I set off on my little pilgrimage on Sunday March 20th 2016. In order to be where I needed to be for my 7am departure from Tokushima station I had to get myself to Shikoku island the day before. My work trip had me staying Friday night in Kyoto so I was planning to catch a JR Highway bus to Tokushima at 10am (after depositing my work buddy on a train heading to Osaka airport). My lodgings and travel modes for work had been quite glamorous and my hotel for the evening had been the Hotel Granvia which is right inside Kyoto station. The bus stop was literally outside the hotel, but not wanting to be late (the next bus after 10am was leaving at 4pm) I was ready and waiting with my little suitcase and backpack at 9:30am. I had taken my big suitcase with me as well, but I’d sent that ahead to my hotel in Osaka, where I was going to stay for 2 nights after my pilgrimage and before I headed back to Australia.
The bus trip normally takes about 3hrs, but this time it took 3hrs and 40mins because we were caught up in the long-weekend traffic (Monday was a public holiday). I’d also had some difficulty booking a hotel for Sunday night in Tokushima, but had eventually found a room in a new hotel right by the station called Daiwa Roynet. Daiwa are a large house building company and they’d apparently built a new office and decided to make part of the office into a hotel.
I booked my usual ‘Ladies Room’ which was just a normal room, but it’s filled with ‘ladies stuff’ like placenta face masks and an aroma therapy oil burner.
You thought I was joking about the placenta mask thing, didn’t you?
Here’s some hotel room porn for those who appreciate it.
The room was about 9,500 yen with no meals which was a bit on the pricey side for my budget, but it was clean and the bathtub was large so it got bonus points for that and the extensive amenities. The little tubes and packets of facial cleanser, toner and moisturiser were great for taking with me on my hike.
Sometimes ladies rooms are on a separate floor or in a ‘secure’ part of the hotel but this ladies room was mixed in with the others. I arrived about 1:45pm which was well before the check-in time of 3pm, but the receptionist seemed so flustered to have to deal with a blonde foreigner that I was heading to my room, card-key in hand 10mins later.
I needed to go and get some things from the 100 yen shop for my hike and I also thought I’d go and do some shopping because I really only had one full shopping day planned on my trip and I’d wondered if it was enough. I ended up buying some cooking supplies (seaweed, dashi, different sauces and spices etc.) from a supermarket and some plastic containers from the 100 yen shop (portion control for our diet back home) and then wondered how I was going to fit it all in my tiny suitcase that I was going to leave at the hotel while I wandered the countryside with my backpack. I opened up the extension compartment and ended up squishing it all inside and pruned what I was going to take in my backpack as much as I could and shoved everything else inside my suitcase. Even then, my backpack was too heavy and I would come to regret my over-packing about 12hrs in.
Being that it was a pilgrimage, I needed candles and incense to offer at the temples (precisely 2 candles and 6 sticks of incense for each temple) which I purchased from the 100 yen shop along with a lighter and a handy plastic “grave visiting container”.
I was resigned to the fact that I was going to be walking through the rain at some point during the 7 days, so I came loaded with zip-loc bags and cases for everything to keep it all dry.
At each temple you also need to offer 2 Osamefuda (name slips) and I’d read up about a great idea of converting a geometry kit case from the 100 yen shop into a case for your osamefuda and a pen. It involves throwing away the protractor and other assorting things inside the case and wiggling off/cutting off the little plastic knobs inside the case that are meant to hold all the bits inside. I’d recommend buying a 100 yen pair of scissors for this job as well. The pen from the hotel I had stayed at previously was thin and fit perfectly inside as well.
The slips are colour-coded depending on how many times you’ve done the pilgrimage and white ones are for noobs who have done it less than 5 times. You write your name, address, age and wish (what you are praying for) on them and deposit them in a special box at the main hall and daishi hall at each temple. You also give them to people who give you osettai (help you) along the way, but I’ll explain more about osettai later.
