I had turned in quite early yesterday evening and managed to get a few hours of sleep. When I woke up just before 6 o'clock and took a look outside it looked like it had rained heavily overnight. I had not checked the forecast and had gone to bed expecting it to be nice and sunny like it had been when I arrived the day before. The fact that it was wet didn't really matter because I knew from the first pilgrimage that there would be plenty of sunny days and with it a share of rainy days too. During my first pilgrimage, after leaving Ryozenji (#1) the rain had started coming down and continued for most of the day until I made it to Anrakuji (#6) later that evening. The rain on that occasion had made its way into my pack and the colour from my neck band had run into my white ohenro jacket but it had failed to dampen my spirits.
Everyone still seemed to be fast asleep as I pottered about getting myself ready. I tidied up my room and wrote out a thank you note along with my osamefuda and left it where it would be found. Dressed in all my ohenro gear and my waterproof jacket I quietly made my way outside. The sky was grey and overcast but there were only spots of rain falling now. Yesterday had turned into a great day and I wasn't going to let a few spots of rain spoil the start of my second pilgrimage. Before heading away, I repeated what I had done every morning at every place I had stopped at during my first pilgrimage, I turned and bowed in the direction of the guesthouse. It was a habit I had picked up from Takuya and it was a habit I intended to practice during this pilgrimage too.
It took me only a couple of minutes to get to the front gate of Ryozenji (#1) and even though it was only just after 7 o'clock there were already a few pilgrims there in full gear ready to pray and begin their journeys. I went through my routine of bowing at the gate, washing my hands and mouth, lighting a candle and incense, dropping my osamefuda into it's container, putting some money in the offering box, quietly chanting the sutras, a personal prayer and finishing with 3 namu daishi henjo kongo. The main difference this time was that I was going to recite the sutras. I had decided on 3, including the main heart sutra.
The feeling at the main hall was none too dissimilar to how I had felt when I had stood there at the start of my first pilgrimage. It was the same mixture of emotion and gratitude, and it felt like I was being given a second chance to do something I had not expected to do again in this life time. After completing the prayer routine at the daishi hall I headed back to the main hall and the adjoining shop where yesterday I had been somewhat overwhelmed by the kindness that had been shown to me. I wanted to sign the pilgrims log book for those starting out on their pilgrimage but more than that, I wanted to see the woman who had been so generous to me
After adding my details to the pilgrims log book which included name, age and home address I flicked back a page or so and discovered a few non-Japanese names. A Laura from the US had departed just a few days earlier and a young 22 year old named Faisal from the UK had left just the day before. During my first pilgrimage I had met fewer than a handful of non-Japanese pilgrims during the whole journey. This time, I had already met Das and now I knew of at least 2 others who I was likely to cross paths with in the near future. With the pilgrims log book signed there was now only one more thing left to do before I also set out and that was to greet the woman who had been so kind to me yesterday. I knew she was at the temple because I had spotted her in the shop when I arrived. When I finally had the chance to greet her she seemed to be as delighted to see me as I was her. She came over and shook my hand and wished me all the best for my journey. For me, this was the perfect start.
I headed back out into the main hall and walked past a large group of elderly pilgrims assembled in front. I felt calm as I walked towards the main gate. After passing through the gate I turned and bowed and then headed towards Gokurakuji (#2). Although it had stopped raining, the sky was still very overcast and heavy clouds stretched out across to the horizon. I was still dressed in my bright red rain jacket but for some reason I felt the weather wouldn't be too big a factor for me today. I had only been going for about 5 minutes when I came up on a 7 Eleven convenience store and decided to stop and get a coffee and something to eat.
When I went to pay, the young man at the counter maybe realizing I was setting out on my pilgrimage, wished me well on my journey ahead. The warm friendly gesture was not something I had expected and as I sat in the shop drinking my coffee I decided I was going to give him one of my photographs. I had about 80 with me and I had planned to give them to people who I met along the way but for some reason I decided I wanted to give one to the young man at the counter. I picked a photograph I liked and before leaving the shop I went back to the counter and just handed him the photograph and told him it was a present for him. It was definitely not something he had expected and the look on his face was priceless. He seemed to be completely lost for words seemingly unsure how he should respond to me. I didn't need to hear his words because his expression was enough. I walked away with him still holding the photograph in his hand and looking towards his co-workers as if seeking help so that he could find a way to respond. I had a feeling there and then that it was not only going to be a good day but it was going to be a good pilgrimage. I also made up my mind that I was going to give photographs to many many more people.
Thinking back to my first pilgrimage I had virtually no recollection of temples 2, 3, 4, and 5. They had all disappeared in a bit of a blur that first day back in 2011. This time I wanted to take my time and try not to miss too much. When I arrived at Gokurakuji (#2) I found a very nice temple with lovely statues and beautiful landscaped grounds. I couldn't however figure out where the prayers halls were but after questioning a group of elderly pilgrims who seemed to be mostly loitering around I discovered both halls up a short steep flight of stairs. The loiterers from the snatched conversations I could make out, didn't feel like they were in the right frame of physical health to risk the steps. I thanked them and headed up to the two halls and went through my prayer rituals. As I left for the stamp office a man questioned me about where I was from and gave me his business card and told me he was from Ehime. It was the usual friendly curiosity I had experienced before and something I expected a lot more of as the journey progressed.
The stamp office was at the back of a shop selling a large amount of ohenro supplies and souveniors. The woman in the main part of the shop welcomed me in and directed me towards the back where the stamp office was. I presented my stamp book to the woman behind the counter and after she had stamped and returned it to me, I passed her a selection of photographs and told her to choose one she liked. Surprised by my request, she called over the other lady working in the front of the shop and together they chose one they liked. In return, I ended up receiving a couple of very nice biscuit like snacks. I thanked them and then continued back out the main gate and along a narrow path to the side of the temple.
Maybe I hadn't followed the arrows correctly but when I arrived at Konsenji (#3) I found I had entered through a back entrance. I headed straight back out through a side entrance and then back in again through the main gate wanting to make sure I was following the correct protocol. I had zero recollection of Konsenji (#3) even though it had beautiful statues all about the temple grounds. To the side of the daishi hall was a water well and the legend associated with it was that if you could see your reflection in it you would live to 92 and if not, you would die within 3 years. Was I going to live another 46 years or die within 3 ? I decided to take a look and photographed my reflection in the well and then went and sat down to jot a few notes about the temple.
As I sat making notes about the temple an elderly lady dressed in very nice ohenro gear started up a conversation with me. She told me she had completed ohenro many times and proceeded to take out and present me with a red coloured osamefuda. Instead of returning the gesture by giving her one of my osamefuda I let her choose a photograph instead. After chatting to her a little more I continued walking about the temple grounds taking photographs. As I was doing this I bumped into the young woman who had come into the restaurant near Bando Station. I decided not to ask her too many questions this time but let her choose one of my photographs instead. Like everyone else she seemed happy with her choice. I then headed for the stamp office and after getting my book stamped I let both the women in the stamp office choose a photograph each and both like the young woman earlier seemed delighted. The plan had not necessarily been to give photographs to the staff at the temples but the reaction I had been getting made me decide it would be nice if I could give photographs to every temple. The positive response I kept getting made it worthwhile and if I needed more photographs, I had the digital copies on an SD card and all I needed to do was find a shop with the self-service print machines.
I left Konsenji (#3) and continued towards Dainichiji (#4). For the first time the route left the residential areas and snaked in and out for short distances along wooded trails. Immediately after leaving such a trail, one lined with tall bamboo trees I came across a small temple complex marked as Aizen-in in my guide book. It didn't seem to be a temple related to the pilgrimage but it was a beautiful little place. Outside one of the buildings was a hot water container, an assortment of teas, coffee and some snacks. I decided to take a break and have a tea. I set my pack down and as I was looking through the teas, a woman came out from an adjoining house and started to chat to me. She prepared the tea for me and told me to have some snacks. This was my first real osettai for the day and one of the ways I was going to respond to all osettai was by giving a photograph. The woman chose a photograph and then continued talking about something I couldn't really understand. She returned to her home and a few moments later a man, who I assumed was her husband, approached and started speaking to me.
I couldn't understand but eventually it turned out he was asking me if I wanted to get the temple stamp. I agreed and he told me it was different from the usual ohenro temple stamps because it was done using a different kind of brush. He disappeared with my stamp book and when he returned and showed me the stamp, it was definitely very different from the usual stamps. The strokes looked like that they had been made using a flat piece of charcoal rather than a soft brush. The man turned out to speak reasonably good English and continued to tell me about his own ohenro experiences. Having finished my tea and snacks, I thanked him and was almost through the small main gate when he and his wife suddenly called me back. When I turned round, in her outstretched hand was a small plate on which was a freshly grilled slice of sweet potato. I took it, thanked them both again and turned to walk away. I stopped after a few steps, took a bite and then turned back to them and told them it was delicious before continuing on my way. It had been simple encounters like this that left me feeling so good during my first pilgrimage.
Dainichiji (#4) was not so far away and on my way there I met the elderly woman ohenro-san from who I had received a red osamefuda at Konsenji (#3). She was returning from Dainichiji (#4) and seemed to be looking a little exhausted so I asked her if she was OK. She explained that a large group of bus pilgrims had tired her out. I sympathized with her and wished her well before continuing the short distance to Dainichiji (#4). Like the last 2 temples I could not recall it in the slightest. It was a very small temple and the daishi hall seemed to be undergoing complete renovation. The main hall and daishi hall were connected by a walkway and along the length of it, behind a glass enclosure was a long line of 33 Senju Kannon statues. Why I was unable to recall any of this was probably a result of not really knowing what I was doing and rushing through the temples on that first day back in 2011.
The best thing at Dainichiji (#4) turned out to be a guide who was looking after a large group of bus pilgrims. I had already seen a few large groups of bus pilgrims and every group had a guide. The guides all seemed to have their own slightly unique style and way of conducting the prayer rituals. What I really liked about this young looking guide was the way he chanted and the way he led his group. When I prayed at the temples I would quietly read the heart sutra and the other sutras from a small laminated piece of paper I had prepared. I was still a long way from being able to read let alone chant the sutras and when others were nearby chanting I found it almost impossible to concentrate. On this occasion I decided I would wait for the group to finish not only because I wanted to concentrate when I read the sutras but more so because I really wanted to hear the young guide chant the sutras. If I ever learned to chant the sutras it would have been like he was chanting.
The weather had been beautifully sunny when I arrived at Dainichiji (#4) but as I left it was all overcast again. Jizoji (#5) was not so far away so I just followed the arrows and turned into what I thought was Jizoji (#5). I was struggling to figure out which building was the main hall and which was the daishi hall so I asked an old man who turned out to be having exactly the same problem. A little further away was another temple so we both headed towards it down a long flight of steps. I asked some people coming towards us if the temple ahead was Jizoji (#5) and they told me it was. Again like the last 3 temples I had absolutely no recollection of Jizoji (#5). In a way, it was good because the path leading to the temple was lined by small trees with beautiful pink and white blossoms. The contrast they made against the white walls of the temple building was really great. Turning the corner at the end of the path I entered directly into the main courtyard of Jizoji (#5) with it's huge tree right in the middle. I had entered another temple the wrong way so I headed out of the main gate, re-entered after following the correct protocol of bowing first. The wind had picked up and the sky looked like it might start raining so I found myself rushing to get everything done. The gusting wind was making it difficult to light the candles and incense but after getting everything done I headed back out the main gate, picked up the pace a little and headed towards Anrakuji (#6). I had plenty of time but I wanted to get there either before it started raining or early enough so I could secure a spot in the main gate where I was planning to stay. The alternative would have been to camp in the car park area but it was the main gate I wanted to really spend my first night like I had the first time.
Along the way I passed a number of places including 2 huts which would have been reasonably OK if things didn't work out with the main gate. The only issue though would have been mustering the energy to go backwards. About 2km from Anrakuji (#6) I fell into step with an older Japanese ohenro-san from Tokyo. He was a surprisingly young and fit looking 73 year old and he said after 15 years of making excuses for not doing ohenro he had finally run out. The reason he was doing the pilgrimage was in memory of his wife who had passed away 15 years earlier. This wasn't information he just happened to share but a result of being asked. On this pilgrimage I wanted to find out the reason why other pilgrims were making the journey. I knew why I was doing it but it was something few others really talked about and without wanting to pry I was curious.
He was the first real ohenro-san I had met and had a chance to speak to since leaving Ryozenji (#1). I asked him if he had met any other ohenro-san and asked specifically about Das since I had not come across her since leaving Ryozenji (#1). He told me he had spoken to her at one of the other temples which meant she was still somewhere behind us. I had told Das that I would be staying in the main gate at Anrakuji (#6) so if she was running a little late then I thought there was a chance I would meet her again later. When we got to Anrakuji (#6) I headed first for the shukubo to ask if it was OK to stay in the tsuyado in the main gate. It was coming up to 3 o'clock so there was a chance I could have been told I was too early because I could still have made it to the next temple. The answer I got however was what I wanted to hear so I thanked the staff and headed to the main gate to drop off my pack. There was no one in the main gate so I laid out a a blanket in one corner and put my air mattress and sleeping bag on top to reserve my spot.
Back outside a large bus group had just arrived and were being ushered into the shukubo so I waited for everything to calm down before going through my prayer rituals. After praying at both halls I went back inside the main hall again to get my book stamped. The stamp office was located just to the left of the altar. There was a man and a woman doing the stamps. The man was closest so I passed him my stamp book and while he put the stamp into my book I gave the woman all my photographs and told her to choose one she liked. She picked one she liked and seemed very pleased with the choice. Over the course of the morning I had been giving a photograph to every temple and I had now decided I would give a photograph to every single temple along the way. With everything completed I headed back outside again.
After signs of rain a little earlier the sun was back out again and I felt too lazy to walk too far from the temple. Next to the temple was what looked like a souvenior shop come coffee shop so I headed in and got a hot coffee and a packet of crackers. That would be my dinner for the day. I returned to the main gate and was tapping away on my small laptop when I heard English being spoken somewhere below me. I dashed down the stairs and looking up the street I called out to a couple of people one of whom I assumed was Das. It was her so I walked over to find out what kind of a day she had had where she was going to be staying. She seemed to be in good spirits and told me she had had a good day. The women in the stamp office at Konsenji (#3) had been worried about a lone female ohenro-san so they had given her the name of someone who provided cheap lodging not far from the temple. The person Das was with was that person and he was now going to drive her back towards Konsenji (#3) and then return her to Anrakuji (#6) tomorrow morning for a 08:30 start. I told Das my plan tomorrow was to stay at Kamo-no-yu and with that I returned to the main gate again.
I wondered if anyone else would come and stay but as the evening wore on no one turned up and it looked like I would be spending the night alone in the main gate with a giant bell hanging over me. For me, it was the place I most wanted to be. It reminded me of the first pilgrimage and also of Takuya who I had befriended at Ryozenji (#1). It was thanks to Takuya that I had come to learn about the main gate as a place to stay and later on about the many other cheap and free lodging places. Today, with the experience of that first pilgrimage aiding me, everything had seemed a lot easier. I didn't really have any particular expectations but all I wanted was to take each day as it came and do my best. I felt I had got off to a good start. I was already interacting relatively easily with everyone I had met along the way and people were responding to that with their own kindness. I was being more mindful of the prayer routine and although I was still making a hash of reading the heart sutra I was slowly, if only very slowly starting to make some progress. The decision to give out photographs had turned out to be the best thing I could have done. The reaction each time had been really wonderful and as the day had progressed I had decided that what I really wanted to do was show my appreciation to everyone, regardless of whether I was on the receiving end of osettai or not. By the time I had finished my mental recollections of the day, except for the small pagoda, the temple grounds outside had fallen into darkness. It was probably time for me too to put out the lights so I lit a couple of candles, went down the stairs, switched off the main light and returned and slipped into my sleeping bag. My second ohenro journey was well and truly under way and it had been a wonderful first day.
My sleep, if I really had been sleeping was interrupted at around 1 o'clock in the morning by what sounded like a very loud warning siren followed by a recorded message. Not really fully awake, all I could make out was that it was seeking people's co-operation regarding something or other. The only thought that came to mind was that everyone who had been sleeping soundly was now fully awake and fully co-operating as instructed. After the interruption I never really got back to sleep. I heard a few loud crashing sounds and what sounded like cats fighting. At one point I got up to look over the railing at the top of the stairs to see what I think was a white cat make a dash for it. After trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep again at 05:45 my alarm sounded so I got myself up and got myself ready to leave. After exiting the main gate, I turned, bowed and headed left towards the main road.
At the junction with the main road there was a sign clearly pointing in the direction towards Jurakuji (#7). Before heading towards Jurakuji (#7) I crossed over to the other side of the main road to photograph a statue of Kukai. The statue of Kukai stood in the temple car park and apart from wanting to look at the statue I also wanted to see how suitable a spot it would have been had I had to camp there last night. I had read about it on other ohenro blogs and with my quick reconnaissance mission over I started my 'Day 2' and headed for Jurakuji (#7). I quickly picked up the ohenro trail markers and after passing through a sleepy little village I was soon at Jurakuji (#7).
There was only one solo pilgrim going through his prayers rituals when I arrived. I set my pack down in the same spot I had the last time I was there. I sat down for a while to enjoy the early morning calm. The weather this morning was completely different from my start yesterday. The sky was a beautiful blue and it looked already that it was going to turn into a warm sunny day. After a while I got up and headed towards the main hall. I quietly went through my own prayer rituals trying hard to concentrate on reciting and reading the sutras more smoothly than I had yesterday. After repeating the same rituals at the daishi hall I walked over to the stamp office.
I remembered the lady in the stamp office being a little bit grumpy the last time I had got my stamp done. As I approached the stamp office she was heading out but on seeing me with my stamp book in hand she headed back inside again. She seemed busy getting the temple ready for the start of the day and maybe that explained why she looked a bit grumpy. She seemed to be doing all the chores alone so I greeted her in a friendly manner and handed her the stamp book. During my first pilgrimage I had become somewhat attached to my stamp book and wanted all the stamps to be done nicely. This of course didn't always happen and sometimes I had felt a little annoyed when the stamp was rushed and it didn't look as nice as the others. The irony looking back was that I lost all attachment to the stamp book after I completed the pilgrimage maybe because I realized it was only one part of the pilgrimage and by the end at least, not the most important part. In fact I had ended up giving that stamp book away as a gift, so this time I hoped I would not be so hung up on whether the temple staff did a good job or not, although the hope was that they would do a good job because I planned to keep hold of this particular stamp book a bit longer.
