By the time I had finished my mental recollections for 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.
The most appropriate of the two photographs 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.
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. 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.
Kenta we discovered was a 21 year old university student on spring break. He probably never imagined he would be enjoying an osettai dinner in the company of 2 foreign pilgrims. It was an interesting end to an already very interesting day and completely in keeping with what ohenro had been like the first time. The only difference being that it felt even better.
At the end of the performance the dancers encouraged members of the audience to come onto the stage and dance with them. Das was quick to give it a 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.
The friendly sendatsu turned out to be from Kagawa prefecture and after giving him a photograph he presented me with his osamefuda. It was a silver coloured osamefuda which meant he had completed the pilgrimage at least 24 times.
There were going to be 5 of us staying at Kikuya Zenkonyado and a more international bunch you were not going to find. There was Nico from Spain, Kan from South Korea, Das form the US, Shiori from Hokkaido and of course me from England but resident in Japan.
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.
I had felt ecstatic after arriving at Shosanji (#12) but today would be remembered for the incredible calmness I felt walking alone on the Minami Skyline.
He seemed to forget that he was upset with me and started looking through the photographs. 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.
The 1000 yen was a small price to pay. More than that it had been osettai for me from someone else. Maybe this sort of sharing had a way of doing the rounds and creating a continuous positive stream of good karma.
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.
There had 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 I had given her into a photo frame and displaying it on the shop counter.
I had been blessed with so many great opportunities, yet some of the most important I had allowed to slip through my fingers. Rather than trying to acquire lots of good habits maybe dealing with the bad habits was the place to start.
After my sometimes less than gentle thoughts yesterday I decided to pray for all my bad habits to be vanquished. That was bundling up quite a lot of bad habits into one wish but I prayed quietly that this one wish would be granted.
What Mr Muri didn't know was that I enjoyed a physical challenge. Climbing up and down Mt. Fuji twice in one day and running 3 full marathon distances on consecutive days were just two such examples.
This morning I had thought Abe-san would interrupt my flow when I discovered he had volunteered to come along with me. Now, as I watched him cycle away I was really glad I had met him. I got the feeling he was just a lonely old man who needed a little company.
He said he would probably not see me again but I encouraged him again not to give up hope. To lift his spirits I took out the two lucky brocaded osamefuda I had been given at Iwamotoji (#37) and gave one to him.
The good news was that I managed to cover 43km today. I had thought about a lot of things and although I couldn't put my finger on it, there was something about the early part of the day that had left me feeling really hopeful.
The dream felt incredibly real and when I woke I found I was crying. During the morning as I made my way towards Kongofukuji (#38) I thought about my father and hoped that wherever he was, that he was in a better place.
As I retraced my steps back towards Drive-in Suisha it seemed as if the whole walking ohenro community was heading to Kongofukuji (#38). Along the way I met Mr Muri, Beno and Susanne, Mitsuhiro of Kaiyu, Olaf, musical ohenro-san, Nobuhisa-san and so many more. It was a day of sunshine and smiles from start to end.
It was a wet rainy start and I was in 2 minds about what to do. The osettai started with an old man putting his hands together and chanting the short powerful mantra three times for me. The next person I met handed me 1000 yen. A car stopped beside me and handed me food and drink. Finally K-san who I had just met escorted me all the way to my hotel and then treated me to dinner. What had I done to deserve all that I couldn't think.
A few kilometers short of Kanjizaji (#40) I saw a man coming towards me and he seemed to be ferreting about in his wallet. I was genuinely hoping he wasn't going to give me some money but sure enough he stopped and gave me 400 yen, telling me it was osettai.
The idea that doing something that was outwardly good and done with good intent, could nevertheless result in unintended negative consequences was a very interesting thought. As a walking pilgrim, I had only thought of the positives but after listening to Jun, it was true that even things done with best of intentions could lead to problems.
Thanks to Jun I was able to take a rest day and allow my leg to recover somewhat. A visit to a local bath house and dinner with Das in a friendly little restaurant had made for a perfectly lazy day holed up in Uwajima.
It had been great day and as usual there had been some very friendly encounters. I was particularly glad that I had met Miyoshi-san. He was just one of those characters I sometimes met that I instantly took a liking to. I certainly hadn't imagined I would be sharing a room in a minshuku with a kind friendly Miyoshi-san just like the kind friendly Miyoshi-san I had met during my first pilgrimage.
The short mountain trail turned out to be especially beautiful. With the sunshine streaming down through the trees, the sound of my footsteps and the occasional bird cry were all that disturbed the early morning stillness.
A leisurely stop for some interesting flavoured ice cream, a gentle stroll along one of the prettiest stretches of the trail, the cutest osettai from 2 little girls and things working out better than planned. Today had been another very gentle, very relaxing sort of a day with nothing more difficult than putting one foot slowly in front of the other.
Imperfect was too kind a word but whatever it could be described as, it was now an indelible part of my stamp book and nothing was going to change it. Plus it no longer really mattered and after a pleasant chat with Faisal I was on my way to Iwayaji (#45).