My clothing and pilgrim ‘uniform’ was all stuff that I pre-purchased. I’d never really done hiking in any meaningful way before so I really didn’t know what to buy in terms of shoes, shirts, socks and pants, but some of my gear I was able to recycle from my marathon days.
I spent about a week researching various choices – hiking boots vs trail running shoes, water-proof pants vs stretchy pants vs zip-off pants, long-sleeve vs short-sleeve shirts + arm sleeves, rain ponchos vs jackets and spats etc. The choices were endless and I’m sure you can imagine that I was a little ball of angst trying to make all these decisions, but I really didn’t have time like I usually do to angst. I had about 2 weeks to plan and get organised before I left (a result of shitty people at work making shitty late decisions) so I was under the pump getting my work side of things done, let alone my private stuff.
I ended up buying 3 different types of pants (all 3 types) and only wearing one (stretchy pants) and took 3 short-sleeve t-shirts and only wore one (white t-shirt I got for free) and I bought a long-sleeved shirt from Uniqlo on the Saturday during my shopping that annoyed me more than it helped. I took two pairs of my blister-prevention marathon socks which I didn’t like for running and I discovered I didn’t like for walking either so I ended up in my comfy, old cotton new balance socks that I ran my marathon in. I went with a pair of Merrell trail running shoes and they were fantastic, but I had a weird idea and put in the cushioning innersoles I’d bought for my marathon and never used at the time. They hurt my feet for the first two days so I took them out and just went with the super-low profile innersoles that came with the shoes and it was bliss.
Remember with my marathon I was really anal about testing out my gear beforehand and I had as good as I was going to get on the day? Well, I was a bit blasé about the hike and didn’t do any and I mean ANY training beforehand. I wore my new shoes for about a week to work, but I didn’t do any walking practise with my pack or anything else. I would quickly come to regret that decision about 3 hrs in.
The ‘uniform’ for the pilgrimage can be purchased from the gift store outside Temple No.1, but I did some research and decided to buy it all from an online company and have it delivered to my hotel in Tokyo. My main reason for this was that I wanted the coat to be wicking/breathable material/fast-drying material and the normal ones that you buy from the temple shops are made of cotton. I knew I would need to wash it every night after arriving at my lodgings and it needed to dry before my departure the next morning. It was one of the best decisions I made. They also sold a particularly good rain poncho designed to cover you while you still have your pack on and while I didn’t get to use it this time, I’ll probably need it at some point.
It also came with a free t-shirt which I ended up wearing everyday because the other wicking t-shirts I had brought were bright colours and didn’t really look the part under the white pilgrim coat.
The poncho also came with its own carry bag emblazoned with the sanscrit character symbolising Koubou Daishi (who is the reason this pilgrimage exists and whom I will talk about in more detail later).
Fortunately, I was blessed with the weather. It didn’t rain once and the only time stuff in my pack got wet was when I was sweating so much that it soaked through my shirts and damaged some papers I had in there. I had been looking at the forecast multiple times a day for a couple of weeks beforehand and it was looking like fine weather for the entire 7 days, but being Australian, I don’t trust weather forecasts so I still took all my wet weather gear anyway. It rained the day before my hike and the day after. It also rained pretty much every day for my work trip the week before except the day when we were down at Hakone and it was gloriously fine. I’ve never had such a clear view of Mt Fuji in all of the 20 years I’ve lived/travelled in Japan.
I’ve looked across this lake before and seen nothing but a wall of fog. And I’ve also looked down on a white haze where Mt Fuji should be from a cable car and seen nothing. But I’ve never seen it like I saw it on that day. Just in case you were wondering how clear a view:
My gear talk should probably finish there although I will do a more detailed (more detailed!) gear entry later on because I found reading blogs about gear to be so helpful in my selection and preparation and I’d like to pay forward the help I received.
So Saturday night I had a sushi bento box for dinner, packed up ready for the next morning and tried to get an early night. It turned out that I wasn’t going to have much sleep that night, but that’s for my next entry.