I deliberately avoided paying attention to her as she did the stamp. When she had finished she returned the stamp book to me along with the 2 temple slips. Last time I was receiving only a single temple slip but this time there was an additional red commemorative temple slip which was to mark the 1200th anniversary of the pilgrimage itself. I put the stamp book and the temple slips back into a clear protective sleeve and back into my ohenro back. I then took out the photographs and told her to choose one she liked. I told her I was doing the pilgrimage for the second time and that this time I wanted to give osettai to everyone. She took a quick look and immediately found one she liked even before she had finished looking through all of them. The nice part was that the tired look on her face vanished in an instant and I left the stamp office feeling happy with myself too. After spending a little time taking photographs I headed back out of the main gate. The architectural style and colour of the main gate I had read was of the distinguishing features of Jurakuji (#7) and in the early morning sunshine it wasn't too difficult to appreciate that fact.
Dinner yesterday had been coffee and crackers. This morning I had not yet had any breakfast and as I headed towards Kumataniji (#8) the hunger pangs were really starting to do battle. I had some snacks in my pack but I was hoping I could make it as far as Kumataniji (#8) before sitting down to eat them. The hunger pangs however were having none of it so about 2km short of Kumataniji (#8) I stopped in a small playground, sat down and had one of my snacks. The short break seemed to do the trick and with a little more energy in the tank I continued on my way feeling much better than I had been a little while earlier. Morning greetings from two schoolboys as they sped by on their bikes helped to lift the mood too.
Kumataniji (#8) was a favourite from my first trip because of a beautiful gate on the approach to the temple. I was not sure if the gate formed part of the temple itself but the route I followed this time from Jurakuji (#7) ensured that I passed through it before crossing to the other side of a road and on towards Kumataniji (#8) proper. The main temple buildings are located on the side of a hill and you need to walk up a lot of steps before you get to them. It had turned into quite a warm day and I didn't particularly fancy carrying my heavy pack up all those steps so I headed to the stamp office which was located right at the bottom in the car park and got their permission to leave my pack behind. The stamp office was quite large and there was plenty of space to leave my pack there without it getting in anyone's way. I thanked them and headed back outside.
A bus group had just arrived and were ahead of me and when I got to the prayer halls I just waited for them to all to finish before praying myself. In fact like the young guide and his group at Dainichiji (#4) I really enjoyed listening to the way the guide of this particular group and her much larger group did their chanting. As I was finishing at the daishi hall I was joined by my fellow ohenro-san Mr No-More-Excuses from yesterday. I was alone but he waited for me to finish before continuing with his own prayers. We both descended back down to the stamp office and got our books stamps. After I had got mine stamped I gave all my photographs to the man who had done my stamp and asked him to choose one he liked. He picked a photograph which showed the view of the sky from the summit of Mt. Fuji. I wasn't expecting anything in return but he repaid my gesture by giving me a tenugui. A tenugui is a thin cotton towel that typically comes in a variety of colors and prints, and can be put to many simple uses. The tenugui cloth I received at Ryozenji (#1) I was now using as a head cloth. The ones from the temples I had noticed were typically white and they had their own unique markings. The tenugui was much more than was expecting so I asked the man to choose another photograph before I left.
Back outside I got chatting to Mr No-More-Excuses and another very jolly 60 something year old who I will call Mr Jolly. Mr Jolly was from Kyushu and he told me his niece had forced him to do ohenro. Mr Jolly was one of those people you instantly liked. He was on day 2 of his journey but he as already suffering from a severe hangover he said. Many of the older ohenro-san definitely made the most of their stops at the minshuku and both my fellow ohenro-san this morning were planning to stay exclusively in minshuku or other paid lodging. Before we parted company I gave both Mr No-More-Excuses and Mr Jolly a photograph each. I had my name and website address printed on the front of the photographs and Mr Jolly said he would ask his niece to check my website. With that the pair of them continued on ahead of me and were soon out of sight.
The weather as I left Kumataniji (#8) was wonderfully bright and sunny and the walk to Horinji (#9) seemed to transport me back to the first pilgrimage. What did it was the view on the approach road leading towards Horinji (#9). From the road I had a wide panoramic view across open fields stretching all the way to a mountain range on the horizon. I knew of lots of wonderful sights along the way but this simple place set amongst agricultural fields was for me, one of my favourites. Just shy of Horinji (#9) I passed an elderly woman pushing one of those wheeled trolley seats and as I passed her she called out to me and offered me a handful of sweets. I thanked her and took out my photographs and asked her to choose one she liked. She sat down on her wheeled trolley seat and started leafing through the photographs. She ended up choosing one of a Mt. Fuji sky and before letting me go she gave me a thin beaded wrist bracelet. I thanked her and as I continued on towards Horinji (#9) I tied it to the bell hanging from my walking stick.
A bus group had just left Horinji (#9) so the whole place was nice and quiet when I entered through the main gate. I went through prayer routine and then headed to the stamp office. The last time I had been here a really friendly woman had done my stamp and I hoped very much she was still there but sadly she turned out not to be. In her place I found another woman who seemed to be suffering from a cold and probably struggling to be cheerful. After she finished doing the stamp I asked her to choose a photograph and she seemed to visibly cheer up. Before leaving Horinji (#9) I offered to help a young family take a family snap in front of the main hall and then continued on my way to Kirihataji (#10).
I was relying on memory and the trail markers as I headed to Kirihataji (#10) but after a while I noticed that I had not seen the trail markers and it got me wondering if I was going the right way or not. It was my first "Am I going the right way ?" moment and the onset of panic was only prevented when I recognised the crossing for the approach road leading to Kirihataji (#10). What had happened last time was that Takuya and I had detoured onto Route 12 after leaving Horinji (#9) in order to do a little food shopping at a local supermarket and then taken a slightly different route to get to Kirihataji (#10). It wasn't really a panic moment but it made me realize that I had not had to rely much on my guide book up to this point and it was actually quite nice not to have to worry whether I was going the right way or not. I had read comments by the "get lost and find yourself" school of thought but I was clearly not in that camp. Back on track again, Kirihataji (#10) was now only about 1km and 333 steps away.
I didn't want to carry my pack all the way up to Kirihataji (#10) and I hoped I could leave it outside the shop where I had left it the first time. The shop however turned out to be closed but the sign inviting ohenro-san to leave their packs outside was still there. A friendly old woman sitting nearby reassured me that it would be OK to leave my pack there. She said she lived next door and would keep an eye on it. So before setting of up the steep road I gave her the full album of photographs and told her to look through them and choose one she liked.
As I reached the steps leading to the top Mr Jolly was making his way down. We exchanged a quick few words about plans for the following day and figured we would probably meet again on the way to Shosanji (#12). After getting to the top I rested for a while before getting everything ready to pray at both prayer halls . After finishing my prayers I went up to another level to look out on an uninterrupted panoramic view. Somewhere down there was Horinji (#9) where I had come from and beyond the Yoshinogawa River in the distance was Kamo-no-yu where I would be heading to next. It was a beautiful day and it would have been easy to spend a lot longer just enjoying the view but I decided to head back down. Before heading to the bottom however I needed to get my book stamped.
In the stamp office there was a note asking pilgrims to press a buzzer if no one was around. I pressed the buzzer and waited. I knew from my first experience that an extremely old woman did the stamps at Kirihataji (#10) and that she might be a little slow to appear from the back. Last time after getting my book stamped I had asked her if I could take a photograph of her but she refused my request. I wasn't planning on asking her again but I wanted to give her a photograph. As I thought about this I suddenly realised that I had left the album of all my photographs with a different elderly woman outside the shop at the bottom. As luck would have it, when I retrieved my stamp book from my ohenro bag I discovered I had 2 photographs with me after all. One was of a maple leaf and the other was a photograph of a temple stamp I had photographed from my first stamp book. I knew which one she was going to be getting.
She emerged from the back and carefully seated herself behind the raised counter and slid open the glass door which allowed me to present her my stamp book. She had looked old and fragile when I had last seen her but she seemed ever older and even more fragile as I watched her do the stamp. Her movements were slow and deliberate and it was a pleasure to watch her put that stamp into my book. She returned my stamp book along with two temple slips to me and I gave her the 300 yen. With the formality of the stamp over I told her I was doing my second pilgrimage and that I wanted to give her a photograph. The most appropriate of the two I had was the one of the temple stamp and when she took it and looked at it a smile slowly spread across her face. She didn't speak a word and I wasn't sure what she was thinking but I hoped her smile was her way of showing that she was happy to receive it.
With my stamp done I took a few more photographs and then headed back down to collect my backpack. The old lady was still there and it seemed that she had waited for me to return. I also noticed she had left all the photographs next to my pack and when I asked if she had taken a favourite, she told me she hadn't. I returned all the photographs to her and after looking through them she picked out one she liked and asked if it was OK for her to have it. I told her it was and as I left I bowed and thanked her again for looking after my pack.
Just before I reached Route 12 I came up to a very new looking hut which I had not seen last time. It was a 2 storied construction and looked ideal for sleeping out. It was close to a few homes, looked out onto open fields and was just a short walk from Route 12 which had plenty of places to eat. If I had planned for a slower first 2 days then this would have been a great place to stop. I continued on towards Route 12 and was almost tempted by an udon restaurant but I resisted the temptation and continued on my way. My target for the end of today was to get to Kamo-no-yu which would provide a place to stay and use of a hot spa.
Not long after I neared another hut. It was set on the side of a field with residential homes behind. Unlike the last hut which was a proper ohenro hut, this one could have provided a place to stay but it was more than likely just a hut for a quick rest. A pilgrim had just left as I got to the hut and after taking a closer look I continued following him for the next 5km or so until I passed him just before the Kawashima Bridge across the Yoshino River. Just after the bridge is another small hut which is almost fully enclosed and another possible place for a stay. I just stopped briefly to rest and check my guide book to see how far I was from Kamo-no-yu. There was still time to get to Fujidera (#11) at a comfortable pace but it had been a long day already so I was looking forward to get the pack off my shoulders and having a good rest.
As I left the hut I was approached by someone who said he was a volunteer helper and although I wasn't really looking for any help he volunteered to take me all the way to Fujidera (#11). I tried my best to tell him that I was actually on my way to Kamo-no-yu and that I planned to pray at Fujidera (#11) tomorrow but he seemed to want none of it. In a funny kind of way it felt like he had just kidnapped me and was now frog-marching me to Fujidera (#11). When I asked him his name he refused to give it me which I thought was a little strange so I also decided not to share too much information with him. He was talking so much about ohenro that after a while I thought it would be unfair to tell him I had already done it once. So like a co-operative captive I walked or marched along side him and slowly managed to get some snippets of information out of him. Mr No Name told me he used to be a tax adviser but was now retired and living with his mother. He also told me that he walked 30km every day. I wasn't really sure what to make of him but we were following the trail markers so I wasn't unduly worried. My only concern was that his estimated time of arrival was wildly inaccurate and he just seemed to be subtracting chunks of time from a bigger chunk of time he had estimated as the original estimated arrival time. I was just tired and just wanted to get to the temple so I continued at the same relentless pace he was setting until we arrived at Fujidera (#11).
I still didn't really know too much about him but he seemed to know about ohenro and maybe he just needed to change his tack regarding how he volunteered his services. While he went through his own fairly quick prayer routine at each hall, I was thinking that maybe I should just get my stamp and come back tomorrow. He had promised to accompany me as far as Kamo-no-yu and I was beginning to feel a bit guilty about taking up so much of his time and the fact that he would be walking all the way back to where I had met him. I finished my prayers a little quicker than I would have normally and after that we both set out for the zenkonyado. He said it was about 15 – 20 minutes to Kamo-no-yu and this time his estimation turned out to be fairly spot on.
Along the way he told me an interesting story about the main gate at Anrakuji (#6). He said it was haunted by a small friendly child like ghost and that if anyone encountered this ghost it would bring them good luck. I didn't exactly remember meeting a ghost but there were some odd crashing noises outside in the early hours. I had also got up to peer over the railing and noticed what looked like a white cat make a dash for it. If I had seen a ghost I could only imagine it was the small elderly woman who was cleaning the temple grounds when I went to use the rest rooms. It had not even started to get light and I thought it a little odd that someone would have started their day so early. That and the fact that after greeting her I had not received a reply. My greeting was a little on the quiet side so I'm sure she was not the friendly little ghost I was being told about. It was however, quite an interesting little story. Mr No Name continued to share more stories and pointed out various useful places, a post office, shops, restaurants and such like.
When we arrived at Kamo-no-yu I headed inside and was greeted by a very friendly man who I took to be the owner. I asked if I could stay and he immediately said yes. Before taking me back out to show me where I would be staying he showed me which button to press on the ticket vending machine if I wanted to use hot spa later because there was a discounted ticket for walking pilgrims. He then showed me to the side of the main building and I instantly recognised the place from photographs others had posted online. There were two fairly simple fabrications, one a 3 mat tatami room for men and other a 2 mat tatami room for women. There was a very clean port-a-loo further around to the side, a washing machine, a dryer and a large table just outside.
After the owner left, Mr No Name drew a small map to help me find the shops and supermarkets nearby. It wasn't really necessary for him to go to so much trouble. It was true he hadn't listened to a word I had said about my own plans and he had seemed a little suspicious by refusing to tell me his name but he really had been extremely helpful. I wanted to give him a photograph but I couldn't give him one with references to my first pilgrimage. As luck would have it I had printed out a few extra prints of some standard plain photographs that were still on my SD card. I gave one of those to him and after thanking him many times I bade him goodbye. I felt a little guilty for the long walk he had to get back home again.
I had hardly eaten anything all day so I immediately left to find the shops and supermarket. The main road was just a short 10 minutes walk away and there was the usual assortment of fast food shops and small restaurants. Further up I spotted a Family Mart convenience store and the Marunaka supermarket opposite. I went straight to the supermarket and picked up a lunch box, extra fried chicken, something for the morning and a few extra supplies for the hike to Shosanji (#12). As I headed back to Kamo-no-yu I met a very young Japanese pilgrim Yuki who I had met briefly just outside the main gate of Anrakuji (#6) yesterday. He was staying with the same friends he had stayed with yesterday and was just on his way back from visiting Kamo-no-yu. Before we parted company, I gave him a photograph and wished him well for the journey to Shosanji (#12) the following day.
Back at Kamo-no-yu I finally sat myself down and enjoyed eating something substantial for the first time all day. I then started wondering if Das would make it to Kamo-no-yu and as I was sat updating my notes I saw her and the owner through the front of my hut. I went out to greet her and the owner asked me to quickly explain what he had explained to me. Das had made good progress even though she had left from Anrakuji (#6) later than me. There wasn't really much to explain, there was the loo around the side, the washing machine, the dryer and the shops close by. Das got into her small tatami room and I got myself ready to go and make use of the hot spa.
The spa was one of those nice friendly community bath houses. It seemed to be a local hangout for everyone and many of the elderly men seemed to know each other. The main bathing area was simple with one large hot bath. The best part was the outdoor hot bath. The water was much hotter and as I sat in the water and looked up at the sky I could clearly see a sliver of a moon in a dark cloudless sky. It felt great to be nice and clean again. The quick soak in the hot baths, especially the hotter outdoor one seemed to ease away the aches from a long day of walking.
When I returned to my hut, the women's hut was dark and I assumed Das had gone to sleep. Hoping the washing machine wouldn't disturb Das I got some washing going and returned to updating my notes again. A little while later Das turned up. She had not been in her room after all and had in fact been just up the road at a very friendly restaurant who she said had cooked up a really nice feast for her. We had only had the briefest of conversations until now so we chatted about our journey so far and talked about our plans for the hike to Shosanji (#12). I had booked myself into Sudachi-kan and discovered that Das haf also been booked into the same place by the owner of the place she had stayed at yesterday. We didn't talk long and after letting Das choose a couple of photographs she liked we agreed to set off together the following morning and then returned to our respective huts.
Mr Jolly and Mr No More Excuses were both staying very close to Fujidera (#11) and I was hoping I could see them again on the hike to Shosanji (#12). Today I had walked 24km and in total had now completed 11 of the 88 temples. However, in terms of distance I again began to realise that there was actually a very long way to go. The distance didn't worry me but my backpack like last time was starting to feel heavy. In fact it felt much heavier than I remembered during my first pilgrimage. The good news was that my feet were in good shape and I knew my body would start to get used to carrying the load I had burdened myself with. Another day was over and it had been the many pleasant encounters along the way that had been the most satisfying thing about it.
It had been a very cold night last night but the zenkonyado had turned out to be a great place to stop. Das and I left at 7 o'clock a little bit later than planned and our first stop was the Family Mart for a bit of breakfast. A coffee and something sweet seemed to be what I wanted most each morning now. With breakfast done we started for Fujidera (#11). It was nice and chilly and slightly overcast as we headed for Fujidera (#11) but the sun was slowly beginning to make it's presence felt.
I had already prayed at Fujidera (#11) yesterday but I repeated my usual prayer routine at the main hall. Ahead of us was one of the toughest trails, so it was for a safe journey to Shosanji (#12) that I prayed. Das and I hadn't planned on walking together but we were both booked to stay in Sudachi-kan a few kilometers on from Shosanji (#12) so I thought it would be nice to at least set out together. Das had come directly to Kamo-no-yu yesterday so while she went through her prayer routines I spent the time taking photographs. With prayers, stamps, photographs and everything done at Fujidera (#11) we both joined the trail which began immediately to the left of the main hall. It was 09:30 when we set of and it was likely that Mr Jolly and Mr No More Excuses had already left. I hoped I would catch up with them later in the day or at Shosanji (#12) itself.
It had been a little overcast when we arrived at Fujidera (#11) but the sun was now out and I had a great feeling for the day ahead. It was the first proper hiking trail and it felt a lot harder than I remembered last time. It felt good walking amongst the trees and I slowly got into a gentle rhythm and kept up a steady pace just stopping occasionally for a quick break. Two hours later I came to a small rest hut which looked onto a wide view of Tokushima below. I could make out a river which I assumed was the Yoshinogawa River but it still being a little hazy it was difficult to make out anything recognizable from the past two days. It was however a really great place to take a short break before heading on.
Das and I were walking apart for most of the morning but we came together again just before stopping for an extended break at Ryuusui-an. It was here that we were joined by Nobuhisa a Japanese ohenro-san who seemed to be struggling a little with what looked like quite a heavy pack. I gave him a photograph and he gave Das and I an energy bar each which was very nice of him. Having seen practically no one at all since leaving Fujidera (#11) we were then joined by a German couple. They were Beno and Susanne and both had previously lived and worked in Japan. They were now taking an extended break from their jobs in London and just travelling around. What was interesting about Beno and Susanne was that they were doing ohenro but not in the customary fashion. Neither was wearing any ohenro clothing but they were collecting the stamps. Collecting the stamps not in a regular stamp book but on the pages of a Japanese magazine which detailed information about each of the temples. There approach was different but every journey is unique and the very fact that they were planning to complete it on foot and to the end made them real pilgrims. I didn't find out too much more from them before they were on their way again. Das decided to stay put for a bit longer while Nobuhisa and I set of after Beno and Susanne.
