Day 37: Muri, Muri (9 April 2019)

My plan was to visit Temple 59, Kokubunji, and then take an easy walk to the Temple 60 area. There are three other temples nearby, 61, 62, and 63. The guidebook suggests seeing Temples 61 and 62 on one day and then spending the next day doing the round trip to Temple 60. Good idea except rain was predicted for the next day.

I made a command decision to speed up my walk in order to get to my ryokan at about noon. I would then have 5 hours to get to the temple before the 5 PM closing and be back for 6 PM dinner at the ryokan. Reasonable to me. On the way, I stopped for a quick lunch to tank up on food for the climb.

To no avail. I arrived at the ryokan at 1 PM. These places are sometimes hard to find even with the guidebook. Unlike home, there are no billboards on the main roads with arrows or text pointing one in the right direction. Luckily, I can read hiragana so I can find most buildings when I see its sign. But the trick is to get into the right neighborhood. It becomes a game of successive approximations. You keep asking until someone knows where the minshuku or ryokan is located. I asked six people before success although everyone was trying to help and be attentive to this stranger.

When I got to the ryokan, I asked to put my backpack down. I explained that I was going to Temple 60, Yokomineji. “Muri, muri,” she said vigorously moving her head back and forth. From my Japanese lessons, Muri means impossible, are you out of your mind! She said that it would take at least six and a half hours for the trip. I would surely be late for dinner and I would be walking in the dark.

Dejected for having hurried there and with a belly full of food, I ended up visiting Temples 61, 62 and 63 in order to enjoy them in dry weather.

Muri was confirmed later at dinner. One ohenro whom I met a few days before said that it took about seven hours up and down under good conditions. Am I going to do it in the rain tomorrow? Another muri moment. We’ll see in the next blog what happens.

Temple 61, Koonji, is a very interesting place. It is the only temple that is “modern” in design. It is a very large concrete structure. The hondo is located inside the building. The temple alter is the largest that I have seen on this journey. The seats are like those in a movie theater. This hondo can seat hundreds unlike the more traditional ones which are smaller and often with no seats.

As I left Koonji, a sign stated that one can have his/her signature book stamped at a location about 200 meters down the block. According to the guidebook, Temple 62, Hojuji, does not belong to the Shikoku Pilgrimage Temple Association although it is one of the 88. Earlier in the pilgrimage, Ayoyama-san said that there was some unspecified wrongdoings at Temple 62. Thus, the temple was not recognized.

I had my book signed at the kiosk near Temple 61 but later went to Temple 62. The temple had no visitors while I was there. It looked quite bare in comparison to the other temples. When I went to the temple office, the priest asked if I wanted the temple’s signature. I said yes and now have two versions of “official” stamps and signatures for Temple 62. The priest at Temple 62 said that the head priest at Temple 61 unfairly started rumors about Temple 62 in order to get more business. Who knows what the true story is. What I do know that the priest from Temple 62?treated me very nicely and gave me small gift when I left. Here is a photo of Kukai from the Hojuji’s Daishi Hall.

I reached Temple 63, Kichijoji, after a mile walk down a very busy highway. While getting my book signed, a fellow with a tour company for bussed pilgrims was standing to the side wearing his white vest, hakui, with his back turned to me. I could not resist asking him if I could take his picture showing what was written on the hakui. So now, you have seen the modern version of the hakui.

The writing actually spoke to me because most often the walking ohenro are by themselves. I estimate that about 90+% walk alone. I can speak for myself. I often feel that I do have the road to myself looking about, humming a song, or thinking about “life.” All kidding aside, I am with Kukai.

Day 36: Hodgepodge (8 April 2019)

Today was a mixture of many experiences.

The innkeeper at Masu-ya Ryokan gave me instructions on how to open the front door to let myself out in the morning. Before going, I had an opportunity to look over his collection of various good luck pieces like the lucky cat whose one eye is painted when a wish is granted. I liked this modern version that was perhaps telling that all will be well on this part of the journey.

I was off early because I had a lot of ground to cover and five temples to visit. The urban environment offers a lot of stimuli.

School children were returning after their spring break. It was interesting to see how they crossed busy intersections. Everyone lines up and follows the senior (oldest student – sempie) who is holding a flag. The concept of the sempie is ubiquitous across Japanese society. In school, underclass students defer to more senior ones. Even Ayoyama-san jokingly referred to me as sempie because I was a few months older than he was. We both deferred to Akita-san, the 80 year old ohenro. Such rules seem to bring a high level of order to the society.

Another phenomenon is the amusement and gaming facilities from pachinko to other forms of entertainment. The caption says – Slot Brave Man’s Spirit. I don’t know what this was all about. But you certainly pick up the testosterone in the message.

Shortly, I reached Temple 54, Enmeiji. A beautiful canopy of cherry blossom trees framed the street leading to the temple.

At the temple, someone had left a staff by the hondo. Check it out. Looks like the skeletal reproduction of a leg. Staffs that ohenro carry come in many different forms usually a four sided square-like pole with a decorative covering at the top. I wonder if the person had come to the temple for a cure and voila it happened because s/he left this staff.

