Day 21: Stairway to Enlightenment (24 March 2019)

As the minshuku guests were departing, Aoyama-san pointed that two of them were father and son. The father was doing what his father did with him, showing him the way of the ohenro. What a wonderful gift.

On to Awa Station for the quick train ride to Tosa-Kure and the start of the Osaka Henro Trail. As we got to the station, we heard familiar voices. We ran into Monique and Joseph and their new traveling companion, Kathy from Washington State. Kathy is 74 and the second American whom I encountered on ohenro. She is a Camino veteran having walked several parts of the Camino including the start from Le Puy and over the Pyrenees. She, Monique, and Joseph agreed that that the Shikoku pilgrimage was more strenuous by leaps over the Camino. The mountain climbs on the ohenro path made the difference. Getting ahead a bit, we are at dinner in the evening. Joseph was taking the photo.

The Osaka Henro path slowly takes one up through a valley where shoga (ginger) is grown. We met several farmers, and went under the Kochi Expressway bridge. With 1 km to the end, we levitated about 900 feet to continue our walk to Shimanto Town and Temple 37. I called this last segment of the Osaka Henro, the Stairway to Enlightenment. The final photo is an image looking back down the valley. Can you see the bridge that we walked under an hour before?

Shortly after our climb, Aoyama-san and I split up. He stayed in a village to catch the train to Shimanto Town while I continued walking. We both had serendipitous encounters.

Aoyama-san reported that when asking someone where to find lunch, he was invited into that person’s home for lunch. His host was a former school principal like him. Godiva chocolates ended lunch.

While walking to Shimanto Town, a sign offering hospitality to ohenro beckoned me in. A couple opens their patio and garden to ohenro and offers them coffee, tea, cold water, a Japanese cookie, and two Hershey Kisses. Thank you very much. She is 69 and he is 77. They enjoy meeting ohenro throughout the year and throughout the world.

I finally reached Temple 37, Iwamotoji. The hondo is famous for the 575 painted pictures on its ceiling. Recognize anyone? Hint: one looks like our girl cat, Rhubie, looking forwards the Buddha. Tomorrow the morning service will be at 6 AM. I’ll be there.

Day 20: Wasuremono (Lost Things) (23 March 2019)

It was hard to leave Micchan. As an obachan (grandmother) figure, she fit me like a glove. My picture with her reminded me of how small my grandmother was. Those of you who knew her can appreciate how tall she stood relative to me. Someone once called me diminutive. I wonder what he would have said about her. In any case, both Micchan and my grandmother were short but powerful.

Remember, my comment about the walk down to her village. She drove her four guest to the crest of the ridge road in two shifts with a car equipped with a manual gear shift. I took a photo of the harbor a few steps from her minshuku before the drive up the hill. No wonder the fish the night before were so fresh.

Before leaving, she asked every guest whether they had left anything. Nothing, I assured her. In my head, I had gone over my list. But it must have been a short list. I left my wagesa (prayer stole) and my water bottle. Someone out there will be wondering what is the Charter High School for the Arts. Sharon says that I always leave mementos at various places on our travels. I have added to Micchan’s collection.

Our walk went by beautiful landscapes of the ocean. We also met a woman collecting greens by the road to feed her chickens – grass fed, for sure. The fellow in white was on his fifth circuit of the temples. We wondered how many he would complete in his lifetime because he looked pretty young. We also went by a garden with a friendly dog keeping his master company. I really like the look and posture of the Japanese breeds.

As we entered Susaki City, we passed by the ugliest structure so far seen on this trip. I took the photo juxtaposing the farmer on his tractor with the cement factory in the background. Progress? At least, the smokestacks weren’t belching waste into the atmosphere.

Since Sharon has the 2017 edition of the maps, she noted the night before that Nabeyaki Ramen is the speciality of Susaki City. Ayoyama-san enjoys his food as much as I do. When we got to the closest convenience store on our walk into Susaki City, in this case, the Family Mart, we asked where was the best place to try this meibutsu (the local speciality). Hashimoto Restaurant was located several kilometers down the road by the train station. Aoyama-san’s feet needed rest. We called a taxi to take us to lunch. The taxi came and we were whisked away to have ramen.

This version was the mother of all ramen. The broth was rich and flavorful. The noodles were egg based, just the way I like them. As the guidebook described, the ramen is served in a stoneware bowl topped with scallions, fish cake, and raw egg that actually cooks as long as you want in the piping hot broth. No wonder diners have to sign in and wait. This restaurant reminded me of Tampopo, sometimes referred to as the Japanese noodle western.