I left Nobuhisa behind me after a few sharp climbs and continued at my own steady pace. After passing the fully enclosed hut which looks like it would make for a great place to stay 30 minutes later I arrived at the foot of the long flight of steps. At the very top of the steps I could make out the giant statue of a standing Kukai in front of an equally large and impressive cedar tree. I had been looking forward to this view during my first pilgrimage after reading about an account of it on a Japanese pilgrim's website. This time there was none of the anticipation but I was looking forward nevertheless to stopping here to rest and take a few more photographs. The name of the place is Joren-an and after I had climbed the steps I set my pack down again and took another break. I decided to wait for Nobuhisa before setting of. He not only had a heavy pack but he was complaining of problems with his feet too. He turned up about 20 minutes later and I watched him struggling up the final few steps leading to the large statue. I greeted him again and asked how he was and he just nodded that he was fine. From Joren-an it was only 3km to Shosanji (#12) so I was confident he would make it. I had found out he would be staying at Sudachi-kan too so I told him I would see him at Shosanji (#12) and pressed on.
A little while later I seemed to come of the mountain trail into a more open area with a few homes dotted here and there. I then came across Beno and Susanne again taking a break. I stopped too and chatted to them some more. They had not made any plans about where they were going to stay and seemed to be just going with the flow. They were not staying at Sudachi-kan but looking at my guidebook there seemed to be several places a little further on. I said my goodbyes again and continued on my way. I was then back on the mountain trail again, marked in my guidebook as henro korogashi which basically meant it was steep and and required a little care. My pace slowed markedly and I found it impossible to keep up a steady momentum. It had definitely not been this hard last time but when I finally recognised the approach to Shosanji (#12) I knew I was not too far from the main gate. When I arrived at the gate the time was just after 4 o'clock. It had taken six and a half hours to get to Shosanji (#12).
There are many nice things about Shosanji (#12) not least it's location. The sun was starting to go down but the whole place was just like it was the last time I had arrived at Shosanji (#12). It was bathed in beautiful sunshine and as you make your way from the main gate towards the prayer halls you can't help but notice the huge towering cedar trees. I climbed up the steps leading to the prayer halls washed my hands and mouth and then set my pack down at a nearby bench and sat down for a well deserved rest. It had been a lot harder than I had expected and remembered but that was all forgotten because I just sat there feeling incredibly happy and unable to stop smiling to myself. I started to get myself ready to go through the prayer routine and then realised I had no more candles so I dashed back down the stairs and into the stamp office to buy some more.
When I returned a man asked me where I was from and then other usual questions. The man was at the temple with his wife and he called her over and got his wife to give me a gold osamefuda. A gold coloured osamefuda usually from someone who has done pilgrimage between 50 and 99 times. The couple didn't look like they had done it that many times so I could only assume that someone else had given it to them and they were now giving it to me as osettai. It was my first such osettai and more than that, a gold or a brocaded osamefuda is considered a good luck charm. I gave my own simple plain white osamefuda in return along with a photograph. After getting my photograph snapped with the pair of them I thanked them for the gold osamefuda and got ready to pray.
Before leaving for Shikoku I had given blank osamefuda to some of my friends and asked them to write out their own wishes on them. Some had also selected particular temples where they wanted me to leave their osamefuda and some had not. I decided I was going to leave prayers for my friend Shige and his baby daughter Rei and also for my running friend Mr M. I also prayed for myself, praying for the strength, courage and hope I would need, to make all the changes only I could make, to help me purse my goals after I finished the pilgrimage. I felt incredibly uplifted by the atmosphere at Shosanji (#12) and for the first time since I had started my second pilgrimage I knew exactly why I was doing it again. I felt uplifted and happy. With my prayers done, I went to the staff office to get my stamp. The young monk behind the counter carefully put the stamp into my stamp book. He could have then poured ink all over my stamp book and it wouldn't have changed how I felt at that moment. After he had finished I told him it was my second pilgrimage and that Shosanji (#12) was one of my favourite temples. I then asked him to choose a photograph he liked and after slowly looking through them he found one he liked. With everything done I headed back outside.
I started wondering and worrying a little about what had happened to Nobuhisa and Das. Since we were all staying in Sudachi-kan I phoned and told the lady Uesugi-san that I had arrived at the temple but Das and Nobuhisa had yet to arrive. She suggested that they would come and pick us all up if it became necessary to do so. I thanked her and continued waiting. Das arrived about 30 minutes later, then Beno and Susanne and finally Nobuhisa. Nobuhisa looked really exhausted but he seemed a little happier after I told him that I had called ahead and that Sudachi-kan would be happy to come and pick us up if necessary.
I was still in a really great mood and I encouraged Beno and Susanne to pray at the prayer halls. I gave them each 2 candles, 3 sticks of incense and 2 blank osamefuda so they could also go through some sort of routine. I had no idea whether what I was doing was right but what I was doing, I was doing with the best intention and that for me was enough. I was not sure what Beno and Susanne made of it all but I was happy that they made use of the candles, incense and osamefuda. When everyone was done praying and getting their books and magazine stamped, Nobuhisa decided he would ask Sudachi-kan to come and pick him up. Das and I were keen to walk the remaining 3km so we could pass by the statue of Emon Saburo. And Beno and Susanne although undecided about their plans didn't seem to be too fazed about the fact that they had not yet decided where to stay. Shonsanji (#12) offered shukubo so that was one option for them and if that didn't work out , there was still enough daylight to continue walking until they came to some minshuku.
Das and I headed back out the main gate, turned right and following the marked trail back down again. It wasn't long before we arrived at Josan-an. This is where you find a statue of Emon Saburo and Kukai. In short Emon Saburo was one of the wealthiest men in Shikoku and the legend goes that one day a monk called at his home asking for alms. Rather than helping, it is claimed Saburo knocked the bowl from the monk's hand causing it fall and smash into pieces. Whether related or not, Saburo's eight sons all died one after the other and realizing that maybe the monk he had failed to help was Kukai himself, Saburo began searching for him in order to seek forgiveness, maybe not just for not offering alms but maybe for every selfish act he had ever done. After walking around Shikoku 20 times it is said he started walking in the opposite direction but weak, exhausted and close to death he collapsed on the path between Fujiidera (# 11) and Shosanji (#12). As he lay dying Kukai appeared before him and forgave him. Emon Saburo's dying wish was that he be born into a wealthy family so that he could help restore an old neglected temple in Matsuyama City. In his hand he clasped a stone and the legend continues that a little while later a child was born clasping a stone. This child grew up and was responsible for restoring the old neglected temple which later became known as Ishiteji (#51) or literally translated 'stone hand temple'. I remembered seeing the statue during my first pilgrimage but I only learned of the significance of it when I returned home. Some say the Emon Saburo story is a little bit sinister, for me, I see in it a very positive message about recognizing the error of your ways and seeking forgiveness. With photographs taken Das and I headed on to our final destination for the day, Sudachi-kan.
During my first pilgrimage I had not stayed at Sudachi-kan. I had stopped at a zenkonyado not too far from the Emon Saburo statue. The zeknonyado was the home of someone I had referred to as the mountain monk [ link ] in my first pilgrimage story. I had planned on passing by just to say hello to him again and to give him a photograph because he really had been one of the most interesting characters I had met during maybe the whole of the first pilgrimage. He had been very honest about how he had ended up eking out a living on this mountain as a result of his own actions in the past. His advice had struck a chord because he had repeatedly said, whatever you do, do it kindly, do it earnestly and do it patiently. It was basic common sense based on his own past history and probably the most valuable advice I received during the whole of that first pilgrimage. However, time didn't seem to be on my side today. I had told Uesugi-san yesterday that I would be there about 4 o'clock and although she was now expecting Das and I to be there at 5 o'clock the pair of us were running a little late.
It was almost 5:30 when we got near to Sudachi-kan and standing outside looking up in our direction I spotted Uesugi-san. I had met her during the first pilgrimage because the day after staying with the mountain monk, Takuya and I had stopped at Sudachi-kan to pick up a few supplies and Uesugi-san had served us some hot tea as osettai. She welcomed us both inside and seated us at the table where we found a much happier looking Nobuhisa, another elderly pilgrim and Uesugi-san's husband. They had been waiting for us before starting dinner and after a quick apology for our lateness we all got stuck into dinner. The food was simple and tasty and for a little while everyone seemed to eat in silence because like me the others also seemed to be in need of food energy after the tough hike up to Shosanji (#12).
When I finished eating everything that been put in front of me, I pulled out all my photographs and told Uesugi-san she could choose any she liked. She picked two she really liked and while she served me an extra helping of rice I passed the photographs to the elderly pilgrim and asked him to select one too. His choice surprised me because he picked the only photograph that that was of me. The photograph was a happy reminder of how I had looked towards the end of my first pilgrimage and I had not expected people would actually choose it. With dinner over and the mood a bit lighter the next thing on the agenda was the hot spa.
Before the hot spa however, we had to decide on sleeping arrangements. The building where we had just had dinner was all that I was aware of and I assumed the lodging was somewhere at the back. The lodging however turned out to be two separate buildings located about a 100m directly opposite. There were 3 men and 1 woman staying this evening and Uesugi-san asked if Das and I would be willing to share a room. Both of us had no problem with that so we were shown to a room in the smaller of the two buildings. The room had a simple bunk bed construction for two people and for me perfectly comfortable. Nobuhisa and the elderly pilgrim were put together in a room in the other larger building which seemed to be also where Uesugi-san and her husband lived. We were told to drop of our things of and return with what we would need for the hot spa and wait in from of Sudachi-kan.
After a bit of waiting for Nobuhisa, Uesugi-san's husband drove us about 20 minutes to what turned out to be really great hot spa. Driving guests back and forth seemed to be Uesugi-san husband's job and this evening he seemed a bit tired. We were all done and waiting back in the reception area at the prescribed time and soon heading back to Sudachi-kan again. Back in our room Das and I found that in our absence Uesugi-san had made our beds and in each she had placed an electric water bottle. She had also left one of those old style electric bar heaters. Das opted for the top bunk and the pair of us got on with sorting out our things and updating our notes. I also got my laundry going in the washing machine outside.
Das seemed to have already nodded of by the time I finished collecting my washing and when I returned to the room, I put out the light and eased into my nice warm futon. The electric water bottle felt really great. I then continued tapping out my thoughts on my small laptop. It had been a really great day and I finally seemed to have found my own rhythm. Shosanji (#12) was a favourite temple and not only had it left me feeling really uplifted, I once again understood exactly why I had enjoyed the pilgrimage so much the first time. I was also starting to pray more earnestly for the specific changes I wanted to see take shape in my life, especially my inner life.
Ever since my first pilgrimage I had realised more than ever that life itself was the best teacher and that I was constantly being taught lessons. Those that had I had heeded had helped me progress and those that I had failed to heed had led my life to remain static or even take backward steps. Although, I had tried very hard after my first pilgrimage the consequences of conscious and unconscious thoughts and actions were not going to be easily undone. The key lesson it seemed was to just keep trying my best. My main goal during this pilgrimage was now to reflect again on my own self, think about how I wanted to change and to re-energize myself. Even after just 3 days any tensions that I had felt had at all but melted away. My mind was calmer and even on just a few hours of sleep over the past few days that inner energy was beginning to surge again. I switched of my laptop and very quickly drifted of to sleep.
Sudachi-kan turned out to be really great place to stay. I had fallen asleep very quickly but was awake again at 3 o'clock feeling excited about the day ahead. It was still a little too early to be making any sort of a start because breakfast was not scheduled until 6 o'clock and I wanted some breakfast before setting of again. I switched on the electric bar heater which created a lovely warm glow in the room and then settled back to continue work on my notes. The journey ahead today would see me visit several more temples and take me back towards Tokushima City again.
By 6 o'clock both Das and I were ready to head back to the main building for a little breakfast. It was beautifully cold crisp morning and in the light of day I could see exactly where we had been staying. Just beyond the house where Das and I had been last night was a drop down to a small river, an open field next to us and wooded hillsides all around. The sky was nice and clear and the sun had yet to make it over the ridge line. All four of us arrived on time and enjoyed a very nice breakfast. Uesugi-san had prepared rice balls and a bottle of tea for each of us to take with us. It didn't take too long for to finish breakfast and the elderly pilgrim was the first to leave. Nobuhisa who was still nursing his feet and wanted to set out a little later so, well fuelled for the day ahead, Das and I thanked Uesugi-san and set out just after 7 o'clock.
Das had worked as a travel writer, done a lot of travelling and seemed to have definitely found her rhythm far faster than I had when I did my first pilgrimage. I was being my usual self, sharing whatever information I had and giving helpful advice but I got the feeling she was quite happy to go at her own pace and in her own way. I was sure however that we would bump into each other again as I would some of the other ohenro-san I had already met. Today I decided to go ahead at my own pace and if we met again that would be good and if we didn't meet again that would be fine too. The plan was to try and make it as far as Sakae Taxis, a popular zenkonyado for walking pilgrims.
I had forgotten what the trail was like after passing Sudachi-kan last time. From my vague recollection I remembered it mostly being asphalt. However, after leaving Sudachi-kan we followed the trail markers onto a mountain path. The initial part of the climb up the mountain was pretty severe but to counter that it felt good to be surrounded by tall trees again. As I continued further up the mountain trail I came upon our elderly pilgrim from Sudachi-kan. He was maybe also finding the going tough and had stopped to take a cigarette break. I stopped very briefly to chat to him before heading on and I kept going until I joined the asphalt road that I did remember. My pack today also seemed to feel much better secured and I continued on at a very nice comfortable pace. I knew I was going to come up to a nice little hut and that was where I was planning to take my first break.
As I neared the hut a little old lady was approaching from the other side of the hut and she stopped and went inside and sat down. I followed her inside and greeted her. She spoke to me in a very strong local dialect and although I couldn't understand everything she was saying her manner was incredibly friendly. She pulled out her purse and from it a 100 yen coin. She passed it to me and told me it was osettai. I already knew what she was going to do as soon as she had started rummaging around in her handbag so I was ready to let her choose a photograph. She liked one of cherry blossoms and after making sure it was OK to take it she put it away in her bag.
After answering a few more of her questions and finding out she was 91 years old, I asked her if it was OK to take a photograph of her. She didn't mind but I waited till she was giving me a smiley face rather than the serious face most older Japanese seem to adopt when having their photograph taken. The photograph I took came out looking really nice and after showing it to her she said she wanted it. I told her she would have to give me her address so I could send it to her after I completed the pilgrimage. I handed her my notebook and pen and watched as she carefully wrote out her name and address. She tried to give me more money for postage but I told her it was not necessary. Before she could press the point further, I was strapped up, bowing and thanking her for the osettai and on my way out of the hut.
It had been nice meeting the sweet little old lady. The location too where I met her was set high overlooking a valley below and as I continued on down I kept a steady tempo with only brief stops to photograph the early blossoms or anything else that caught my eye. I continued like this for the next few hours without taking any further breaks. I passed through the small village where, like last time I found life sized mannequins that resembled mostly elderly people engaged in ordinary every day activities such as waiting for a bus, working in the fields, chatting to each other and so on. The journey was relatively easy and apart from briefly overshooting a turning all I had to do was follow along the Akaigawa River.
Once I turned away from the river I started seeing signs for Tokushima City and I began to recall some of the sights. I knew there was a very nice rest hut just before Dainichiji (#13) and I planned to take a quick break there before heading on to the temple. I had been going for almost 5 hours by the time I arrived at the hut. The hut is named Oyasuminashi-tei and is situated on the right side of the road as you head for Dainichiji (#13). It is easily one of the nicest huts on the whole trail but it's only for resting. This time like last time, it had a hot water, coffee, tea, oranges and chilled water in the fridge. I made some hot coffee, had a small oranges and a few sweets. Unsurprisingly after the big breakfast at Sudachi-kan I had not felt hungry at all. The last time I had come this way, Takuya and myself had not eaten much at all and I recalled stopping as soon as we got into the village with the mannequins and getting some snacks from a local shop. Having rested long enough I wrote a thank you message in the guest book and included a photograph and my osamefuda. I then continued on my way to Dainichiji (#13).
Just within touching distance of the temple a man on the other side of the road called out to me. I crossed over and he offered me a choice of canned drinks, an orange and a bag of sweets. I accepted a canned coffee, the orange and just a few of the sweets rather than the whole bag. As way of thanking him, I asked him to choose a photograph and the one he picked was of the last blood moon. I thanked him again and then continued the very short distance to Dainichiji (#13). I remembered Dainichiji (#13) for a couple of reasons, one was that it was right next to the road and the other was that directly opposite was a very nice looking shrine.
I headed inside and found a quiet spot to set my pack down and then went through the usual prayer ritual at each hall. Prayers done I headed to the stamp office and after getting my book stamped handed the lady the photographs I had and asked her to choose one she liked. She started looking through them carefully so I told her I would go out and take a some photographs and return in a while. I was taking photographs at every single temple but rather than photographing the usual things like the main gate, the prayer halls, I tended to focus on something unique that might help me remember the temple. At Dainichiji (#13) for example, there is a large statue in the middle in the shape of two hands coming together as if to pray and within the hands is a another statue.
I noticed a pilgrim sitting alone and over heard him telling a small group of men who had just entered the temple that he was sleeping out along the trail. I thought about giving him the canned coffee and orange I had received a little earlier but I thought it might be better when he was alone again. I went back into the stamp office and the lady was mulling over which of 2 photographs to choose. The easiest thing to do was to let her keep both of them so I told her to keep both of them, collected the rest and headed back to my pack outside. I packed up and got ready to leave. The small group had gone and the pilgrim I was planning to give the canned coffee and orange too was now at the statue of hands in prayers. Not wanting to disturb him I thought I would just leave the canned coffee and orange next to his belongings which he had left on one of the benches. As I walked past him, I noticed that he had actually fished out a 10 yen coin from the offering box using a small telescopic stick used for picking up small metallic objects. Rather than thinking he was doing something wrong it seemed to confirm in my mind that giving him the coffee and orange was the right thing to do. His back was turned to me as I neared the main gate so I just left the items next to where he had left his things. They would have been impossible to miss. I turned, bowed and followed the markers heading for the next temple.