I included another photo of staffs that people had left at Temple 57, Eifukuji. I’m not the only person who leaves a trail of forgotten items. Look closely at the decorative covers. Mine is bare – I lost my covering three weeks ago.

Temple 57 also displays copies of the Buddhist feet rocks from the temple in India where someone had achieved enlightenment. Perhaps they were placed here as an encouragement to ohenro because Ehime prefecture is the place of enlightenment.

As I left Temple 57, I met up with five people, two of whom are pictured here. The fellow on the left as you view the photo is 82; the one on the right is 77, Kondo-san who speaks very good English. I found out that he walked ohenro in 2011 when his mother passed away. While doing ohenro, he met a Frenchwoman who told him about the Camino. He has walked parts of the Camino every year since then. He’ll be going to Spain on 8 May to join up with three Italians for another walk.

I then made the climb to Temple 58, Senyiji. The initial climb is a bit steep. When you get to the sanmon, one then climbs a stair like path up another 300 feet to the top. What a view! I can understand why Monique will stay here again. Book this one.

I included a photo of the person signing my book. Signatures are well done at every temple but his was particularly artistic. Turns out that he was an art professor at Todai (Tokyo University) – printmaking and photography. I loved his style.

As fate would have it, on the way down the stairs of Temple 58, I ran into Kondo-san again. He took a selfie of us and later sent it to me. I responded by saying that I was free for dinner. He took me up on the offer to enjoy his favorite izakaya in Imambari by the train station. (I added the photo of my taxi driver that I needed to get to the eki. Women are making inroads into this profession.) We enjoyed the small plates, and, of course, beer and sochu (distilled sweet potato) from his personal bottle. Look for his name above the label. He says the best sochu comes from Kyushu. I can attest that it was smooth.

He lives alone and loves to meet people and to walk. I invited him to join me on my last few days of ohenro. Who knows. It will another gift to learn about another person and his perspectives on life, Japan, and more. The adventure continues.

Day 35: America First? (7 April 2019)

My fellow ohenro must know something that I don’t. Whether veterans or rookies, they took the train five stops up the line to get a jump on walking to Temple 54 and beyond.

The segment between Seapa Resort and Temple 54 must be considered a dead spot. After long stretches between temples in Kochi Prefecture (up to three days), perhaps the need to reach temples on a daily basis becomes acute.

I had resolved to walk to the end meaning back to Temple 1 without any other form of transportation. Time to start walking Route 196 along the northwestern shore of Shikoku.

The coast is beautiful with parks and breakwater barriers from which one can view the Inland Sea and feel the breezes. Shortly after left the hotel, I walked by a restaurant named Betty Crocker’s with its billboard filled with images of pies. Even if I tried, I could not make up a story of a restaurant with this name in Japan.

The copying of American culture was reinforced when I came upon the “Out There” drive in diner. Even the shield with Route 196 replicated our US highway signage. The Japanese road signs are quite different. The hot dog next to the motorcycle was draped in an American flag.

The menu was American with a Japanese touch. You can order a “spicy chili dog.” A very common menu item is the set that includes the main dish along with a range of accompaniments like fries known as “potato” in Japan and coffee. Since it was 10 AM, I settled on coffee (a pot with two cups) and the equivalent of cream puffs. Coffee in Japan is freshly made and is superb. Even in a diner, the food was presented with elegance.

What caught my attention in the restaurant was a wall that an artist had created in 2012. His words resonated with me and captured the essence of Buddhist and ohenro values. Several people during this trip, locals and Japanese/foreign ohenro alike have commented on how much they like Americans and our culture. Then, they add that they don’t like our government and how it is currently represented. The conversation at that point goes into silence. America first? It is sad to hear how America is currently perceived — so diametrically opposed to writings on that wall.

After 14 miles of walking, I reached my minshuku. I am the only guest for the evening. However, the establishment has a very busy restaurant known as Auberge. About 25 guests probably from one large family were enjoying dinner. Courses came one at a time. Below is the lunch menu, French style.

I had my dinner in a private room. After all of the days having dinner with Ayoyama-san and other ohenro, I had to readjust. At least, I didn’t talk to myself. I wrote a draft of this blog. The food and drink (the local sake) were totemo oishi (really tasty). Maybe a dead spot on the ohenro trail but Masu-ya is a very pleasant place to rest.

Tomorrow is a big day, 18 miles or so, and five temples. Early bedtime and an early start.

Day 34: A New Phase (6 April 2019)

Sadly, Aoyama-san and I had to say good-bye. We had breakfast at Willie Winkie in the Matsuyama train station. Where the Japanese come up with these business names is beyond me. Probably Dunkin Donuts sounds funny to them.

I included some images of the offerings. How about that tonkatsu between two pieces of white bread – one of Ayoyama’s favorites. It was marked as the #1 seller. Indeed, within minutes, the entire tray was gone. The macha bean paste danish seemed to sell well too. Besides the tonkatsu sandwich, I had a plain non-glazed buttermilk donut. My streak of eating Japanese food ended in glory. That donut is my favorite. Now, to start another streak.

