I woke up like a hot mess. When my alarm went off, I groaned and rolled over and wished I could go back to sleep. Everything hurt and I felt like I needed a day in bed to recover. I found it hard to stand up because I was so stiff and I had that weird walk you do when your muscles are really sore and you can’t quite bend your legs properly. The front of my thighs were particularly sore and trying to get dressed was the first funny thing because I couldn’t lift my leg up to step into my hiking pants. I eventually got dressed and headed down to the breakfast room which was down one flight of stairs, but I couldn’t manage the stairs so I took the lift.
Breakfast included the biggest bowl of miso soup I had ever seen in my life. I could have put my whole head into it:
There was also another pickled plum. The waitress asked me if I wanted coffee and that was a big yes! When you get out into the country the availability of coffee becomes quite scarce (other than canned coffee) and the hotel rooms only supplied green tea. Green tea is nice, but I really need a coffee to get me going.
One of the other guests asked the waitress about a funny noise they had heard outside their room overnight and she had replied that it was a wild boar. Apparently they have quite a few snuffling around outside at night time. I hadn’t seen any wild animals at all except birds up until this point. I saw a couple of kites and lots of little sparrows and nightingales. I’d read about people seeing snakes and boar but I’d seen none of those, which I was quite glad about. Also, no flies or mosquitos! As an Australian, those are two things I definitely appreciated. Nothing makes you more miserable than swatting flies away from your face all day.
After having my hearty breakfast, I packed up and headed out and passed some early cherry blossoms that were coming into bloom.
I had passed a lot of cherry blossom trees at various points and imagined that a week or ten days later, it would look spectacular. I’d also imagined that there would be a few more people out on the trail, choosing the most scenic time to make the trip. I think it was this day, the Thursday that turned out to be quite warm – about 18 degrees in the day time. I definitely felt the difference with the warmer temperature and couldn’t imagine walking around if it got much above 20 degrees.
I encountered my first tunnel, which turned out to be a bit scary. I was expecting at least a footpath or something, but there was just a raised concrete gutter down one side which I walked along, trying to keep my body at close to the wall as possible while cars sped by.
I also wished that I’d brought a face mask with me, just to cut out the dust and exhaust fumes (Note to self for next time.) Upon exiting the tunnel I found myself on what I would describe as a highway.
Fortunately there weren’t many cars passing and I saw no trucks, but I felt a bit weird walking along a major road with nothing between me and the cars. I made sure there weren’t any cars coming before I turned my back to the traffic and snapped this photo of the mountain I’d just passed through:
I came to another village and stopped for a drink. I could see the Shosanji mountain I’d come over yesterday behind me and looking at it from this angle, it looked quite imposing but also not as high as it had felt considering how stiff and saw I was.
Today I was scheduled to visit 5 temples, walk over 35km and end up back at Tokushima station where I had started my journey four days earlier. It was a loooong day. It was 15kms to my first temple Dainichiji.
I was coming into a town and about 2km from Dainichiji when I was passing a little shop and a lady inside called me over. It turned out that she was a little crazy and well-known in the area (according to the shop staff) but she started racing around the shop and pulling food off the shelves to give to me. She would choose something and start coming back towards me then decide that something else would be better and put that back and grab something else. I ended up having a packet of raisin rolls and an energy drink thrust into my hands and she said she would pay for it. I started to open up my backpack to get an osamefuda to give her in thanks and she started yelling that she didn’t want one because those things were ‘scary’ and that the pilgrimage is not a joke and she grabbed my pilgrim coat and started tugging it saying, ‘This is real! It’s not just a fun romp!’ and I said to her that I didn’t think it was and that I was taking it seriously. Then she raced out the door and hopped in her car and sped off. The shop ladies and myself were standing there with looks of “WTF?” on our faces and I commented that she was an interesting lady and they both agreed with a smile. I asked if she had paid for the rolls and drink and they assured me yes, so I thanked them and they put them in a plastic bag and gave it to me. I kept walking towards Dainichiji with my plastic bag in hand wondering what I should do with it. I actually needed to buy some lunch somewhere, so I decided that I’d have some of the rolls and drink so it turned out to be a fortuitous meeting with the crazy lady.
Dainichiji is a very weirdly placed temple, right on a main road and the grounds are tiny. I actually had to stand in the grounds of the shrine across the road and wait for a gap in the traffic to take this photo of the main gate:
The lady in the stamp office pointed me to a pile of citrus fruit on a table outside the office saying they were for ohenro and to help myself. I wanted one, but didn’t want to carry it and had no way to eat it, so I said thank you but declined. There was a shrine directly across the road that had no one visiting called Ichinomiya so I decided to head into it and find a spot to sit down and eat after I completed my ‘temple work’. Considering how ‘fluid’ religion is in Japan, I didn’t think the gods would have a problem with me heading into a Shinto shrine while on a Buddhist pilgrimage.
The shrine ended up having a couple of lovely bronze statues of horses and when I was leaving I noticed a map that showed there was a trail to the remains of a large castle off the road.
I didn’t fancy adding any more distance to my day so I stuck to the path which quickly veered off between two houses and then headed between rice paddies.
The next three temples were quite close together and on the way to Joorakuji, I passed a house which an impressively decorated truck parked outside and lots of stone sculptures in the garden.
I liked this one of the seven lucky gods in a boat, but there were lots of cute ones scattered around.