The trail to the next temple was very nice but it wasn't very long before I arrived at Jorakuji (#14). I easily recognised Jorakuji (#14) as the one with the exposed rock surface near the prayers halls. I went through my prayers rituals at each hall and before heading to the stamp office I looked around for things to photograph and was surprised by find two cats sunning themselves on one of the statues. I photographed the cats and a few other things and then went to get my book stamped. Again I offered my photographs and after some indecision the woman decided on something she liked. In return she handed me a small envelope like the ones you receive the small temple slips in, I took it and thanked her. I didn't look at what it was until a little later but it turned out to be a beautifully coloured version of the simple black and white temple slips given out at each temple.
After leaving Jorakuji (#14) it was another relatively short trip to Kokubunji (#15). Kokubunji (#15) was a temple I could easily recall because of it's really eye catching and beautifully shaped main prayer hall. Unlike the smaller or wider squat looking prayer halls found at most temples, this particular one has 2 tiers, is extremely tall and looks majestic. It was definitely one of my favourites and I remembered Takuya and myself rushing to get to it just before the stamp office closed for the day. Today I had no such worries and more than that I seemed to have the whole place to myself. The most noticeable change was a brand new daishi hall which stood out just because it was so new. After finishing my prayers and taking a few photographs I headed to the stamp office.
As I was about to hand over my book to the woman in the stamp office, a monk came over and started asking questions and telling me about an American woman who he said was probably now at Onzanji (#18). I knew it couldn't be Das since she was still somewhere behind me but I knew someone called Laura from the US had who had left Ryozenji (#1) a day or so ahead of me. I asked if it was someone called Laura but he didn't seem to know. Since I already had my photographs out I handed them to him and told him to choose one and while he chose I gave my stamp book to the lady in the stamp office. He found one he liked and I then gave the other photographs to the woman after she had finished with my stamp book. She also eventually ended up choosing one and after a short discussion between them in which the only word I caught was osettai, the man disappeared and soon returned with an envelope. I could see that it contained a 1000 yen note. It was way too much for just a simple photograph so I told him to choose another. With that done I thanked them for the gift and headed back towards the main gate.
Next was Kanonji (#16) and as much as I tried, I seemed to have absolutely no recollection at all because all I could remember was going from Kokubunji (#15) directly to Sakae Taxis the last time I had done ohenro. However, when I got there I recognised it immediately as the cute little temple Takuya and I had visited the morning after we had stayed at Sakae Taxis. During the first pilgrimage Takuya and I had been too late to get the stamps so we had skipped the temple, gone for some udon and then gone straight to the zenkonyado.
Kanonji (#16) had to be one of the smallest and least conspicuous of all the temples. I went directly to the stamp office which was a small space with a couple of benches and a counter where you presented your stamp book. I just wanted to leave my pack there while I went and prayed at the two halls first. As I set my pack down the window above the counter slid open so I greeted the woman and told her I was going to pray first. Until now I had been waiting to get my stamp done first before offering my photographs. On this occasion, my offer to her to choose one of my photographs seemed to be completely lost in translation because it seemed to completely throw her. So much so, that she refused to take even a look at them. Maybe I had come across as a suspicious salesman hawking cheap prints but whatever it was I wasn't going to insist. With prayers done I headed back to the stamp office and got my book stamped. I decided not to ask her again about choosing a photograph but instead asked if Sakae Taxis was to the left or the right of the temple. She replied Idoji (#17), which was the correct answer to a different question. I think she was still a bit flummoxed by my initial actions so I just thanked her and continued out the main gate and then in the general direction of Sakae Taxis that I remembered.
I double checked with a local car repair shop who told me Sakae Taxis was just a little way up the road. It was coming up to 4 o'clock and I was thinking of alternatives of what I would do if there was no space for me and one involved going to Idoji (#17) and then heading into the centre of Tokushima City, enjoying a late soak at an onsen which provided it services free of charge to pilgrims and camping out by the river. All that mental contingency planning seemed totally unnecessary because when I arrived at Sakae Taxis I found the owner and he immediately showed me upstairs and told me no one else was staying. I wasn't sure what Das was planning to do but I did remember her telling me that the owner of the place she had stayed at on the first night had told her that Sakae Taxis was no longer accepting women pilgrims. I told the owner that another female pilgrim was possibly on her way here and whether it was OK for her to stay. He replied that there would be no problem at all which I figured was good news for Das if she did end up turning up.
It was just after 4 o'clock and with Idoji (#17) just 2km away I decided to go and pray there and if necessary push on tomorrow and get through Onzaji (#18) and Tatsueji (#19). I had made much more progress than I had imagined and I knew if I got past Tatsueji (#19) that there were options for places to stay in either zenkonyado or huts. The sign for Idoji (#17) was just up the road from Sakae Taxis and remembering the general direction from last time I just followed the direction of the sign and soon picked up the welcome little red trail markers. It felt really great walking without a heavy pack strapped to my back. As I continued on my way I noticed 3 young elementary school girls on the other side of the road trying to keep pace with me and telling each other to say something in English. I just turned and waved to them every now and then which seemed to give them the giggles. They soon turned off and after a final wave, continued all the way to Idoji (#17).
I couldn't remember what Idoji (#17) looked like but it one of those temples that looks very impressive as soon you look through the main gate. It was coming up to 4:40 so after washing my hands and mouth I headed first to the stamp office so that I didn't have to rush my prayer rituals. As I went in I noticed the same young Japanese cycling pilgrim who I had seen arrive at Kanonji (#16) a little earlier. I didn't actually know what he was doing but he seemed to be looking through his guidebook. I got my book stamped, waited for the woman to choose a photograph and then headed back outside. The young cyclist was still outside looking at his guide book so I asked him where he was going to stay. He said he didn't know, so I told him I was staying at Sakae Taxis and that it was free. I pointed out the location in my guide book and told him it was near a Family Mart. I waved him goodbye and wondered whether he would actually go to Sakae Taxis or not.
After finishing my prayer rituals and taking a few photographs I headed back towards the main gate and back to Sakae Taxis. When I arrived I saw the young cyclist's bicycle downstairs and Das's boots at the foot of the stairs so I knew they were both there. It was good to see them both because it meant I had company for the evening. The young cyclist was called Kenta and he had no idea about these free places to stay. He told us he had stayed in a minshuku close to Jizoji (#5) on his first day. If he had cycled a little further he could have stayed in the main gate at Anrakuji (#6) for free. Anyway we were all happy to be staying in a free place tonight.
I had not eaten since breakfast so I suggested we all go out to eat and we ended up going to an okonomiyaki restaurant not too far away. For the duration of the pilgrimage my plan was not to drink so I ordered oolong tea and Kenta and Das went with beer. The restaurant was small friendly little place and it was good to finally sit down after a long day of walking. Kenta we discovered was a 21 year old university student on spring break. He probably didn't imagine he would be dining out with 2 foreign pilgrims and staying with them in a free place. Das and I decided we would treat him to dinner, osettai for a fellow pilgrim. While we waited for our okonomiyaki I asked Kenta to choose a photograph he liked. Interestingly he chose the very same one Das had chosen and more interestingly it was the very same photo I had as the background image on my smartphone. It also happened to be my favourite photo of my first pilgrimage. When the okonomiyaki arrived it tasted really good and it didn't take us very long to finish everything. We hadn't ordered anything else but we ended receiving tofu and miso soup too which also disappeared with relative ease.
When we were done eating Das and I paid but before leaving I asked Kenta to ask the 2 women behind the counter to choose a photograph. Kenta explained why I was sharing photographs with everyone and they both looked through them and found ones they liked. I then passed the remaining photographs to another customer who had been watching with curiosity what had been going on. He starting putting the ones he really like to one side and from amongst 5 or 6 he'd set aside he really liked 2 so I let him keep both.
After we returned to Sakae Taxis we were joined by the owner. The owner Inoue-san, was 70 years old and he said he spent most of his time in the taxi office downstairs. The place where pilgrims stayed comprised of two rooms and there was plenty of space and bedding for about 6 people. The wall of one of the rooms was covered with osamafuda and messages from pilgrims who had stayed over the years. He told us he had been even interviewed by a Dutch TV program about the pilgrimage. As he was telling us al this I thought again that it was people like him who really contributed towards making ohenro a great experience for walking pilgrims.
I had not had a chance to ask him to choose a photograph so I asked him to select any photographs he liked and he ended up choosing 2 he liked. One of them happened to be a photograph of me again which meant in one day 2 people had selected the photo I had least expected to be selected. Inoue-san then decided to demonstrate ki energy and he demonstrated on Das first. He asked her to put out a hand and then with his own hands above and below he seemed to be able to generate some kind of sensation which Das said she could definitely feel. He did this to both her hands. Intrigued I also wanted to know what the sensation was. I put out my right hand and his hands were several inches above and below mine I distinctly felt a static kind of shock pass through the middle of my hand. I switched to my left hand and the sensation was different and stronger. He could also feel that the sensation was stronger in my left hand.
Before he left we asked him if he knew what the weather forecast was for tomorrow. After checking on his phone he told us it was for heavy rain and strong winds, the worst of both worlds for walking pilgrims and cycling pilgrims. Thankfully he told us we could stay another night unless another 6 pilgrims turned up. I had not seen many walking pilgrims so far and if some did turn up they were unlikely to number six. It was an interesting end to an otherwise already very interesting day and completely in keeping with what ohenro had been like the first time. The main difference being that it felt even better.
I was up at 04:40 updating my notes when I heard the rain start to fall outside. It looked like it was going to be the wet day that had been forecast and in a strange way I was glad that I would be staying put rather than walking. During the first pilgrimage I had walked every single day and often found myself rushing to get to temples. This had happened for a number of reasons and the primary reason was that I was unfamiliar with the trail and also unfamiliar with suitable places to stay. I had planned to camp out much more until I discovered, thanks to Takuya, that there were in fact many zenkonyado places like Sakae Taxis. This time I had set myself a target of about 50 days to walk around Shikoku and the main purpose was to cut down on the average distance I walked each day. During my first pilgrimage there had been too many 40km days and the extra time was to cut down or avoid these. This time I also had a much better idea of where the lodgings were and also where lodgings I had not used before or known about before were. I knew it would help with my overall planning and these were the thoughts going through my midn as I lay listening to the rain falling outside.
Just before 7 o'clock Das got up and then headed out to go to Idoji (#17). She planned to return to Sakae Taxis after finishing her prayers there. Soon after Das left, Kenta also got up and folded and put away his bedding. The next temple he was planning to visit was actually Shosanji (#12) but he had not said anything about his plans yesterday. What Kenta had done was skip Shosanji (#12) after going to Fujidera (#11) and completed up to Idoji (#17). The approach to Shosanji (#12) from this side seemed to be more accessible on a bicycle than the regular hiking trail which we walking pilgrims could take. He seemed to have made his mind up that he was going so with a little help from myself and Inoue-san we helped him cover up his side panniers as best we could with bin liners. His panniers looked very good but they didn't really look like they were waterproof. With rain coming down as hard as ever we said goodbye to him and watched him ride away.
I didn't really have a clear plan for the day. I thought I would spend most of the day at Sakae Taxis updating my notes and planning my journey going forward. With Idoji (#17) already out of the way, I was confident that tomorrow I would easily make it through to Tatsueji (#19) and then on to the zenkonyado about 5km further on. During the first pilgrimage, Takuya and I had lost time going back to Kanonji (#16) and although we managed to complete Idoji (#17) and Onsanji (#18) we couldn't make it to Tatsueji (#19) in time for the stamp and ended up having to sleep in the waiting room at Tatsueji Station.
With both Das and Kenta gone I decided to do something useful so I tidied up the place. I folded and stacked all the bedding neatly and then tidied up the main room. Pilgrims who had stayed in the past had left behind all kinds of things behind. Amongst the collection, I found a poncho. Das had bought a simple rain jacket yesterday from the convenience store but this particular poncho looked like it would do the job of keeping dry much better. I put it to the side to give to her later.
Das was back a few hours later and we both decided to head out to see if we could find a coffee shop nearby. We didn't find a coffee shop but we came upon a very nice looking bread shop so we headed in to pick up a few snacks. After asking about a coffee shop we were led out of the shop and in through another door which seemed to take us into the a part of the house that was at the very back of the bread shop. It was completely unexpected but she had actually ended up inviting us into her home and making coffee for us. I had started carrying my photographs in my ohenro bag and now my response whenever I received osettai was to automatically pull out my photographs and ask people to choose one. I asked the lady to choose any she liked and she ended up taking two. Again it was a very small price to pay for the kindness we had been shown. Das and I thanked the lady and then headed to a nearby 7 Eleven.
We spent nearly 2 hours in the 7 Eleven just talking about general things which included a bit of "pilgrim oath violation" complaining about things unrelated to ohenro. That aside we made good use of the free wifi at the 7 Eleven, decided it would be nice to take Inoue-san and his wife to dinner in the evening and also to maybe to pop into Tokushima City. Before leaving the 7 Eleven I gave some photographs to the shop staff and then we returned briefly to Sakae Taxis to tell Inoue-san about our wish to take him and his wife to dinner. We agreed we would be back at Sakae Taxis at 6 o'clock.
We took a local train the few stops to the center of Tokushima. Das had errands she wanted to run so she left and went to do those. I mostly wanted to print some photographs and buy some better quality socks. I had had no problems at all with my feet but the toes socks I had bought were not particularly good quality. I had picked up a pack of 3 for 1000 yen from a UniQlo. This had definitely not been a good buy because just 5 days in they were beginning to show real wear and tear. I couldn't find a hiking goods shop but the best I found was a shop selling nothing but socks and the best they had were runners socks. I ended up buy a single pair for 1900 yen. I gave the shop assistant a photograph before I left.
With the socks purchased the next thing I wanted to do was print some more photographs and for that I knew exactly where to go because I had already seen a Fuji Film shop in the basement of the station building when I arrived in Tokushima at the very start of my journey. I had just not anticipated that I would have got through so many photographs in such a short space of time. The Fuji Film shop had the self service printing machines so it was no problem to print out another 40 prints. I now needed to buy the clear sleeves I had been putting them into and those I had got from a 100 yen shop. I was looking around for one when I spotted a non-Japanese who I thought might be a local. When I stopped him and asked, he told me he worked in Tokushima as an English teacher. His name was Joel and when I asked him if he knew where I could find a 100 yen shop he did better than just tell me, he took me back into the station building and showed me exactly where it was on the 4th floor. After chatting to him for a while, I thanked him with a photograph and a recommendation that he should do ohenro. I found the clear sleeves I had been looking for and a few extra zip lock bags and then just hung about the station waiting to meet up with Das again.
When Das turned up we were soon both on a train heading back to Kou Station which was just a short 10 minute walk from Sakae Taxis. We were back exactly on 6 o'clock and Inoue-san got ready to leave with us. He told us his wife would not be joining but that another friend would be joining instead. We hadn't decided where we were going to go but he seemed to have everything taken care of. He was going to take us to a fish restaurant in Naruto which was a 35 minute drive away. Along the way we stopped to pick up his friend who happened to speak pretty good English having lived in Australia for a while. The name of the restaurant was Sakana Binbi and Inoue-san told us it was a a very well known fish restaurant in this part of Tokushima.
We enjoyed what I think was a grilled fish. There was also sashimi and best of all, a wakame (seaweed) miso soup which I absolutely loved. This particular miso soup had the local wakame which Inoue-san told us was considered one of the best in Japan. I was no expert on wakame but I liked my miso soup for sure. After finishing my bowl and I had no trouble finishing Das's too. It had been another good meal and I got a feeling Inoue-san was ready to leave when he stood up and made for the bill which was on the table near to me. I grabbed quickly and passed it to Das and told Inoue-san that Das was gong to pay. We had already told him it was our treat for letting us stay a second night at Sakae Taxis.
On the way back Inoue-san dropped his friend of again and then took us into Tokushima City for a bit of a private tour. First stop was the bridge which is lit up with thousands of LED lights which slowly change colour to create interesting shapes. Next was what turned out to be one the realhighlight of the evening, a visit to Awa Odori Kaikan. I didn't actually know but I soon discovered that there were daily awa odori dance performances that took place in the building. In fact there were several performances throughout the day but the show or shows after 20:30 were free admission. It was not time for free admission yet but Inoue-san seemed to manage to take us inside. There was a dance performance going on with about 40 or 50 people in the audience enjoying the show. The music and the style of the dance was very entertaining to watch. At the end of the performance the dancers encouraged members of the audience to go onto the stage and dance with them. Das was quick to go after a little persuasion from Inoue-san. As for me, I decided to pass because I was dressed in full rain gear, wearing my hiking boots and lacking any confidence to try. When the show finished Inoue-san took us back to Sakae Taxis. Our osettai dinner for Inoue-san had turned into a really fun evening. After a nice hot shower I was ready to get some sleep. It had not been a particularly difficult day because on the whole it had been completely the opposite. Even though there had been no official ohenro activity it was still nice to have been on the receiving end of the osettai we had received at the bread shop and for me personally to have continued sharing my photographs with the many people I had met throughout the day. The day ended on a bit of a high but I was looking forward to resuming normal service and getting back into the regular ohenro routine and the regular ohenro spirit.
I had fallen asleep very quickly yesterday evening and slept pretty well but when I woke up and looked at the time, it was still only 2:30. Whatever sleep had been getting since setting out, it always seemed to be enough. I wasn't sure why I was not sleeping more but it could have been due to the fact that it was still quite cold, especially in the early morning. Failing to get back to sleep again, I got myself up at 6 o'clock and started to get myself ready. I pinned my osamefuda and a photograph to the wall and headed downstairs. Das had still looked like she was sleeping and but I managed to thank Inoue-san before heading away. There was a distinct chill in the air but the sky was nice and blue and it looked like it would probably be a much drier day than yesterday. My first stop was the 7 Eleven for my usual coffee break.
I didn't stay long at the 7 Eleven and was soon on my way and planning to take the city route via Awa Odori Kaikan, possibly visiting the hot spa and then continuing on through Ozanji (#18) and Tatsueiji (#19). I briefly checked the route my guide book and the first part was simply a matter of following Route 192 which went all the way to JR Tokushima Station and on to Route 55. It should have been easy but I had started following a couple of other ohenro-san who were walking a little way ahead. After crossing the Akuigawa River they turned left and I had followed. After a little while I checked my guide book again and although my surroundings corresponded with what was in the guide book, I just didn't have any recollection of any of what I was seeing. I put it down to the fact that maybe I had just forgotten like I had forgotten so many other parts of the trail.
