Ohenro Day 7

Breakfast was at 7am. Everyone assembled on time and I made sure I wasn’t the last one there this time. The tv was on and the first departure of the new Hokkaido Bullet train was being shown as the first train was scheduled to leave around 7am. (7:04 or something like that). I’m not a huge train buff, but I do like riding on different trains and I hope I’ll get to take a trip on the Hokkaido Bullet train at some stage.

Breakfast was an egg roll, rice, grilled fish, seaweed, miso soup, pickles, fermented soya beans (nattou) and a banana. I was happy to see some fruit! Again, no photo because the owner was standing at the end of the table ready to serve anyone who wanted some more rice or miso soup. There was a pot of green tea on the table but I wandered over to the side bench and made myself a cup of coffee. Osama had told me last night that the coffee was free and self-service and I’d told him I would have one in the morning but I couldn’t have any at night or I wouldn’t sleep (not that I slept much anyway!). Milk for coffee in Japan tends to come in little sachets as power or liquid-filled pods and is actually made from vegetable oil and some flavourings. I usually need 2 or 3 to get that creamy, milky taste that I prefer. I opened one of the pods and it was solid – I’m not sure whether it was because it was expired  or because it was too cold, but I didn’t manage to get much milk out of it. I tried another one and it was the same, so I settled with having a near-black coffee. It was definitely a cold morning and I needed something to warm up the engine.

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I ate everything except the nattou and when Osamu saw my unopened packet sitting on the table, I told him that there were really only two things I didn’t like to eat in Japan – nattou and shiokara (squid semi-fermented in its own guts). Actually there are a few other things I’m not all that keen on (fish roe being among them) but nattou and shiokara are just two things I really don’t want to go anywhere near. Everyone at the table joined in on the conversation saying that shiokara and nattou were ‘so good’ and they all love them, but I noticed a couple of people at the table who didn’t touch their packets of nattou either! I offered my packet to Osamu, but he declined. I did think about saving my banana as a snack for later, but ended up eating it with my coffee and it was yummy.

When breakfast was done, people started paying their bills. The owner had an amazing memory and mad mental arithmetic skills and was rattling off everyone’s bill including how many and of what they had drunk last night. My bill was 6,500 yen for the room and two meals. I heard one of the ladies in the group of three make the comment that I must have gotten the ‘foreigner discount’ because they’d been charged 7,000 each. I had no idea if there was such a thing, but I was pretty sure that the owner would not have made a mistake that was so simple so I guessed it was intentional.

The walkers at the table were all heading to Byodouji, temple number 23 today so I went and cleaned my teeth and got organised reasonably slowly so the others could leave ahead of me and I wouldn’t have to worry about walking with anyone. The last few days had been bottlenecks on the path in that everyone seems to have the same schedule and departure and arrival times so it is very hard to not run into someone while on the trail. The three ladies didn’t have a clear plan or accommodation booked for that night so they were going to have a leisurely start and were still organising their day when I thanked the owner for her hospitality and made my way out at about 7:45am.

There were about 22kms to Byodouji and most of it was either roads or tunnels. A large section of  the day was going to be spent walking along the coast and it was another beautiful day weather-wise so I was looking forward to the change in scenery. The last section was also a little bit hilly as we wound up and down the sea-side cliffs but it was nothing too onerous. I needed to catch a train by at least 4pm and I was confident I would arrive at the last temple by then.

About two hours in, I got a little bit lost as I was coming up to a tunnel and couldn’t find any trail markings are anything nearby. I pulled my map out and a lady who was passing on her morning walk, asked me I needed help. I finally figured out that yes I needed to go through the tunnel and she said she was headed in the same direction and would walk with me for a bit. Her pace was very slow and I was hoping that our path wouldn’t be the same for very long. I asked her where she was headed to and she told me that she was going to the station in the town on the other side of the tunnel that I needed to go to. We walked through the tunnel and just at the exit there was a road going off to the side which I felt like I needed to turn into. I found this section of the map to be quite difficult to follow because there were several routes that you could take and I wanted to walk along the ocean as much as possible. I was also conscious of needing to catch a train at a certain time and I didn’t want to waste time by getting lost. I pulled out my map again and checked. She said she would continue walking and I thanked her and waved goodbye. The map seemed to tell me to keep going straight ahead so I put my map back in my pack and continued on. I caught up very quickly with the lady again but fortunately she had crossed to the other side of the road and I yelled out to her as I passed, “The trail does go straight ahead. Have a nice day!” I didn’t have to walk with her and was happy for the lack of company (I’m sooo not a sociable pilgrim!) there was a little bit of up and down on the path and it was mostly on roads but there wasn’t much traffic.

There were many tunnels to pass through on this day and the longest was almost a kilometre. Only a couple had a dedicated footpath.

Tunnel

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I passed through an area that is apparently known for land crabs and there were warning signs all over the place.

Crab

The crabs only come out in the summer months and I don’t think they are particularly large, but I would have liked to have seen them.

