[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 6: Pressing Onward

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I didn’t sleep particularly well, waking up a few times throughout the night and finally giving up around 4:30am. I hung around the hotel room for a few hours, finalizing my packing and getting ready for the day. I wasn’t in a rush, as the bus from Yoriinaka to Shosan-Ji bus stop wouldn’t get there til 1pm.

I checked around 9:20am, went to the nearby 7-11 for some food and water, then asked around about bus tickets. To my surprise, even though Yoriinaka was a solid hour away, it was not a highway bus but a local bus that would take me there. Unfortunately, I had missed the 9:35 bus and would have to wait until the 10:35 bus, according to the bus information lady. She also mentioned that I should walk to Shosan-Ji from the Yoriinaka bus stop, and I think she was implying that it was faster to just walk the distance rather than wait for the bus that would take me to the Shosan-Ji bus stop. Learning that, I kind of regretted wasting so much time in my hotel room. Oh well.

The bus ride was uneventful, and I walked the distance to Shosan-Ji. It was a fairly easy walk for the first 3.5km. Then I got to the base of the mountain and it was straight up, and when I say it was straight up, I really do mean that the road was pretty much an incline the entire way up to the temple. Sometimes, the road was at a relatively gentle incline. Other times, it was quite steep and I had to stop every 50m or so to catch my breath.

As I climbed the mountain, it got colder and colder and I noticed more and more snow. Even still, I was sweating despite having my outer jacket shell off and my inner soft layer on but unzipped. It must have rained or snowed recently because the ground was wet and slick in places. Even so the scenery was beautiful, especially off the road for cars, even if it was hard going.

I wondered how I would have fared if I had come through the other way, which was more difficult and longer. Probably not well, I guessed. At one point, I was passed by another female pilgrim who looked to be in her 40’s. She practically hopped and skipped up the mountain, and I was insanely jealous of her stamina. It reminded me of being passed by much older people during the hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan. “Slow and steady,” I reminded myself, just like in Bhutan. And for the first time during this pilgrimage, I popped in my ear buds and listened to some music on my iPod to distract my thoughts from the seemingly endless uphill road.

I got to Shosan-Ji a little after 2pm, so I had been going for about 2.5 hours at that point. I nearly cried when I prayed at the main hall. I was so happy that I had not given up despite my set back and thanked whatever spiritual being – whether it was God, Buddha, Kobo Daishi – for bringing me this far. I then took some obligatory pictures and got my book stamped. I decided to rest a bit and since I wasn’t hiking up steep inclines, I had stopped working up a sweat and was feeling a bit chilled. I took the opportunity to buy a hot milk tea from the ending machines, sat down, and enjoyed.

An older female pilgrim came by with some mochi and had me take two. She was going to all the pilgrims and offering them. I took the sweets gratefully. She also went around again and gave out little purses that had some nuts, tissues, and a 50 yen coin in them. I didn’t feel like I needed them, but as a pilgrim, it is considered rude to refuse osettai, so I took one and thanked her again.

After finishing my tea (and it was so cold at the temple that my tea had already become chilled), I put my outer jacket back on and made the hike down. Whereas the hike up was exerting, the hike down was painful. Clearly my knees had not healed completely yet, especially my right knee. I realized, too, that my ibuprofen had likely worn off at this point, and I should have taken another dose at the temple. It was slow, painful going, and dangerous at some points, too, where the path was simply a dirt path. The stones that weren’t covered in pine needles or leaves were slippery, and I nearly lost my footing a couple of times (with my knees twisting painfully when I did). I was grateful for my walking staff.

An older man passed but stopped and asked if I was ok. I nodded, pointed to my knee, and said, “Warui”, or “bad.” He told me to take care and moved on. A little further on, I saw him stopped at a smaller temple to pray. Or perhaps he was waiting for me to ensure I got down the mountain ok. As I hobbled down the mountain road, I expected he would outpace me once more, but I didn’t see him again until I was back in Kamiyama village, so I still suspect he slowed his pace deliberately to ensure I was ok. One thing I have noticed during this trip is that pilgrims and the Shikoku residents as a whole look out for each other, and I will always be eternally grateful for those who helped or looked out for me.

I made it to my lodging at the same time as another foreign pilgrim did. I found out he, Michael, was from Denmark and it was his first time in Japan. Inside the little store (called Sudachi-kan), we were greeted by the owners, including a younger man who spoke pretty good English. Another Japanese pilgrim was already there. We were each given a donut and a choice of either tea or coffee. Then we took turns signing their guestbook. I noticed that Jack from Italy had been a guest there, as well.

The inn’s owner said he would drive us to the nearby onsen. Unfortunately, Aunt Flow had decided to pay a visit this morning so I politely declined and settled for a shower at Sudachi-kan while the men went to the onsen. I have to admit, it’s times like these that I wish I were a man. Even so, a hot shower and clean clothes felt good. I settled into my room and waited for the rest of the guests to get back.

When they did, we went back to the little shop and had dinner, family-style. Our hosts served us so much food that I couldn’t finish it all. I ended up giving my meat to Michael, who was very hungry after making the hike up from temple 11.

We talked a bit more about the next few days. The young man who spoke English (Mino-san) did Michael and I a a our and called ahead to the Myozai Minshuku near Temple 13 for us, as our Japanese is lacking. For the most part, I could get by with what Japanese I knew when making reservations, but I had so far been turned away from one establishment (in Tokushima) due to the language barrier. Most people, though, (especially the smaller Minshuku that cater to henro) are pretty understanding and will try their best  to communicate (for example, speaking slower or using what few Eglish words they know).

Anyway, once all that was done, we turned in for the night.

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