Ohenro Day 6

I was up bright and early thanks to my alarm set for 5:45. I packed up my things and got ready to leave then headed down for breakfast. I was feeling almost back to normal and the stiffness in my legs was much better and even my sore back and neck was feeling much more bearable. My back and shoulder pain was from my pack as I just wasn’t used to carrying so much weight on my back for extended  periods of time, but after 5 days, it seemed like my body was finally getting used to it. On the way down to the dining room I stopped by the reception desk and settled my bill (It was about 7,500 yen for the night’s accommodation and 2 meals) and picked up my rice balls which were still warm. I’m pretty sure  I took a picture of breakfast, but for some reason it appears to have disappeared. It was the typical grilled fish, tofu, rice, pickles, miso soup, salad breakfast you get. I saw Osamu again and he was much quieter without the beer in him (or maybe he’s just not a morning person like me) The other pilgrim who was sitting next to me had hardly eaten any of his dinner last night and ate only about 2 mouthfuls of his breakfast before leaving the table to go and smoke. Osamu remarked that he was very fuel-efficient and we had a good laugh. I was amazed he was functioning on so little food because I was eating absolutely everything that was put in front of me like a well-oiled machine that needs fuel.

After breakfast I returned to my room and brushed my teeth. I was hoping to have a toilet stop as well, because you don’t want to be half-way up a mountain when nature calls, but alas that wasn’t to be. The fuel-efficient gentleman was loaded up and ready to go when I came downstairs and Osamu and I put our shoes on and we all piled into the car and departed just as the school clock chimed 7am.

We were dropped back to the beginning of the trail to Kakurinji. I had three temples and two mountains to climb today so I made sure I had enough food and water to keep me going as I’d been informed that there was nothing available in between.

 I set off in the lead as soon as we were dropped off and I set a fast pace. I wanted to distance myself from the others because I prefer to walk alone. The path began with a long and steep concreted section that I found particularly difficult to climb. I think I would rather have steps or even a dirt path to that because the angle was so uncomfortable and I just couldn’t get a good walking rhythm going. The concrete just seemed to go on and on and I was so glad when I saw a massive series of steps so I could finally climb with flat feet. I have a theory about my calves and quads being very tight and that was why it was so uncomfortable because it only seemed to be me who complained about it when I caught up with Osamu later on (it turned out that he had wanted a toilet break before he went anywhere so he had set off about 20 minutes after I did.)

The views down into the valley with the winding river were spectacular in the early morning air.

River

 It was very cold and I had both pairs of gloves on and when I arrived at Kakurinji it felt like it was even colder.

Kakurinji

My breath was steaming in the air and I kept rubbing my hands trying to get them warm. The water to wash my hands and mouth was absolutely freezing and as I was getting out my handkerchief to dry them off, one of the temple staff ladies came running over with a towel saying she was running behind and hadn’t put the towels up yet and if I wanted to wipe my hands and face, they were fresh out of the washing machine. I thanked her and wiped quickly, trying to get the cold off my hands and face. As I was getting ready to do my temple business, a tour group poured past me and headed to the main hall so I sat down, listened to their slightly subdued chanting and waited for them to finish, before I did my thing. Then I went up to the daishi hall and admired the two crane sculptures outside, did my thing and then went to the stamp office to get my book stamped.

As I was packing up my things and getting ready to go, I saw Osamu arriving. He asked me if I’d seen the other gentleman who set off with us this morning and I said no and he said he hadn’t seen him either so we both wondered where he had gone. Then he asked me if I had received my crane. I asked him what he was talking about and he indicated the crane stamp on the back of his white pilgrim coat. He said that the crane stamp was from Kakurinji and then you got a turtle stamp from temple no.39. The crane and turtle are both auspicious animals and he said it was good luck to get them. I asked him if you could still wash the coat after you had it stamped and he said by tonight it should be dry and fine so I wandered back to the stamp office and asked the lady. She said that it was 300 yen but that you needed to wait until it was dry before you put your backpack on. I said I couldn’t do that and she suggested just carrying my backpack on my left shoulder and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that. She said it would smudge, but I said it was ok so I took off my coat and gave it over to her. There are actually 3 stamps that they put on, the crane, a stamp that shows the name and number of the temple and the temple seal. She laid a tissue over it a few times to dry it off and then I handed over another 300 yen and thanked her.

