Day 27: The “Last” Bus Ride (30 March 2019)

We had a delightful time at Ryokan Yamashiro. Our host Yamashiro-san was up and about serving breakfast and consulting with us about the times for bus service to Uwajima City.

Before leaving, Yamashiro-san told us that he was recently in the US. He had visited Manzanar, the National Historic Monument in Northern California where 10,000 Japanese, the majority of whom were US citizens, were imprisoned during World War 2 without due process of law. Just this summer, Sharon, my sister, and cousins Tim and Marie visited Topaz, Utah and Heart Mountain, Wyoming where our families were detained for three and a half years from 1942 to 1945. A dark period in American history.

Besides this serious part of the conversation, Yamashiro-san told us that he goes to his most favorite American city during the off-season, winter, when very few ohenro are walking about. Can you guess where? Las Vegas was the winner.

We ended with Yamashiro-san saying that he and his wife will be retiring from the hospitality business in the near future. He is 72 and the time seems to be coming to start a new chapter of life. Sound familiar, friends? The upshot is that senior citizens own and operate many of the minshuku and ryokans that we have visited. Their children are living in the big cities where the jobs are. These owners are not optimistic that their children will sacrifice their current lives to maintain the family businesses and traditions in rural Shikoku.

What does this mean for future walking ohenro? In many areas, the guidebook identified a single minshuku. Even with current availability, we sometimes had to call several lodging establishments to secure a reservation. Lodging seems to be more plentiful in larger cities with an ample selection of hotels and business hotels. But in the more sparsely populated areas where the ohenro walk, losing precious lodging may strain the ability of ohenro to walk smoothly and in a continuous direction from temple to temple.

The number of older owners is a part of the demographic trend that is affecting Japan and many developing countries. Japan is already declining in population. As Aoyama-san and I walked through rural Shikoku, we often commented about seeing no people on the streets in small towns and villages, about the number of abandoned homes, about how old the farmers seemed to be, and about school buildings with no children in them. In one town, Aoyama-san stayed at a “hotel” that was once an elementary school. As a high school principal, one of his last duties before retiring was to plan the merger of two high schools because the community could no longer support both. That was in a near suburb of a Tokyo. Here was the first time that I observed the stark reality of a declining population and its effects.

We then boarded what I think will be the last bus that I will take on this trip. The bus has been a necessary convenience to get us to Matsuyama by 5 April so that Ayoyama-san could return home to Ibaraki. We also had to consider his foot issues. He has been brave to walk as far as he has. You saw the photo when he applied raccoon oil to his blister.

Eric, my golf pro, has said you can have the best swing in golf but you need course management to succeed. For non-golfers, he means that hitting the ball as far as you can is not enough. You have to know where to place the ball on a hole in order to avoid hazards and to increase the chances of having the best angle to put the ball on the green.

Throughout this trip, we have had to work on course management. How to get the most out of our legs (we both are 70) while enjoying the walks and challenges. Over the next four days before we get to Matsuyama, we will be hiking up two mountain passes that are almost 3000 feet in order to reach Temples 44 and 45. So, today, we decided to take a break before the mountains. We took the bus from Temple 40 to Uwajima City. Nevertheless, we walked 8 miles, almost all of the hike in pouring rain.

We visited Temple 41, Ryukoji, just as the rain stopped. We met Miki again; she was the woman featured on a Day 24. We took the bus to get to Uwajima City; she walked all the way. One tough lady. We also met up with Matsuo-san whom we met four days ago. He was Marc from Switzerland’s walking partner. You may recall that Marc decided to end his journey because of severe blisters. Matsuo-san was walking with Marc’s staff. You can see Marc’s name written of the side of the staff. What a lovely gesture to carry his staff, his spirit, for the rest of the journey.

We retired to our Minshuku named Mima written as the last two characters on the sign posted on the house. The name, Mima, conjured up the image of Sheldon on the Big Bang. His grandmother’s nickname was Mima.

This minshiku was the best appointed so far on this trip. How about this room and dinner. I don’t think that Kukai has it so good. But as Yamashiro-san said in the morning, these owners are contemplating retirement. Another potential stop lost on the ohenro michi.

So, have I taken my last bus ride? Time will tell. At least I know that Kukai is with us in spirit.

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