Just as a bit of a recap, the 88 Temple henro pilgrimage takes place on the island of Shikoku in southern Japan.
Last time I spent 7 days visiting temples 1-23 in Tokushima prefecture and this time I visited temples 24-39 in Kochi prefecture and temple 40 in Ehime prefecture (because it’s close and will set me up nicely for the third part of the trip next time.)
Each of the four prefectures has a “theme”: awakening, ascetic training, enlightenment and nirvana. Based on my experience, these themes have been given with good reason. “Ascetic training” is just another way of saying, “Shit’s about to get real.”
I was actually really nervous about doing this part of the pilgrimage. It was double the distance, more than double the number of days and I’d read things about this part of the trail that made me feel concerned. Things like, “The trail is very poorly maintained”, “The long distances between temples make you question your life choices” and “The local people are a bit ‘meh’ towards pilgrims”. It all sounded very different to the experience I’d had in Tokushima prefecture and I wondered if it would “spoil” things for me.
That sounds very selfish and not really in keeping with the theme of “trials and persistence” that is at the core of such a spiritual endeavour, but I guess it was simply because my first pilgrimage was so perfect. It was everything I’d hoped it would be and so much more and I had such a positive experience that I didn’t want anything to take away from it. Tokushima truly was an “awakening” in every sense of the word. By comparison, Kochi was really challenging and pushed my comfort boundaries on several occasions, but the devil is in the details so here we go.
I flew into Haneda airport in Tokyo because after exhaustive searches, I couldn’t get a train, plane or automobile leaving from any of the closer airports to get me from Perth to Kochi in one day. The beauty of Haneda is that it is both an international and domestic airport so if you have connecting flights, it’s one of the easiest to use. So I left Perth at 12:30am, got into Haneda at 4pm via Singapore and then finally arrived at Kochi at 9pm.
I decided it was a bit too adventurous to start my walk in earnest the next day (I was fairly zonked after missing a night’s sleep) so I had organised a 12pm late checkout at my hotel in Kochi and made a leisurely journey by train and bus that arrived at Muroto Misaki Cape, the beginning point of my journey, about 3pm.
From there it was a short walk up the mountain to temple 24 where I stayed my first night.
And it wasn’t long before the road gave way to a rocky, climbing trail and all the memories of my first pilgrimage came rushing back to me.
Temple 24, Hotsumisakiji
I clumsily went through the ritual of offering candles, incense and chanting sutras (it takes a few temples to get back into the swing of things) and received my stamp before heading for my lodgings.
This temple is one of the few temples in Kochi that you can stay at. They have an Ohenro Centre in the grounds that is probably more popular with tour groups than individuals, but on this night there were 2 other lone pilgrims and 2 couples staying. As is the norm for these types of places, they serve the meals at one time and you are all seated together in a communal dining room. I didn’t take any photos of the food for this reason (because it’s weird to whip out a camera when everyone is already staring at you because you are (a) a foreigner (b) a girl and (c) you’re walking by yourself.)
It was the first of a few nights I would spend sleeping on tatami mats. There was a communal bath, but I had my own toilet in my room. So I whipped out one of my “tatt patches” (a.k.a a stick-on plaster big enough to cover my bum tattoo) and headed for the bath as soon as I could after check-in to minimise the chance of other people being there because it’s awkward with a tatt patch and pussy piercings.
They also have a big gift shop in the centre selling all the pilgrim supplies you could possibly need (if I’d known, I wouldn’t have ordered a crap tonne of stuff – including a new wooden staff – on the internet and had it delivered to my hotel the day before.)
Oh, here’s a tiny gratuitous pilgrim shot sans backpack (because I hate posting photos of myself.)
I had breakfast the next morning and set off early-ish at 8:30am, ready for my first proper walking day of 26km.