Day 14: From the Physical to the Metaphysical (17 March 2019)

Happy St Patrick’s Day from Hotsumisakiji Temple 24, Cape Muroto, Shikoku, Japan.

Two weeks on the road provides a good moment to reflect on this journey.

My physical condition is about what I thought it would at this point. Fourteen months of walking around town, up and down Mountaintop, and to Coopersburg laid a good foundation. I did hurt from Temple 1 to Temple 22 from blisters and from carrying my man bag plus the backpack – about 12+ pounds. Now, the extra weight seems routine and my feet feel fine even after a 12 mile day. An 18 miler is still tiring and never again a 24 miler. That was simply, baca desho ka (that was really pretty stupid, no)?

I have commented before about how much I have enjoyed the local food. Everything has been delicious and at many times first-rate. Joseph from France said to me after one dinner, the dining was comparable in taste and presentation of a one star Michelin restaurant that he and his wife ate before he came to Japan. The dinners in the ryokans and temples are one seventh the cost of a typical Michelin one-star. From ramen to unagi (broiled eel), you can’t beat the quality to price ratio. Here I am with my beer waiting for my chirashi (sashimi bowl). The fellow in the photo couldn’t be happier. Thanks to all the ladies who have made the many meals that have sustained this henro.

On the cultural level, walking allows one to stop, see, and talk with people up close and personal. Today’s walk took us to a fish market where a man was preparing marinated mackerel, by fishing boats where a fisherman was wearing a Yankees cap — sorry no Red Sox caps seen yet, by a beach where a surfer was preparing her board for a ride on the waves, by a fruit orchard where we stopped to talk with a farmer couple, in an artist’s studio who offered us a special fruit cake and coffee, and finally at a ramen shop for dinner where our cook was holding a supersized daikon that she was about to slice and dice. Everyone has been so gracious and accepting of this camera toting American sansei.

I have commented before about how much the people I have encountered remind me of my family. I feel suspended in time because I am transported back decades to situations that I experienced in my childhood and early adulthood. I am a close cousin of the people in this land, not a distant relative.

Last night, I had my best sleep of the trip. I don’t believe it was because I have finally overcome jet lag or that I was exhausted. I think that I had dealt with or set aside issues that were playing on my mind. Where will I sleep the next night? Will I be able to climb the next mountain or walk 18 miles? What will I do during the extra-long Golden Week at the end of April when the emperor retires? Those issues are gone — for the moment. Indeed, where to sleep the next night is a pre-occupation of the henro. However, rather than project every issue into the future, I am thinking so much more in the present.

I mentioned that although the temple experience is moving, the real spirit of the pilgrimage is in its people and our place within nature. The small acts of kindness have been unexpected. I did not mention the driver who stopped next to us on a lonely stretch of Route 55 to give us a pastry akin to a Twinkie.

My time with Ayoyama-San has been precious. I am learning more Japanese words and because I am with a Japanese person, I am able to be part of interactions that are unknown to most foreigners. How much richer is this experience than being on tour alone or with non-Japanese people? Talk about up close and personal. Here is Ayoyama-San interviewing the owner of the inn where we stayed in this night.

We have also shared stories of our lives that have brought deep emotions to the surface. What a gift to be so connected to others. Ayoyama-San and I agree that each act that we do contributes to the souls within ourselves and others. That is the essence of the struggle to reach some level of enlightenment. Unlike Kukai’s cloistered cave, the walk has opened so many opportunities to be kind and to receive kindness. We decided to take this photo when we started our walk at 7 AM. I am the shorter shadow on the right.

The walk helps me “feel” the place and my part in it. After climbing up 3500 feet, I think about a mountain differently than seeing it from afar or motoring by one. As Ayoyama-San and I walked from Cape Muroto to Kiragawa, the winds gusted to 40 mph. We felt the power, saw the trees swaying back and forth, heard the waves crashing on the beach. As spring arrives in Shikoku, we have seen beauty in vegetable and decorative gardens around homes, orchards with budding trees, rice paddies being prepared for planting, and sakura flowering here and there.

Is Kukai with us? I don’t believe in the afterlife or an outer body who “watches” over us. But walking with time to reflect, I often think that Kukai is walking with us. He beckons us to see beauty. He beckons us to appreciate life as a positive experience rather than one to be endure.

Thanks for your support and thanks for reading.

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