During lunch, I told Aoyama-san that I left my wagesa and bottle of water at Micchan’s. He looked down for a moment and said, “Micchan will be worried that you left such an important part of your pilgrimage. She will want to send it to you. We should call her to rest her mind. That is the Japanese way.” I responded that she can give the wagesa to a pilgrim who forgot his/hers somewhere. I opined that no call was necessary. He wrinkled his eyebrows.

At the end of lunch, Aoyama-san discovered that his staff (kongozue) was missing. He called the Family Mart where we first stopped for information about restaurants and the train station. Indeed, one of the clerks found it. How many things can we lose in a day?

We decided that he would go to the train station with my staff while I would return to the Family Mart to retrieve his staff. I would resume my walk from that point and meet him at our minshuku.

I arrived at 3 at our minshuku. No sign of Aoyama-san. I took my bath. He arrived at 4:15. Since today is Saturday, train service would have reached his station by 4. Instead of waiting, he took the bus.

We were now pretty much settled in. Baths taken. I was writing this blog. He was writing in his diary. A knock on the door and the minshuku owner handed me what I thought were the controls to the heating system. Aoyama-san overheard the conversation (the “walls” are literally paper thin) and said that I was holding a telephone receiver. Micchan was on the phone.

I handed the phone to Aoyama-san. She was calling about the wagesa. As Aoyama-san predicted, she was wondering where to send it to me. Back and forth went the conversation as my proposed solution was debated – please hold the wagesa for another pilgrim who may lost his/hers. In the end, she said ok and would discuss the matter with her local priest.

Aoyama-san smiled and said, “See I am Japanese and you are an American.” Perhaps now a cousin, once removed.

The day was not all lost. Besides serving a delicious meal, the minshuku owner offered a jar of her homemade umeboshi (pickled plums). All restraint melted. Five eaten at dinner and two at breakfast the next morning. They were the best because they had the right combination of sour/salty and sweet (a bit of sugar).

What more can this rice boy expect? Plenty! But he is certainly happy. To think, two months yet to go. Lots can happen.

Day 19: On to Micchan’s Minshuku (22 March 2019)

After crossing the pass of a slow rising mountain to the south of Tosa City, I descended into a crescent shaped bowl of a harbor. Shortly, I walked up to a sign that read, USA. Did I make a wrong turn somewhere? Actually, USA (pronounced oo-sa) is the small village that borders the harbor and is the gateway to Temple 36, Shoryuji.

On the way, fishermen were out at the end of a breakwater barrier. A young man was looking out to the ocean. It was quiet and I took my time because today was to be a shorter than usual walk.

But surprises awaited. What I took for the ohenro path turned out to be wrong. Up 300 feet and around a hill to end up almost back at the same starting point. Then, after walking by wetlands populated with frogs that serenaded me as I walked by, I passed by Temple 36 thinking it was a small shrine. Around the wetlands I went. This lap reminded me of Nordic skiers in the shooting competition. When they miss the bulls-eye, they have to ski a penalty lap. The upside was that I heard the frogs again.

Why I missed Temple 36 can be seen in the photo below. After the entry gate, the rest of the temple is back in the woods that can only be reached by climbing 88 steps. I made up the number but it surely was a lot of steps. I am getting the hint that you really have to work towards enlightenment.

I left the temple via the forest trail. The torii beckoned the ohenro. More frog calls and then the solitude of small waterfalls and tall trees. Can you find the trail in the third photo below?

After getting back to a paved road, I crossed it and found a small temple that faced the ocean. Again, making a wrong turn, I came upon a blue domed building. Could it be that Scottie beamed me to Santorini? I had come upon a defunct project to create a condo project of a faux Santorini. Superb location, high above the seashore on a coastline similar to the Santorini caldera. I was looking forward to some seafood and dry chilled Santorini white wine. It was noontime but nigiri and water would have to do. Some Japanese have had their pipe dreams dashed.

The walk continued with some peeks of the ocean in between hills covered with trees and shrubs. A few hearty surfers were bobbing in ocean waiting for their wave. The coastline is dramatic and then I had to bear down to find Micchan’s place by the ocean. 4 PM was coming up.

I was getting tired. Luckily, I recognized her name written in hiragana. As I walked down to her village, I thought of the morning climb up. Here is her name above the entry to her minshuku.

Minshuku is a family owned and operated business. Micchan started hers decades ago to support herself and her children after her husband died while commercially fishing. Renowned after a review in the prestigious Asahi Shinbun, she provides well appointed Japanese styled rooms and of course dinner and breakfast. Pictured below are some dishes that she prepared for us. Loved the grilled fish and sashimi. Both locally caught.

