I think I’d call this day the calm before the storm. The first two days are spent mostly walking on flat roads and are almost like a warm up for the main event of Day 3 – the climb to the mountain temple Shosanji. As I was walking along the pleasantly flat path, I could see the mountains ahead of me getting closer and closer and with a sinking feeling I kept walking towards them. In the Tokushima part of the journey there are 3 ‘tough spots’ – Shosanji, Kakurinji and Tairyuji which you encounter on Day 3 and Day 5.
I headed off after breakfast, so I was out the door by about 7:45am. I was walking through a combination of rural and residential areas for most of the morning so I kept myself amused by looking at the houses and gardens…and the mountains. It was windy again and my purple stole kept blowing around and annoying me and there were a few occasions I had to take my hat off for fear of losing it and I got fairly sunburnt because of it.
(Note to self: Buy some of those cute little monk-shaped clips designed to hold your stole to your coat the next time you do a pilgrimage. Actually I’ve already got a few things on my shopping list for next time: another white t-shirt, stole-holding clips, cushioned handgrip for the next stick I buy.)
The first stop was Kumadanji which had a very nice pagoda and as I got closer I could hear some very cool, authentic-sounding chanting and I wondered if there was another tour group ahead or if there was some sort of special service going on. It turned out it was just a loudspeaker with the heart sutra on repeat, but it certainly set the mood for the place.
Hoorinji was my next stop, closely followed by Kirihataji (both about 3kms apart) then there was a long stretch of 10km to Fujidera which is the gateway to the MOUNTAIN ™ also known as Shosanji. The path coming back down from Hoorinji was scenic with a couple of pilgrims in full gear (who returned to their car parked in the car park and sped off!)
Kirihataji is famous for its 330 stone steps that you have to climb to get to the main hall. There is also a bit of a climb to get to the stairs themselves and I was very happy to see that there was a house with benches outside it where I could leave my backpack and just climb up with my stamp book and valuables. A lady who was weeding in the house opposite called me over and encouraged me to leave my backpack saying it was ‘osettai’ and it was greatly appreciated. I’d taken a fold up compact bag that functioned as a little backpack that I kept my temple gear and valuables in and so I just pulled it out and headed up. I could just hear M saying, ‘Fucking steps!’ as I climbed.
220 steps to go and one very ugly power pole:
and hondo at the top:
When I got back, the lady across the road had disappeared but my backpack was of course still there and I placed an osamefuda in the container as thanks for the osettai. I wonder if you’d be able to do that in any other country without people wondering if there a bomb in it or without someone stealing your stuff?
I had lunch at a roadside udon noodle shop. Shikoku is famous for its udon and while it’s not my most favourite type of noodle, it was nice to have a warm meal.
The previous day I’d bought a rice ball, canned coffee and sakura mochi sweet bean rice cake (I needed sugar!) from Lawson’s convenience store and taken it back to the temple grounds to eat it. I felt funny walking into the convenience store in my outfit and buying food (of course after leaving my stick outside in an appropriate place).
Then I passed a disquieting place to stop on the side of the road complete with inviting (?) mannequin. I guess it is the thought that counts!
During the long stretch there was a nice plain that was filled with rice paddies that were being prepared for planting and fields with veggies and rape blossoms in full yellow bloom. While I was wending my way through the fields I decided to skype M and give him some live pilgrim action. He agreed it was very scenic.
This was the first of my river crossings for this day. There were a couple of different routes to choose from, but I decided to take the slightly longer route that took me over a couple of Chinkabashi.
I don’t really know what you call this type of bridge in English (submersible bridge?) but it’s a low, cheaply built bridge that is only passable at times of low water levels. There are quite a few in Shikoku and generally they are very narrow – one lane, just enough for a car to cross. So it’s quite fun and terrifying when you are walking across it and you see a car coming behind you or in front of you. One of the bridges had little areas at certain points along it that you could take refuge in to let cars go first. When you cross a bridge you have to hold your stick up and not let it touch the ground because it’s said that Kobo Daishi slept under a bridge one night and you don’t want to wake him up by banging your stick above him. This rule gave me lots of grief as Japan has many bridges over irrigation channels and raised intersections. I remember walking along thinking, “Is this a bridge?” or sometimes being so caught up in just walking that I’d not notice that I was waking over a bridge.
