[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 7: The Pain Returns

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I woke up to a cold morning around 5am. Breakfast was not until 6am, so I went ahead and turned on the little room heater and enjoyed laying under my blankets for another 15 or 20 minutes. Then I forced myself to get up and get ready for the day.

I was the first to arrive back at the little shop for breakfast, though I was about 10 minutes early. I was immediately served hot tea and rice in addition to the dishes already spread out in front of me. Michael joined me about 5 minutes after, and then the other two Japanese pilgrims joined us a few minutes after. We dug in and I enjoyed my food…except for the natto. For the uninformed, natto is fermented beans and I had heard about it due to its distinctive smell and taste that people either love or hate, but I had never tried it before. I figured today would be the day to change that, and I learned that I am one of those people who do not like it. I only managed to have a bite of it with my rice and couldn’t bring myself to eat any more. Michael managed to eat his portion, but he said it was the first food he’s had in Japan that he did not enjoy.

Once breakfast was done, we paid for our night’s stay (a mere 3500 yen for me, or 4000 yen for the men who had gone to the Onsen yesterday). We also each got onigiri, an orange, and some candy packed for lunch as osettai. I asked our host if there was a bus to Yoriinaka. The main henro road led up and down another small mountain and I wanted to save my knees by circling around it via Yoriinaka. Mino-san then graciously offered to drive me as far as Yoriinaka. I bid farewell to the other pilgrims (although, we were booked into the same Minshuku) and then I hopped into Mino-san’s car.

Once in Yoriinaka, I was dropped off and I bid farewell to my kind host. I then set out to walk along the alternate route to Temple 13. It was a longer route, but at least I didn’t have to up and down a mountain and the drive to Yoriinaka had saved me about 45 minutes of walking.

I set a comfortable pace. Kamiyama Town was just waking up with students on their way to school. The surrounding mountains were still half-covered in morning mist with the sun beginning to peek through.

Everything was fine until about 2 hours in when my knees were starting to bother me again. I stopped to rest for about 5 minutes at a bench on the side of the road. I ate a piece of candy that was given to me from Sudachi-kan.

I pressed on, as I had quite a bit of road to get through. As I kept walking, though, the pain was getting worse and worse in my right knee. After another half hour or so, I was limping again and felt like my knees had never healed at all. While the road was likely far gentler than the main henro route, there were still plenty of inclines and descents that were irritating my knees. I stopped again at a bus stop, but only because it had a bench. I hoped that the bus would go in the direction I was headed, but I couldn’t read the bus stop information well enough to be sure.

Luckily, an elderly lady stopped by and asked me where I was going. I told her Daiinichi-Ji, Temple 13. I had my 88 Temple Route Guide with me and she pointed to it, mentioning the author’s name (David Moreton). I couldn’t completely understand her, but I believe she said she was related to him (likely through marriage; I think he is married to a Japanese woman, so perhaps this elderly lady was a relation of his wife). I did my best to ask her about the bus, and she confirmed that it would take me to Daiinichi-Ji and that the bus would be arriving soon.

Sure enough, the bus came around the corner and I boarded it. As the bus pulled away, I waved my thanks to her.

Once on the bus, I hadn’t realized I had to take a little ticket from the machine by the door. Another henro on the bus, an elderly man, retrieved the ticket for me and explained to me how the fare system worked. My number was 31, so my fare would be the number displayed by the 31 at the front, as the fare changes depending on the distance traveled. I thanked him. A few minutes later, he approached me again and asked if I was going to Temple 13, which I confirmed. He then told me which bus stop to get off at (even though I already knew from my guide book), and when we were almost there, he came back to me again to tell me to push the stop request button and told me the amount I had to pay at the front. Just before I got off the bus, I rushed to his seat to give him the orange that came with my lunch as thanks for his help.

Again, I will always be grateful to those who have helped me on this journey so far. Whenever I need help, someone always seems to be there and willing to provide it.

The bus stop was right next to Daiinichi-Ji. I went through the usual process at the temple and rested on a bench. A fellow pilgrim had also set his bag next to mine and he tried to chat with me a bit, but the language barrier was too high. Still, I offered him a piece of candy. He took one and thanked me.

It was still quite early in the day, too early to check in to the inn. However, I was quite cold since I wasn’t walking anymore. To make matters worse, I had apparently dropped one of my gloves somewhere. Although I had the packed lunch from my previous hosts, I went into a small restaurant near the temple to escape the cold and ordered some udon and coffee. I took my time there, enjoying the warmth, as well as the seat, as Aunt Flow was giving me painful grief, too. There were times where I felt like throwing up due to the abdominal discomfort. Still, the coffee was quite good, so I asked for a second helping. The restaurant owner even gave me a few small cookies, which I munched on while watching the little TV they had.

After, I paid and went on my way. It was still only about 1:30pm and the next temple was only about 2.5km away. I decided to give it a go.

Those 2.5km ended up being quite difficult due to my knee yet again. I took a good, long rest at Temple 14, Joraku-Ji, and was joined on my bench by a little cat, who was quite friendly, so I wasn’t lonely. Two groups of bus pilgrims came through and many people also came by to pet the cat. When the cat left, I went to get my book stamped.  On my way, I met Saito-San. I asked how he was and he said he was tired but was going to. The next temple before returning to the inn. He asked me if I had seen Michael and I replied I hadn’t.

I made my way back to the inn. After limping down a steep ramp, I sat on a little wall to eat the onigiri I received that morning. I wasn’t terribly hungry and I knew I’d be eating dinner at the inn in a couple of hours, but I didn’t want to waste the gift that my previous host had worked on for me. As I ate, I considered my plan for the next few days. Clearly my knee had not healed yet. It would be impossible to go on without making my knees worse, even if I took public transportation, which did not always get a person close to the temples. Notably, Temples 20 and 21 were mountain temples with nowhere to stop in-between, and public transportation there was sparse to non-existent. In my current state, it would be impossible to accomplish.

I decided that, even though I did not want to, I would have to rest and keep off my knees for several days. I didn’t really want to stay in Tokushima again because I had run out of things to do and see there. Perhaps I’d try to stay in Osaka or near it. It would be a gamble as I hadn’t reserved anything in advance, but perhaps there was enough hotels and hostels to accommodate me for a few days at least. Unfortunately, I did not have Internet access from here in the mountains, so I’d have to wait until I was back in Tokushima to look up some phone numbers. In the meantime, I reserved a one night’s stay at a business hotel in central Tokushima.

 With that plan in mind, I walked the rest of the way to the minshuku, where I checked in. I gratefully lay down on the tatami mat floor and poured myself some hot tea. Before dinner, I washed up, but again, did not partake of the bath. Shower only. Dinner was a feast and I could only eat about half of it. It included sashimi, hot pot,and some incredibly delicious tempura, as well as the obligatory soup, rice, and pickled vegetables.

Michael was also in the dining room. He said he had arrived just before 5pm because he had gotten lost in the mountains, which explained how Saito-san had lost track of him and had arrived so much earlier.. He noticed I was limping more today, and I told him of my plan to head back to the mainland to take a solid week off. He agreed with that plan and told me to rest or else my knee would only get worse.

After dinners, the inn owner’s wife handed out little bottles with orange liquid inside with some gauze pads. The owners mimed out the action of massaging the liquid into one’s legs for pain relief. Each of us thanked them and returned to our rooms to rest for the night. I had a lot on my mind and nearly cried knowing I would likely not be completing the pilgrimage I had dreamed of for so long.

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