Ohenro Day 5

When I woke up on day 5 (Thursday), I was feeling better, but was still a bit stiff. Breakfast was a Japanese/Western buffet and when I went down at 7:30am, the restaurant was packed. It definitely wasn’t the nicest buffet I’ve had. I had a hankering for some ‘western’ food – something along the lines of bacon, eggs and bread. The eggs were undercooked and sitting in a pool of liquid and the bacon was shrivelled and oily. While I was happy to have some yoghurt and fruit, the bread, salad and boiled egg were just ok (the coffee was also very meh…)


Today’s plan included 2 temples and a long walk along a busy bypass. I ended up getting slightly lost coming out of town, which I’d read most people do due to the lack of indicators for the trail. Most of the time the trail is marked by stickers on lamp-posts, guard rails, mirrors or anywhere else they can stick one.


Sometimes they are so faded you can barely make them out or sometimes they have fallen off or been taken off, but generally within a kilometre or two you will find one. It’s funny when you don’t see a sticker for a while and start feeling nervous. There are also stone markers and other little shrine things along the path that let you know you are in the right place and after a few days you start to get a feel for it. Generally speaking, I enjoyed the challenge of ‘finding my way’ because it was a puzzle I needed to solve.

There weren’t many times I actually needed to ask someone for help. One of those times was today. I knew I needed to turn right at a large intersection and I was walking along thinking that it should be around here somewhere but none of the signs or place names seemed to match anything on the map and there weren’t any stickers. This was another one of those times where the scale on the map threw me, because the scale was less than the map I’d used the day before, meaning that the distances represented were larger.

I spotted some people who were drumming up support for a candidate for the upcoming mayoral election and decided to ask one of the men if I turned here would I intersect with the bypass later on. He told me that the bypass was to the left, but I knew that couldn’t be right. I put down my pack and pulled out my map and showed him where I wanted to go. Looking at the map I could see that actually the bypass was a few streets back on the left but that it ended up merging into the road I wanted to be on down the track. He looked at the map and said it was a shorter distance if I went straight and then turned right and I pointed out that I needed to stick to the henro path which was marked in red. He was surprised to learn that there were specific roads for the henro and I told him that there definitely were and that usually  there were stickers and markers and things that marked the path. I think he was a little bit annoyed that as a foreigner I was telling him about his own culture and he was a bit short with me when I thanked him and turned right as I thought.

And just a side note about the election campaign. There had been a candidate parked in front of my hotel yesterday with loudspeakers blaring going on and on about what they were promising voters. It was loud. Very loud. And all I wanted to do when I arrived at the hotel was lay down and have a quiet little nap. When I had first arrived in Tokyo a week before, I’d been woken up on my first morning by some exceptionally loud ultra right-wing propaganda trucks that seemed to want to park themselves in front of my hotel. I’m guessing they were trying to attract the attention of someone staying in the much more up-class Prince Hotel that was behind my very budget hotel, but the police had blocked off the driveway to the Prince. When the police tried to move them on from their pseudo car park in the middle of the main thoroughfare they then moved along at approximately 0.5km an hour and kept circling the block for a couple of hours. It drove me insane and I gave up any more thoughts of sleep and went shopping instead.

But back to the pilgrim story. It was about 18km to the first temple and most of the first 10km or so was along the bypass which consisted of eight lanes of traffic and was very noisy. I pulled my hat down further on my head and trudged along. There were a variety of large stores and restaurants along the sides of the road, but most of them were still closed as it was before opening hours except for McDonalds. I was thinking about going in and getting a coffee and checking the map just to make sure I hadn’t missed a turn off, but was a bit embarrassed in my pilgrim gear and thought that surely there would be another place to take a break and get a coffee further along. It turned out that there wasn’t and I regretted not sucking up my shame and heading into the golden arches. I was happy when my surroundings started to become more rural and there were a couple of rivers to cross (sticks up off the ground!)

The first temple was Onzanji. I remember it because I spent a while trying to figure out where the main gate was because I went up a flight of steps and suddenly I was in the temple grounds. I looked around a bit but wasn’t able to find it (I read later that a few of the temples don’t have main gates either due to a lack of money or because they burned down and were never replaced.)


Onzanji was covered in stickers put there by people who had visited.


This used to be thing and I’ve seen plenty of shrines and temples that have walls covered with these type of stickers, but now it’s frowned on and there are usually signs up asking people not to do it.