Stamp I went back to collect my pack and saw Osamu heading off to the main temple and thanked him for telling me about the crane. I said I’d see him later as he’d probably catch up with me on the downhill section because I was always slower coming down.

He did end up catching up with me on the way down when I was looking for a toilet. I could see a sign that indicated that there was a toilet somewhere and after what seemed like a weird treasure hunt following sign after sign that directed me between houses, into school grounds and eventually into the local primary school toilets (luckily it was school holidays or that would have been really awkward) I found somewhere to relieve my bladder. I saw Osamu’s pack on the ground outside and decided to wait until he was finished using the urinals before I went in (that could have also been awkward). I placed an osamefuda in the box outside the toilet to say thankyou and carried on. Osamu said he was going to take a break and I said I was going to continue so we parted company again.

I set off down the mountain and the path took me over a spectacular emerald green river, which I think was the Nakagawa and I realised I had seen it from above when I’d looked down on my climb that morning.

River

The path then wound its way along another river for quite a while before heading up for the second climb of the day to Tairyuji. The climb was tough and I remember having one of my energy gels to keep me going at one point, but I don’t feel it was as bad as Shosanji. Maybe that was due to the fact that I was now a bit ‘fitter’ and used to walking or maybe it just wasn’t as tough a climb, but I felt okay when I reached the sanmon.

Sanmon

From the sanmon it was about another 1.5km to the actual temple itself and along the way there was a sign pointing off to the side of the mountain and it was showing where Kakurinji was. You can’t see in the photo, but I could see the temple buildings in the distance on the opposite mountain ridge.

View

It looked very far way and it was quite interesting to see where I had come from in the course of a few hours. Tairyuji is known for a painting of a dragon on the roof of one of the temple buildings and they had a glass window that you could peep through and see the painting. Tairyuji

Dragon

I also liked the little lanterns on the main hall and just the general layout of the temple grounds felt peaceful and nice.

Tairyuji2

I received my stamp at the stamp office and then decided to eat my lunch along with a canned coffee I purchased from the vending machine next to the stamp office.

Lunch

It was quite cold even with all my layers on, but I sat in the sun munching on my rice balls (one had a pickled plum in it!) enjoying the quiet until a tour group came and interrupted my quiet with lots of questions about me and what I was doing and where I was from etc. Tairyuji actually has a cable car that you can take to get up and down the mountain and that is how most people visit it. There are still quite a few stairs to climb to get to the hondo and taishido and I was slightly amused by the people coming off the cable car and then complaining about the fact that they had to climb stairs. A few people in the tour group asked me if I came up by cable car and I said no and they were all surprised. I saw Osamu arriving as I was getting ready to leave and I asked him what route he was planning on taking to get down. On the internet I’d heard about a new path that had just been re-opened after having been closed due to a landslide or something and I was thinking about taking it, but really I just wanted to know where the path to get down was because I couldn’t see a sign or any indication of the henro trail anywhere. I’d seen a sign on the way up pointing to the next temple but didn’t particularly want to back-track if I didn’t have to and looking on the map there were two paths heading in a different direction to the path I had come up on plus the unlisted new path. Osamu said that the path was past the cable car office so I said that I’d see him later at our lodgings for the evening and I headed off.

I headed down beside the office and saw what looked like a path that had many statues beside it.

Path

I passed under the cable car which was quite funny.

Cablecar

I saw a guy in a pilgrim outfit in the cable car staring at me as he passed and maybe he wondered why I was looking at him with reproach! I also passed two well-kitted out hikers who were coming in the opposite direction so I supposed that I was on the right track.

It turned out that I wasn’t and there was a little bit of an ominous sign on the side of the path which had turned to my hated steep concrete again.

Path2

The marker post says ‘Kobo Daishi will come to you on the path ahead. Chant sutras as you climb.’

The concrete soon gave way to a more natural trail:

Climb

and after a bit of climbing I eventually came to a shrine area and there was quite a nice view of the ocean in the distance.

Sea

I could also see the cable car office down below:

Cablecar2

Tomorrow I was scheduled to walk along the coast and I was looking forward to it so it was nice to get my first glimpse of the sea. A little bit further down the track I came to a fork in the path. I saw henro markers on the path to the left and  the path to the right simply said “South” and seemed not to be travelled so I assumed I needed to go left. Then I came to a warning sign and I realised that I was actually about to embark on the newly opened path, called Iwayamichi.