After the river, I started walking into a town and I wasn’t looking forward to having all the noise and traffic around me again. I’d get all self-conscious and pull my brim down lower over my face whenever I was waiting at the large intersections and I could feel the people in the passing cars staring at me.
I decided to head to Fujidera that afternoon and do my rituals before I headed to the hotel. It was going to add some distance to my day and I would be backtracking to the temple the following morning as the trail passed through the temple grounds, but I’d planned to leave the hotel early and wasn’t sure if the stamp office would be open that early (turns out it opens at 7am and it would have been no problem…)
The approach to the temple was via someone’s yard. Excuse me while I pass through your private property and I’ll try not to look at your underwear hanging out to dry:
I did want to do a ‘thorough’ worship at Fujidera so I’d have a safe trip up the mountain and I added in some extra thoughts for my feet and legs for the following day.
Branching out to the side of the hondo was the path leading to Shosanji and if that isn’t an ominous beginning to an intimidating path, I don’t know what is…
Honestly speaking, I didn’t have any specific thing to pray for on this journey. At the temples, I would usually bow, put my hands together in prayer, close my eyes and generally express a feeling of thanks or gratitude for nothing in particular but everything at the same time. I enjoyed the peace of the temples and the break from the relentless need to push on and get to the next place. I liked reaching another temple, not only because I could get another stamp and it was another achievement, but also because the routine at the temples helped break up the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other. I found the long, flat sections of road to be more mentally challenging than the mountains that had me doing a lot of swearing. Funnily enough, when I was running, I also used to find the endless flat sections to be very, very hard compared to up-down-up-down just to break the pace up.
Most people stay at a B&B that is quite close to Fujidera. I’d purposely chosen to add another 4km to my journey and stay at a hotel near the station. I’ve experienced a few B & Bs in my time and it really isn’t my scene. I don’t like having to ask people to wash my clothes for me or take a bath in turns and of course there is the whole need to be sociable and talk to other people with communal dining etc. I like the privacy of a hotel and this one was cheap and positioned across the road from a supermarket and next to a convenience store, so location-wise it was convenient. I’d say the hotel had about 30 rooms, but the only time I saw another guest was briefly the next morning at breakfast. Breakfast was included in the price of $70 and while it was a small room, it was quiet and clean.
I’d actually made another rookie mistake when booking the hotel as I’d originally booked another hotel in the same chain that had a very similar name but it was located 15kms back the way I had already came. I realised my mistake the previous night when I was checking the maps for the following day and wondering why I couldn’t find the hotel I had booked anywhere near where I thought it was. I had a sinking feeling as I checked my emails and saw the name was different. I knew cancelling at this point would mean I would be charged a cancellation fee, but I had no choice. I was also very lucky that the hotel where I needed to stay had rooms available. As it turned out, I never received a cancellation fee! Woot! And really, if the room isn’t pre-paid, I don’t see how they can chase you for one anyway.
So, I arrived at the hotel feeling very tired and footsore. My shoulders were feeling the weight of my backpack and the fourth toe on each of my feet was really sore even though I didn’t have any sort of blister or problem that I could see. I put my clothes onto wash after purchasing a little packet of washing powder from the reception desk and went over to the supermarket to get some dinner and lunch for the next day. When my clothes were done I did the aircon drying room trick and had a bath then settled in for a quiet night.
I skyped M and told him I was really worried about the climb the next morning. I could see it outside my window and it looked very imposing. He assured me I’d be fine and had me repeat the mantra “It’s a hill, not a mountain!” which made me laugh. I was still nervous but tired so I managed to fall asleep relatively quickly.