Our host at Minshuku Shikoku drove us back to Temple 70 at 7 AM to begin our day’s walk. We were the first pilgrims to arrive. A woman was sweeping leaves from the walkway to the hondo. Next to the pagoda (see photo from Day 41), Kukai’s statue was among other memorials with a pool of carps in front. An ohenro’s day allows him/her to see the many facets of temple life.
Our walk to Temple 71, Iyadaniji, was full of fun moments. While we were in front of a convenience store sipping our coffee, a 75 year old woman came up to talk with us about why we were on ohenro. I had a smile watching her speed off on her motorcycle. She was on her mini-ohenro.
As we continued our walk, Kondo-san pointed out that we had just passed a ramen university (ramen dai gakkuen). That’s what the sign reads in Japanese. I had to take a photo because it reminded of twenty years ago when my colleague Perry and I rated Lehigh Valley pizzerias. We were the Pizza Professors.
When Kondo-San and I arrived at Temple 71, he said that we were walking up 540 steps to get to the hondo. Are you kidding? Nope. Note the first number on the sign. The temple provides a shuttle for those who want a ride up. Even then, you have about 150 steps to contend with to the hondo.
This temple was awe inspiring because of its setting in the mountainside. The mountain that you see in the distance is Unpenji where Temple 66 is situated. To think that we had walked there yesterday. The walking journey gives one the perspective of how much we have experienced in our lives. As we live in the present, how many mountains have we climbed? How did those challenges affect us? How do we look back on them?
We spent about 1.5 hours here, much of the time taken going up and down the stairs. Just kidding. The physical setting of this temple sets it apart from others not only for how this temple was built but what it does in stimulating thoughts and one’s spirit. No wonder that this temple is a must for bus riding ohenro.
I have written that ohenro is more than the temples. The rain had started – another downpour that lasted until we reached our lodgings at Temple 75, Zentsuji, Kukai’s birthplace. Next to Temple 73, a farming couple had built a small house in which they served hot udon to pilgrims. All are invited but driving or driven ohenro go right by to the parking lot. See what you miss when you don’t walk especially in the pouring rain?
They have been providing shelter and food for ohenro for 20 years. We stayed for an hour. Like others who have offered such osettai, they wanted to know more about us and our journey. Moments like this are the most precious gifts of the ohenro. Nothing expected but warmth and kindness shown by everyone.
We were now pressed for time. We had to be at our lodging by 5 PM. We still had two temples to visit before they closed. We knew that we could not make Zentsuji in time. It will have to wait until the morning.
A downpour focuses the mind and body. Sorry no photos of either temple because I did not want to risk getting this iPhone or my camera wet nor did we have much time.
As the story goes, we made it to our lodging before 5. At the entrance were posted your name at bins in which to put your staff and shoes. I got worried because I did not see my name.
Kondo-san pointed out my name written in katakana, the symbols used when writing foreign words. Rather that Yoshida in kanji, there was my first name – the only one not in kanji. I felt a bit awkward. Another reminder that although all my grandparents were Japanese, I will never be part of the clan. Indeed, I am an American with an asterisk.
Enough of that ah-hah moment. Kondo-san and I were off to the izakaya across the street from our Temple lodging. Its name was “earth and sky,” in other words, Kukai. Here’s a sampling – Japanese style chicken wings, garlic sizzling, grilled fish from Hokkaido, horse meat sashimi, and shochu. Yes, the ubiquitous “V” from one of the counter cooks. Kondo-san gave it two thumbs-up and for our day as well.