There is a word ‘utsu’ which  literally means ‘to hit’ but is used to mean visiting one of the temples on the ohenro trail. It comes from the very old practice of nailing a piece of wood to the temple – the original osamefuda. Kugi o utsu means to ‘nail’ something and that’s why the word utsu is still used. There are lots of special words used in relation to ohenro such as gyaku uchi (lit. ‘reverse hitting’) which means to visit the temples in reverse order and is very popular in leap years because it is lucky. Tooshi uchi (through hitting) means to visit all the temples in one journey, while kugiri uchi (separate hitting) means to break the journey up into smaller trips. Ikkoku uchi (lit. ‘one country hitting’) is the practise of breaking up the trip into the four prefecture or ‘countries’ as they used to be in the old days. My plan is to complete the ohenro trail by doing ikkoku uchi. I think people original used to nail the wood to the temple, then they used to stick on the stickers and to combat all that damage to the structures they finally introduced the osamefuda slip of paper which you place in a special box at each temple.

The next temple was Tatsueji. The path to get there first had you cutting through the middle of a beef feedlot (aka fragrant sheds with lots of cows inside) and into a spooky bamboo forest.


It was particularly windy that day and the sound of the bamboo hitting against each other was very unusual. There was a lot of fallen bamboo around the place and I had a few thoughts about what would happen to me if one of them landed on my head so I picked up pace and tried to get out of there as soon as possible.

I also took a wrong turn at one point thinking that the path branched off into the bush when really it stuck to the road. I walked on a little bit, but felt wrong about it and decided to turn back. When I got back in sight of the road, I saw another white pilgrim continue up the road and realised that was the correct way. The other path had probably been a path the local people use to go and harvest bamboo shoots in spring.  It was steep and a bit scary and I’m very glad I turned back when I did.

Tatsueji was in another little cluster of houses and as I passed one particular house I noticed a man pull up in the drive way. He headed towards me brandishing a bottle of water and said that this was his house. He gave it to me and wished me well on my journey then headed inside. I guess he had come home for lunch (he was wearing construction worker’s clothes) and seeing me walking past, gave me osettai.


I went to the temple and met a Canadian woman in the grounds who was walking the trail by herself. She said on this day one of her friends was coming up from Osaka to spend the day walking with her, but other than that she was on her own. She said her friend was late and as the day was getting on and as it was cold and windy, she was hoping she would turn up soon. While I liked the idea of walking with a friend, I don’t like the idea of having to wait for them in a cold, windy temple.

I also met another couple in the grounds who gave me a brocade osamefuda. They said that they had received it from someone else, but because they were travelling by car, wanted to give it to someone who was walking. A brocade osamefuda is a good luck charm and this particular one, had belonged to a pilgrim on their 289th journey on the ohenro trail. 289!!! next to my ordinary noob, white osamefuda, it looked very impressive indeed.


I completed my temple business then stopped into a little café just outside which I’d heard served western/Russian food. I ordered an omuraisu (omelette filled with tomato rice) and it came with a cup of soup and a small salad for about $10.



I thought I was the only person in the restaurant until the gentleman I’d crossed paths with a few times came out of the toilet. We both laughed that we’d ended up in the same place for lunch and he asked me where I was staying that night. It turned out we were staying at the same place that night as well as the next day. He gave me a high five and said he would wait for me to finish lunch and we could walk together.

Honestly, I didn’t want to walk with anyone (you know, awkward conversation-making and all that) so I said that he should go on ahead because I would probably catch up with him on my ‘fast legs’. So he said he would head out and wait for me while he had a coffee at the Lawson convenience store down the path. I actually found him walking along with a youngish girl (you can see both of them in the photo below in front of tomorrow’s mountain -eep!) before he got to the convenience store:


I’d actually seen her and said hello in the grounds of Tatsueji and by what she was wearing and the fact that she wasn’t carrying anything except a little backpack I assumed she was travelling by car. I learned later that she had lost her mobile phone and was waiting for a replacement to be sent to her the following day so she had left her backpack at her previous night’s lodgings and was ticking off some temples while she waited. Apparently she was sleeping rough and travelling around by herself.  I felt like she had a little edge of unstableness in her voice, but that may just have been overenthusiasm. We walked together for a little while until we reached the Lawson and I took the opportunity to say that I would go ahead and probably see him at dinner.

