It happened again with a twist. We started our day at 7:15 walking a main road. It was Sunday. Very few cars were passing. As we neared the intersection, a woman approached us and handed us something wrapped in tissue. She said that it was osettai. We were surprised. Aoyama-san bowed and said thank you in more words than I could understand.
We unwrapped the gift. A 1000 yen note (about $9.00) was in each of our hands. We were flabbergasted. Neither Aoyama-san nor I have ever been given money by a stranger. We wanted to return it but she said no and sped off.
We have been given fruits, gum, and candy along our journey. This money was a first. Regardless, people in Shikoku extend themselves by offering things and more importantly, their generous spirit to help people.
We passed by Temple 41 because we had visited it the previous afternoon. As we got to Temple 42, the image of the sign came into focus. Could it be? Was I in Yoshidaland, my homeland with my people? The kanji characters are exactly how I write my name in formal Japanese. Too bad to break the news but Yoshida is in top 20 family names in Japan. In a country of 110 million people, Yoshidas populate the land far and wide.
The temple was across the street from the sign. If you peer through the temple gates, you can see Kukai – always watchful and helpful.
In order to reach Temple 43, we had go through a mountain pass. You can see what we saw down the valley as we reached the top of the pass. How often did we think –the far end of the valley as far as the eye can see is where we will be staying tonight. It’s a little intimidating to think that we must walk that far and the day was already half over. As usual, we made it to our minshuku in time. We could look back and see what we had walked.
Down into the valley we came. We entered Temple 43. I have included several images of what one sees on the temple grounds — people chanting the heart sutra, their walking sticks arrayed in a holding bin, people getting their staffs after prayer. This sequence of events is repeated at every temple. After the groups leave, the temple grounds settle back into its natural state of calmness. Aoyama-san and I took the opportunity to sit and view the temple, how it is situated in its surroundings, and listen to the birds, and the rustling of the leaves in the wind. Certainly a gift when compared to what we generally experience in our daily lives back home.
It happened again! At the temple among a group of Japanese worshippers, I saw Kathy, the woman from Washington State who was walking with Monique and Joseph. Monique had written me that Kathy had an ankle injury. Here she was, taller than the tallest man and certainly looking different from the others.
She told me that she could not sit around for two weeks to let her ankle heal nor go home. Somehow she became part of this group. I could not get details on how this happened because her group was hurrying to bus to visit the next temple.
It happened again as we were walking from the temple. Up the ohenro path walked Christine from France whom we first met at Micchan’s. She was excited to tell us how Kukai was watching over her. The ohenro path from Temple 42 to Temple 43 had a portion washed out from the last typhoon. As Christine was about to enter the path, a woman came out of her house waving and yelling, abunae (danger). She did not know the word but got the message.
After walking the road down, she turned onto an ohenro path that Aoyama-san and I decided not to take to avoid stress on his feet. Christine said that the path narrowed to a point where she froze and did not want to cross. Just then, a Japanese couple arrived and helped her to the other side. Whether you believe that Kukai is with you, the community of walkers and people along the path are watchful and supportive of the ohenro.
We finally found Minshuku Matsuchi-y with another welcoming owner who was so gracious from beginning to end. She told us that her town was known for four things. The first is the spring water said to be one of top 100 in Japan. Second, an elementary school built during the Meiji period whose main corridor measures 109 meters is completely made of wood. The students at the end of their day clean the walls and floors before leaving. Third, a German physician married a Japanese physician and together practiced medicine in the region. That was many decades ago when few non-Japanese came to this area. Finally, this town was the first in western Japan to have a school for all children, male and female alike. She was so proud of her town. Here’s her portrait.
As with every minshuku, the dinner was superb. I also included a photo of the rice container. I have seen rice cooked in a wooden container once before at a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles but not used to serve the rice. How special. The rice was still a bit sticky as Japanese rice should be. But it had an airy texture to it. Almost like eating a cloud with substance.
I decided that I should become a minshuku ronin – a wandering traveler who goes from one minshuku to another enjoying the hospitality of the owner, comfort of the room, the ofuro, and of course, the dining delights of the house. Dream on!