Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Day 36: Temple 6 to Temple 1

The end. The final day of walking for this Henro is now complete. It's been a wonderful experience.

Left the templle lodging at Anrakuji, Temple 6, after breakfast and was at Ryozenji, Temple 1, a little after 10:00.

The main gate: 

A statue of the bodhisattva Jizo just inside the main gate. Jizo is the protector of children and travellers, and kept his eye out for me all around the island.

But for this pilgrimage, this is the man that tradition says makes sure that everything runs smoothly. This is the Daishi Hall at Temple 1, so this is where you tell him that you are setting out and this is where you tell him that you are back, and have finished successfully.

And once you have finished, this is the first thing to do --- get out of those hiking boots and let the feet feel free again. I can't complain about these boots, though, they have been very, very kind to me over the past few years. They have carried me over a great many kilometers of trail, road, and street, all without one blister or the need for even one band-aid or piece of tape. Boots, i am in debt to you. Thanks for your help, patience, and care.

I know i've said it before, but i just don't see how a month and a half have passed already. No matter how hard i try, i can't make it feel as if i have been on the trail for 36 days. Plus the two tours that i helped guide before that. It just doesn't seem possible.

I still do think, though, that this was my last personal walk of the entire trail. My gut tells me that four times is enough. My gut tells me that what i needed to see, what i needed to do, what i needed to experience has been seen, done, and experienced.

Tomorrow and Thursday i have no plans other than to take it easy. I'll stay here in Tokushima tomorrow and move to an, as yet undecided, hotel in Osaka on Thursday.

On Friday i plan to spend the day in Kyoto exploring the three temples that Kobo Daishi, or Kukai, as he was known then, was associated with while he was alive. When he returned from China he was kept on Kyushu for a few years. When finally given permission to return to Kyoto he lived in Otokuniji for some time. After that he moved to Takaosanji. While he didn't live at Toji, the government gave the temple to him and allowed him to make it a temple dedicated to training only Shingon buddhist monks.

On Saturday i'll go to Mt. Koya and The Daishi's mausoleum. On Sunday i return to Chicago.

Another wonderdul spring on the island of Shikoku.....

Monday, May 16, 2016

Day 35: Temple 88 to Temple 6

A 30 km walk, but it went by quickly---probably because i'm on my way back to Trmple 1.

The first 20 km of the walk  is beautiful as you work your way out of the valley that T88 is located in and back down into the Yoshono River valley, where T1-11 are located. The second half of the day, the remaining 10 km, is another day of walking on back roads and residential streets; the same streets we walk on during the first two days of the pilgrimage.

We got lucky today. It was supposed to start raining around noon,but it held off until 4:00, just after we checked in to the temple lodging at T6 for the night.

The evening service here at T6 has gotten quite complex over the years. It used to be a simple talk in the Hondō, but now it is a multi-stage procedure that includes the talk and several other stops in other rooms to worship other deities, to offer prayers for your ancestors, znd to submit a request/wish for yourself.

Some of the trail coming down from T88.

Some henro who didn't quite make it to the end of the walk.

The Hondō here at T6.

The pagoda as well.

Tomorrow off to T1. Should be there by noon. I'm still in shock that this walk will finish tomorrow morning. I just don't know where the time has gone.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Day 34: Temple 88

Intentionally got a very late start today. Didn't leave the lodging until just after 7:00, and then went to Temple 87 and hung around until almost 8:00.

From there i headed to the convenience store for a donut and OJ before finally setting off for the henro museum on the way to Temple 88. Got there in an hour.

I had to wait until 10:30 for a friend to arrive so i sat around and chatted with whoever would listen. Tom showed up on time and finally at 11:00 we were on the road to T88.

Four hours later we arrived and for the most part i am now finished. Here i am at the top of Mt. Nyotai before starting to long drop into T88.

It's hard to believe that i've done this walk over Mt. Nyotai three times this year. 