As we departed, we said, “Kiyo sukete,” to one another (take care). The moment reminded about the passage in Le Petit Prince when the boy and fox’s time together ended. Although difficult to leave, we had wonderful time together, one that I will always treasure. We will correspond and perhaps one day meet again.

I went on my way walking to Temples 53 and 54. Even in an urban environment, one can find natural beauty. How about these irises that were in pots next to the sidewalk. The Japanese are certainly serious about their gardens improvising when necessary.

I eventually ended up at a hotel called “Sespa Mokoto.” I think that they meant sea spa because it is located right on the beach. I was looking forward to an ofuro in the public bath area. To my surprise, my room had its own. What a luxury to clean up and then soak in hot water in a private room. My room faced the sea. The sunset was spectacular.

I also met up with the young Taiwanese fellow that I walked with on day 1. We had met up at least five times after that. We were together again. We had to toast that we had gotten this far. BTW – his email address is: macguireyang. What’s with this address? He said that he took macguire because he loved the movie — Show me the money. American movies do permeate cultures throughout the world.

That’s it for today. More walking along the coast tomorrow that will help set up the climbs to Temples 60 and 66. They are on top of two of the highest mountains on Shikoku and the 88 pilgrimage. Onward I go.

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.

Day 32: Good Deeds Get Rewarded (4 April 2019)

It was time to leave the mountains and walk down to Matsuyama. We said good-bye to our innkeeper who also makes his own umeboshi – both sweet and salty. I think that Shikoku should host an umeboshi festival to identify the best of the best on the island. So far, I have identified three contenders whose umeboshi are superb. He would be a contender.

After climbing over another pass, we reached a paved road that was leading us to Temple 46, Joruriji. We passed what looked liked another ohenro rest area but with a wood burning furnace in front. The furnace was there to heat water for making tea. Voices beckoned us to come in. Four people were inside with food and drink at the ready. It was about noon – time for hirugohan (lunch). Sandwiches – not. Rather, a full course lunch with rice mixed with vegetables and mushrooms, pickled vegetables, hard boiled eggs, fruits, and assorted Japanese confectioneries. These people were in their 80’s. On Thursdays, they come out and offer lunch to ohenro.

We ended up spending more than hour with them talking about ohenro, what they knew about the pilgrimage, and why they offered these lunches. They certainly appreciated how to sustain a community and the traditions of ohenro. In turn, we appreciated their spirit and kindness.

A few minutes down the road, Aoyama-san said that we were passing the elementary school whose students put encouraging signs for ohenro on the mountain trail. Cars were in the parking lot so we assumed that some teachers were in even though the students were on spring break.

We were invited in and offered cookies and coffee – no instant here but a nice pour over. We thanked them for supporting ohenro and teaching children the importance of encouraging the human spirit. It was a pleasure to be among fellow professionals and to share perspectives about education.

Yes, we did visit Temples 46 and 47. In front of Temple 46, we talked with a bicycle ohenro. He was on a special 10 day vacation as a reward for his good work at his company. He intended to complete the entire circuit of the 88 in this time. He was in full uniform. Check out the bike. Looked like a top of the line bike to me.

Here are some images from Temple 47 – the bell, the main promenade to the hondo (how about those cherry blossoms), and a temple cat under another bell.

I will end this day with the dining room scene from our minshuku. This particular one is very large like a more elegant business hotel. No western tables here. You have to be able to sit on the floor. As usual, the food was delicious and served with a smile.

Day 31: The Third Nansho (3 April 2019)

Eighteen miles round trip today in order to reach Temple 45, Iwayaji – the third of the six nansho (difficult to reach) temples – and return to our minshuku. These temples are generally located over 800 meters in elevation with one or more significant climbs.

We started at 7:15 AM and went to Temple 44, Daihoji about a mile away from our minshuku. The lighting was perfect for the image leading up to the main gate. At the main gate’s entrance are a pair of zori, slippers made from straw. Pairs are made every one hundred and are hung from the ceiling. This temple’s atmosphere was sublime at this time in the morning. I also included the statue of a woman figure – note the busts that protrude from her head.

Leaving the temple, we began our trek to Temple 45. We went through the Tonomido Pass at 2200 feet down into a valley with a paved road that took us to Temple 45. We should have expected the stairs, meaning several staircases, to the main temple. We went by several arrays of statuary such as one dedicated to Kukai. How about the monument with the Kirin beer can as a offering to help the ancestor? I would have liked to have known this fellow. He must have enjoyed many a hanakin with his buds.

We took the back way to return to the minshuku. As we descended on a portion the path, we came upon a ohenro ascending. He was moving and wanted to get to Temple 45. Later, at dinner, we discovered that he is staying at our minshuku. He is 80 and is oldest walking ohenro that we have met! Aoyama-san and I thought that being 70 was pretty impressive. Maybe life begins at 70 after all. Hum.