There were little glimpses of the ocean every time I went up a rise in the path:

Ocean

and then the path was winding its way down to the ocean and I was looking forward to walking along the sea-side and hoping it wouldn’t be too windy. I saw something on the road coming towards me and first of all I thought it might be a dog, but then as it got closer and from its waddle I knew it wasn’t.

Tanuki

I stopped and it kept coming closer and closer and I was wondering whether it was actually going to come right up to me, but it suddenly turned off the road and climbed into the brush. It didn’t seem to care that I was there or noticed me too much. It was a tanuki (raccoon dog) and was the only four-legged wild animal I’d seen on my trip.

I caught up with Osamu a little further down the trail who was walking along with one of the older gentlemen who had stayed at the same b & b the previous night. He said that Osamu was setting a fierce pace and pushing him along, but he was grateful for the push.  I was desperately in need of a toilet and when I saw a sign for a toilet heading down towards the beach I veered off and said that I would see them at the temple if not before. I’d seen a lot of volcanic (black) sand beaches in Japan previously, but not a lot of white sand so it was a pleasant surprise to find that the beaches were so nice.

Beach

The path took us down into fishing villages and the little bays and inlets were also gorgeous and each bend in the road gave me something else to look at.

Beach2

As I was walking along a man on the side of the road asked me which road I was going to take. I wasn’t really sure what he meant and said that I was just going to take the henro trail. He then went on to tell me that the highway was the shortest route but the coastal road was the most scenic. I was intending to take the coastal road and got a little bit confused due to the conflicting trail markers, but I figured that I needed to keep to the coast as much as possible so I kept turning left whenever I was in doubt.

I ended up running into Osamu and he other gentleman who had been taking a break in a henro hut. It had been designed as a lookout tower and had stairs up to the second floor where you could rest and enjoy the view. They were just coming down the stairs and we headed forward together. For a 71 year-old Osamu certainly was healthy and mobile. The other gentleman who I guess was older still, was struggling with the pace, but was determined to keep up. When the path diverted off the road and up into the cliffs, Osamu said I should go first and that they would follow. I charged up the mountain path seeing it as an opportunity for some ‘alone time’ and the two gentlemen soon fell behind.

The path wound down along the coast and the ocean looked cold but lovely.

Beach3

There were some caves and sight-seeing spots along the way, but I was intent on just pushing forwards so I didn’t take any detours. I also hadn’t taken a break or had anything to eat since breakfast this morning and was wondering if I would make it to the temple without stopping.  I could see the pagoda of Yakuouji in the distance and it seemed like it was very close, but was still about 30mins walk or so away.

Pagoda

I was walking along the main road in the town of Hiwasa when a couple of ladies beckoned to me to come and have a coffee. They had a little shop front which was a henro rest area and it had some local dolls displayed. Tokushima is quite well known for its elaborate dolls and I guess they were tourism volunteer. They asked me to come in and sit down and I saw Osamu walking past on the opposite side of the road and I called out then the ladies went out and asked him to come in. They were very persuasive. Osamu said that the temple was only about 30mins away and he didn’t want to take a break now, but eventually he came in and brought the other man with him. We sat down and the ladies brought over coffee with little chocolates and it was nice to have something after having nothing all morning. They asked us to write a message in their visitors book which was filled with lots and lots of messages (they were obviously very efficient at getting people to stop) and Osamu told me quietly that I needed to give them an osamefuda as thanks for the osettai. I told him I already had one prepared and then he laughed, saying ”I really don’t need to tell you anything, do I?” He pulled one of his out and filled it in and then gave it to one of the ladies. The coffee was actually one of the nicest I’d had for quite a few days and I was glad I had stopped. We didn’t want to stay for too long though, and once all three of us had finished our drinks, we got packed us and ready to go. The ladies mentioned that there were hand-made pouches on a stand in the corner if we wanted to take one each and Osamu and myself selected one each.

Osamu had mentioned that there was a café nearby that had originally been an old homestead and that I should visit it if I liked old buildings. I said I did and then he asked the ladies where we should turn off the main road to get to it. One of the ladies said it was very close and she ended up walking up with us to make sure that we took the correct road. Unfortunately when we got to it, we discovered that it was closed so we just had to push on to the last temple.

The last temple, Yakuoji was actually a little bit of an anti-climax for me.

Temple2

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but after 7 days of walking I felt like I wanted my journey to finish with a bang! The temple was up on a hill and had a nice view out to the ocean, but that is about all it had to distinguish it from many of the previous temples.

Temple

Being that the railway station was so close, there were quite a few people there and overseas tourists. I was planning on leaving my walking stick here secretly and looked around for a likely place to leave it and then I started worrying about what Osamu and the other gentleman would have to say about me leaving my stick (I was expecting a heated lecture about how I couldn’t do it!) I tried to do my temple business as quickly as possible and luckily the stamp office was down the stairs and away from the main hall. As I was walking away from having my book stamped, I saw Osamu just making his way down the stairs. I said I was finished and wanted to catch the train that was leaving in about 15 mins. He said he wanted to get some lunch and wanted to eat some nice udon noodles before heading back so he told me to go on ahead. I thanked him for his help over the past few days and said that I would contact him if I had a chance to go to Nagano prefecture in the future. He said goodbye and while he was heading to the stamp office I managed to drop my stick into one of the racks to the side after removing the material on the grip and bolted out of the temple grounds without anyone seeing me. Success! I was so relieved. I really didn’t want to be seen doing something ‘wrong’.