My original plan had me staying the night in the temple lodgings at Tatsueji, but after looking at the map, I realised the distance the next day would be too great and so I needed to get further along the path. There were a couple of B&Bs that had terrible reviews on the internet and the only other place was a re-purposed school building that the local community had turned into a B&B-esque building. It was about 10kms away in the wrong direction away from the next temple but they had a pick-up service if you gave them a call so that is where I decided to stay. The pick up place was a parking area. I went inside and there was a little restaurant and some tables. An old man sitting down drinking coffee saw me come in and while I was making a phone-call to my lodgings for them to come and pick me up, he had gone and found a waitress and ordered a coffee for me. Actually what he had said to her was that a ‘Hello-san’ had come in ( a very cute and old way of referring to English speakers – which he assumed I was by the fact that I was not Japanese). So I sat down and had my coffee while the gentleman had a chat with me. It was a difficult chat because he was speaking Tokushima dialect and his accent was very thick, but I gleaned that one of the things he did in his spare time was carve wood into the sticks they sell to pilgrims. He asked me how much I had paid for mine and whether he could have a look. I handed mine over and he then informed me that the wood was imported from Canada and you could tell by the stripes on the wood grain. He said he had some wood in the back of his truck and he disappeared out the door and returned a few minutes later carrying a very large pole. We quickly ran out of conversation topics and I drank my coffee and handed over one of my osamefuda to thank him for the osettai. I hoped that my ride would turn up soon and I wasn’t actually waiting long before a car pulled up outside and another elderly gentleman poked his head in the door and asked if I was waiting for a pick up. I said yes and hopped into his car.

While we drove we had a chat about where I was from, why I spoke Japanese so well, the henro trail, whether they had many foreign guests etc. He told me that they did have a few overseas visitors and so some of the staff had started taking English lessons. I commented that I was glad I didn’t have to walk the distance to the b&b and he said that actually he was taking the long way around because he wanted to show me something. In the area they have a custom of celebrating girl’s day by displaying dolls outside their houses. I’d noticed that as I was walking along and said that I’d seen doll displays inside, but never outside. He then said that the road we were driving along was a bit of a tourist attraction because there were many empty houses and people living in the surrounding area, took their dolls there to display.


It was quite impressive to see the displays on both sides of the road and I commented that it would be very scary at night. (I’ve always thought Japanese dolls are a bit creepy and there are lots of scary stories about dolls with hair that grows etc….)


After driving through the street we arrived at the building that was very obviously a school in a former life and he told me he would hold my backpack while I washed and dried the end of my stick and that I could take it up to my room.

When I checked in it was quite interesting because they asked me what I needed like I was ordering at a restaurant and they wrote it all down on one of those little notepads – “Do you need a bath towel?” “Yes.” “Well, that’s 100 yen”, “Do you need to wash and dry your clothes?” “Just wash.” “Okay, that’s 100 yen.” “Do you need rice balls to take for lunch?” “Yes.” “They are quite small…” “Ok, I’ll take two.” “Do you need a yukata?” “No.” And so on and so forth. It was the most unique check in I’d ever experienced. I was told dinner was at 6pm and breakfast was at 6:30am and then they asked if I wanted to be dropped back to the pick-up place and I said yes, so I was informed that the drop off car would depart at 7am. I was also given the run down about the public bath, which I hopped into as soon as I put my clothes on to wash and had all to myself.


I was staying in what was apparently the old nurse’s room. Next door was the principal’s office and there was also a library room and a couple of other rooms on the first floor as well as some large meeting rooms upstairs. Toilets were shared, but each room had a wash basin. There were dolls displayed everywhere through out the building and I could also see a very large display in the gym which was in another building next door. The room was a traditional tatami room and was quite large. There was a tv and a pot of hot water and tea pot with green tea. The futon was there, folded up to one side and I guessed I would have to lay it out myself.

I had the bath all to myself, which was lovely and I went a got my clothes out of the washing machine and hung them up before I headed down for dinner. Dinner was sweet river fish, veggie tempura, bamboo & other veg boiled in broth, pickles, mountain veg in wasabi mayo, vinegared cucumber, seaweed and cabbage and sudachi jelly.


There were three settings for dinner with our names on them and seated across from me was the gentleman who had been shadowing me. I learned his name was Osamu and he poured me a beer, which I took a social sip of (I hate beer!) and we had a chat over dinner about where he was from (Nagano) how old he was (71) and his experiences on the henro trail. It was his fourth time and he told me about the young girl we had been walking together with earlier. We talked about Japan and Australia and lots of other things, while he had another bottle of beer (I think those Japanese bottles are about 750ml) and at the end exchanged phone numbers and he said that the next time I visited Japan I should take a trip to Nagano and that he would show me around. He also gave me lots of advice about tomorrow’s climb and we discussed Shosanji and how long it took me to climb.

 After dinner I went back to my room, skyped M and watched some tv. I could hear some karaoke going on upstairs, but it finished at about 9pm. I also found the local fire brigade volunteers doing some training in the grounds outside when I saw some bright spotlights shining into my room and I wondered what was going on. The local community were making full use of the facility and it was nice to see that the volunteer’s efforts were being rewarded. I found it a bit difficult to get comfortable and ended up opening the cupboard and getting out another futon to bulk up my bedding, but eventually I fell off to sleep.


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