Once down the other side, here's the Hondō at T88.

And me, one last time, posing as a Henro completing his pilgrimage.

Tomorrow morning we're off to Temple 6, where we'll spend the night. That's about 30 km from here. Then on Tuesday morning we'll get back to T1 and my henro will officially be complete.

Have had a good string of nice weather recently. Tomorrow the rain is supposed to start around 3:00. Can i get to T6 before it starts??

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Day 33: Takamatsu to Sanuki City

...and then you fall asleep, and when you wale up and turn the page you find yourself in a new chapter.

Matsushita-san met me at the hotel at 7:30 and we set off for the climb to Temple 85. After getting there and visiting the Hondō a Daishidō, we went to the cable car station and asked them to watch my backpack while we "walked around."

Matsushita-san didn't want to tell anyone where we were going because they would all freak out and say it was too dangerous. No one wants a foreigner getting injured or killing himself at their temple.

From near the hondo we headed up to the Shugendō trails that visited the five peaks (Gokensan) behind the temple.

Here's one section; notice the little shrine at the far right, you'll get a better picture later.

M-san climbing some ropes to get to the first ladder.

Another view of that little shrine but from a peak above.

M-san getting ready to start down on some more ropes.

A look back at one set of ladders we had to go down to get to a saddle so we could climb to the next peak.

Finally getting to that shrine.

And a selfie next to it.

A look back into Takamatsu from atop. The hill to the right is where T84 is located.

An incredibly good day. Best day of this henro by far. 

From there, we walked to T86, had some lunch, then he headed to a bus stop and i headed to T87, where i'm spending the night.

Tomorrow i walk to T88. Will spend the night there, then walk back to T1 over a day and a half.

I find it impossible to believe that i get to T88 tomorrow. Impossible. Where did 33 days go?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Day 32: Takamatsu City

Took one picture all day. The gate going into Temple 84.

That's it.

A long boring day going from the west side of the city, to the south side, then a hot walk along the citiy's back roads and allys to get to the east side.

Matsushita-san is back and wants to take me out on some back trails tomorrow before i head down to Temple 87 in the afternoon. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Day 31: Kokubunji to Takamatsu City

Walked about 18 km today, but on paper it doesn't look like i went very far. Climbed to Temples 81 & 82, and am staying at lodging at the foot of the mountain T82 is located on, just around the corner from where i stayed last night. 

In the list of firsts here on Shikoku, i have another to add to the list. After checking in, they called me and told me it was my turn to take a bath about 4:15. Seemed a little early, but it's not unheard of.

After my bath i was laying in my room reading when someone showed up at my door at 4:45. With a large tray containing my dinner. A quarter to five! Dinner. I was told that i had an hour to eat, at which time they would be back for the tray.

From the sounds of it, they have rented out the dining room downstairs to a large group. I hope their food is better than what i got; mine was barely eatable. For the first time ever i had sashimi that you couldn't just put in your mouth and eat---part of each slice was too tough to chew. Tempura, but no tempura sauce. Rice that had been cooked either a couple hours ago or with too little water. I left half the food on the tray.

Had a wonderful surprise today. On the trail from T81 to T82, i saw a foreigner headed my way. Turned out to be a Canadian that had been in the tour group i helped guide in April. We walked together for a few hours and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Some other pictures from today.

The view of the hills i had to climb today as i set out at 6:40, after breakfast.

Some of the trail up.

A view back down to where i had started from, from about halfway up.

The view from the other side of the hills, looking down on Takamatsu City and port, from about half way down.

The place where they put the temple stamp in your stamp book at T82.

A small pagoda at T81.

And, another sign, going into T81, telling visiters that they have to dismount here and walk the rest of the way. (The tall statue in the middle)

Met a woman at a convenience store this afternoon who was driving a brand new 2016 VW Golf. I told her i drive a 2004 model and we chatted for a while.