Osamu had pointed out where the station was so I headed towards it and decided to stop into a  convenience store on the way. I hadn’t really had anything since breakfast other than the coffee and chocolate and I had walked over 20km. It was 1pm and I knew the train back to Tokushima would also take another hour. I didn’t fancy waiting for food that long, so I quickly bought a rice ball, canned coffee and melon bread (the best reward for completing a pilgrimage!) then headed over to the station.

I had about 5mins until my train and I quickly looked around for the ticket machines but couldn’t find any. Then I saw a saw saying that tickets were “This way”. I followed the sign and instead of ticket machines, there was a post office counter. I looked around confusedly and then asked the man behind the counter where the tickets were. He said, ‘Here’ and I was still confused but then he asked me where I wanted to go and I said “Tokushima on the 1:14 train”. He said it was an express and asked if that was ok and I said fine. So he pulled a ticket out from a magical place (I’ve no idea where it came from) and I handed over my cash. I had just a couple of minutes to get to the platform. I could see the platform through the door and heard a train arrive, but the door had a sign on it saying no exit, so I had to go out of the station building and walk around the side to where there was a gap in the fence. I walked to the platform and saw the three ladies from last night’s b&b walking past. I asked what they were doing here and they said that they had caught the train instead of walking the 20kms. They then asked me what I was doing and I said I had to finish my journey here because  had to go back to Australia. They told me the train was leaving and that I should hurry up. Fortunately I had asked the ticket guy what platform my train was leaving from and he said number one and not the one that the ladies had arrived on. There was no sign saying which platform was which and the train arrived and I hoped it was the right one. There were no ticket gates or staff and it was a diesel train with just two carriages.

As soon as I got on the train I took off my pilgrim coat and stole and put them back into my back. Then the conductor came around and checked my tickets. There weren’t many people on the train and I had a nice quiet journey back to Tokushima eating my food and drinking my coffee. It was quite funny to travel through the countryside and pass back through places I had walked through. It had taken me 7 days to traverse the distance on foot and 1hr by express train. Of course, I wasn’t walking along the train line and the path had taken me up and over mountains, but I still felt like I hadn’t really travelled far in all that time.

I soon arrived back in Tokushima and I felt funny walking around with my backpack on, but no pilgrim stick or outfit. I had returned to just a normal person again! I went back to the Sunroute Hotel where I had stayed previously and left my suitcase and check back in. My suitcase had been placed in my room again, which was nice and I had a lay down and bath before I headed out in the evening to get some dinner and do a little bit more shopping. I bought some sushi from the supermarket in front of the station and then I got some yoghurt and a rice ball for breakfast. I needed to catch the bus to Osaka the next morning so I checked the timetable and then had a look at the bus-stop that I guessed the bus would be leaving from. I had planned to go out in the evening and buy my ticket but it was nice and warm in the hotel and freezing outside, so I didn’t.

The next morning I caught the bus at 10am, arrived in Osaka by about 12:30pm, took my suitcase to the hotel and then embarked on my first day of shopping. I was meeting some work clients for dinner that evening at 5pm in Kobe and the check-in time at the hotel was 3pm so I knew I wouldn’t have much time to have a shower and get ready etc. Actually I was quite tired from all my pilgrimaging and really didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but I didn’t have a choice about meeting the clients. It was cold and raining for the entire day. I really had been blessed during the week of my pilgrimage with perfect weather. It had rained the day before and the day after, but the 7 days in between were fine and sunny.

I felt quite weird being back in ‘civilisation’ after the peace and quiet of the countryside. Osaka was absolutely crazy with people and traffic and noise. Actually since I’ve been back in Australia, the traffic noise is something that has been bugging me. I never really noticed it before, but the hum of white noise that fills my life has started to grate on my nerves. I’ve always thought of myself as a city person and not really an outdoorsy type, but I can see the appeal of it now. I certainly felt much more peaceful and stressfree in that environment. It has made me think about what I want for my future. Do I want to continue to live in the hustle and bustle where people are living on top of one another, or do I want space and peace and quiet? Part of me really enjoys the thrum of the city on a Friday afternoon/evening when everyone is out and about and everything feels alive and vibrant, but do I really want that all the time?

One of the objective of this pilgrimage was to be mindful of my life and to be thankful for small things. I feel like I achieved that. The next prefecture is Kochi and is the longest stretch of the pilgrimage. being almost 400kms. I think it will take about 12-14 days and apparently the trail in this area is the least developed and there are also fewer choices for lodgings. I think it will take a little more preparation and pondering than my Tokushima adventure.

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