One of the rocks had a saying carved into it by one of my favourite Japanese poets Mitsuo Aida: Sono mama de ii ga na which I suppose you could translate as ‘Let it be’ (lit. ‘It’s ok, just like that’)
Joorakuji is a bit of a rare temple because it is built on a bed of stone. The guide books say that it gives the place a ‘moon-like’ look, but I beg to differ. What I did see here was a very friendly cat who came and rubbed up against my leg. Just between you and me, I don’t really like cats, but I gave it a pat anyway and it quickly moved on to the next person for another rub.
It had also had some fantastic dragon carvings under the eaves:
The next three temples were on the outskirts of Tokushima city and there was definitely a different vibe in the air. The roads were narrower and I spent a lot of time getting out of the way of cars or picking my way between houses. People seemed even more welcoming of ohenro (if that was even possible!) and would often respond to my greeting with words of encouragement to keep going and take care. This section of the trail was actually my favourite part in terms of the friendliness of the people. It was very residential and because the people were living very close to the temples, they seemed to be a part of their everyday life. On my way to Kokubunji a gentleman on a scooter stopped in front of me and got off to have a chat. He gave me a fruity energy drink from out of the seat of his scooter (it was not long out of the fridge!) and asked me a few questions about where I was from etc. I could see we were causing a traffic jam and indicated that he should move off the road a bit, because there was a big-ass bus bearing down on us, but he waved it off saying they can move around us! Then he gave me a whole handful of throat lozengers and wished me well and rode off.
I didn’t know the gentleman in this photo at this point, but I would meet him the following day and we would have many chats for the rest of my journey.
On the way to Kannonji, a man pulled up in a car beside me and handed me a little package of rice crackers and that contained a booklet inside about the meaning of ohenro and it also had some Buddhist words of wisdom about karma and living peacefully with your fellow mankind on its pages. I thanked him and he wished me well on my journey.
At Idoji, the last temple of the day, there were a few young boys playing what we call tazers in Australia (those little cardboard discs that you throw and try to flip over other people’s token – whatever that’s called..) and when I approached they started saying ‘Hello!’ and ‘I can speak English!’ and I said hello to them and they kept playing.
Inside the temple grounds a couple of lovely old ladies who lived close by and who had hand-sewn little pouches to give to ohenro to put their candles and incense in had a little camp set up and were busily talking to everyone. They’d put their own osamefuda inside the pouch and a 5 yen coin which is lucky because it has a hole in it. It seems like the neighbourhood gathered in the temple to hang out and it was just a really nice feeling. I gave my osamefuda to them as thanks and they felt the need to write ‘AUSTRALIA’ on it, so they knew who it belonged to which made me smile. I sat down and drank the energy drink the man had given me before and had another raisin bread roll for afternoon tea. Then I decided that it would be nice to take the photo of the old ladies so I asked if I could. One of the ladies ran off saying she hated having her photo taken and asked her friend to step in instead. So here they are:
After I left the temple it seemed like a very long way to my hotel that night, although it wasn’t really distance-wise, but I was super tired. When I checked in they told me that my suitcase had been put into my room and then they asked me what time I wanted dinner. I kind of looked at the lady behind the reception desk for a while like she was asking me a weird question and then my brain started functioning again and I said 6:30pm. It was about 5pm when I reached the hotel and I was hungry, but I needed to do some things before I ate – one of them being curl up on my bed in the foetal position. I laid down for about half an hour then I realised that I really needed to get up and wash my clothes. I’d booked a ladies room which was in a special section just off the reception desk but the coin laundry was on a different floor so I struggled to walk over to the lift and make my way up there. I got into the lift and just kind of stared at the buttons for a while and the other lady who was in the lift with me gave me a weird look. I’m not exactly sure what I was doing but I realised later that I was a little bit delirious from being so tired. I just kept staring at everything and my brain was really sluggish.
At 6:30pm I hopped in the lift again and went down to the 2nd floor of the hotel which was a floor just of restaurants. I located the one with the same name as was on the meal ticket I had received when I checked in (I’d booked a plan that included dinner and breakfast) and walked in the door and stared at the waitress for a while before I realised I actually needed to respond to her greeting and I just kind of held out my meal ticket like I was a mute. She showed me to my own little personal booth that had bamboo privacy screens and overlooked the station.
It was quite nice to have my own booth as I didn’t need to worry about feeling like the ‘always alone’ girl eating alone. Dinner was a pork hot pot with veg and a tray of delectable goodies on little plates that included tempura, some yummy sashimi, teriyaki swordfish and red bean jelly for dessert. I could also have a glass of beer or soft drink and went with oolong tea.
It was very filling but I ate the lot of it!
The accommodation and two meals package cost me 10,000yen (about $120). The Sunroute hotel also has a hot spring on the top floor that I could use, but I elected to just take a bath in my room. I popped in some bathsalts that I had in my suitcase and it felt wonderful.
I started feeling more normal after dinner and a bath. I decided to repack my backpack and take out anything I absolutely didn’t need. I also swapped the spare pair of trousers I had with a lighter pair and just generally tried to make my pack as light as possible. It definitely felt lighter and better and I could leave what I didn’t need in my suitcase, which I was going to leave at the hotel until Saturday when I would return for another night’s stay.
I was definitely happy to hit the hay that night.