Two features her car has that mine doesn't: When she's backing up, the VW emblem on the hatchback flips up and a camera shows her what's behind on a screen in the dashboard. Also, if she gets too close to the car in front of her she'll get beeped at. If she doesn't slow down and increase the gap, the car will automatically brake to do it for her. The size of gap that is allowed depends on how fast you happen to be driving.

I'm staying at a hotel near T84 tomorrow. Two minshukus told me they were full and another said they were no longer in business. Will visit Temples 83 & 84 and call it a day. Should be about 25 km.

Day 30: Zentsuji to Kokubunji

We had a huge storm last night. It woke me up sometime after midnight, and i thought it was going to blow the hotel over. Torrential rains and very strong winds. I'm sure glad it waited until i was checked in before it started.

Early morning henro at one of the temples today. Maybe it was the early morning light, or maybe i wasn't fully awake yet, but they looked just like pigeons at the time.

Here's the entrance to another temple, but what's interesting to me is the stone marker in the middle of the sidewalk, before the gate. It says "Dismount," as in get off your horse here. Obviously a tradition left over from a previous time in history.

A statue at Temple 77, i think, with a child entreating the Daishi for something.

A grest many temples have straw sandals hanging on, or in the back side of, the niōmon. This is to grant walking henro strong feet, which is definitely a wish we need fulfilled.

Saw the skinnyest house i have ever seen this afternoon.

Tomorrow i climb to Shiromineji and Negoroji, Temples 81 & 82. After that i'll visit one of the bangai temples before calling it a day. It's not very far, but to make lodging work out in the long run i decided to stop pretty early tomorrow. I'll spend a lot of time at both Temple 81 & 82 and maybe do some exploring on the way back down off the mountain just to use up some time. 

My schedule is now set. I'll get to T88 and spend the night in a minshuku there on Sunday night. All i have to figure out now is by which route i am walking back to T1 from T88.

I want to walk a new route, but to date i can't get lodging where i need it and unless that changes i'll be forced to walk the standard Temple 88-->Temple 10-->Temple 1 route one more time.

Overcast a lot of today, but it is supposed to be nice for the next three days.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Day 29; Kanonji City to Zentsuji

Spending the night in the Zentsuji Station Hotel. When i made the reservation i wondered if it might be more expensive than i usually pay but it's not---because it's not what i expected.

It's certainly not a dump, but the typical business hotel doesn't have to worry about the competition. The best way to say it is that it only costs ¥4,000, and you get what you pay for.

Walked under cloudy skies for the majority of the day. 

Drizzles chased me into rain pants and the umbrella by late morning, but that only lasted a half hour or so. After putting both of those away, i didn't need either until the rain started permanently again around 2:00. After that the umbrella stayed up for the rest of the afternoon.

This is the main gate (niōmon) into the temple compound for both Temples 68 & 69; they both share the same compound. 

The niōmon houses two deities, one on each side, whose sole purpose is to protect the temples from bad influences. They come straight from Hindu mythology, with no attempt to convert them to Buddhism. This is one of the niōmon deities at another of today's temples, the one we call "agyō." He represents the alpha side of the equation, the beginning, the creation. The deity on the left represents the omega side.

And more trail markers---these found on the road to Temple 71.

I'm slightly in shock right now. I've gone from being slightly worried that time is very tight and i'll just barely finish this walk on time, to having too much time and knowing that i am going to finish a day or two earlier than planned. I'm still not sure how it happened.

But, it now looks like i'll finish on the 17th instead of the 19th. I could have done the climb to Temple 60 the other day.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Day 28: Unpenji to Kanonji City

Stayed at Minshuku Okada last night and was surprised to find Mr. Okada not there. The whole process, from making my reservation to checking in to checking out was handled by what appeared to be his daughter. 

She even gave the traditional speeches at dinner and breakfast on how to get to Unpenji and what to expect. I didn't have the heart to ask about Mr. Okada in case he's passed away and she gets asked about it by almost all guests.

