Ohenro Day 3

Breakfast started at 7am and was a serve-yourself affair. There were several types of bread rolls, boiled eggs, salad, juice, coffee etc. I was fed and ready to leave by 7:30 and it was well after 8am by the time I got back  to Fujidera. Last night I had changed the innersoles of my shoes back to the thin non-descript ones that came with my shoes. My feet felt a hundred times better and I was sorry that I hadn’t done it sooner. Obviously the added thickness of the innersoles had been squishing my toes against my shoes and now with the extra space, my shoes weren’t hurting at all.

It was another perfect day weather-wise, but cold so dressed in layers with my t-shirt+windcheater+pilgrim jacket. It was 12.5 km to the next temple and I was estimating that it would take me about 5hrs.

The trail started out not too bad. It wound its way through some forest areas and next to a river and it looked very “Lord of the Rings-esque”.

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There were 88 mini shrines on the side of the path:

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Then I came to the beginning of what looked like quite a steep section and I noticed the little sign saying “henrokorogashi 1/6”. I’m not quite sure what to translate korogashi as. It literally means to roll as in, ‘Let’s roll this pilgrim off the mountain!’ but the meaning is ‘to overthrow’. Basically they are sections that are thought to ‘test’ the climbers. I ended up taking picture of three of the sections, but I don’t know whether the other three sections didn’t have signs or whether I was just too busy trying to breathe and missed the signs.

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By the time I reached the top of the first section I was huffing and puffing and sweating everywhere. I immediately stopped and stripped off a layer. And then I realised that there are 5 more of those sections…it was going to be a long day.

 The view back down onto the plain from that section was gorgeous and I met a couple of people coming down who told me there were a few people in front of me and “It will be ok!” I was beginning to have my doubts. There was a man seated on a bench at the lookout point where I took this photo and I remarked that it was a really nice view.

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He digested my words for a moment and then realised that I was speaking Japanese. He told me he lived nearby and coming up the mountain was something he did often! Then he started talking about the bird calls that you hear in the mountains and how there are funny little sayings in Japanese about what they sound like. He told me the name for these words and then rummaged around in his waistpack for a piece of paper and pen to write it down for me. While he was rummaging he pulled out a large citrus fruit called a hassaku and offered it to me and I thought, “Oh crap, I’m going to have to accept it but it’s heavy and I don’t want to carry it!” so I told him he should keep it and have it for his morning tea. Carrying crisis averted!

I was wanting to push on and didn’t want to stand talking for ages, so made moves to go and he decided to walk with me. During our walk together I learned that he was a member of one of the groups that maintains the path and he told me they come up regularly and sweep the path and remove any dangerous trees etc. I asked why they sweep the path and he told me that the poisonous snakes in the area like to hibernate in the piles of leaves and so I should always walk on stones or the cleared sections of the path. He also told me about how they moved the path from its original location and they carried over the stone distance markers by hand when they did that and he showed me how to tell when the path had been changed by the markers that are placed there. (You can see the original over-grown path branching off in the picture below.)

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He told me that there was a spring up ahead where I should take a drink because it’s good luck and then told me the next few importance shrines and things that were on the way to the temple.

This spring had some funky bull frogs living near it. I’d never heard such a sound (but then again, I don’t get out much!)

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He said he could only walk until 9:30am because his wife has very bad arthritis and he needed to cook and clean for them both so I thanked him and his group for their work on the path and he headed back down and I soldiered on.

