I thought that the climb to Temple 12, Shosanji, was the ultimate test of endurance. But the ascents and descents of Temples 20 (Kakurinji) and 21 (Tairyuji) made this walk as difficult or perhaps harder than Shosanji. We had to start almost at sea level. Temple 20’s elevation is 1500 feet with a very steep climb. We then descended to the river floor before going up again to 1800 feet. When I thought that we had ended our head down uphill segments, we climbed a third hill (500 feet) before reaching Temple 22. Everyone at our inn remarked how difficult today’s hike was. Nevertheless, everyone was in good spirits at dinner – a meal like my grandmother used to prepare.
As I mentioned before, the pilgrimage is as much about people and its surroundings. Adam whom I mentioned before as the youngest on the trail, is sitting with Ayoyama-San (Mr. Blue Mountain). Shortly after, we began our ascent to Temple 20.
After reaching Temple 20, we began our descent which for at least half time was walking down on makeshift stairs because of the mountain’s steepness. I was particularly taken with the position of the rocks among the forest. What this photo and others cannot give you are the sounds in the forest and the soft breeze that passed through.
After taking these steps for about 45 minutes, I descended to the river valley. The henro path oftentimes finds its way between people’s home. I came upon a beekeeper. How often does this happen at home? Finally, the river appeared and the bridge to take the henro to the other side for the climb to Temple 21.
Here is a fellow henro making his way up the mountain to Temple 21. You don’t have to imagine why he took a break.
I eventually reached the gates of Temple 21. The temple is set into a forest of very tall cedar and pine trees – a mystical setting befitting a temple in the sky. Here is Kukai waiting to greet pilgrims.
After praying at the hondo and having our books signed, we descended on a road – a welcome change from the thousands of steps we had experienced a few hours before.
I thought that we had smooth sailing down to Temple 22. But to humble us again, we had to a final hill with steps and another steep descent into the Naka River Valley. Finally, the end of the journey for the day was at hand. Again, steep stairs to climb to the hondo. I was humbled for the fourth time.
Fortunately, our inn was right next to the temple. A hot soaking bath, good conversation, and food like grandma (o-BA-San) used to make put all of the guests in a good frame of mind. The evening ended with a very serious discussion on where to stay the next night. Thank goodness that Fukiko is my guardian angel. When I ask for a reservation, I get a quick flood of Japanese that probably only an advanced student would understand. It certainly overwhelms this six year old.