But she performs other duties such as helping Aoyama-san with the blister on his big toe. I knew that he was hurting. But I didn’t know how badly. He is shown lancing his blister with a needle and thread. Thread? Yes, covered in raccoon oil so that the oil can get beneath the skin. I kid you not. We relieved our stress with a good laugh when Micchan pulled out a large pair of sewing scissors to cut the needle from the string. Doesn’t this lady look fierce? She also is about as tall as my grandmother, say, 4’8″or so.

She gave Aoyama-san the small jar of the raccoon oil to apply during the night. We’ll see if it works. Imagine the FDA approving this treatment. Raccoon oil.

As we signed the guest list, Marie Claude Bertrand’s signature appeared. She had stayed the night before. She and I met at Temple 11 and climbed to Temple 12, Shosanji, together. I was glad to see that she is still on the road. BTW, I have met only one American so far on this trip. He was the young man sitting next to Aoyama-san back on Day 9. He stopped walking to Temple 24.

My evening is coming to close. Hard to keep the eyes open.

Day 18: Invoking the Emergency Walking Act (21 March 2019)

Today’s sunrise was bleak. See image of Kochi at sunrise from my hotel room.

Heavy rains again. Aoyama-san’s feet were in bad shape. What to do?

I decided to invoke the emergency provision of the Walking Act of 2019 namely, we can take an alternative form of transportation. Thus, we started off at 8 AM for Temple 31, Chikurinji.

I had to get over my purist tendency for this trip. That is, every step of the way had to be a step on the ground. Mixed in with helping Aoyama-san was my feeling of not facing another 8 hours of walking in the rain. I am sure that another opportunity to do so will arise.

I also must apologize for the snarky remark about the fellow who left Temple 28 in a car. Each one of us is doing the best we can in making this journey. Keep it simple and keep within yourself. This morning was another humbling learning experience.

We arrived at Temple 31 in heavy rains which created its own mood. Shortly thereafter, a couple appeared all dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. They were celebrating graduation from college. I rationalized that if it weren’t for the emergency declaration, we would not arrived in time to see this joyous couple.

Was it raining hard? Check out this pair walking up the stairs to the main temple grounds and the rain spout. Pretty heavy in my opinion.

We left Temple 31 with our cab driver. He asked how many times had we had done o-henro. We said that this was the first time and that this was the first time that we had used cabs during the pilgrimage (well, not quite). Remember the priest calling up the taxi for me at Temple 12? He said, not to worry. The good things that you learned in the pilgrimage will stay with you whether you walk or ride. Thank you very much. He gave me a small frog charm, kaeru, return and have a safe journey. Kukai personified? Enough of this guilt.

Temple 32, Zenjibuji, was covered in fog giving it the backdrop of how heaven is sometimes pictured – in the clouds. The first photo is of the guardian of temple followed by Kukai. The temple also had a separate area of devotion to Tanuki, a raccoon figure which brings good fortune. We have Tanuki in our backyard garden too.

To get to Temple 33, Sekkeiji, we had to take a ferry across an inlet. The ferrymen were really strict. I went up to the second deck and the skipper scolded me for being there. If there was a sign, I missed it. Everything was in kanji. Even on the main deck, the hands pointed at a white line that you dared not cross. The mist was intense. Here is what we saw.

Temples 34 and 35 had their own special milieu. Temple 34 seemed to emphasize its pine trees. This tree had a large branch extended out at least 20 feet. We wondered how long it took form such a spread. As we left, I was amused that even Kukai had special foot coverings for a day like this one.

Our final temple, Kiyotakiji, was up 500 feet on a hill with an ethereal atmosphere. It was covered in a heavy blanket of mist. This view reminds me of scenes portrayed on many Japanese scrolls and shoji screens. One can feel the spiritual here.

After such a hard day riding in different cabs, we checked into our “business hotel.” Clean, comfortable reminding me of what a Motel 6 must have been like. Next door was a Japanese bakery that served pan like pain in French. After ordering, we sat among tables of women of our age or a bit younger. Aoyama-san said that women tend to gather in the afternoon to have a coffee or tea with some pan taking a break from household chores. How about these delights? We had our coffee and pan while planning the next two days of walking and some riding the rails. The next segments are really lengthy and no more near marathons!

He still had chores to do before dinner. Aoyama-san needed some cash so off we went in search of an ATM. We found the .com Bank. On the way, an athletic equipment store magically appeared (thank you Kukai). We outfitted Aoyama-san with a wider in the toe box shoes. He seemed to step more lively after that with a broad smile on his face.