The next person I ran into was another older man who I’d overtaken at various points in the preceding couple of days and who had stayed at the same temple the first night. We had a little bit of a chat and he said he was 74 and was doing his fourth pilgrimage and this time he was planning on taking 50 days. I wished him well and went on the path ahead of him and decided to stop at a henro hut to eat the lunch I had brought. I was there for about 20 minutes and when I was packing up getting ready to leave, I could hear the tinkle of his bell and looked up to see him on the path above. He yelled out and asked me to wait because he wanted to take a photo. He told me he was a member of a walking group and they got together a couple of times a year and shared stories of their adventures. He said he wanted to tell them that he’d met an Australian girl walking alone and the photo would be proof! I also thought I’d ask him to take a photo of me, but my smartphone was too complex and he only managed to take a couple of 2 second videos! He had one of those trusty flip-phones that a lot of Japanese people still like to use and I took some photos of him on his phone. He gave me his osamefuda and said that we probably wouldn’t meet again on the path. It seemed a bit curious at the time because we’d haunted each other for the past two days, but he was right and I didn’t run into him again. He would be well into the next prefecture by now and I hope he’s going well.

The halfway-point (the physical half-way point because distance-wise it’s only 3.8km to the temple) is a large cedar tree with a towering statue of Kobo Daishi in front of it.

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It that also has several creepy, abandoned huts. I guess they used to be used for lodgings in times past.

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It was here that I met the French couple again who had stopped for lunch. I asked how the were going and they said that it wasn’t nearly as difficult as they’d heard it would be (I was dying a little bit inside at this point!) so after stopping for a quick drink, I continued on.

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The path then became downhill and I struggled. I was supposed to descend into a small village before the final climb to the temple and as I got closer to the village I heard a very loud announcement come over the loudspeaker about a community meeting that would be held on Thursday and that obento would be supplied, but that everyone needed to bring their own alcohol. It seemed so out of place and made me laugh. I finally arrived at the village and there was another pilgrim taking a rest. I commented to him that the climb had been tough, to which he responded? ‘Tough? That was just the warm up!’ And he laughed and I thought, what is he going on about, we’re 2km from the temple, how bad can the last 2km be? And I took this photo of the pretty mountain range in front of me before I met that gentleman and if I’d known that I then needed to climb up that fucking mountain to get to the temple,  I would have laughed deliriously along with him.

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Those last 2km felt vertical. The path zig-zagged up the side of the mountain over rocks and a scrambled up, stopping every 10 metres or so, trying to catch my breath. As you’d imagine, I don’t have any photos of this section, but those last 2km took me about an hour and a half to climb. And after already being on the road since 7:30 that morning, I was tired and just wanted to be there.

I’d read some amusing anecdotes about the climb to Shosanji with people calling on all the deities as they trudged up the steep climbs and in my own case, I called on one particular deity (‘Oh, God…’) a lot and also did a fair amount of swearing.

But finally I reached the top, which opened onto a wide path with carved lanterns and statues all along it.

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The view was spectacular and it all felt so grand and wonderful. It’s just what you want to see after that sort of climb.

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It really feels like one of those mystical temples on top of the mountain. It was serenely quiet with towering trees casting long shadows.

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But, what you don’t want after that climb is to walk into the temple grounds and discover gravel a foot deep covering every available surface that you have to wade through and your feet are already so tired that it makes your thighs scream. That kind of feels like they are messing with your mind.

It had taken me 5 1/2 hrs, but I’ve finally arrived at today’s one and only temple, Shosanji!

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I was looking for somewhere to put my backpack down when I met one of the temple staff who told me to come into the stamp office. Inside they had lovely wooden tables and seats and a heater so I set down my backpack and then went off to do my worshipping. I bought a canned coffee from one of the vending machines (it is Japan, after all!) and came back to get my book stamped. The staff asked me if I had walked up and I said yes. He stamped my book and then I sat down to have a snack and my coffee. I was feeling drained , but I still had another 2-3hrs walk ahead of me to get to my lodgings for the evening.

While I was resting, several other people came in to have their books stamped and the staff asked each of them whether they had walked up or not. They all said they came by car. I don’t know if that means that he stamped my book differently to the people who came by car or not, but I kind of felt like it should be a thing!

That evening I was booked into a hot spring hotel a further 10kms down the path which would set me up in a good location for the following day. A lot of people probably stay somewhere close to the base of the mountain instead of pressing on further and while I was walking, I questioned the soundness of my plan, but it turned out quite well and was necessary if I wanted to didn’t want to walk over 40km the next day.