Iwayamichi

After reading the warning: “Caution – narrow path, unsurfaced, natural historical trail. No passage after 2pm or during wet weather. Traverse with care and only with appropriate gear.” I thought I should turn around, but I had come quite a long way from the temple, at least 40 minutes, and didn’t fancy trekking back so I forged on thinking, “How bad could it be?

It was bad. Note to self: there is always a reason for a warning sign.

I guess in the scheme of things, it wasn’t that bad – I wasn’t pick-axing my way up Mt Everest or crossing wild animal territory – but it scared the bejeesus out of me. I don’t like feeling as though I could fall down a mountain or that I could slightly put my foot wrong and break a leg, but that is exactly how I felt for the whole 2 ½ hrs it took me to travel this 5km section of trail. It was frightening and most of the time I was just trying not to look down and carefully place my feet so I wouldn’t slip.

Iwayamichi2

I was tingling with tension and there was a few times I thought, ‘Fuck, I can’t do this,’ but I also thought that I couldn’t turn around because I didn’t think I’d be able to pass again through some of the places I had already barely managed to pass. Almost an hour in, I came to the part of the path which was cordoned off because ahead of that it was impassable. A new path had been broken above it and so I followed that. The sign on the blocked off part says, “This is as far as you can go. Turn back now. Path ahead impassable.” and I thought to myself that I’d be pissed if I’d walked all the way here and then had to turn around and go back again.

Iwayamichi3

There were sections where you had to hold onto rope because the trail was either too steep a descent or it was so narrow that you could barely fit both feet on the trail. The photo doesn’t really show how steep it is, but you get the idea.

Rope

In fact, the trail was basically so narrow for much of it that one of my feet was always at an angle and my foot and knee began to hurt from the difficult position (basically because I was trying to hug the mountain as much as possible because I couldn’t actually see the edge of the path and didn’t want to find out that the edge was just leaves with nothing underneath to support it.) I kept wishing that it would be over, but it just seemed to keep on going and I did a lot of talking to myself to keep the panic at bay. I didn’t see signs of anyone else on the path and I knew that if something happened to me, I’d be stuck. I had no mobile phone reception and I also knew that I needed to get down before it started getting dark. The pressure was on.

When I finally saw the path heading down in a gentle slope and I could see a tin roof (which turned out to be a beef feedlot), I took a moment to stop and take a drink. I hadn’t dared stop anywhere along the path for the last 2 1/2hrs and my mouth was bone dry and I was shaking a little bit from the effort of placing my feet so carefully with each step.A little bit further on was an interestingly shaped ohenro hut, which I thought was a novel design but in terms of being a shelter? Ummm…not so much.

henrohut

The path ended up depositing me out in a small alley between two houses and I turned right and saw a henro hut and there was Osamu sitting inside eating a rice ball. He laughed and asked me what had happened to me. I told him I’d taken the new path and he told me he’d asked about the new path at Tairyuji and they’d told him that it wasn’t good so he’d taken the usual path. I laughed and said I’d made a rookie mistake. I left him to finish his rice ball and headed towards Byoudoji. I was tired and wanted to get to my lodgings as soon as possible which happened to be right next door to the temple.

As I was walking along a lady passed me in a car and stopped ahead of me and waited until I caught up and then she passed me an energy drink and an orange as osettai. I thanked her and headed onwards.

There was a tour group at Byoudoji when I arrived and it was super windy.

Byodouji

I quickly did my temple business and as I was leaving I saw Osamu walk in and put his pack down. He told me to go to the lodgings ahead of him and enjoy a hot bath. I said I would and walked next door.

The lodgings were actually a house and in the entrance there were about 5 washing machines and dryers then you walked into the dining room and I called out trying to find the owner. She came out and greeted me and told me that the washing machines were free to use and then she showed me where the bathroom and toilet was and then she talked about the room which she said she hoped I didn’t mind because it was very large for just one person. It turned out to be a group room and would be where you’d have 10 people sleeping.

Room

I felt a bit uncomfortable in the large space with just paper sliding doors between me and the other guests.  The owner said that everyone was taking turns to have a bath and that she’d let me know when it was my turn.

