simple lightweight full length poncho would have been the right choice.
Thoughts of rain gear however were soon forgotten as I continued my prayer ritual at the daishi hall and then headed for the stamp office. After receiving my book back I gave the woman my photographs and asked her to choose one she liked. She was still looking through them when the sendatsu turned up and commented that she thought sharing the photographs with people was a nice idea. With temple business done, I spent a good 20 minutes or so taking photographs but with the rain not letting up I headed back to the zenkonyado to see what everyone else was going to do. When I got back, Kan and Shiori had already left, with Nico and Das almost ready to leave. Das still needed to go to Byodoji (#22) and Nico wanted to go to the post office before heading on to Yakuoji (#23). With the four of them all gone or going, and 3 more days of rain forecast over the next 7 days I got into full rain gear, covered my pack and headed back out into the rain.
My pack felt reasonably comfortable and I was maintaining a good steady pace following the trail markers and not really looking at at my guide book. Some places looked familiar but once I joined a small mountain road with no cars or people I started wondering if I was again on a different route to the one I had intended. I figured that as long as the trail markers kept showing up then there was probably nothing to worry about. Getting a little lost is not really such a big problem but on a wet windy day like today the less time spent in the rain was the main concern. Thankfully as soon as I heard the continuous sound of passing traffic I knew I was probably close to Route 55. Once I joined Route 55 and with my memory once more restored, I knew there was an ohenro hut not so far away. When I arrived at the ohenro hut a man was busy tidying it up and retrieving discarded empty plastic bottles and drink cans from from around the side. After settling myself down, removing my rain jacket and patting myself dry, I asked him to choose a photograph he liked. There were people who obviously kept the huts nice and tidy but you rarely if ever saw them and on a wet windy day like today I thought it would be a nice way of saying thank you to him. He seemed very happy to receive the photograph.
A little later we were joined by an older pilgrim who I had very briefly met yesterday as I headed down from Tairyuji (#21). The cleaner got into a discussion with the older pilgrim about the state of the weather and how it must be making walking difficult. Long story short the cleaner then produced a tiny bottle of what he said was a special energizing fruit extract. He explained that it had been created by a Japanese climber who used it while climbing Mt. Everest. He said it would give us energy and he offered a few drops of it in the bottom of a discarded plastic bottle cap to me and then to the older pilgrim and also to another pilgrim who had just turned up. I don't think it turned us into supermen or anything like that but the older pilgrim soon set of after his dose. The pilgrim who had just arrived was the one I had failed to recognize at Ozanji (#18) but this time I didn't make the same mistake again. I found out that his name was Inoue-san and that he was the same age as me. Also energized and ready to move on, I thanked the cleaner for the fruit extract, told Inoue-san to take care and then made after the older pilgrim who was already several hundred yards ahead of me.
The rain was relentless and it was turning into a real slog. My upper body was nice and dry but my waterproof trousers were not doing their job very well because my legs were beginning to feel wet. Every time I stopped, and I was beginning to stop more often, I would remove my woollen gloves and wring out the water. The only thing I could do was plough on in the knowledge that the temple was only 11km or so from the ohenro hut I had just stopped at. Ahead of me I saw the older pilgrim stop at and enter a small brick shelter. Wanting to get out of the rain for a while I followed suit and found him chatting to Shiori. A few minutes later we were joined by Nico. He was using a real poncho but the only problem was that it was not long enough to cover his legs which were now completely soaked. None of us were doing very well in terms of keeping dry but the good news was that we were now about 6km or about 90 minutes give or take a few rest stops.
As we readied to leave again, Shiori pulled a large transparent bin bag over herself which was large enough to cover her and her backpack, put up her umbrella and marched on at a surprisingly quick pace. Nico and I set of after Shiori with the older pilgrim and Inoue-san bringing up the rear. Nico soon pulled away from me and overtook Shiori who was now just a short distance ahead of me. Nico then disappeared from sight and I passed Shiori after she stopped for another break. About 2km from the Yakuoji (#23) with the rain lashing down quite hard I stopped at a brand new ohenro hut which was right next to large boat shaped building with several restaurants. The ohenro-hut looked surprisingly good but it was completely wet and probably not the best place to rest or stay in weather like we were having today. A few minutes after stopping I was on my way again and nearing the bus zenkonyado. As I went inside and I was immediately joined by another pilgrim who I had seen approaching from the other direction. The telephone number for contacting the owners of Hashimoto Bus Zenkonyado was stuck inside the bus just above the door so I called them and asked if I and Nico could stay. With permission to stay granted, I was also told that someone would deliver dinner for us both at 6 o'clock. With lodging sorted out the most important thing left to do now was to go and pray at Yakuoji (#23).