Woke ip to rain and it rained all day. Not a downpour but a steady rain---just enough to keep me in full rain gear and under an umbrella all day. 

Left the lodging at 6:30 and was at Unpenji at 8:15. That's faster than usual; i usually count on just over two hours for that climb. 

From Unpenji it was off to Temple 67. The hardest part of walking in the rain is finding places to take a break. When it's clear and sunny, you can just plop down anywhere but when it's raining it's terribly difficult to find somewhere out of the wind and rain where you can relax while staying warm and dry.

Because of the rain i only took two pictures today. The first is of the top of Unpenji mountain from a ways back on the trail. The trail up to this point could be the steepest on the entire walk, but at this point the hard work is over as you break out of the woods and walk along a service road for most of the rest of the way to the temple.

This second picture is one of the tens of thousands of small Jizo statues and trail marker stones that dot the roads and trails all around the island and help to keep you on track.

Had maybe the most interesting minshuku meal i've had in Japan at dinner tonight. It started with the typical plate of sashimi, included my bowl of rice, and finished with the typical soup, but everything that usually goes between the sashimi and soup was replaced with a piece of fried chicken. 

From now on, whenever  i go to KFC i will always think of Kanonji City and Temples 68 & 69.

Tomorrow i srtart with Temples 68 & 69, which share the same temple compound, and then work through Temples 70-75. I'll spend the night tomorrow in a hotel near #75.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Day 27: Saijō to Unpenji

Long 31 km today to get to Temple 65, over to Bangai Temple 14, and then to lodging at the foot of the mountain that Unpenji, Temple 66, is located on. Checked out at 6:30 and checked in at a quarter to four.

A bit of the trail up to Temple 65. A very nice walk with bits of this and mountain trails.

But once you climb the mountain, you still aren't done---you still have a set of stairs to climb to get to the sanmon (main gate).

I seldom tire of these pictures of farmers working in their rice paddies up in the mountains.

A very nice statue of Fudō Myōō at Bangai Temple 14.

Bangai Temple 14 is a fertility temple. If i showed you what was under the clothes on these statues some of you might blush. Others might get jealous? I'll just leave it to your imagination.

That feeling off inevitability started to sink in this afternoon. Part of my brain knows that once i cross Unpenji tomorrow morning i' in the last of the four prefectures. From tomorrow time will start to fly by even faster than it has to this point. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Day 26: Saijō to Shikoku Chuō

Long, long day. Didn't get to lodging until about 5:30 tonight. I' exhausted but tomorrow will be a 31 km march to Temple 65, Sankakuji, then over the hills to Minshuku Okada at the foot of Temple 66, Unpenji.

Found this Tibetan temple today.

Only one i know of in Japan. 

Here's a challenge for you. It's at Temple 63. If you can start at the Hondō and walk to this rock with your eyes closed, and get your walking stick through the hole in the rock, your wish will come true.

Hot today. Suppised to he hot tomorrow.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Day 25: Imabari to Saijō

...and then you fall asleep, and when you wale up and turn the page you find yourself in a new chapter. Today my feet felt fine and it was like a walk in the park.

When i turned on the weather report this morning it said it was raining on Kyūshū and in western Shikoku. Not just rain, but hageshii rain, which i suppose would translate as violent, or terrible rain.

When i set out, though, it was overcast but no rain to be seen. Around 8:30 it started to drizzle. By 9:00 the umbrella came out. At 10:30 the rain pants had to go on. But that's where it stayed; i never had to dig out the rain coat.

Walked along Highway 196 all day.

Never would have chosen to do that in previous years, but it let me see another side of Imabari and Saijõ i haven't seen in previous trips. The only problem was it got me to my lodging too quickly so i had to find somewhere to kill a couple of hours.