The toilet was of course shared and there were two urinals on the wall with nothing to hide behind and then a western toilet had been added next to the cubicles for the squat toilets, but it only had a pull around accordion curtain around it. I made myself a cup of tea and watched some tv while laying on my futon while I waited for my turn to use the bathroom.

Futon

About an hour later the owner called out to me that it was my turn to use the bath. The door to the changing room outside the bathroom kept sticking and the door to the bathroom was old and rattley. There was a large stone bath and two showers on the walls with the usual tiny stools and buckets to use while you washed yourself. Everything was reasonably clean, but it was one of those old houses with inground dirt that needed renovating and didn’t really look clean. There was mould all over the ceiling of the bathroom and when I dipped an experimental toe into the bath it was boiling hot like it had welled up from the depths of hell. It was so hot I couldn’t even think about going in for a dip so I just had a good scrub in the shower and dressed in the yukata supplied and went and informed the owner that I was out and the next person could go in.

I heard her yell out to Osamu that he could have the bath next and that was when I realised that he must have arrived. I laid down again for a while watching tv and wondering when dinner was. At 6pm I heard everyone start congregating in the dinner room and I thought I had better poke my head in in case I was expected to be there. I wasn’t sure how many people were staying and if the meal times would be split into different groups, but also didn’t want to be the last person at the table if I was supposed to be there. As it turned out I was the last person to be seated and everyone turned around to look at the foreigner as I sat down. Osamu was seated across from me and had already ordered beer so he poured another glass for me (I really needed to tell him that I hated beer!) There was a lady and her husband seated next to me and she asked me in English where I was from and whether I was walking the trail. Osamu piped in and said that she didn’t need to speak English to me and laughed that I was ‘mostly Japanese’. There were another two men down the end of the table and at my end there was a group of three ladies who were casually walking/taking public transport so all up there were 9 people staying that night.

For dinner there was sole simmered in soy sauce, some sashimi, pickles, rice, miso soup and tofu. (No photos due to being very self-conscious at the table!)

Osamu and the ladies had a good chat and he kept chugging down the beer. They had apparently abandoned their husbands and set out of the trip, not really sure when they would be back and were having a great time. They were chatting very loudly in the room next to mine prior to dinner and I was hoping that they wouldn’t continue chatting too long into the night as my paper walls weren’t going to give me much noise insulation. Osamu said that he was going to have to put a temporary hold on his ohenro journey and head back home tomorrow as his grandson was participating in a festival at home and he needed to be back. I said that tomorrow was my last day and that I was intending to catch a train back to Tokushima from Hisawa station after finishing up at temple no.23. He asked me if I knew the train times and I rattled a few off and he said he’d probably catch the same train as me because he wanted to get back to Tokushima a little bit early so he could go to the Awaodori Museum and watch the dance display that they have there because he’d completed the ohenro trip a few times but never seen the Awaodori. He told me I should go and watch it too. I actually came to Tokushima and watch the Awaodori festival in summer so I really didn’t need to see it again and was more interesting in spending what little time I had shopping, but I didn’t say that to him.

Everyone retired to their rooms after dinner and I was glad to fall into my futon which was thin and uncomfortable. In the middle of the night I got up and put the cushions under it, trying to give it some more bulk but it didn’t really help. There was also a loud whirring noise outside the window that was bugging me and I got up and checked whether the exhaust fan was on but it wasn’t and when I realised that it was the air conditioner unit outside, I moved my futon away from that end of the room, but it didn’t really help. There was also a lot of light coming in through the paper doors that was bugging me as well. I couldn’t really relax in my room. Actually there was a little part of me that was worried by the fact that I couldn’t lock the door to my room and that anyone could come in. I wasn’t so worried about people stealing my stuff, but just the normal worries that a girl has (although I feel safer in Japan than anywhere else). All up it was an uncomfortable night.

I knew this B&B was going to be my least comfortable night. I was actually dreading it a little bit as that style of place is totally out of my comfort zone. I checked everywhere in the area for an alternate place to stay, but there wasn’t anything. Even Osamu had said to me that it was the only place to stay so it wasn’t much of a coincidence that we were both spending the night there. I eventually fell asleep after checking the map for my route tomorrow and setting my alarm for 6:30am

…soon…

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