It was a couple of hours later that I finally realised what had happened. I was not actually on the city route but on the Jizo-goe route which went absolutely nowhere near the relatively flat city route I had been expecting or for that matter towards the city center. What I had found were some rather slippery trails and shortly before joining one such slippery trail an elderly man on a bicycle had stopped beside and explained that the trail was likely to be slippery after the rains and that I should take care. I had thanked him for his concern but I really had no idea what slippery trail he was referring to. However, once I was on the trail I understood very quickly what he meant but thankfully I made it through without any major mishaps. The good thing about having taken the Jizo-goe route was that I had completely skirted away from the center of Tokushima and that had actually been a good thing. The Jizo-goe route had been altogether calmer and it had quickly got me back into the same rhythm I had been in before the rest day yesterday. With the slippery mountain trails behind me I closed in on the two ohenro-san who I had inadvertently followed to end up on the Jizo-goe route and after a brief friendly exchange I continued on a little ahead of them. I stopped briefly at a Family Mart for a coffee break and then joined up with my old familiar friend Route 55. I knew that that Route 55 was now going to be a fairly regular companion for the next week or so all the way into Kochi City.
The weather had remained sunny but at times it felt quite chilly especially as I walked along the relatively exposed and sometimes blustery Route 55. Thanks to accidentally taking the wrong route my time on Route 55 turned out to be relatively short. After crossing over the long Katsuura Bridge I took a quick rest in a very nice road side hut, stopped for another break at a 7 Eleven a little way ahead and then turned of Route 55 and headed towards Ozanji (#18). I definitely remembered Ozanji (#18), not only because it was a really pretty temple but also because of the story about how Kukai had performed a special esoteric ritual for 17 days so that his mother could enter the temple grounds. The story was that the temple had originally been off limits to women and while Kukai was training there, his mother had been refused entry to the temple when she came to visit him. As a result of this, Kukai performed the esoteric ritual and the restriction on his mother and women generally was lifted.
After arriving at Ozanji (#18) I washed my hands and mouth and found a bench to prepare what I needed for the prayer rituals. I greeted a Japanese pilgrim and then got chatting to a young man from Spain. His name was Nico and he said he was just doing the temples in Tokushima and then heading for South Korea as part of his round the world trip. He didn't know anything about the free places and had been sleeping out for almost a week. I told him about the zenkonyado I was planning to stop at and also about the ohenro hut at a michi-no-eki a little further on. After finishing chatting to Nico I resumed normal service and took my time going through the usual rituals at each of the prayer halls.
Onzanji (#18) is a great place to take photographs and with the weather being really nice and sunny I ended up taking a a lot photographs before finally heading to the stamp office. After the the lady had finished doing my stamp I asked her to choose a photograph and explained why I was doing it. After choosing one she mentioned it to her colleague who also came over to have a look what was going on. I asked her to choose one too and she ended up choosing exactly the same one as the as the first woman. As she was choosing someone came into to get their booked stamped so I let her choose a photograph too. As I was packing up and readying to leave, one of the women in the stamp office gave me a brocaded osamefuda. A brocaded oasmefuda is used by those who have completed the pilgrimage more than 100 times and it is considered a good luck charm. I had not received one during my first pilgrimage so I was really delighted to haver received one. I had received a gold one at Shosanji (#12) and together they formed a pair of the two most valued osamefuda. I asked the lady to choose another photograph.
Back outside I took a few more photographs and as I was doing this I noticed the Japanese pilgrim I had greeted just a little earlier when I was talking to Nico. I hadn't realised then but he was in fact one of the two pilgrims I had followed onto the Jizo-goe route and had already exchanged a few words with. I had sensed an odd reaction from him when I had greeted him a little earlier and it was probably because he couldn't understand why I was greeting him again like it was for the first time. To put matters right, rather than apologise or try to explain, I just gave him one of my favourite photographs. This created an altogether nicer reaction from him.
I collected my pack and left for Tatsueji (#19) which was just a short 4km away. Just after leaving Onzanji (#18) I bumped into Das on her way to Onzanji (#18). She had taken the Jizo-goe route and her plan seemed to be to get as far as the ohenro hut at the michi-no-eki about 6km on from where I planned to stopped. I had also told her about the zenkonyado place after Tatsueiji (#19) so she had a couple of options. We said our goodbyes and I pressed on. Along the way I picked up some snacks from a small local shop knowing there were few places to buy anything after Tatsueji (#19). I also stopped for a quick break in a port-a-cabin. It seemed to be a relaxation space for a construction crew working close by but they had a large sign outside in Japanese and English welcoming walking pilgrims to come inside to take a rest. I decided to stop and inside I found a very nice clean comfortable space to sit down and take a quick break. There was a water dispenser, tea and some snacks. I wrote out my osamefuda and placed it together with one of my photographs on the table. Before heading away I turned and bowed, this was something else I seemed to be now doing almost instinctively at every such place.
Just short of Tatsueji (#19) I spotted a brand new ohenro hut set back from the road. It had a steeply raked roof and the overall shape reminded me of a pair of hands coming together in prayer. It was open on the front with relatively wide benches running along the sides and back. Set into the back wall was what looked like a fitted cabinet and being a little curious I looked inside and discovered it was a small altar. I wasn't sure it was a place for staying but there had definitely been a need for something like it near to Tatsueji (#19).
I arrived at Tatsueji (#19) and made the mistake of entering through a side gate so I walked back out the front gate, turned bowed and came back in again. There were a lot more people milling around than I had expected and most seemed to be just regular visitors rather than bus pilgrims. People always seemed to be interested when they saw a non Japanese pilgrim and would generally become even more interested when I told them I was doing the pilgrimage for the second time. I waited for the prayer halls to empty a little before I went through my prayer rituals. When I went to the stamp office it was empty but a little while later a man turned up. I had barely handed him my book that I was getting it back. He was either the fastest stamper around or he had something more pressing to return. So, not wanting to take up too much of his time I gave him a photograph I thought he might like. It was definitely one I liked. I then spent a little more time photographing the temple and left just as it was coming up to 4 o'clock.
I still had 4km to go and so I double and triple checked my guide book and asked 2 people to confirm that I was on the correct road heading for the zenkonyado. The second person I asked was an elderly woman and I just asked her if the school which was marked in the guide book was along the road I was on. She was able to confirm that it was so I got out my photographs and gave her one I thought she might like, thanked her, bowed and continued on my way. The school further ahead was a Junior High School and students were heading home for the day. They seemed entertained at a sight they probably didn't see very often and with encouraging nudges, one or two braved a greeting in English, while the rest burst into the usual giggles.
When I arrived at the zenkonyado, I tried the door which was open and inside I found someone sat at desk. It occurred to me that maybe it was a company facility but the person at the desk was a Japanese pilgrim I had seen at Onzanji (#18) and he told me to come inside. There was a notice which basically read - please use this facility freely. I confirmed with him that it was OK and he said it was no problem. He was busy typing away something on his laptop and seeing that he had an Internet connection I showed him my website from my first pilgrimage and told him I was doing it for the second time. For a regular pilgrim that might have been interesting but he was soon going to become a fully certified sendatsu and that I discovered meant a fully certified ohenro guide. Toyoshima-san was his name and he was busy updating his website with information about the trail.
When he had finished doing what he was doing he asked me if I had prayed at the temple. I wasn't sure what he meant so he explained that the only condition for staying in the zenkonyado or possibly tsuyado as he continued his explanation, was a request from the owners to pray at the temple and leave your osamefuda. There was a temple mark in my guide book but I hadn't seen one anywhere near where we were. He told me to follow him and the two of us headed towards the rest room which were just to the left and the continued a little further round and up a small gradient to the temple. If he hadn't shown me where it was I would never have spotted it even though it was basically right there. In fact if it had not been for him I wouldn't even had known that pilgrims who stayed there were asked to pray. After praying in front of the prayer hall I slid my osamefuda inside through a small opening and we both returned to the tsuyado.
The friendly sendatsu turned out to be from Kagawa prefecture and after giving him a photograph he presented me with his osamefuda. It had a cute illustration of Kukai and other details including that he had completed the pilgrimage 30 times. Of those, three he told me had been on foot. I initially thought it was a customized personal osamefuda but a little later I discovered that it was in fact a silver osamefuda. He had glued a his personalized details onto sliver osamefuda. I was now in possession of a complete set of 3 – silver, gold and brocade. The full set was - white, red, green, silver, gold and brocade.
I had been at the tsuyado now for well over an hour and was starting to wonder what had happened to Das. The weather today, although sunny had been very chilly and late afternoon as the wind had picked up it had started to get much colder. She had not sounded particularly keen on the idea of sleeping out. I was wondering whether she would turn up or not when I heard the characteristic sound of a bell that most pilgrims have on their sticks. Stepping outside I noticed that she had not spotted the place at all and was heading straight on down the road. I called out to her and she made her way back and joined Toyoshima-san and myself to make it 3 pilgrims. After catching up with each other's stories we started to make arrangements for sleeping. The place was easily big enough for the 3 of us and there was plenty of bedding to go round. It had been a long day and apart from not realizing I was on the Jiizo-goe trail everything had gone very smoothly. The strange thing was that, even when things didn't go smoothly everything always worked out fine. Today I had prayed a little more earnestly for the things I wanted to see more in the person I wanted to be, and those were simple things like faith and courage. It only takes a little bit of faith and courage in yourself to change the whole course of your life. Although, having said that, it also only takes a little rash foolishness to achieve similar, often less desirable outcomes.
Like yesterday I woke up early again and when I looked at the time it was 02:30. The tsuyado was surprisingly good but it had been a very very cold night. We were all up quite early and Toyoshima-san was the first to leave at 05:30 with Das and I not too far behind. It was still not light and it felt bitterly cold. Our first stop, was the Lawson a short 2.5km away. We stopped for about 30 minutes to pick up a little breakfast and also to stock up on some supplies for the rest of the day since there were not going to be any shops between the temples and possibly non near the zenkonyado after Byodoji (#22).
By the time we left the Lawson the sun was up and it looked like it would be a nice sunny day ahead. There was still the biting cold however, and looking at an overhead electronic road sign sign, it showed the temperature to be a lowly 4C. It felt fine walking along but as soon as you stopped you really felt the chill. From the Lawson it was a a 4km walk along the road before turning of, passing through a very nice little part of Katsuura Town before leaving the homes behind and heading up onto a very steep trail. I needed to stop and remove a few of the extra layers I was wearing and as I was doing this Nobuhisa joined us too. It was really great to see him again. Nobuhisa was still suffering from severe problems with his feet but he had been soldiering on and making slow but steady progress. Unlike Das and I, he had continued walking even on the rainy day when the pair of us were enjoying a rest day at Sakae Taxis. With our updates on the past few days shared we continued on up.
We had not gone very far when we came upon a ohenro hut. It was not one I had seen the last time I had walked this way but I had seen some photographs others had posted online. The most striking feature about it was that it had a thatched roof. It looked like a great place to stay for those who were planning to sleep out. It was just a short way up the trail after passing the final few homes and it was reasonably well enclosed. There was an opening at the front and the the back but on either side it had wide benches with walls that extended all the way to the top. The benches looked perfect for setting out your sleeping mat, sleeping bag and there was room for all your other things too. There was a port-a-loo to the side and from it's vantage point overlooking the town it would also have afforded a very nice sunset and sunrise view. If I had known about it's exact location and how suitable it was for sleeping out then it would definitely have been a good option. I was happy however that I had stopped at the tsuyado last night because it would have been an extremely cold place to sleep out. In warmer weather it would be a very nice place to stop being just 3km short of Kakurinji (#20).
As we continued on we spread out along the wooded mountain trail and I was the first to arrive at Kakurinji (#20). Kakurinji (#20) was easily one of my favourite temples and what I liked most about it was the huge Jizo Bosatsu statue next to the main hall. The main hall was at the top of a long flight of steps so I slowly trudged to the very top and set my pack down. There was only one sole pilgrim going through her prayer ritual. I got myself ready and went through my own prayer ritual. I then took my time to take a few photographs. In front of the main hall were statues of two large cranes representing the two white cranes that Kukai had seen protecting a small statue of Jizo Bosatsu. I couldn't find an angle I liked so I focused my attention on photographing the large statue of Jizo Bosatsu. There were many like it but for some reason I just liked this one the most.
I was also keeping an eye out for Das and Nobuhisa because I thought it would be good to photograph then as they came up the long flight of steps. The first person I actually recognised coming up the the long flight of steps was Toyoshima-san and he struck a pose for me so I could snap a few photographs. Next to appear was Das and after taking a few of her I headed back down myself. Nobuhisa had also arrived but was sitting down nursing his feet. I set my pack down close to him and went and prayed at the daishi hall and then returned after getting my book stamped. Nobuhisa's feet were severely blistered underneath and it must have been incredibly painful to walk carrying the sizeable pack he had. I had picked up some thick cushioned plasters in the event that I got blisters but thus far I had not had to make use of them. I had given some to Das and I now gave some to Nobuhisa too. I had suffered from terrible blistering around my heels the first time and the main change I had made this time was to wear a good sturdy pair of hiking boots coupled with toe socks and the new pair I had picked up a day or so ago were proving to have been a good buy.
Das, Nobuhisa and I all set of down from Kakurinji (#20) and then continued on to Tairyuji (#21). We all soon split up again, each walking at our own pace. I wasn't walking particular fast but I was somewhere out in front. The trail going down was not particularly difficult and I soon lost myself in my own little world. Just before joining Route 19 I passed between a cluster of homes and was greeted by 3 young girls probably ranging in age from about 6 to 11. Their simple greetings in English, were so friendly and enthusiastic that I stopped to give them some candy. The eldest had the best English and asked me my name, where I was from and so on. I told them my American friend Das was also coming and they should greet her using her name. I then left and continued the short distance onto Route 19 and stopped very briefly at the rest hut because the 3 of them came running up behind to ask me something else. They lived in what seemed a very isolated spot and encounters with passing pilgrims was probably a nice break from their usual fun and games and no doubt nice for those who met them too. I gave each of them a photograph before waving goodbye and continuing on.
I was soon at the start of the Oicho Bridge across the Nakagawa River and I decided to stop for a quick break and have a snack before heading on. As I sat there I was joined by a woman pilgrim and like Toyoshima-san she also turned out to be a sendatsu or ohenro guide too. I told her about Toyoshima-san and she knew about him. After our brief chat I asked her to choose a photograph she liked and after looking through the photograph she picked one that she seemed to really liked. In return she gave me a small hexagonal shaped ohenro trail marker. This particular trail marker was not one I remembered from my first pilgrimage but it was one I liked very much and she was the person responsible for designing it and for placing it out on the trail. I told her it was great and she then turned round to show the back of her white ohenro jacket. Mine had Kukai's sacred mantra running down the middle but her's included a large print of a seated Kukai and she told me she had designed that herself too. It looked really great so I asked her to pose for me so I could take a few photographs. With that done I got my things together and continued on my way.
I crossed the bridge and then passed through a very small isolated community next to the Wakasugitani River. Life here couldn't have been more different from the lives of the people back in Tokyo or any other city big or small. I came across one elderly woman and heard the voices of others as I passed along. Apart from circumstances I wondered why people chose to live in such isolation. In this particular case it looked like it may have once been a thriving little community but changing circumstances had created what now seemed isolation. Maybe what seemed like isolation to me was not an isolation for them at all. It was a beautiful little place surrounded by tall trees and a river flowing in the small valley floor below. I soon passed through and it wasn't long before I started to to head back up onto the ascending mountain trail towards Tairyuji (#21). The trail was made up of sharp switch backs and seemed to continue up and up. Just before arriving at Tairyuji (#21) I left the mountain trail and made my way slowly up a very very steep stretch of asphalt leading all the way to the main gate. It had been a tough hike and I was glad I had finally made it.
The main gate at Tairyuji (#21) is really eye catching and I stopped briefly to take a few photographs before heading inside. The last time I had been here a severe storm a few weeks earlier had resulted in a tree falling onto and damaging the main prayer hall and it had been impossible to pray there. There had been a makeshift prayer tent that had been set up to allow people to pray. This time there was no such problem and after finishing at the main hall I headed for the daishi hall which I cleared remembered because of some beautiful hanging lanterns outside. Having finished my prayer rituals and I got my book stamped and I looked around to see if Das and Nobuhisa had made it. There was no sign of Nobuhisa but I spotted Das heading for the main hall so I went over and told her I would continue on down and try to make it to Byodoji (#22) and failing that, I would probably catch up with her again at Kikuya Zenkonyado, the place where we were both planning to stop.
It had been really cold while I was going through my prayer rituals at Tairyuji (#21) so I was actually glad to be making my way back down again. I came back down at a fairly good tempo. I stopped briefly next to the only two minshuku near to Tairyuji (#21) and then continued all the way to the ohenro hut just before the start of the wooded trail leading to Byodoji (#22). Being there reminded of the first pilgrimage, Takuya and I had arrived in the dark at this particular hut and it was difficult to see anything around it. It didn't offer a great deal of protection from the elements but it was right opposite someone's home so not as isolated as I thought it was. There was the small Wajiki michi-no-eki up the road and a gas station nearby but other than that nothing.
It was 5.3km to Byodoji (#22) and the time was 15:40. If I pushed a little I could easily cover the ground but I had no idea how easy or difficult it was and the fact that the zenkonyado was not too far away meant it wasn't really that urgent whether I made it to the temple in time for my stamp or not. The cause however of my mental procrastinations over whether to try and get to Byodoji (#22) or not, seemed to do more with the thoughts of wild boars that had suddenly popped into my head. By the time I decided to move I felt I had a good case for opting for the slightly longer wild boar free route along the road towards Byodoji (#22). The real reason of course was the highly unlikely chance of an encounter with any wild boars and my prayers yesterday for added courage had obviously yet to be answered.
The mountain top chill was now gone so I made my way gently along the road and even before I got to Byodoji (#22) I detoured away towards Kikuya Zenkonyado. The zenkonyado was provided by the owners of a large general purpose shop called Kikuya which was just a short distance from the zenkonyado. I went directly to the shop and found myself talking to Toshiko-san and her husband. She was just as I had imagined from the accounts I had read about her. In fact the pair of them were really fun and engaging. She told me that a Spanish and a Korean pilgrim were both going to stay but they had left to go to a Lawson convenience store located about 2km away. After getting permission to stay I told her that there was also an American woman Das on her way too and would it be OK if she stayed too. I ended up chatting to her and her husband for a while and they ended up with 4 photographs which her husband arrayed on a shelf just behind the cash register.
To stay at the zenkonyado all I had to do was a bit of light work but before that Toshiko-san accompanied me to the zenkonyado to drop of my pack. When we got there Das and a young Japanese woman, Shiori had just turned up. Toshiko-san spoke to Shiori and gave her her task and then told Das and me to follow her. We went around the side of the shop and continued into the front garden of what turned out to be Toshiko-san's house. My job was to pull up some weeds in the drive way and Das was to pull up some weeds on the lawn. There was really very little to do and the pair of us were all done in about 15 or 20 minutes. Toshiko-san returned to take a quick look and told us everything looked good and with that we both returned to the zenkonyado.
