[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 8: Kindness

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Breakfast at Minshuku Myozai was not until 6:30am, so I was able to get in another half hour of sleep more than usual. I slept heavily, waking up only once in the night before being woken by my alarm.

Breakfast was another large meal but, surprisingly, I was able to eat most of it. Breakfast included a raw egg, which is supposed to be scrambled up and poured over one’s fresh bowl of rice. I’ve tried this dish before and am not too fond of it, but can eat it if needed (for politeness’ sake). However, I left the raw egg uncracked. Michael said it was his first time eating a raw egg on rice and he said that he did not enjoy it much either, much like the natto from yesterday.

Knowing our paths would diverge from here on out, Michael wished me well. I told him that, if he enjoyed onsen, he should stop at Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama City. It is one of the most famous onsen in all of Japan. I also told him about Sen Guesthouse nearby and noted that it was run by an American man and his Japanese wife, so they both speak English and could tell him about the area. I had dropped by both places a few years ago when I visited Shikoku. I marked both sites in his guide book.

Saito-san offered to walk with me as far as Temple 15. I told him I would go ahead but he should go ahead if he passed me. I pointed to my knee and said I would be going slow. I wished him and Michael well and was the first to leave the inn.

To my surprise, my knee felt good and I set a good pace. I passed Temple 14, which I had visited yesterday, and made my way to Temple 15, Kokubun-Ji. Unfortunately, it was partially under construction, so half of its buildings were hidden by scaffolding. I seemed to be the first pilgrim there, as no one was even at the stamp office, even though it was a bit past 7am, when temples open up. Unfortunately, I had to use the bathroom very badly (the inn had served coffee after breakfast and, as usual, it had gone straight through me) but could not find the toilet sign. I practically ran around the compound until I found it.

By the time I got out of the bathroom, a couple of other pilgrims arrived by car and rang the big bell that is supposed to announce one’s arrival to a temple. The temple office staff must have heard it and opened up the stamp counter. I made some quick prayers and then got my book stamped.

I moved on to Temple 16, Kannon-Ji. By this point, though, my knee was starting to flare up again. Kannon-Ji was quite a small temple with only two benches located by the stamp counter. I sat down for a few minutes after getting my book stamped, but I felt a bit awkward just sitting there across from the man at the counter, so I didn’t linger. However, the monk did give me a couple of sweets as osettai. I bowed and thanked him, then put on my backpack again and moved on.

Temple 17, Ido-Ji, was 2.9km away, so a bit further of a walk than the other temples I had visited today. Normally, that distance would have been easy, but my right knee was quite painful by this point. I hobbled along, and at a stone marker, I stopped to lean on my staff and rest my leg. A woman came rushing out of the house next to the marker. She noticed me limping along and asked if I was ok. She spoke fairly good English, so we could converse to a point. I told her about my knee but assured her I would be ok. She gave me some encouragement and another pack of medicated patches, the same kind that was given to me by the inn in Yoshinogawa when I first hurt my knees. I thanked her profusely and she returned to her house while I soldiered on.

Ido-Ji was quite the large temple and I took my time there, taking at least 15 minutes to sit on one of the many benches there. Legend has it that Kobo Daishi had dug a well for the community there in one night with just his staff. The same well can still be seen, enshrined in a little hut. I would later read that, if one can see their reflection at the bottom of the well, they would receive good fortune, but because it is underneath a roof now, it’s more difficult for this to happen. I definitely saw my own face looking back at me when I looked down the well. Maybe things would go well for me during this pilgrimage.

When I left the temple, I met Michael again. He said that I wasn’t limping so much, but I told him I took a good long rest at Temple 17, as it had been painful before. He said that he was quite tired from getting lost in the mountains yesterday, so he would probably take a long rest the temple, too. We wished each other well and parted ways.

Temple 18 was a little more than 19km away. In-between was the city of Tokushima. I had no desire to walk that length, both because of my knee pain and because I had already seen what Tokushima had to offer. I walked over to the nearest train station and took a train back to Tokushima Station. I had hoped to take a bus to Onzan-Ji, Temple 18, but couldn’t find the bus line that would take me there. I don’t think it exists anymore.

Instead, I stopped for lunch – Japanese curry. As I ate, I used Google Maps to decide the best way to get to Temple 18. It looked like it was easiest to take a train to Minami-Komatsushima, then walk about 3.5km to the temple. I could then walk to Temple 19, which was located next to a train station, then take the train back to Tokushima, where I had a hotel room booked.

And that’s what I did.

The walk to Onzan-Ji was actually not too bad. As I had rested my knee at lunch and by taking the train, it held up fairly well during the walk. Unfortunately, Onzan-Ji sits atop a small mountain/hill, and I took a wrong turn and ended upon the wrong side of said hill, at a cow farm at a dead end (with two dogs barking and growling angrily at me). Going down slopes was still a strain on my knee, so I had to hobble back down, then hike up back up the correct road.

My goal was to make it to Temple 19, and it was already 3pm, as I had lost time by getting lost. Temples close a 5pm. I admit, I rushed through Onzan-Ji and didn’t really stop to pray. I just got my book stamped and took some pictures.

I left the temple at the same time as an older man, who seemed to be out for a walk rather than doing the pilgrimage (although, he told me later that he had done the pilgrimage about 12 years ago). He spoke a bit of English and we were able to cobble together a semblance of conversation between his English and my poor Japanese. I asked him how to get to Temple 19 and he walked with me down the sloping road. He pointed out the main henro route but said it was a bit difficult. He led me to the road for cars and said it was more relaxing. He, too, had noticed my slight limp. At the fork in the road, he said he had to go the other way, back home. I gave him the two remaining pieces of candy from Sudachi-kan as thanks.

I walked on, knowing it would be a little more than 4km to the next temple. Surprisingly, my right knee felt uncomfortable but was still holding up, allowing me a decent pace.

Tatsue-Ji, Temple 19, was another large and beautiful temple. I arrived there around 4:30pm and was able to get my book stamped after praying at the main hall. I rested a bit and bought a drink from one of the vending machines. By this point, though, the sun was beginning to set and it was getting quite cold. I pulled on my outer jacket shell and decided to make my way back into the city.

 Fortunately, the train station was a mere 400m from the temple. Still, about halfway there, to my surprise, the man from temple 18 pulled up in his car with his wife! He asked if I was still ok, which I confirmed. He pointed out that the train station was just up ahead, then drove there and waited to make sure I got there ok. Unfortunately, I had just missed the train bound for Tokushima, and he looked at the timetable for me to tell me the next train wasn’t for another half hour. I assured him that this was fine and I would take the time to relax. With that, he and his wife let.

I was feeling a bit cold and decided to buy a hot drink from the vending machine to warm myself up. I marvelled at how kind and supportive people had been to me so far on my journey. I really wanted to help other people, too, to the best of my capabilities, anyway. There was another henro waiting for a train, so I called him over to the vending machine and told him to pick whatever drink he liked. At first, he politely declined, but I assured him it was osettai. Then, his face turned to an expression of excitement and he chose some hot coffee, and I was happy I had offered. 120 yen well spent. We talked a little, but his English was extremely basic, so we simply talked about which temples we had visited (as one only needs to mention the numbers).

Not long after, his train arrived, leaving me alone. I waited patiently for the train that was Tokushima-bound, which arrived about 10 minutes after. It was crowded and slow, but I did eventually get back into the city and found my hotel.

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