As I changed out of my damp clothes into warmer and drier ones I tried to my make conversation with the other pilgrim. He said he had recently arrived in Shikoku from Kyushu and was walking in reverse. He said he was travelling without a guide book and asked if it was easy to get to Byodoji (#22). Getting to Byodoji (#22) I told him was not too difficult. I couldn't really understand or get much out of him but I got the feeling that he was maybe not a regular pilgrim. It actually occurred to me that he might be homeless because he looked weather beaten like many of the homeless I had seen living rough back in and around Tokyo. That thought led me to think about whether I should leave my pack behind or not when I went to pray at the temple. The irony behind such a thought was that my theme for today was to focus on being kind and gentle in thought, word and deed. If that wasn't ironic enough, yesterday the theme for my thoughts and prayers was not to judge. I was not doing a very good job but it was too late now to retract those thoughts so I offered him the pot noodle that Toshiko-san had given to me yesterday at Kikuya Zenkonyado.
With the rain having stopped completely and the sun beginning to come out I headed for Yakuoji (#23) dressed in all my ohenro gear. As I walked along, the same thought came to me again, what if my pack or my possessions were not in the bus when I returned ? As I thought this, a sudden gust of wind blew the hat from my head and sent it tumbling along the footpath. Thankfully it remained on the footpath rather than ending up under the wheels of a passing car. Was it a bit of divine intervention and a proverbial clip around the ear for having had such a thought ? The truth was, dressing up as a pilgrim didn't automatically make me a saint. Whilst not exactly a wolf in sheep's clothing, I was still the old me in pilgrim's clothing. This led me to think about the more practical question of what I would do, if all I had left was exactly what I had at that moment. The good news would have been that I would no longer have to burden myself under the weight of that braying donkey of a pack each day and I would do the the right thing and buy a smaller good quality pack and only what I really needed for the pilgrimage. It wouldn't be a catastrophe after all, if I got back and everything had gone.
I got to Yakuoji (#23) and made my way up the high stone steps looking at all the shiny silver one yen coins that people had placed on them. In Japan there is a belief that at certain ages in a person's life they are more susceptible to calamitous happenings or just plain bad luck. There are more than three but for men the particularly bad luck years are when they are aged 19, 33 and 37, and for women when they are 25, 42 and 61. To insure against bad luck you could buy a special good luck amulet, pray at a temple, make a donation to a temple and any number of other things, all of which basically involved parting with money. At Yakuoji (#23) you left money on the steps of the temple and the custom was to leave one yen coins on each of the steps. My life may have felt like a calamity but I was not at calamitous age so I decided against leaving any money and instead just concentrated on safely making it to the top. It was bright and sunny as as I arrived at the top and the view quite wonderful. The sky was now a patchwork of spent rain clouds and clear blue. Looking out towards the harbour I got my first glimpse of a very blue sea, the same sea that would be my companion as I continued all the way down to Kongufukuji (#38).
After going through my prayer rituals at each of the prayer halls I went in search of the others. The first person I found was Shiori and asking if she had seen Nico her response was to point to spot somewhere behind me. Turning around I spotted Nico standing next to Kan. I updated Nico about Hashimoto Bus Zenkonyado and that dinner was going to be delivered at 6 o'clock. Kan was booked into a minshuku and Shiori and Das were going to stay in Hashimoto Zenkonyado which was provided by the same people who provided the bus but was for women only. After Nico had finished praying we both returned to the bus. Everything was as I had left it. Our fellow pilgrim had taken up residence on front end of the bus so Nico and I took over the rear of the bus. As scheduled, dinner arrived at 6 o'clock and after finishing eating I headed back in the direction of Yakuoji (#23) and the hot spa situated close by.
The hard climbs up and down Kakurinji (#20) and Tairyuji (#21) and the horribly wet weather today were soon forgotten eased myself into the hot water for a welcome soak. It would have been nice to stay longer at the hot spa but there was still my clothes to launder so I dragged myself away and then headed to a nearby coin laundry. Nothing had changed in the coin laundry since the last time I was there. On that occasion Takuya and I had sat in the same worn out sofas and planned our journey for the following day. I was reminded again about the time that passed since the last time I had been sitting here. The time that had passed and everything that had happened since the last time had maybe just prepared the path back to Shikoku. With my laundry all done I headed back to the bus in almost near pitch darkness. When I got I back to the bus I found the other two had already turned in for the night so I got out my laptop and started updating my notes.
It had been a tough old day but everything, like it always did, had worked out just fine again. The theme today was all about being kind and gentle, meaning, kind and gentle in thought, word and deed. It was through my ordinary daily experiences such as, the weather today, the tough hikes up and down the mountains the day before, occasional concerns about where I was going to stay and especially encounters with people that helped me to reflect on myself with a greater sense of self awareness. When I was alone my thoughts were always keenly focused on something. However, it was through meeting people that the journey was helping me to reflect most keenly on myself. Meeting people for me was an important part of the pilgrimage experience. It meant that I didn't miss out on the stories of why others were making the journey, I didn't miss out on meeting all the ordinary people who I felt contributed to making ohenro what it really was and most importantly I didn't miss out on observing my own reactions to the people I met. The encounter with my fellow bus pilgrim earlier in the day was a perfect example of this. I had returned to Shikoku with zero expectations and a strong impulse that it was something I needed to do. The pilgrimage and it's daily routines were proving to be the soothing balm that was helping to create a real sense of calmness. With that calmness came a greater sense of self reflection. With each passing day, it was becoming increasingly evident to me that, ohenro was working it's magic spell on me.