Day 33: Making Matsuyama (5 April 2019)

We made it to Temple 51 in Matsuyama City! Since Day 13, Aoyama-san and I have walked together. Other than traveling with Sharon, I have not spent so much time with another person on the road. We also managed Aoyama-san’s blistered feet. I can’t believe that he made the distance with the pain he must have felt. We walked the last 90 miles without any help. How brave.

Kampai! We celebrated by having ofuro at the World Heritage site, the Dogo Onsen. Later, we had our last dinner together sharing sushi, fried oysters, yakitori, and cold tofu. Oddly, no rice but I had my Asahi draft beer. We talked about why we were so comfortable walking together and sharing our thoughts and feelings. Here we were – a Japanese who chose bread for lunch whereas I chose rice. Tomorrow, we decided to have breakfast at a pan (Japanese bakery cafe).

I learned so much from Aoyama-san. His deep commitment to Buddhism, not as ceremony or ritual but living its principles. He clued me into Japanese culture and words. Surprisingly, he said that I instinctively knew how to behave most of the time like a Japanese person. I did live in a transported Japanese family for the first 21 years of my life.

I appreciated how he dedicated himself to seeing special places beyond the temples. As Sharon and some of you know, I wander off the “tour” to explore. That’s Ayoyama-san and I went willingly. At these places and at the temples, we lingered taking in the beauty of the setting and the people whom we met. I will not forget how many times we stopped because he had to record what was written on a sign or the time it took us to go from place to another. In turn, he was patient when I stopped to get a composition for a photo the way I wanted. He laughed at how many times I said “amazing” because what we experienced was amazing. Somehow, we clicked at this moment in time. Thank you Kukai for this wonderful gift.

As we started this final day together, the 80 year old ohenro whom I introduced a few days ago, Akita-san, asked to join us for the walk into Matsuyama. We decided to be in lobby at 7:15. When I got there (on time), he was already outside with walking sticks in hand. From the start to the end, he walked at our pace with a large backpack.

Our first destination was Monjuin. This site was the former home of Emon Sabro. As the story goes, he denied Kukai shelter and was cruel when he sent Kukai away. Shortly, thereafter, his 8 sons passed away one by one. Believing that he was being punished for treating Kukai so poorly (I could not believe that Kukai would seek retribution – Aoyama-san assured me that it was only a story), he went temple to temple to find Kukai in order to ask forgiveness. He never found Kukai but this journey around Shikoku was the foundation for what has become the 88 Temple walk. Great story. Here is the tallest and biggest Kukai statue that I have seen on the journey.

Before reaching our first temple, 48, Aoyama-san insisted that we visit Jonofuchi Park where as the legend goes, Kukai tapped the ground and spring water flowed. I could see Akita-san doing that subtle Japanese equivalent of rolling his eyes. Nothing said but I could see the wheels turning – We’re looking for water?

This water is said to be one of the 100 best in Japan. You read that statement a few days before at another location. Okay, another top 100. But there was the fountain and indeed the water was pure. Go to your tap and fill a glass with water. I bet you will find particles floating. Not this water – as clear as it can be. It was refreshingly cold and tasty. Akita-san filled both of his water bottles. We took pictures with Kukai’s statue in the background.

After Temple 48, Sairinji, we wound our way to Temple 49, Jodiji. As we approached, a woman came out from a building. Ohenro-san, please come in for tea or coffee. Here we go again. What a amazing hour we spent with her. I had a cappuccino. On the bulletin board was a photo of some German fellows who stopped two days before. Aoyama-san and I had met them at Kuma bus terminal. All of us had stopped to have a late lunch. They were brothers from Berlin touring Japan backpacking and sleeping in tents. There they were. It happened again.

Our lady told us that neighbors take turns tending this “resting” place. She had been to many temples but could no longer walk to them because of her heart condition. In a few months, she will have a major operation. When Aoyama-san said that I was from America, she gave me a small doll. She asked that I carry it to the finish of the 88. In that way, she would be walking the 88 too. I set it carefully into my man bag. I told her that I will carry it to Temple 1 and back to the US.

As we finished Temple 49, I asked Aoyama-san if we could go back and ask the lady for her address. I decided that I would take photos of the doll at Temple 1 and at home and send prints to her. Alas, the place was closed. However, Akita-san took the lead and we went to some homes to ask for an address. We finally went to a store and secured the address. Remember Aoyama-san’s note taking? He had recorded her name. I was so pleased that Akita-san took up our way of walking.

Eventually, we completed our rituals at Temples 48, 49, 50, and 51. Akita-san went his way to meet a friend who was joining him on the next segment of his 88 Temple pilgrimage. We headed off to Dogo Onsen and our hotel on the Botchan train, a Meiji period locomotive and cars that operated in Matsuyama before 1900. It runs every hour and our timing was perfect.

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