After experiencing heaven and hell I noticed a carving of the 3 monkeys on the side of the main hall. See no evil. Speak no evil. Hear no evil.
She hesitated and then asked what I later thought was quite a pertinent question, a question which I had not been asked before but one which I had asked myself often. Why was I doing the pilgrimage for a second time ? To keep it short I told her it was because I was a fool.
I hadn't been able to adequately put it into words before but what I felt was that it was the spirit of Kukai, a spirit that was guiding me, sometimes following me but above all protecting me. The ohenro spirit was alive in the actions of the ordinary people of Shikoku who looked out for walking pilgrims like me.
One of the most impressive things besides his age was the preparation that had gone into his second pilgrimage. He told me he had spent 18 months writing out the heart sutra 216 times by hand. The reason he had done it 216 times was because he was visiting all 88 temples, plus the 20 bangai temples. The older pilgrims never ceased to amaze me and Hagi-san was absolutely no exception. At 76 he was the oldest walking pilgrim I had met so far and easily one of the fittest looking of any pilgrims I had met.
From a small clearing, beautifully framed by the trees, was this quite wonderful view of a partially snow covered mountain range with the highest peak being Mt. Ishizuchi. What really made it very special was this deceptively small shrine gate which came up to my shoulder but created a wonderful perspective.
It had turned into a much longer day than I had planned for. Rushing around was definitely not the best way to enjoy ohenro but it had been another good day for moments of self reflection.
The journey was not over yet but meeting my unexpected hosts today had been a really wonderful thing. It was an experience which underlined what was both the spirit and the magic of ohenro.
The playful scene and their laughter reminded me of the animated movie My Neighbour Totoro. All I could see were terraced fields, a handful of homes, a big blue sky and these two young sisters playing together. I wished I had stopped and given them some candy or greeted them but maybe it was enough to just observe their happy play.
As I sat back to check my messages and update my notes Tori's cat jumped up to see what I was doing. After gently pawing at my face, she licked my arm and quiety fell asleep in my lap.
The giving didn't have to be anything material, it could be something intangible and that intangible was feeling. The old man's warm friendly greeting was worth more than anything material he could have given me.
Today the sight of cherry blossoms set against a landscape that was characteristically and unforgettably Kagawa had made for an extra special day. Meeting my friend Sanae and praying together again at Zentsuji (#75) was for me, something undoubtedly special.
Why I hadn't given him something was a question that played on my mind a few times over the course of the day. The only answer I could think of was that I still had a lot to learn about the osettai spirit and maybe much more besides.
My friendly young looking monk was Jun and I was really happy that he had helped me learn more about the temple and also taken me to see the special cherry blossom tree.
My hope now was that a bus load of pilgrims, possibly even two double decker bus loads of pilgrims, with stamp books, scrolls and white jackets had all descended on the temple and were at this very moment keeping the stamp office busy beyond it's usual closing time. I looked at my watch and it showed 16:59. There had to be hope and if I made it, it would be the fastest one legged 300m sprint to a stamp office in recorded ohenro history.
What was happening with my left leg today was cause for concern on a wholly different level because I realized for the first time that something was not quite right. If I had needed an injection of ohenro spirit then it couldn't have come at a better time and it couldn't have come from a nicer person. Her name was Kayoko Sakakibara and the name of the place was Jin An.
As I lay in my sleeping bag feeling more than a little cold, I was glad everything had turned out just the way it had. I was glad I was alone in my tent next to Okuboji (#88) because it seemed like the perfect place to be.
It was 24 years ago that I first came to Japan. If I had never come to Japan and Kagawa in particular I may never have thought about returning to Japan. As I continued on a thought came to me, I realised that when I looked back on my life, the most significant events were not only connected, they had coalesced into a continuous stream that seemed to clearly explain where I was in this life of mine.
A bag of chocolate eclairs for me, photographs for everyone, Pocky for a cute little girl and a timely message from Inoue-san. Today was April 9th. I had set out on February 22nd and it had taken me 47 days to return to Ryozenji (#1). That was 9 days longer than I had taken the first time.
Pessimistic old me was thinking I might have to say my prayers at Okunoin and then head home earlier than planned but the next temple the man phoned gave a positive response. The place was called Jofukuin and it was right next to Daienin.
This morning as I headed back towards Okunoin the wet and misty conditions created for a darker more sombre mood. There were a lot more people than last time including a few very large groups making their way towards Okunoin. The peace and quiet was missing but my mission was very simple, it was to offer final prayers and then start the long journey home.
I had described ohenro in 2011 with the words 'the journey is everyone's journey' and this time, even more than the first, I really understood why I had felt that way. Inoue-san was just one of many and his message seemed to capture what I felt perfectly. More than that, the words 'Never give up' were words I had used to encourage Inoue-san and others that I had met along the way. Ohenro life had been a relatively easy life and now that I was back in the real world again these were words I would also need to heed.
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