In total there were going to be 5 of us staying in the zenkonyado and a more international bunch you were not going to find because there was Nico from Spain, Kan from South Korea, Das form the US, Shiori from Hokkaido, Japan and of course me from England but resident in Japan. There was a really nice atmosphere that evening with five very different people with five very different backgrounds. Over dinner, which turned out to be mostly snacks I asked Nico, Kan and Shiori to choose a photograph they liked and then shared whatever information I had about free or cheap places to stay. There was a coin operated shower at the back of the zenkonyado so each of us took our turn for a quick 5 minute 100 yen hot shower. Das, Shiori and myself then headed out to a nearby coin laundry and with the laundry done we all returned to the zenkonyado and settled down for the evening. Talk was mostly about the weather and after two days of good weather the forecast was for more rain tomorrow and we would have to wait until the morning to find out how wet it would be. There was plenty of space and bedding for everyone. Kan, Nico and myself laid out our bedding on one side of the room and Das and Shiori did the same on the other.
As was my habit now, I got into my sleeping bag and started updating my notes for the day. It had been another long day and quite a tough day too. The climbs up and down to Kakurinji (#20) and Tairyuji (#21) had been pretty tough going and much harder than I had expected. My legs and shoulders had endured a really good workout. On the positive side though, my feet were still holding up well and there were no other issues affecting my progress. From tomorrow onwards it would be the start of relatively long flat stretches. Shonsanji (#12), Kakurinji (#20), Tairyuji (#21), Yokomineji (#60) and Unpenji (#66) were the five hardest to access but with three of them already out of the way, the next two were several weeks away and by the time we got there, we would hopefully all be in much better physical condition.
The temples had been great but the most fruitful thing about today was that whenever I found myself alone on the mountain trails, it helped me to think long and hard about some of my habits, particularly my bad habits. My first pilgrimage had been a real spiritual adventure and even though I didn't really know what to expect or how it would affect me when I started, by the end I had come to appreciate everything about it. Much more than that, it had filled me with a deep sense of gratitude for everything that had ever happened in my life, both good and bad. This time the focus was on self reflection and by getting away from my usual daily habits, within a very short space of time my mind had completely adjusted to a very different reality. My mind was beginning to calm down and it was into this more fertile mind that I was hoping to plant seeds of the kinds of changes I wanted to see in my life. The main theme for my thoughts and prayers today was not to judge and more importantly to forgive, not just others but also myself. With those thoughts in my mind I soon drifted of to sleep.
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.
Due to the cold and a couple of very vivid dreams I woke up several times during the night. When I finally got up at 06:25 Through the bus windows I could see a clear blue sky and I was looking forward to the day ahead. Nico was still hidden under a pile of blankets but the other pilgrim got up and started heating some water which he used to prepare the pot noodle I had given him yesterday. I still had no idea what his story was but if he really was homeless and just walking around the trail relying on people's goodwill, I had no problem with that. I shook Nico awake to tell him that I was probably going to stick to Route 55 and stop in Shishikui, and with a few parting words for the other pilgrim I headed for the Lawson.
I wanted my coffee and something to eat but the Lawson was not doing any coffee so I got myself a snack and headed for Yakuoji (#23). I had already gone through my prayer rituals yesterday but I headed back to the main hall and prayed again in front of the main hall. It was a beautiful bright sunny morning and after taking a few more photographs I headed for the Sunkust convenience store opposite Hiwasa michi-no-eki in the hope of finding myself a coffee there. With a coffee and enough snacks for the day ahead I sat outside the convenience for nearly 30 minutes enjoying the early morning sunshine. Hiwasa michi-no-eki opposite actually looked like a great place to stay. There was a covered hut and a few other places where you could probably safely pitch a tent under cover. Plus the hot spa I had visited yesterday was very close by too. The last time I had passed this way everything had been shrouded in darkness .
It was turning into a gloriously sunny day as I finally set of from the Sunkust and ahead of me I was pondering one of 2 possible routes. There was the familiar Route 55 which meant plenty of traffic and plenty of tunnels or there was the Minami Skyline route which I had only read about on someone's online blog. When I got to the spot where I needed to make a clear decision I stopped and spent a few moments doing nothing more than dithering. I asked a local lady if the Minami Skyline was as nice as I had read it was and she told me it was nice but 5km longer than Route 55. The emphasis seemed to be on the extra 5km so I thanked her and dithered a little bit longer. Knowing how pretty the coast line was and with a plan to camp at Shishikui michi-no-eki the decision was easy. An extra 5km on a beautiful sunny day along the coast was definitely the best choice so after all the dithering I finally headed in the direction of the Minami Skyline.
After a gentle start the road started to climb higher and higher into the mountains and from the higher elevation I started to get wonderful views of both the sea and the sky. After passing through a short tunnel, the views just got bigger and better. Ahead of me I could make out the shape of some palm trees and the outline of a rest hut silhouetted against a clear blue sky. When I arrived at the spot about 15 minutes later I discovered it was the first of four designated observation points along the Minami Skyline. The view looking out to sea and up and down the coast was really fantastic and in no hurry to move on, I took of my boots and relaxed there much longer than I had initially intended. I wasn't sure if it was allowed but it got me thinking that, on a clear warm night, it would be a great place to stop. There was a single vending machine and excellent washroom facilities close by.
After finally dragging myself away I continued on stopping again close to what I thought was probably the second observation point. This time I stayed close to the road opposite a large house or what looked like some sort of paid lodging. There had been few if any buildings along the route up to this point and I had only seen one or two passing cars. As I stood there I was surprised to see a runner coming up towards me. He turned into the large car park opposite, ran around the perimeter and was heading down again when I called out to him to ask him if I was at Observation No. 2. He had not gone very far, so he stopped and came running back up to me. He looked like a serious runner and I had probably put a little dent in his time but he he answered my question by pointing in the direction of the car park to indicate that yes, it was Observation No. 2. Being a keen runner myself I would have loved to have found out how often he ran along the Minami Skyline and to tell him that I had run the Mt. Fuji Summit Race a few years earlier but not wanting to delay him too much, I decided to give him a photograph, which I helpfully slotted into the small runners backpack he was wearing. With that he was of again and I continued on and stopped for the final time at Observation No. 4. Of the four, Observation No. 4 turned out to be the best one of the lot. The view at Observation No. 1 was fantastic but the one here was even better. There was no vending machine and no washroom facilities but it looked like some workmen nearby may well have been preparing the foundations for one. The views were really stunning and there was much more space to walk about near the rest hut. I again set my pack down, took my boots of and placed them on the small fence in front to give them some sun too.
The decision to take the Minami Skyline had been absolutely the right one to take. The general calm was only broken when I noticed I had been joined by a middle aged couple who arrived by car and were now just enjoying the views. When I looked over in their direction the man greeted me so I walked over to talk to them. It was easy for them to see what I was doing but they were naturally surprised that I was doing it fora second time. They were surprised too that I had lived for 2 years in Kagawa because the woman turned out to be a native of Kagawa. Both were now living in Malaysia and just back in Shikoku for a visit. I decided to give them each a photograph and with that done that I got myself ready and continued on my way.
The weather had remained really great and around 1 o'clock I came of the Minami Skyline route and saw signs for Route 55. I asked an elderly lady for clearer directions, gave her a photograph and continued on towards Mugi Station. I was thinking about something to eat and as I approached a tunnel at the other end of which I knew was a Lawson, I completely failed to notice that on the other side of the road another brand new looking ohenro hut. As it was, someone manning the hut had spotted me and came out to call me over. In fact it had 3 volunteers manning the hut and while one served me hot tea and small cakes, I was telling the one who had called me over a little about myself. It was another great looking hut but it was only for resting purposes only and it was the first one that I had found that was manned. It had in fact just recently been opened so the volunteers were taking details of people passing through. After a second cup of tea and a few more snacks, I gave them a photograph, thanked them for their hospitality and then continued through the tunnel to the Lawson on the other side.
The Lawson was planned to to my extended lunch and rest stop before I pushing over the final 17km to Shishikui where I planned to camp at the Shishikui michi-no-eki. This particular Lawson served freshly prepared udon so I got some udon and sat and ate it in the shop. After getting myself cleaned up I sat and just watched people come and go. It was coming up to 2 o'clock and although another 17km was not a huge distance, after the leisurely 22km I had already walked I needed push myself to get myself ready to head on again. In the shop I had listened to the poor woman at the cash point was being harangued by some other customers so before leaving I gave her a photograph and then headed towards my next stop which was going to be Saba Daishi. I had stopped briefly at Saba Daishi during my first pilgrimage. It was one of the bangai temples and I just wanted to stop there in order to pray.
After Saba Daishi, my next planned stop was Cafe Fukunaga and the reason for wanting to stop there was more than just nostalgia. During my first pilgimage I had left the Hashimoto Bus Zenkonyado at 03:30 in the morning and followed Route 55 all the way in the dark until day break. I had probably not missed much but I remembered coming across Saba Daishi and after that Cafe Fukunaga. The woman who ran it had been incredibly kind to me that morning and I had spent a whole hour sitting at the counter chatting to her. Today I didn't really have time to stay but I just wanted to express my thanks by giving her some of my photographs. As I approached the cafe I recognized immediately and as I headed towards the front door, she came out to greet me and welcomed me inside. I wasn't planning to stop so quickly told her about my previous visit more than 3 and half years earlier and that I wanted to give her some photographs. There were two she particularly liked so I let her have both of them. I then asked her to pose with the photographs so I could photograph her. I had photographed her the first time too and I was thinking it would be nice to send her a copy of both when I got back. As I as about to head of again she offered me coffee as osettai but having already had plenty of coffee during the day I suggested water would be enough.
Inside there were 3 elderly guests singing karaoke but other than the place was just as I remembered it. Whatever it was, it was good to be sitting there again. As I sat there my mind took me back to that morning when I had last been there on a beautifully warm sunny morning feeling really happy. As I thought about it I suddenly felt very sad and for reasons I couldn't explain tears welled up in my eyes. I wiped them away hoping no one had noticed. She served me water, a single strawberry and small toasted bun. During that first pilgrimage she had prepared a simple breakfast which was not on the menu. Looking at her now she looked to have aged a little but I could sense the same kindness she had shown that day. She asked if I would like to sing a song. I didn't but I would have liked her to sing a song that I really liked. It was a song from a hit a hit TV drama series Amachan and I had found it absolutely addictive. I think she would have done the song real justice. However, asking her to sing it would have taken up more time and I still had to walk another 6km before it got dark. Before I left the shop I got her to write her address in my notebook so I could send her some more photographs when I returned.
Feeling composed again, I thanked her for the osettai and told her it had been good that I had been able to meet her again. She came out to say goodbye and with that I picked up the pace and arrived in Shishikui just as it was getting dark. I had been picking up extra supplies all day in anticipation of staying out and I stopped again at a 7 Eleven to pick up a few more. Having got what I wanted to buy I headed for the check out and found myself behind a mother and her young daughter. There were two check outs but a queue had built up and some of the customers were getting a little restless at what seemed like a long wait. The mother had actually asked me to go ahead of her when I joined the queue but I had told her it was fine. Under non-ohenro conditions I may also have shared in the general restlessness of my fellow customers but I waited patiently. My patience seemed to yield it's own reward because after exiting the shop the mother approached and gave me a hot tea which I had seen her buy in the store. The tea was osettai for me she said and I immediately pulled out my photographs and told her to select one. I had not visited any temples today but I had ended up giving away a lot of photographs and for situations like this one they had again been a perfect way to respond.
I found the michi-no-eki and it was tiny in comparison to the one in Hiwasa. I wondered whether there really could be an onsen there at all so I went into the only building there was and asked where it was and was told it was in the hotel next door. I walked over and then spent an hour in the onsen easing away the aches and pains in my feet and shoulders. Nothing was better than sitting in a hot spa after a long day of walking and today had been the longest day of the pilgrimage so far having covered 39km. After finishing with the onsen I came out and sat outside in a seating area. The onsen closed at 11 o'clock so I hoped I could stay for as long as possible and then head out and set up my tent at the michi-no-eki. I had access to the wifi so I checked my email and then continued to type up my notes for the day.
The hotel staff were coming up and down the stairs and I was conscious I was not a hotel guest so I asked if it would be OK to stay a little while longer. I was told lights would be going out at 11 o'clock and up until that time it was fine. Local people also seemed to be using the onsen so maybe it wasn't too much of a problem to be sitting there. A mother and her son who had just finished using the hot spa commented on the size of backpack and also my ohenro gear. The usual kind of friendly conversation ensued at the end of which I gave the mother a photograph. A little while later a man approached, sat himself down at my table and asked me where I was going to stay. Under ordinary circumstances you would be forgiven for being a little cautious but I told him I was camping out. He suggested I could come and sleep at his home. Accepting ossettai is part of ohenro tradition but I didn't really feel comfortable with it and with returning 20km back in the direction I had come. And even though he promised to return me back to Shishikui the following morning I very kindly declined his offer and offered him one of my photographs instead.
I finally left the hotel at around 22:45 and instead of heading to the michi-no-eki as I had planned I headed further on and decided to see how suitable the hut was. When I got to the rest hut which was not to far from the hotel I found it was situated well away from the main road, was square in shape and raised up on stilts with steps leading up inside. Best of all was that it was relatively enclosed and when I looked inside I saw a tent already set up on one side between the benches and a fixed table in the middle. I apologised for interrupting whoever was there. At first I thought it might be Nico so I called out quietly and asked if it was Nico. No answer came but I had already decided that I could squeeze my tent in on the other side and started to set up my own tent as quickly as I could and doing my best not too make too much noise. Getting in and out of the tent was a little tricky because the tent opening was partially obstructed by the table but I didn't plan on getting in and out too many times. With the mat inflated and the sleeping bag laid out I put all my things inside the tent and squeezed myself inside and got into my sleeping bag. Once inside it felt reasonably comfortable and with the time now past midnight I decided to leave the remainder of my note writing to the following day.
As I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the sound of the waves breaking on the shore on the other side of the road and thinking about the day, all I could think about was, what an absolutely fantastic day it had been. It was easily one of the best days, if not the the best day of the whole journey so far. I had felt ecstatic after arriving at Shosanji (#12) but today it was the incredible calmness I felt walking alone on the Minami Skyline route that would make it for sure one the most memorable of this journey. There had been virtually no traffic, I'd only met a handful of people at the observation points and virtually no one at all along the rest of the way. It was a combination of the weather, the beautiful sights and maybe even a little to do with overcoming my own dithering over whether to take the Minami Skyline route or not, that had contributed to making it a really really great day. With a calmer mind the world seemed to look a lot different and it occurred to me that seeking spiritual answers to some of life's questions was one way to make sense of events but another was to just use your common sense. Walking the pilgrimage on a day like today was maybe a good way to reflect on both the spiritual and common sense answers to the questions and quandaries that life sometimes throws up.
The hut had turned out to be a great place to camp but the bitter cold had made sleep very difficult. Even after putting on a couple of extra layers and applying a chemical heat patch I had failed to stave of the cold so I had remained curled up inside my sleeping bag. I just hadn't expected Shikoku would have felt this cold. Anyway, even on only a few hours of sleep I felt surprisingly good because it had been an incredibly peaceful night. The only real sound, and it was a very soothing sound at that, was the sound of the waves breaking on the shore on the other side of the road.
It was 05:30 when I heard stirring sounds from the other tent and then the sound of whoever was there getting up and started pack things up. I decided to get out and see who it was and also apologise turning up late yesterday evening. When I got out of my tent I was pleasantly surprised to see that my neighbour for the night had been Kan, the young Korean man I had met at Kikuya Zenkonyado. Communication between us was a little difficult because neither of had enough of a shared language but I learned that he was varying his stays between paid and free lodgings. After Kikuya Zenkonyado he had stayed in a minshuku near to Yakuoji (#23), last night he had camped and tonight he was back in a minshuku again. When I mentioned Nico, I understood why I had not seen him. Nico, Kan told me had passed by the rest hut at about 6 o'clock yesterday evening which meant he had in fact been only 20 or so minutes ahead of me. I figured Nico had probably taken the shorter Route 55 and got ahead of me. That or he had powered his way the Minami Skyline route and somehow passed me whilst I was in one of the convenience stores after Mugi. Whatever it was, I had the feeling I would probably not be seeing him again on this journey because in a few days time he was planning to head to South Korea to continue his round the world adventure.
Kan had everything packed and a short while later I was waving him goodbye and watching him walking away up Route 55. The sky was that lovely blue you see just before sunrise and I got thinking that maybe it turn into another beautiful sunny day like it had been yesterday. That thought was quickly cut short because the morning was still decidedly cold so I quickly packed away my own things, rejoined Route 55 and headed in the opposite direction that Kan had gone. I needed my morning coffee and my first call was going to be the the 7 Eleven I had stopped at yesterday evening.
During my first pilgrimage fizzy cola that was my typical first drink in the morning. The fizzy cola always gave me the sugar hit I needed to get me started each morning. This time it was definitely coffee combined with my favourite coffee snack, dorayaki. Dorayaki is a Japanese cake like snack made from two sponge like layers with sweet black bean paste sandwich in the middle. The last few days I was also making sure I was always stocked with an emergency dorayaki. Coffee was not my usual drink but it seemed a perfect for cold starts and a super tasty combination with the dorayaki. With a hot coffee, dorayaki and quite a few more supplies in hand I headed back out and found a spot near the sea. Thee were a few hints of red out on the horizon but the early morning blue was quickly being replaced by an increasingly grey overcast looking sky.
As I headed back in the direction of the hut I glanced across towards the michi-no-eki to see if anyone had camped there. I spotted one tent and realised that there was actually not much space there for more than one possibly two tents at most. Anyway camping at the michi-no-eki was yesterday's plan and I had been perfectly fine inside my ohenro hut. I passed by the the hut again and was nearing a small bridge with 6 or 7 kites perched on one side of it. As I got nearer I understood why, below them fisherman were unloading their catches and the kites were simply keeping a sharp eye out for an easy meal. I liked the kites because of the graceful way they seemed to literally glide about the sky but like the big noisy crows they also looked like they could do a bit of damage if provoked. They were perched on the same side of the road as I was walking and rather than risk scaring them or provoking a response, I crossed over to the other side of the road to make my way across the bridge. As I passed on the other side of the bridge some of them dropped of their perch and just magically floated away and close up I got a real sense of how big and graceful they were. More than just their size, their whistles was a familiar sound that I remembered from my first pilgrimage.