We were in high spirits going to dinner. We went to the izakaya (sounds like a name from the Old Testament) which is a Japanese pub like our sports bar without TV screens. Our chef served up delicious food like grilled garlic (who ordered that?), small swordfish-like sakana (fish), and of course, draft beer and local sake.

Aoyama-san said that locals especially men come to izakaya on Friday’s to celebrate the end of the week (TGIF). Here they call it Hanakin (meaning flowering Friday – Hana for flower and kin as the shortened form of kinyobi, Friday).

The three fellows at the next table were already into Hanakin mode. Ayoyama-san had his tape recorder in hand and we had a raucous time talking with the guys. I picked up about a third of the conversation.

Chaucer had it right in the Canterbury Tales. A pilgrimage is the whole journey.

Tomorrow, the walk to Temple 36, and onto Minshuku Micchan which is on Aoyama-san’s bucket list of things to do on the pilgrimage. I am looking forward to meeting Michiko, the woman owner. Her story was written in Asahi Shinbun, the NYT of Japan. Everyone that we talked with in this area knows about her and her minshuku. Ja mata, ne (until tomorrow).

Day 17: Japan’s Vegetable Garden (20 March 2019)

Most of Japan’s land is mountainous. The Kochi area is one of the largest flat plain areas. Although urbanized, a significant portion is devoted to vegetable production thus earning Kochi the title of Japan’s vegetable garden.

Indeed, most of the walk was flat. At the beginning, we came upon Kagami’s Tulip Festival which is during March. Not the Keukenhof in the Netherlands, an unexpected field of tulips spread out before us. I thought that this day would be somewhat boring. Kukai had other plans.

Before we reach Temple 28, I had to take four photos of modern Japanese life – no theme but some images of how Japanese and by extension how we live in current times.

The first are the tofu choices. You think that we have choices between brands? I then passed a recycling center. Ever wonder what happens to those cans after you toss them into those blue bins? I could not resist recording my first sighting of a 100 yen shop. Given that the yen to dollar exchange rate is 111 to 1, the 100 yen shop is cheaper than the Dollar Store! How about having a granite effigy of MM in your backyard?

1001 Tofu
Jasper Johns? No, a Ron Yoshida
100 Yen Shop
MM and Friend

Back to Temple 28. When you think that you caught a break in walking flat ground, here comes another steep hill and then more steps to climb to the temple grounds. Here is a henro leaving the temple. He came by car.

Fortunately, the trail from Temples 28 to 30 and finally to the hotel was flat. Here are some images of Japanese Vegetable Garden.

Henro Trail Marker
Cemetery With Food For The Anscesters
A Greenhouse Uncovered
Shrine in the Fields
Preparing Rice Paddy
Beehives By The Road
Kochi Rice Paddies
Unfinished Urban Structure

I seem to emphasize topics and images that unrelated to temples. A henro’s time is less than 1% spent on temple grounds. We are also living daily life confronted with what we encounter “on the road.” These experiences are assimilated along with those moments of facing the hondo with our hands clasped. In my opinion at this moment, is how we generalized that spiritual moments at the temple into our seemingly mundane and routine lives. I leave you with images from temples and a Shinto shrine.

Hondo, Temple 27
Buddhist Temple and Resting Place For Henro
Think Before You Enter
Temple 30 Hondo Towards Sunset

Day 16: Another Walk in the Rain (19 March 2019)

7 AM. No temples today. Time to start another walk – my second in the rain. The first occurred during the awakening phase. Now, I am in training. I hope that these exercises are few and far between.

Aoyama-san and I walked 17 miles, almost all in steady rain. Before this pilgrimage, I don’t think that I walked in the rain further than from building to car. I took days off from training when it rained. Now, it seems natural though my fellow walkers and I would prefer dry weather. The weather is what it is and we have to make progress along the path. Below are photos of Monique (Joseph is waving in the background – today was his 64th tanjobi birthday, Ayoyama-san, and moi in our rain gear.

The rain creates its own mood and beauty. We stopped several times to take photos. The first is of the mountains near Aki City during a momentary break from the rain. The other was taken from the overlook at the Akano rest area. The final image was taken at sunset from the second floor dining area at Sumiyoshi minshuku (a small Japanese inn) after the rain had cleared.

We also took a small detour to visit the boyhood home of Iwasaki Yataro who was the founder of Mitsubishi. This company was one of a handful of companies that built Japan during the Mejii period. These companies were labeled zaibatsu; they were essentially monopolies that eventually helped support the WW2 war efforts. Germany had similar all encompassing corporations such as Krupp and IG Farben. Here is a statue of Iwasaki, his thatched roof boyhood home, and the rock memorial to him. He lived only 51 years.

