I had my melon bread and coffee and set out from the hotel at 6:30am. This day was one of two on this trip where I had a specific time schedule to meet – on this occasion, a 4:10pm ferry that I needed to catch in order to be back at my hotel at a decent time – so the pressure was on. I also had 4 temples to visit and a healthy 34kms to walk.
There are two sections that can be traversed by ferry on the official pilgrim path in Kochi prefecture and at least one other ”unofficial” ferry that I came across during my research. The ferry that I was planning on taking today only ran once every hour so if I missed it, I was facing arriving back at my hotel in the dark.
It was another lovely crisp morning and the views across the newly planted rice fields were lovely.
It was only about an hour to my first temple, number 29, Kokubunji.
The path was lined with tall trees and moss.
It was very peaceful and serene. There was also a gorgeous weeping cherry blossom tree in the garden that would have been spectacular in bloom.
After leaving the temple, the path took me through rice paddies for several kilometres.
There was one point where a farmer had parked his car on the path and there was a bit of a typical Japanese exchange between us: “Sorry, sorry, can I get through? Sorry.” which was met by “Sorry, sorry, of course, sorry.” And of course, much bowing on both sides.
I was skirting around the mountains at the edge of Kochi city, which I could see in the distance.
My next temple was another two and a half hours away, Zenrakuji, number 30. I remember this temple well because it was directly adjacent to a Shinto shrine and even shared a carpark with it. It seemed to exemplify the chill harmony that religions have with each other in Japan.
I also remember the lady who was doing the calligraphy in the stamp books, was also periodically running outside and sweeping the carpark between pilgrims. I had taken a seat outside and was having a drink and rest while watching her.
My next temple was about ninety minutes away and I stopped a Lawson convenience store on the way to buy a drink and rice ball for lunch. The store had a ridiculously huge carpark (by Japan standards) and there was a large seating area inside where you could sit and eat while charging your phone.
From there the path spat me out nearly into the path of an on-coming car, when I emerged from between a tiny, narrow lane between houses onto a busy road with a tram line running down the middle.
And I passed over several rivers that were none-too-clean but somehow seemed to contain masses of turtles that were having an orgy.
The path then took a bit of a windy turn up a hill and through a botanical garden.
Looking back, I had quite a nice view of the valley after climbing a super-steep set of stairs. Every time I climbed steps I thought of M who hates steps more than anything in the world, but I thought that he would appreciate this little motorised contraption meant to ferry things and people up the hill.
Going through the botanical garden was quite funny because it was something that you are supposed to pay to get into. There were signs all over the place saying that you need to pay your admission fee on the way out if you came in the ‘back way’ but the pilgrim path was free and considerably rougher than the nice level path for the paying visitors. I was also walking against the stream of people and earned myself a lot of stares in my outfit.
I passed through the admission gate to the garden and made my way up the stairs (more steps!) to temple 31, Chikurinji.
The place was thronging with people, being a Sunday afternoon and a busload of pilgrims had not long arrived after I did. I did my ritual at the temple and then briskly wandered around the grounds and found this pagoda.
But I was on a time schedule, so didn’t linger long. The pilgrim path down the other side of the mountain was steep and slippery.
It was just over an hour to my next and last temple for the day, Zenjibujiji, number 32.
Of course, it was also up on top of another mountain, but the views were spectacular out over the ocean.
It was actually a temple that I wished I could have stayed longer at. The view was stunning and the area inside the temple was filled with lots of little statues and nooks and crannies that would have been interesting to explore, but there about another 6km to the ferry and it was already 2:30pm.
I charged along the road to the ferry and ended up buying myself some time, so I ducked into a supermarket on the way and bought a banana and a drink and sat outside and had a quick break. Then I headed for the ferry which was deceptively further than I thought it was, but arrived with 10 minutes to spare.
For a moment when I got to the ferry, I wondered if I was in the right place because it wasn’t a pier and looked so weird. But according to the sign, I was in the right place.
The ferry is free and run by the local government and take less than 5 minutes. It’s pretty much the way everyone on that side of the bay gets to work or school so it was very utilitarian.
It saved me from having to walk over that bridge in heavy traffic, so I was glad I’d made it.
The ferryman kindly told me how to get to the next temple after getting off, but I wasn’t actually going to the next temple today. I was planning on taking a bus back to the city and my hotel where I had stayed the first night and left my suitcase.
I found the bus stop without much hassle, but it was actually the bus terminal and when I went inside to ask if I was waiting in the right spot, the bus passed me so I had to wait for the next one, which fortunately didn’t take long.
It was about a 20min ride to town and I walked into my hotel at 5:30pm in full pilgrim gear by which the hotel staff seemed to be amused by. I guess they did the math and realised that I’d been out walking the trail and that was why I’d left my suitcase there for 5 days.
I put my clothes onto wash and headed out to get some food. For some reason I was craving cold noodles and found exactly what I wanted in the convenience store on the ground floor of my hotel. Unfortunately when I went to pay for them, the register beeped and they informed me that the noodles were out of date by 2 minutes and so they couldn’t sell them to me. The lady kindly went over to where the noodles were and said that there were other types I could have, but none of the what I wanted.
It had been an exceptionally long day and I was overly tired. I said to her in my worst petulant child voice, “It’s 2 minutes right? I just want these noodles!!” But this was Japan and there was no way anything was being done not by the book so she apologised, but I stormed out of the store. I just wanted my noodles!! I ended up walking around 3 other convenience stores on ridiculously sore feet just looking for what I wanted and eventually found them.
Ah Japan…sometimes you bring out the worst in me. I felt bad for going off (by Japan standards) at the lady who was just doing her job, but after I had some food, I felt normal again and was glad to go to sleep.