A little further on I passed through a tunnel and emerged out the other side into Kochi. I said a mental goodbye to Tokushima and a hello to Kochi. Today my plan was to walk very little and what I wanted to do was stop at Meitokuji. Meitokuji was a small temple I had stayed at last time and there was something about it that I just really liked. From where I had stopped to Meitokuji was only 9km and I was doing my very best to go as slowly as possible but even at my best snail's pace it didn't take me too long to get there. When I arrived it looked almost exactly as I remembered it except for the sleepy dog sitting sat on a large rectangular cushion outside the main hall. Probably used to seeing visitors come and go from the temple he barely stirred but looked at me with kindly eyes. I washed my hands and mouth and then lit a candle and some incense and prayed. After finishing my prayers I pressed a buzzer and waited for the monk to appear. No one came out. After trying again and getting no response I decided to sit and wait a little while.
I had stopped at Meitokuji during my first pilgrimage. I had left the Bus Zenkonyado at 03:30 in the morning and walked until it got dark to get there. It was not one of the 88 temples but what I recalled most about it was the friendly monk and the drumming and chanting routine he went through to close proceedings at the temple that evening. It had been the best temple ritual I experienced during the whole of that first pilgrimage and today I wanted it to be a short day so I could maybe sit quietly in the tusyado. Teh sooner I found out whether I could stay the better because if I couldn't I could still walk for another 5 or 6 hours and cover maybe 25km and maybe even try the minshuku that Kan was planning to stay at.
The monk finally appeared but was heading away from me so I called out to him and walked over to explain that I wanted to stay. The look on his face suggested he was not too happy and after listening to me, he reminded there was still plenty of day light to keep going and that pilgrims could only stay in the tsuyado from 4 o'clock onwards. I knew all this but I persisted a little more and told him that my first experience had been one of the best during that first pilgrimage and that I really wanted to stay. I also told him I had something to give to him and I took out the photographs and explained that I was giving these to everyone who helped me previously. He seemed to forget that he was upset with me and started looking through the photographs and he selected two he liked most. While he was looking and chatting his demeanour seemed to soften and he asked if I really didn't want to walk. I replied I could walk but I really wanted to stay. He reminded me again that the tsuyado was not open to pilgrims until 16:00 and as he was saying this he slid open the door to the small hut and said you can stay but I don't know about it. Maybe it was his understanding that I really wanted to stay here or the photographs or my story or a combination of everything but whatever it was I was glad I was going to be able to stay from early morning.
I made myself comfortable in the tsuyado which was a 4 mat tatami sized hut. It didn't have any bedding or blankets but it was fully enclosed and nice and clean. A few hours later I heard voices outside and looking outside I discovered it was Das, Shiroi and one more woman. The woman turned out to be someone who Shiori had met at the nearby railway station and seeing that Shiori was a young single woman, she'd kindly offered a place to her in her home. I wasn't sure how they had met up with Das but the woman had driven Das to Meitokoji to make sure she also had a place to stay. Das asked if she could stay in the tsuyado and was initially told she could stay in the temple but after the monk learned that we knew each other, said the the tsuyado was OK too.
Before Shiori and her kindly helper left, the monk invited all of us into the temple building and offered us a choice of instant coffees or a hot ginger drink. Each one of us opted for a hot ginger drink. We were seated in a room just to the side of the main altar and the monk lived in rooms on the other side. What grabbed my attention most was a photograph of Sai Baba, Sai Baba was an Indian guru and this particular monk had gone to India when he was younger just to visit him. There were also other photographs of him in various guises including standing under a waterfall, performing a fire ceremony and much more. He probably had a lot of stories to tell and it was a pity that my Japanese like last time was still not good enough but I had at least managed to persuade him to allow me to stay at the tsuyado.
After Shiori and the other woman left, Das and I moved back to the tsuyado which just to the side of the main entrance to the temple. The temple really was quite small and compact. Steps led up to the main gate and rather than guardians on either side there were two towering cedar trees. There was something about the place that I just liked very much so I was very happy to be staying. Happier also because Das had turned up and she'd come equipped with more food than she could eat and more than she wanted to be carrying. During the first pilgrimage I had not prepared extra food for the trip down to Hotsumisakiji (#24). Today I had brought supplies with me to the tsuyado for today and the following day but for some reason I had managed to eat nearly everything but I was safe because Das definitely had much more than she needed.
It was raining a little bit when Das arrived but a as the evening wore on the rain really started coming down and I was really glad that I had managed to stay put in the tsuyado. I had not seen Das for the last two days and discovered she, Shiori, Beno and Susanne had all stayed at Tebajima Guesthouse which was on a Tebajima Island, a small island about 4km from Mugi. It was good to know that everyone was doing well. I had no idea where Nico had got to but I was sure he was fine too.
I had spent the time after being given permission to stay in the tsuyado thinking about the pilgrimage so far. I felt almost 100% sure that I would not be coming this way again and for this reason that it was important to create only positive encounters. Some of the encounters I had had, I already I knew were going to be ones I would remember long after I completed the pilgrimage. At times I had found myself wondering what purpose, if any, was this journey really going serve. The reason for thinking this way was because sometimes I really felt I was being a little self indulgent and quite selfish for doing it all again. Most people would never have the chance to do it once let alone twice. After days likes yesterday however, I felt it was a a necessary indulgence to put me in a better frame of mind to battle the demons one more time. I returned to Shikoku to find a little peace and I hoped whatever benefit I got this time I would be able to take it away with me and continue to nurture it.
Today I had also crossed out of Tokushima and into Kochi. Tokushima had been the start of the pilgrimage and the size of the task ahead had begun to dawn on me again as I went from temple to temple. Over those first two days, I had covered many temples but relatively little ground. Then there was the first real challenge which was the tough hike to Shosanji (#12) and then a few days later the equally tough but shorter hikes up and down to Kakurinji (#20) and Tairyuji (#21). Thinking back now, the 10 days it had taken to get to Kochi had passed by incredibly quickly and the start seemed a long long way away. The key milestones for me had all been the encounters with people, fellow pilgrims, temple staff and the many many local people who I had met along the way. All I could really hope for was that the impressions I had made so far were all positive ones. The rain was coming down hard outside and wind the wind was beginning to pick up. I was glad I was at Meitokuji and after relatively little sleep over the past few days it was not long before I drifted of to sleep.
I slept pretty well at Meitokuji but was up early as usual. On hearing the monk drumming and chanting I was out well before 6 o'clock to watch him in action. He was doing the same thing that he was doing almost 4 years ago when I first stopped at Meitokuji and I thought he would be doing the same thing if I came back in 10 years time. This time the glass panelled doors to the main hall were closed so I couldn't hear his guttural chanting but I could clearly hear the drumming.
Das and I were ready to make a move but before we did, we presented the monk with our osamefuda. I gave him another photograph, a photograph Mt. Fuji along with the 1000 yen osettai I had received from the monk at Kokubunji (#15). The weather from early evening and for most of the night had been extremely wet and had I continued walking yesterday I suspect I would have had a pretty torrid time camping out somewhere or trying to make it to a minshuku along the way. The 1000 yen was a small price to pay and more than that it was osettai from me which was osettai from someone else. Maybe kindness like that has a way of doing the rounds and creating a continuous positive stream of good karma. I left the temple ahead of Das but before I headed away I turned to take a last look at Meitokuji. It definitely felt to me that I would not be treading in my footsetps again and some of the places I was visiting now, I was visiting for the last time. There were many special places that I found between the temples and yesterday it was Cafe Fukunaga and today it was Meitokuji.
It was a beautiful start to the day. The sun was obscured behind a narrow bank of cloud just above the horizon but the sky was a lovely blue and it looked like it would definitely be a good day ahead. I detoured slightly form the ohenro marked trail and headed towards Route 55 and the sea. The sea was nice and calm and there was very little traffic on Route 55 as I started to walk along the road next to the sea. Thanks to Das I had extra foods and that gave me the energy I needed to keep up a good steady pace. Last time I had walked this way the weather had been overcast and there had been a steady stream of traffic, especially heavy trucks for most of the day. This time it couldn't have been more different, the weather was beautiful and for whatever reason, there seemed to be very little traffic.
I was walking ahead of Das but we met up a few times whenever I stopped for a break. The stops were not always to take a rest but sometimes I stopped to enjoy the beautiful sea views or just enjoy the moment. The first stop was a rest hut where I stopped just for about 10 minutes to adjust my pack and chomp on a few mouthfuls of the very tasty granola cereal Das had given me. The next stop was the next rest hut along the coast and I stopped for almost 25 minutes. The final rest stop was a small supermarket where I spent nearly an hour. I got myself some rice balls and fried chicken and some sweet snacks. When Das turned up I got us some ice cream and with the ice cream done I decided to press on. And press on I did because I just kept going for the next 3 hours until I got to Deep Sea World which offered an outdoor foot spa for free. I went in to check that they still offered the free foot spa, explaining that I had used it a little over 3 years ago. I soaked my feet for about 15 minutes and it felt incredibly good. From the foot spa I could see the tall white statue of the young Kukai. I didn't want to spend too long in the foot spa because I was still thinking of pressing on after finishing at Hotsumisakiji (#24) so a quick soak was all I got but it felt great. I gave my osamefuda along with a photograph to the staff at Deep Sea World before I left. I also enquired about how long they would remain open because I was thinking of returning after praying at Hotsumisakiji (#24), cleaning myself up and having a proper soak in the onsen which they also had.
I arrived at the young Kukai statue and headed up the stairs. I thought it was a regular temple but an old woman called out after me and told me I needed to pay an admission fee of 300 yen. I paid and went up. Up close the young Kukai statue is absolutely huge. Behind it is a reclining gold Buddha and under the standing Kukai statue is a special room lined with small Kukai statues. I didn't stay too long and was soon at the cave where Kukai meditated and where he got the inspiration to change his name to Kukai, meaning sky and sea. There was no one inside the cave when I arrived so I went in and prayed a simple prayer of thanks. I gave a photograph to the lady in the stamp office and told her it was a thank for my last visit. I had stopped here on that first occasion because of a Japanese pilgrim who told me about the significance of this place. I had not planned to get the stamp this time so I walked away after giving the woman the photograph but I almost immediately returned and got the stamp. My stamp book I thought would probably not be complete without it. The lady in the stamp office also ended up giving me a small good luck charm with Kukai and his sacred mantra on it.
The next stop was Hotsumisakiji (#24) and I continued around the cape until I got to the start of the mountain trail to the top. I could vaguely recall that it had been hard going last time. The early part was not so bad because it was all just steps, just a seemingly endless supply of them. Then it got a bit rockier and maybe because I was just tired, it seemed to be endless but after about 10 minutes or so I was at the main gate. There was no one except for the man in the stamp office when I arrived. There was a lovely peaceful atmosphere about the place and I was able to do my prayer rituals without any distraction. I got my book stamped and gave the man in the stamp office a photograph and then returned outside to take some photographs. After finishing I returned to the main gate, turned and bowed and descended back down the route I had come up.
The plan regarding where to stay was still very vague but the thoughts were about sleeping out again. On the way up to Hotsumisakiji (#24) I had passed a good sized hut. I got the impression it was more an observation hut but the space was large enough for 2 possibly 3 tents. If Das had wanted to stay there it would be possible but I had no idea if she would make it to Hotsumisakiji (#24). On my own I got the feeling it was a bit isolated and maybe not the the best place to spend the night. My plan as I headed back down the way I come was to return to Deep Sea World and get myself cleaned up and then head towards Shinshoji (#25) and hopefully find somewhere to stay. As I headed down I met Das coming up and I told her about my plan and she seemed keen on the idea and said she would come to the Deep Sea World after finishing at the temple.
It took almost 20 minutes to walk back to the Deep Sea World. The staff explained what I should and should not do. There was an indoor hot bath and an outdoor hot bath. The outdoor one was filled with heated water taken from the deep sea. The staff kindly offered to keep my pack behind the counter and I headed inside to get myself cleaned up ready for a soak in the both hot baths. It felt really good after what had been a long day of walking. The water taken from deep under the sea seemed to be denser or something about it was definitely different. After switching a couple of times between the indoor and outdoor hot baths I headed back inside and got myself dressed. Squeaky clean and dressed in fresh clean clothes again I picked up my pack from the front desk and headed back out.
I checked my messages and found one from Das telling me she was too tired and would try to find a minshuku instead. It was still light but it would get dark soon so I slowly started heading back around the cape with a plan to get closer to Shinshoji (#25). I was comforted by the fact that it was relatively warm compared to other evenings and I remembered Takuya finding somewhere to sleep outside and on that occasion there was a veritable storm blowing for most of the night. As I walked past the cave and the start of the mountain trail there was someone walking towards me on the other side of the road. It wasn't until I got closer that I recognised the person to be Das. She said she had found a cheap place just around the corner. For 3000 yen including breakfast she had been put in a small spill over room and she told me that there was enough space and extra bedding for someone to sleep on the floor. She suggested I enquire about sharing. Das was on her way to a local restaurant to eat so I continued the short distance round and went into the minshuku and said I had just met my friend and would it be possible to stay. I didn't need any food and sleeping on the floor was fine. The lady didn't seem to mind and when I asked how much she had charged Das, she said 3000 and when I asked how much for me, after thinking she said 2000 which was great. I thought it would only be fair to split the difference with Das when she got back.
The woman showed me to the room and it was perfectly fine. Four walls and a ceiling was all I really needed on this journey and there was clean bedding and a washing machine too. My main priority was to wash all my clothes, so the first thing I did was put all my things into the washing machine. The minshuku had wifi so I managed to check and catch up with messages for the first time in several days. When Das turned up after having a nice big meal I told her about the cost and that I would share the difference with her but she said it was no problem. It really was a lucky break to stay in such a cheap place right on the cape. The last time I was in a room not much bigger I was sharing with two snoring men and the cost was 7600 yen. Although having said that the food and the company was great and given the tough walk that day and the raging storm outside it was actually a small price to pay and a price well worth paying for the amazingly tasty food we all ate that day.
It had been another interesting day. I spent the early part of the day just humming tunes to myself and enjoying the sea views. As the day had warmed up and the pack started to take it's toll on my shoulders my thoughts alternated between upbeat and not so upbeat. Past unhappy memories seemed to spring up but maybe part of the practice was to beat them back down and replace them with good thoughts. Rather than just walking along and not really being aware of how I was feeling, this time it definitely felt much more of an inner journey of self reflection. I felt really tired for the first time since starting the pilgrimage and as I tried to type up my notes for the day I was struggling to keep my eyes from closing. I was not going to be typing up too many notes this evening and having decided to abandon the task to tomorrow, I was falling into a deep sleep almost as soon as my head touched the pillow.
Yesterday had been a long and tiring day and I'd fallen asleep very quickly and slept extremely well. I was up however at 4:40 and back to updating my notes. The plan today was to walk to Tano Town and stay at Tabi-no-yado Misono, a zenkonyado I had stayed at during the first pilgrimage. While Das left to get her breakfast I got my pack together and headed outside. I crossed over to the other side of the road and followed a small towards the sea. I was greeted by the sight of a beautiful sunrise and both sea and sky looked really great. After taking a few photographs I continued further around the cape and not far from the Muruto-so where I had stayed last night I saw a place that would have made a very nice spot to sleep out. It was a small grassy area facing the sea and largely concealed from the road behind some hedges. On the opposite side of the road were some public toilets and if it was possible to stop there then it would have been ideal.
It was a cold start but nothing at all like the cold starts in Tokushima but it didn't take long before it started to warm up. The first temple was about 6km away and as I walked slowly along the coast road I suddenly realised that the whistles of the kites had disappeared. The kites had been replaced by cute little birds that constantly flitted from one perch to the next. One particularly attractive little bird that I had started noticing over the past few days ago looked like a very cute little starling except that it was green in colour. Each time I had tried to photograph one I was either too slow getting my camera ready and if I did have my camera ready they never stayed still long enough for me to photograph them. The one I spotted this morning seemed to be particularly cheeky because it appeared to be flitting along side me, never letting me get close enough and never stopping long enough for me to find it in the view finder. However, eventually it stopped in one spot long enough for me to capture a nice photograph. This little encounter seemed to set the tone for the rest of the day in terms of taking photographs and I stopped often to take photographs of birds, plants and anything that caught my eye.
The route was vaguely familiar and getting lost was not really going to be an issue because apart from a few minor detours it was my trusty old friend Route 55 again. I arrived at Shinshoji (#25) after a quick detour through a small harbour not from the temple. As I stopped to take a photograph of the long flight of steps leading to the main hall Das emerged from a small side street. I motioned to her to move into frame so I could capture her too. As I was doing this a pilgrim exited the temple and walked slowly past me. I bowed my head in his direction as a way of greeting him and then continued towards Das. The pilgrim however returned with wallet in hand and proceeded to give me 1000 yen as osettai which he asked me to share with Das. It was totally unexpected and when I tried to give him a photograph he said he couldn't accept anything. So all Das and I could do was say thank you to him. Yesterday Das had turned down my offer to split the 1000 yen saving I had made for sharing her room but today thanks to this pilgrim, she got the 500 yen which I thought she had deserved.
The last time I arrived at Shinshoji (#25) it was raining and there was a long line of bus pilgrims making their way up the stairs umbrellas unfurled. Today there was no one there so I made my way up the steep steps passing under what I discovered on the way down was the bell tower about two thirds of the way up. Those wanting to ring bell would have to do it here before heading on to the main hall. A few more steps past the bell tower was the main hall. The main hall was was very small but it had a beautiful vantage point. I looked around for the incense burner and the glass cabinet for the candles but I couldn't find them anywhere until I noticed a sign on the door of the main hall. I slid the door open and found everything I needed inside. I went through my usual prayer routine and then headed back down the long steps, this time stopping briefly to take a look inside the bell tower. The daishi hall which was right at the bottom of the steps next to the stamp office. After performing my prayer ritual, I got my book stamped and presented a photograph to the woman in the stamp office.
Das and I left together and I followed her at a distance relying on her better navigation skills and because I was feeling a little too lazy to keep checking my guide book. Kongochoji (#26) was not too far away but the final 600m was up a mountain trail which turned out to be a lot more demanding than I remembered, not that I actually remembered the mountain trail itself. The main hall at Kongochoji (#26) was also something I had forgotten because looking at it again it looked really impressive both in terms of it's shape and it's size. I washed my hands and mouth and set my pack down and got ready to go through my prayer rituals when I noticed a large group of pilgrims coming towards the main hall. It was the same group of pilgrims who were arriving at Shinshoji (#25) as Das and I were leaving and they had finished there and made it to Kongochoji (#26) about the same time I had arrived. I decided to wait for them to all finish before going through my own prayers. With my prayers done I got my book stamped and also bought some extra osamefuda. After finishing my first pilgrimage I had kept the remainder of the osamefuda and returned with them for my second pilgrimage. Up until Kongochoji (#26) today it was the same batch I had been using when I concluded my first pilgrimage. The same was also true for the remaining candles and incense.
