It was the 9th day of my pilgrimage part II so I had a week left to go. The stretch between temples 36 and 39 is what I “lovingly” refer to as “the back nine” because it is 9 long days of seemingly endless walking, dotted with some truly frightening mountain passes and with very few temples to give you that grounding sense of getting somewhere.
My day started at 7am with a yummy breakfast.
I had another half bowl of rice on top of that because I knew I had a big day ahead of me – 2 mountain passes, temple 37 and 30kms. I was glad to have a temple in my schedule for the day to have something to look forward to.
While I was checking out at 8am, the couple I had met last night came down for breakfast and while the staff went and readied the car (I asked them to drive me back to the point on the pilgrim path where I had veered off to get to the hotel) I went and had a quick chat with them. They wished me well and then as I was putting on my shoes and getting my gear together, they came out to “officially” wave me off along with all the hotel staff, so I had a send off like royalty. It was very nice and very Japanese, but kind of mortifying at the same time…lol.
I asked at the reception desk if the Osaka path had reopened. In my research I’d come across the fact that there were two options for the first mountain pass, but that one of them had been closed due to lots of landslides and damage from a typhoon a year ago. They told me that it had re-opened so I had the driver take me to the start of that path. It was only a couple of kilometres, but any chance you have to shave off unnecessary distance and save your feet is a god-send.
Even when there are two options available, most people take the Soemimizu path because it’s the original henro path. It’s slightly longer and has a higher elevation but apparently is better maintained. I thought that the shorter option was the way to go and I had it in my mind that if they’d spent a year re-opening it, maybe, just maybe, it might actually be more civilised than the “well-maintained” Soemimizu path.
The path to the first pass, the Nanago pass, starts with a long meander alongside a river which is actually quite nice
All the while you are edging closer to a massive overpass in the distance
Which is part of the toll way that carves through the mountains with a series of tunnels and bridges instead of going over them like a schmuck. You eventually pass under the mammoth overpass
And several hours later you look back at exactly how far and high you’ve climbed
The Osaka path had probably been open for a couple of weeks when I walked it. You could tell they had made a concerted effort to make it passable, but there was a lot of skirting around sections of the path that had fallen away and clambering over fallen trees and other debris. You could see that the typhoon had done some considerable damage.
The path begins with a hut and one of the most fragrant mobile toilets I have come across in my young life.
There are some eerie bamboo fields as well:
With some of the biggest bamboo babies I’d seen (most of these bamboo babies get harvested and eaten by locals when they’re about 15cms high so it’s quite rare to find them like this)
There is also one section where a waterfall falls across the path, so you’ve got no hope of crossing it if there has been heavy rain.
It also ends in a rickety staircase of 108 steps that were apparently made for giants because they are so high. The fact that you can’t hold onto the handrail because it’s about to fall off, doesn’t help the climb.
Was it worse that the previous day’s mountain pass with its “dangerous sections”? I’m going to say no.
I did spend a fair bit of time not looking at the sides of the path too closely. I am REALLY not good with heights so I find narrow paths that make me feel like I could plunge to my death scare the bejeesus out of me. There isn’t really a descent either, after climbing up, you get deposited out onto a main road and then you veer off into agricultural land for a few kilometres where they obviously have problems with the local wildlife:
I stopped for lunch at a road station. Apparently the pork cutlet at the restaurant there is superb, but it was packed out with people so I headed into the gift shop instead and managed to snag myself this egg roll and rice ball pack.
I was super happy because it came from a store that I had passed the previous day but that had been closed at the time. The store is famous for its yummy egg roll (like the egg slab you get at a sushi place) and I have to say that it was pretty damn good.
The toilets in the road station also had this awesome stick holder in them. I have to say that finding a place for your stick is always tricky (because you’re not supposed to lay it on the ground) so this holder was the biz.
About an hour after lunch I arrived at Temple 37, Iwamotoji. The town that surrounds the temple has some scenic spots.
The temple was interesting because the train line ran right behind the main temple building so your chanting occasionally gets interrupted as a train roars through.
The temple is also famous for its ceiling that is covered in hundreds of paintings, including, bizarrely, Marilyn Monroe. I somehow managed to take this photo of the inside of the temple,
but completely forgot to look up….
After leaving the temple there was a long section of walking along the main road. The road was very busy and there wasn’t a footpath in all places, just a narrow section of concrete-covered drain pipe to walk on. The place for pedestrians also seemed to continually switch from one side of the road to the other and trying to cross the road on blind corners was not the best experience. I was so relieved when the pilgrim path diverted off the road and up the side of mountain, but my relief was short-lived.
That tiny mountain pass, the Katazaka pass, is about 2kms that cuts out a winding descent of 5kms+ but it was brutally steep and I’d almost wished I’d stayed on the road except, you know what? I ended up walking the road section as well, because after I finally struggled down the mountain path I completely went the wrong fucking way and climbed it again…on the road…the road I’d been happy to avoid…making my struggle down that scary as hell path absolutely obsolete.
The road had 3 tunnels and as I was walking on the pilgrim path I criss-crossed over and near them:
I should have realised I was going the wrong way as soon as I saw the first tunnel, but it didn’t dawn on me and I just doggedly just kept climbing. I got to the third tunnel before I finally realised I had to be going the wrong way and turned around and walked all the way down again.
It was getting late and dark. I’d added so much time and distance to my already long day and I was so annoyed with myself. When I finally made it back down to the point where I’d made the wrong turn, convinced that there was no sign or mark telling me the right way to go, I saw the sign (albeit a bit further along and in a difficult to see position) and I swore at myself some more.
It was about 5:30pm (almost an hour and half later than my scheduled time) when I finally arrived at my hot spring lodgings for the evening, Kobushi no sato. It was in a very strange location, lodged between the main road and a river behind it. In front of it, they were busily digging a hole through the mountain to extend the toll way and between that and the main road, I was expecting a noisy room. Fortunately, I was given a room facing the river at the rear and as I was checking in, several people arrived in cars looking for a room but were turned away as the place was booked out.
I had a tatami room with futon. There was no bathtub in my room, but there was a toilet and basin so I was quite happy. The room was also very clean and cheap! (I think I paid about $80 including dinner and breakfast on a pilgrim plan.)
The reception guy was surprised that I could speak Japanese and he’d kindly attempted an English translation of the hotel info which I thought was cute.
The washing machine was free (as a lot of places that host a lot of pilgrims are) so I put my clothes onto wash and went for a hot spring. It was lovely and refreshing. I hung my clothes up in my room and put the air-con on full blast. Because it was so late, I was worried that my clothes wouldn’t have enough time to dry before morning (but they fortunately did.)
I had dinner at 7pm. Dinner was surprisingly large and yummy and included a healthy serving of ubiquitous bonito. I also received a free drink because I had booked their sister hotel for the next night. I went with an alcoholic beverage as it was well needed after my day.
I was very glad to fall into bed that night.