The practice of Osettai never, ever ceases to amaze me. I stopped for a bowl of curry udon this afternoon and as i was eating one of the girls from the kitchen came out and, after confirming that i was a walking henro, gave me a bag full of candy, a small hand towel, and other stuff i haven't looked at yet. When i thanked het and told her it would be dinner tonight, she told me i couldn't do that, it was all candy. :-)

Or the older lady yesterday, and by older i mean in her 70s, who went out and bought a dozen small cans of V8 juice, then peddled her bike to the local henro rest hut and sat there all day until she had given them to passing henro.

Or an older guy i met on the walk to Temple 39, on the outskirts of Mihara. There is a rest hut out in the boonies and six years ago he adopted it. Now, whenever he can, which sounded to be most of the time, he sits in the hut from 9 to 5, taking care of passing henro. He has a small refrigerator stocked with several kinds of cold drinks, a hot pot so he can make hot tea or coffee, chocolate snacks, Japanese snacks, cup ramen, and more. It's like stopping at a convenience store. And it's all free to the henro, nothing is expected in return 

How does one ever repay such kindness? Only by offering that kindness to others yourself, of course.

Matsushita-san must be a henro junkie as much as me, or worse. Turns out he's back on the trail. He's climbing to Temple 60 today and will join me at my lodging tonight, then will walk with me through the weekend to get me to the base of Temple 66 on Sunday afternoon.

I look forward to his company again. This northern stretch of the walk is the least interesting, maybe bordering on boring, and having someone to talk to will be nice. 

The walk gets interesting again during the climb to Temple 65, Sankakuji. Speaking of which, it will be a long walk on Sunday. Not only do i walk about 30 km, but part of that distance is the climb up to Sankakuji and then the walk over and through the hills to Bangai Temple 14 and then on to the lodging. 

Had to chuckle when i saw this statue at Kokubunji, Temple 59, this morning.

It's the Daishi with his right hand stretched out. You are supposed to make a wish while shaking his hand. All very clear, and that's what i did.

But, the sign next to the statue makes it clear: "Don't go on wishing for this and that, even the Daishi is a busy man." I wonder if the Daishi himself told them to add that to the sign of if the temple priest saw too many people standing there for hours on end and just assumed that we were being too demanding?

Day 24: Kikuma to Imabari City, Nakadera

Walked to Temples 54-58 and 2/3 of the way to Temple 59 today. Beautifil sunny day with temps about 26° (79°F).

Checked out of the marina hotel about 7:00 this morning. Here's what the place looked like. The hotel is the top few floors, the rest is marina facilities.

Here's a section of today's trail.

But that's the modern version of a cemetery. For henro in the past they were lucky to get anything but a hole in the ground. Found this section of old henro grave markers that had been set aside and marked as such.

Yet another view of the sea as i came out of the hills where Temple 58 is located. This time in the town of Imabari.

An older woman was sitting in a rest hut today and getting walking henro to stop and take a break. In return for chatting with her you got a can of V8 Juice. She was tickled pink with my ability to talk and said i was the first foreigner she had talked to.

Had a great conversation with a few elementary school kids as well. They practiced all 6 of their English phrases so i switched to Japanese and tried to convince them that this is America. They got really confused until their mother laughed at them. 

Today was the first day where i have to admit that i have been tired all day. My feet are tired. 30 km a day for three weeks is wearing me down.

I have two weeks to go but another way to look at it is that next week is my last full week on the move. I finish this week then after next week i have only a partial week left 

I must have lost weight because i moved my belt in one extra notch this morning.

Tomorrow off to Temples 59, 61, & 62. It may be a short day, i haven't added up the kilometers yet. Then it's two 30 km days again to get to the base of Temple 66, which i climb on Monday. After T66, i am home free and it is all downhill from there. Still a few mountains to climb but nothing very difficult 

Forgot to post this picture of a statue i found a few weeks ago. The sign said, if i read it correctly, that this is what the original Japanese women looked like, unlike their skinny modern counterparts. The statue is called "Mother's Statue."