The path took me along next to a river and there was a section where there was a very strong smell of poo. I guess it was going to be a dairy or beef farm and I’d passed a few of those and that’s exactly what they smelled like. It actually turned out to be several wild boar that were being kept in a fenced off area.

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I’m guessing they were being farmed for eating as wild boar dishes are quite common in rural areas. Wild boar are apparently quite a problem in the area, but I didn’t see any on my travels.

I arrived at the hotel somewhere around 4:45pm after leaving Shosanji at 2pm. As predicted I was slow getting down the mountain but picked up time in the flat sections. It was one of those traditional style inns and I knew they wouldn’t have many non-Japanese visitors. The front reception gentleman had gone to the trouble of translating all the information in Japanese about the hotel spring and meals etc. for me, which I thought was very cute. I thanked him for his efforts and he blushed to the roots of his hair and his older colleague had a good laugh saying that he hadn’t needed to do anything special because I spoke Japanese just fine!

I went to my room hoping there would be tea and a sweet snack because I was starving (there was a small bean paste cake and tea!) and I had my last crazy-lady raisin roll. You can see my stick in the tokonoma which is where you put important stuff and where your stick is supposed to live.

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Most of these places don’t accept reservations for single rooms, but this particular place has a special plan for ohenro that you can use on weekdays which is quite reasonable. It was the most expensive of my lodgings, but after that climb, I needed some good food and a soak in a hot spring. The only problem was that it only had one washing machine that was one of those washer/dryer combos that took 3hrs for a cycle. Another pilgrim had already beaten me to it and I could see the while clothes sloshing around with 2hrs and 45mins left on the timer. I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to wait for the machine so I decided to do a wash in my bathroom sink and then hang them up to dry. I did the rolling the clothes up in towels trick to get them dry as possible before hanging up in my aircon sauna and it worked well. It turned out that my decision was correct because after I came out of the hot spring I saw one of the hotel staff wrestling with the washing machine that was still full of water and had an error message on the display. I wonder if that pilgrim ever got his clothes dried?

As well as the hotel’s own hot spring, the building next door was also a big public bath and while I would have liked to have gone into it, I didn’t want to risk my tattoo causing problems. I figured that most people would be in the bigger bath next door until 8pm when it closed, so I went to the hotel’s bath at 7pm and had it all to myself. I positioned myself over the bubbles and had quite a nice soak.

Dinner was quite nice with lots of typical Japanese inn foods. 11 courses to be exact!

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There always seems to be a little hot pot thing with one of those solid fuel cakes underneath that your friendly waitress will come and light for you to cook your meat and veg in. This one is unusual because of the pickled plum floating in it along with a piece of kombu to flavour the dashi. I’d seen lots of pickled plums at road-side stalls along the way down the mountain and I’d actually considered buying some but, not wanting to carry them, didn’t.

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I LOVE pickled plums and they are generally my rice ball and alcoholic beverage flavour of choice. I was very pleased to see several pickled plums in dinner, including a tempura one which I had never seen before. There was also a lot of cherry blossom-themed things like cherry blossom salt for the tempura, cherry blossom leaf in the tempura, noodles, soup and dessert.

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Sudachi are another type of citrus fruit which is kind of like a lime and are famous in Tokushima. Pretty much everywhere you went, there was some kind of drink or food that featured sudachi. The pre-dinner drink was a little tipple of sudachi wine and the dessert jelly was sudachi flavour.

I treated myself to a bottle of sudachi cider to go with dinner which was quite refreshing.

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While I was eating, the staff went into my room and laid out my futon, so it was ready to fall into after I returned from my bath.

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It had been a while since I last slept on a futon, but this one was nice and thick so it was quite comfortable. When I’d checked in, the reception guy had asked if I wanted breakfast served earlier than the 7am that they usually offer. I asked for 6:30am because I had a long 30km+ day in store and he said that was fine, so I slept solidly.

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