With everything done and no more temples on the agenda today I felt more relaxed and spent a little time taking photographs and when Das and I were both ready to leave we set out for the main gate, turned bowed and then wondered which way we were supposed to go. Memory man that I definitely was not couldn't remember but according to Das's guide book it was to the right so to right we went. We skirted along the side of the temple and then followed the trail markers back down along wooded trails and through fields all the way to Route 55 and Kiramesse michi-no-eki. I had not eaten anything except for some chocolate back at the minshuku so I was up for having a proper lunch and Das seemed keen on the idea too. The michi-no-eki didn't really have much to offer so we headed to a nearby restaurant. The restaurant was very busy so we put our names down on a waiting list and joined a few other, mainly elderly customers who were also waiting for a table. Most of the customers seemed to be local elderly people.
After a relatively short wait we were asked if we would mind sitting upstairs in the tatami room rather than wait for a table down stairs. We had no problem at all about sitting on the floor so we headed upstairs. The added bonus of sitting upstairs turned out to be the view, and from the second floor we had a great view of a beautiful deep blue sea and an equally bright blue sky. I was going to get myself the basic lunch set but Das asked me to ask the waitress if she recommend something. The waitress told us that the area was famous for fish and she suggested Das try the local sashimi. Thinking about the osettai I had received this morning I thought maybe I could treat myself a little to and asked the waitress to change my order to the same sashimi set as Das. The waitress however, sensibly suggested I get a different sashimi set and said that way Das and I could try two very different fish. This turned out to be a very good idea because the food was really great. Das and I spent nearly an hour in the restaurant and on the way out I asked one of the staff where our waitress was and on finding her I gave her a photograph and thanked her for helping us.
It was just coming up to 1 o'clock and Tabi-no-yado Misono was about 20km away. It was a fairly gentle walk so we expected to be there around 6 o'clock. The telephone number for Tabi-no-yado Misono was marked in the guide book Das had but no one seemed to be answering. I decided to call again later and the pair of us set of and soon split up again. One place I really wanted to visit again was a small bread shop in the Antique Street area. Takuya and I had stopped there during the first pilgrimage and the old lady who was managing the shop had been incredibly kind to us and we had both been given freshly baked bread and a hat each, all for free. I entered the shop and found a very limited choice of things to buy but I picked up a two small cakes and waited for someone to come and take my money. Of course, I was hoping to see the old lady again because this time I wanted to give her something. Instead of the old lady, a middle aged man turned up, so I handed him the two cakes and he quickly disappeared into the back and returned with a bread bun which he said was osettai. As he was bagging everything up I asked him where the old lady was and he replied that she had passed away.
She was already very old and frail when I had last seen her so what he said didn't come as too much of a shock but I didn't know how to respond to him in Japanese. Instead of trying to find the right words I told him that I was doing my second pilgrimage and that I had met the old lady during my first one. I also told him that she had been incredibly kind and this time I had wanted to give her something. I handed a photograph of flowers to the man, assuming that maybe it was her son. On this particular photograph I had the Japanese word for gratitude printed on it. He also didn't seem to know how to respond to my gesture and tried to include an additional loaf of bread as osettai but I told him it was too much and not necessary. I didn't know how to express my condolences to him but I think it was enough that I had simply stopped at the shop. He somehow understood I had come back to thank her for her kindness and the look on his face was enough for me to know that he appreciated the gesture. After I exited the shop, I turned to bow and found him already bowing in my direction. Even under the circumstances, I was glad I had stopped at the shop because as I walked away I felt I had performed the most important duty of the day.
I caught up with Das and gave her one of the two cakes and then continued on my way. I continued for well over 2 hours before stopping outside another shop I had stopped at during the first pilgrimage. I really wanted some hot coffee in a cup but the local shop had none so I got some water and sat outside to eat my cake. The last time I had sat here I had been joined by a young boy who sat beside me and just started asking simple questions. I couldn't understand very well but I remembered giving him chocolate. Today no such thing happened except for seeing a cute baby with his mother in the shop. As I sat there watching the traffic going by I spotted Das walk by on the other side of the road. She had her headphones plugged in and seemed completely oblivious to my attempts to attract her attention. A few minutes later I got up and set of in the same direction.
I soon caught up and we walked together again for a little while and when the trail diverted away from Route 55 onto a wooded trail, Das stopped to take a break and enjoy the views and I continued on. As I was nearing what turned out to be the end of the wooded trail I heard a rustling sound in the bushes but kept calm and continued going on. I tried not to think about wild boars and just kept going, striking my stick just that little harder into the ground just in case they got any clever ideas. If it was an animal it would probably just go away and with no attack materializing I figured whatever it was had now gone. As I turned a sharp bend and looked down the trail I saw a cat sitting perfectly still looking up in my direction. I stopped to take a photograph and then a second, this time zooming in on the cat's face. When I looked in the view finder I saw that the cat's attention was not focused on me but on something behind me. I turned my head and not far behind me was an old man carrying a huge bamboo pole on his shoulder. The noise had most likely been him and he had come upon me very quickly and very stealthily. I turned back to the cat and the cat did an about turn and dashed of down the trail. I greeted the old man and then continued along the trail which ended near some houses.
I stopped to photograph some flowers and the old man who was not too far behind stopped in front of one the houses and after putting down the bamboo pole and waving me goodbye disappeared inside. I rejoined Route 55 again and stopped at a nice spot facing the sea and ate the bread I had received back at the shop. I tried calling Tabi-no-yado Misono again on the number given and again there was no answer. I checked the number I had on my own lodging list, it was the same number but still no answer. I tried one more time using the mobile phone number I also had on my lodging list and this time I got through to Misono-san. Misono in fact is the first name of Yamamoto-san and Yamamoto was the name I remembered her by. When I asked if it was Yamamoto-san she replied it was. I quickly told her I had stayed at her place before and if it was OK, I and a friend wanted to stay this evening. She sounded her usual energetic self and said it was no problem and that she would be back at the house around 6 o'clock. With lodging all sorted out I waited for Das to catch up so I could tell her the good news. We both had plenty of time to get to the house by 6 o'clock and that was the approximate time of arrival I had given to Yamamoto-san.
As we crossed over the bridge which divides Nahari Town from Tano Town a car stopped ahead of us and I instantly recognized Yamamoto-san as the driver. She was all smiles and laughter and actually on her way to pick up another pilgrim who she said was struggling with foot problems. She told us to go straight to her house and have a shower and wait for dinner. We continued on, found the house, rang the bell and just went straight inside to the surprise of the man who Yamamoto-san had mentioned was there. I had assumed he was another pilgrim but it turned out he lived at the house. He showed us to the second floor and pointed out where everything was and everything seemed to be just as I remembered. It wasn't long before I was showered and dressed in clean clothes again. Yamamoto-san returned with the other pilgrim who turned out to be a young man suffering from very severe blistering on his feet. He headed back out to the nearby shops to get some first aid bits and pieces and Das and I put our clothes into the wash and headed downstairs to see what Yamamoto-san was preparing for dinner.
Yamamoto-san's place easily ranks as one of the very best on the pilgrimage trail as far as zenkonyado type places are concerned. The house is modern and well equipped but what makes it stand out as a great place to stay is that Yamamoto-san really makes you feel very welcome. After a long day of walking it really was great to be able to wind down with good food and feel completely at home. Yamamoto-san was her usual chatty and exuberant self and her main story this time was about her new venture cultivating tomatoes in a computer controlled greenhouse. She said she had 8000 tomato plants and hoped it would help to spark a new mini industry in the area. The man we had found in the house when we arrived and one who had turned up a little later were staying with her and both working on helping her develop this into a more successful business. She was at an age when most people would be thinking of taking it easy but she seemed to full of ideas and full of ambition.
Before heading back upstairs I gave everyone some of my photographs and then went to check up on the washing and get ready for some well earned sleep. It had been another really great day and a beautiful blue sea had provided a wonderful backdrop for much of the day. Das and I had enjoyed some great food at the restaurant near Kiramesse and then more again thanks to Yamamoto-san. My overriding thought today was one of gratitude and my thoughts had all been calm and positive. The visit to the bread shop reminded me again that acts of kindness have a life all of their own. The old lady sadly was not there any more but her kindness was the reason I went there. And, if the man in the shop was her son, even if my question had rekindled painful memories, maybe there were also gratifying thoughts that a stranger who had only ever met her once, had not forgotten her kindness. Yesterday I had been thinking about a final battle with the demons after returning home, today the feeling was that a slow victory was maybe just as good.
I had fallen asleep very easily again yesterday evening and after a few hours of good sleep, I was up again by 04:30 and updating my notes. Das and the other pilgrim were still fast asleep but a little while later I could hear Yamamoto-san pottering about downstairs and probably busy preparing breakfast for us. After the other two got themselves up and ready, the three of us headed downstairs. Breakfast was a nice simple tasty traditional Japanese breakfast - rice, miso soup and some grilled fish.
The plan today was to visit Konomineji (#27) and Konomine Shrine only. Konomine Shrine was situated a little further up the mountain from Konomineji (#27) and although not really part of the pilgrimage, Yamamoto-san kept telling us it was a great place to visit. With regards to a place to stay, my tentative plan today was to go to an onsen in Aki City, stay as late as possible and then camp out in a rest hut just on the edge of Aki City. The alternative, depending on time was to push on and camp out further on in one of many other huts. The only free place I was aware of was Hagimori Zenkonyado but apart from a number I knew little about it.
Before leaving I asked Yamamoto-san to pose for a photograph in front of her home which she happily obliged holding up her new sign for Tabi-no-yado Misono. With final thanks and goodbyes Das and I headed on the direction of Konomineji (#27). The weather today was overcast and not as warm as yesterday which was probably a good thing because the final stretch up to Konomineji (#27) was 3km in length and pretty steep. Like last time, Yamamoto-san also gave us directions to a friend's house where she said we could leave our packs before heading up. Just after leaving Tabi-no-yado Misono we bumped into Inoue-san. Inoue-san was the pilgrim I had forgotten I had met after having met him just a few hours earlier. After that initial mix up, we always seemed to stop and chat whenever we bumped into each other. He told us he had stayed in a minshuku close by and that he'd met an American pilgrim called Leah there. I still hadn't come across Laura who I knew had set out a day or so before me from Ryozenji (#1) but it looked like there was a chance I might bump into Leah. With updates over the three of us continued on our way and slowly split up.
Das was walking up ahead and like yesterday I was relying on her navigational skills. We were following the trail markers but I was expecting her to divert and head for the place where she was gong to leave her pack. Unfortunately she over shot the point where she have turned so we crossed paths again as she headed back. I had carried my pack to the top last time and I intended to take it up with me again so I continued on, relying on the trail markers to keep me on track. Last time I had visited Konomineji (#27) I had been in great shape and I had literally powered it to the top. This time I didn't want to push hard and was maintaining a much gentler pace.
As I rounded a bend I suddenly came face to face with an overseas female pilgrim and my first utterance was to ask whether she was Leah or Laura. Surprised, she told me she was Leah. I told her that a Laura had set out a day or so ahead of me and that I had just heard about her from a fellow pilgrim. We didn't chat very much and after giving her a photograph I continued on my way. I arrived at Konomineji (#27) feeling tired but pretty good at having done it with a full pack again. There were just a handful of people at the temple and after leaving my pack in the stamp office I went through my usual prayer rituals. It was a slightly chilly and overcast day and I was thinking that maybe it would be better to head back down but remembering how keenly Yamamoto-san had talked about Konomine Shrine I decided to go and find out.
According to a sign near the daishi hall, the Konomine Shrine was about 400m away. I followed a narrow road and continued up and up. I came to a very very long narrow flight of rocky moss covered steps leading up into the trees. I figured it probably led to the shrine but I stuck with the narrow road and a few minutes later I arrived at a very isolated looking place. Another short steep flight of steps led up to the main shrine building and maybe it was the overcast sky but there seemed to be a very sombre feel to the place. I prayed in front of the main shrine building and then headed back down to Konomineji (#27) and back to the stamp office. I got my book stamped and gave the lady a photograph. She was dealing with someone after me but as soon as she finished she came over and gave me orange as osettai. Giving a photograph to the staff in the stamp office had become a habit and although there was no wish to receive something in return, it was always nice when it did. Osettai I was beginning to understand in my own way as, not only about giving but also receiving. When you gave something I felt there should be no expectation of reward, and when you received something there should be no compulsion to give something in return.
After finishing at the temple and before heading down I sat down to eat something. Yamamoto-san had given us a good breakfast but I was feeling hungry again. I ate the rice ball that Yamamoto-san had prepared as osettai but saved the orange for later. What I really wanted was a hot coffee but that would have to wait until I came to a convenience store. I put my pack back on and then slowly started to head back down again. I was not in any hurry so I stopped often just to take photographs. Some of the cherry trees or possibly plum trees were already blossoming and people's gardens further down had lots of great flowers and plants in them. Maybe the most interesting sight I came across on the way down was a cockerel farm. What was interesting was that the birds were huge standing well over a foot tall and each one was confined to a wire dome like pods which gave them only space to sit down or stand up. They were all standing up and not really up to much. I figured the wire pods were probably the only way to keep them from fighting each other because they certainly looked mean enough to give a human a good pecking and kicking too.
Once down the mountain road I rejoined Route 55 and came up on Inoue-san again. He had gone up and come straight back down without visiting Konomine Shrine which was the reason he was ahead of me again. He looked exhausted and said he was going to take a break so after a brief chat I continued on my way. The rain was holding off but there seemed to be a constant threat of rain and the first thing I wanted to do when I got to Aki City was get some plastic bin bags to safeguard my possessions when the rains really did arrive. The heavier rain was not expected until tomorrow but I wanted to be better prepared than I had been on the way to Yakuoji (#23). The other thing I wanted to do was print more photographs. Even after arriving with plenty and then printing some more back in Tokushima City I didn't want to run out.
The walk into Aki City was nice and gentle and being next to the sea again, very calming. As I got into Aki City it started to rain so I picked up the pace and headed in the general direction of the 100 yen shop I had visited during the first time I had been in Aki City. On the way I spotted a Fuji Film shop and went in to get some more prints. I asked the lady in the shop if she would give me a discount if I printed a large number like they did back in Tokyo. She didn't say anything but I selected 45 copies and waited for them to be printed somewhere in the back. While I was waiting for the photographs to be printed I explained that I was doing my second pilgrimage and if she liked she could choose a photograph from among the ones I still had left. She ended up choosing one and she liked it so much that she removed a print from a photo frame on the counter and replaced it with the photograph she had chosen. Not only that, she gave me 500 yen as osettai which was entirely unexpected.
I left the shop feeling good and then just up the road I found the 100 yen shop I had been looking for. As I approached the main entrance a lady exiting the store immediately started to talk to me. First she asked me if I thought she really looked Japanese or not. She seemed to think she didn't look very Japanese although she looked quite Japanese to me. She then told me that she was 58 and not wanting to disappoint her, I obliged her with the kind of response she was expecting. She then insisted on taking my photograph and then another with the two of us together, all of which she managed on her old style phone. I told her I needed to buy some bin bags from the shop so she accompanied me in and helped me to find them. She then wanted to buy me a drink and picked up a large bottle of mineral water which I discouraged her from buying. It wasn't that I didn't want anything from her, I just didn't want to add weight plus all her zany behaviour was enough osettai for me. I thanked her for helping me and continued on to the edge of Aki City and stopped at a Lawson for a well deserved coffee and a dorayaki. I had been in a bit of hurry the past hour or so because I had started to think that maybe I could call ahead and see if I could possibly stay at Hagimori Zenkonyado.
As I sat enjoying my coffee I called Hagimori Zenkonyado several ties but no one answered. I wasn't unduly concerned because further along there were plenty of huts where I could stop but sleeping inside was always better than sleeping out when the weather is cold and there was the risk of rain. A few minutes later I got a call back from Hagimori-san and when he enquired about where I sensed hew was a little annoyed with my answer and it was my own fault for not contacting him much earlier. I was still about 12km from Nishibun Station and he thought it would take me about 3 hours to get to get there and told me to give him a call when I got there. I felt good enough to do it in well under 3 hours so I finished my coffee, checked the time and put my pack back on. I then picked up the pace and made it to Nishibun Station in just over 2 hours, even stopping just short of the station to pick up some snacks including a can of Suntory Premium Malts. The Suntory Premium Malts was a peace offering in case he was still in a sticky mood. I called him when I reached the station and a couple of minutes later he turned up on his motorbike and told me to follow him. We skirted under the railway tracks and then back up along the tracks to where he had built several wooden huts.
No one else was staying at the huts and I figured I had probably interrupted his evening which explained why he seemed a little bit annoyed. To fix the problem I offered him the can of beer and initially he completely refused to take it and I wasn't sure if he was just being Japanese or simply refusing so I didn't push it on him. He seemed to mellow after realising I could speak a little Japanese and from being annoyed he spent the next 2 hours sharing lots of information about places I could stay for free or at very little cost. He had produced his own list of places and said I could mention his name if I wanted to try and stay at any of them. Of particular interest were the rest huts or places where camping or staying over night was not really encouraged and also prohibited. He particularly mentioned a fantastic hut in Togawa Park in Shikoku-chuo City where he said it was prohibited to stop. Takuya, myself and another pilgrim and slept in that very hut during my first pilgrimage. He ended up telling me about all the huts he could remember where you could and couldn't stop. He also shared information about zenkonyado which knew little or nothing about. I also got the impression that all was not harmonious and peaceful in the land of zenkonyado providers but I avoided making any comments.
Hagimori-san finally left around 8 o'clock after showing me inside the other huts. In total there were 4 huts and he said they could sleep about 12 people. He gave me the key to the hut I was going to be in and told me to leave it there the following morning. Before he left, I apologised again for not giving him more notice and also thanked him for sharing lots of great information with me. I quietly passed the beer to him too and this time without any protest he just put it in the front basket of his small scooter and sped away. Having had no clear idea where I was going to sleep this morning I had seemingly struck lucky again. The hut I was in was big enough or 2 or 3 people and there was plenty of bedding and blankets. The only minor issue was that there was no electricity in the huts and the only light came from a strong flood lamp on the opposite side of the path outside. It looked like it had been set up for the express purposes of illuminating the several huts Hagimori-san had built.
It had turned into another really interesting sort of day. I had really enjoyed the walk up and down to Konomineji (#27) and Konomine Shrine. Unlike yesterday when the sky and the sea were both a beautiful blue, today it was a grey blue but the cooler temperatures made the walking much easier. There had also been the usual friendly encounters with people and maybe the highlight for me turned out to be the lady in the Fuji Film shop placing the photograph she had chosen into a photo frame displaying it on the shop counter. Another ohenro day had come to an end and there was much I had to be grateful for and not just for what had happened on the pilgrimage this far.
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