After 10 more miles of walking and a brief stop for lunch (that’s Aoyama-san with a hot dog), we arrived at our minshuku. This one is located right next to the beach. I forgot to mention that several of these minshuku have washing machines available to o-henro. I have taken every opportunity to do laundry. We ended with another fine dinner; we had many more dishes than just the sashimi that is pictured. Every minshuku has a yukata and obi ready for each guest. Surely beats camping on the Appalachian Trail!

Another days ends. I did learn some very useful survival words. How do you say: small, medium, or large when ordering coffee or tea? The answer: sho (small), chu (medium), and dai (large), followed by onegasimasu (polite form for please). But one can’t say, chu shitai. That means, I would like to kiss you. Thanks for the heads-up, Ayoyama-san.

Tomorrow, 18 miles to enter three temples (28, 29, and 30) and Kochi City.

Day 15: Yutanpo (18 March 2019)

Last night as I slipped under my futon, I felt a very warm object similar to a rock by my feet. What was that? For the first time, I had hot water bottle warming up my bed.

Ayoyama-San had a water bottle in his bed. He said that putting that water bottle under the futon was an act of yutanpo, hospitality towards a guest beyond the usual.

Japanese homes then and many now do not have central air. Space heaters are the favored method of heating. Although better than nothing, space heaters may not adequately do the job. Hence, the water bottle.

The home that we stayed in was a traditional Japanese home built 85 to 90 years ago. Think of the sets for samurai movies and you will get a sense of such a home. It was a privilege to have stayed in one. Here are some photos of the home.

It was time to go and begin what became an 18 miler. We passed by a gas station where a farmer had just filled up his tank.

We passed a Shinto shrine where locals pray at for a good fishing season and for the fishermen’s safety. BTW – shrines abound everywhere in Japan.

After 12 miles, we completed a 6 mile hike up 1500 feet to Konomineji Temple 27. When we arrived at the sanmon (mountain gate), we found that we still had over 100 steps to go before reaching the hondo. We made it to the top, said prayers, and had our books signed. This temple was certainly one of the most beautifully set that we have seen.

Back to the inn for dinner and o-furo. Tomorrow’s another day with rain in the forecast. A 15 miler ahead.

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.

Day 13: Down to Cape Muroto (16 March 2019)

As we were going to bed last night, it hailed! What was going to be the weather tomorrow? Like Americans, the Japanese devote plenty of minutes to forecasting the weather. The TV commentator along with a Japanese version of Vanna White predicted no rain.

When we woke, black clouds were above but they soon cleared. Windy, yes, but no rain.

We decided to be prudent after yesterday. We cut back to a more sensible 12 mile walk. What we didn’t know was that we had to climb 500 feet at the end. Heads down, we managed the climb and arrived at Temple 24 – about 45 miles down the road from Temple 23.

Before moving on, a word of praise for Lodge Ozaki. Not only did we dine at a high gourmet level (see yesterday’s blog), the proprietor was attentive and very helpful in helping us plan the next segment of our trip. Five stars for Lodge Ozaki which her grandmother founded 40 years ago. Here she is.

Our first landmark was the Meotoiwa Rocks. The word means husband and wife together. Here they are bound with ropes. The photo can’t capture the sublime beauty of the rocks and the setting in which they sit.

Since we were on a “short” walk, we veered off the henro road to visit the GeoMarine Center. This newly constructed museum presents the geological and cultural history of the Muroto area. Did you know that Japan sits at the conjuncture of four tectonic plates? No wonder it is probably the most active earthquake and volcanic region in the world.

Since it was almost noon, hirugohan (lunchtime). I dined on a bowl of what else, seaweed noodles. Ayoyama-San enjoyed his curry. We both had yaki-emo (grilled Japanese sweet potato). Another hit from the past. We topped it off with salty vanilla ice cream that was charcoal colored with real charcoal! I loved it because it was off sweet; that’s the best that I can describe the flavor.

Alas, it was time to get on the road. The goal was to reach Mikurodo and Shinmei caves where Kukai reached enlightenment and where we lived. This is where it all began. Kukai means sky and earth – the two elements that he saw from his cave while meditating. Here is a photo of the Mikurodo cave where he meditated and the calligrapher who signed our record books.

After we walked about 300 meters Down the road, we began our final climb to Temple 24. After visiting the temple, we checked into the temple hotel. My room is oversized. The dinner was delicious and featured local bonito sashimi marinated in a soy vinegar.

Time for rest. That near marathon day took a lot out of us. Two temples tomorrow and about 12-15 miles of walking.