[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 16: “Cheating”

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Again, I woke up several times throughout the night but still felt rested somehow by the time it was ready to get up. To my happy surprise, my ankle was no worse than yesterday, although it wasn’t really any better, either. Still, I could walk on it, and that’s really what mattered.

Breakfast was simple but good. They also served us natto, but remembering my experience at Sudachi-kan, I left it unopened.

My plan for the day was to mostly rely on public transportation, both to save time and to save my knees and ankle, so I took my time checking out. I left by about 7:45am. My task as soon as I left the inn was to find the bus stop that would take me to Yamaguchi Naka, the bus stop the ropeway staff had told me about. If I stopped there, it was only about a 3km walk to Temple 22, Byodo-Ji.

All the little roads threw me for a loop, though, and I found it difficult to find the bus stop. A foreign pilgrim also looked lost and was asking around for the bus stop. So, I approached him and we put our two heads together to find it. I found out his name was Francis and he was from France. He had done the pilgrimage twice already more than a decade ago, but this time, he was finding it harder due to bad knees. I also lamented about my knees.

We did eventually find the right bus stop and boarded together. He was planning on getting off at the Asebi bus stop, which was right on the main henro path but was a little more than 5km from the next temple. I told him about the Yamaguchi Naka bus stop, but he wanted to stick to the main henro route. When we got to Asebi, I also got off with him, figuring I could use the company. The henro I had come across over the last day or so we’re all Japanese and didn’t speak English so it was nice to have someone to talk to. Also, the henro route is well marked. If you go off of it, you run the risk of getting lost, which is not what I wanted.

Our route quickly turned into dirt paths, then took us up yet another small mountain. It was steep, but at least not as high as the two mountains we had ascended yesterday. Still, I worked up a sweat and, again, took frequent breaks to catch my breath.

The descent was much slower for me, and although Francis said he was slow going downhill due to his knees, he easily caught up to me. The path was quite narrow with no barrier between me and the steep slope down the side of the mountain. I’m terrified of heights and had to force my eyes to stick to the path in front of me rather than risking looking down. Also, I knew that my ankle was holding up for now, but another slip, and that would be it – my ankle would sustain too much damage and I would have to give up on the pilgrimage.

Still, Francis never pressured me and gave me space. I was grateful. I was even more grateful when we reached the bottom of the mountain and I could resume my usual pace.

The path after that quickly turned to asphalt road going through farm fields nestled between mountains. It wasn’t much longer before we reached Temple 22, Byodo-Ji. To my surprise, we spotted the couple from the Netherlands just leaving the temple grounds. We chatted a bit before they moved on and Francis and I entered the temple.

We took our time there and again, I offered a silent prayer of thanks at the main temple, grateful that my ankle was still holding up. I prayed for continued safety for the rest of my journey.

I enjoyed the grounds, which had some flowering trees. I got my book stamped then spotted a rest area beside the stamp office with some cups out beside a flask of water and a canister of tea. According to the sign next to the water (which was in both English and Japanese, thankfully), the temple was founded when Kobo Daisho dug a well and milky white water sprung forth from the ground. The well still exists and water is collected from it every day to offer to the main deity, although the water has turned clear over time. The water in the flask was extra water they had managed to collect that day and the sign said it was free to try. Well, I had to try! It was nice tasting water, but nothing special. Still, maybe it had some healing properties and would be good for me?

After, Francis and I bid farewell to each other and wished each other well. He was intending to walk to Temple 23, whereas I would be taking a train a bit past that to save time.

I walked the distance to Aratano Station, then took a train to Hiwasa Station. To my surprise, Hiwasa was quite a bustling town around the station, anyway, and they even had their own castle. I love Japanese castles, but didn’t think I would have the time to check it out, regrettably.

Yakuo-Ji, Temple 23, was a short distance from the train station, but I stopped at the convenience store on the way to grab some food. I snacked on some onigiri for lunch and bought instant cup ramen for tonight in case there wasn’t anywhere to eat near the hotel I had reserved a room at.

Yakuo-Ji as a nice temple but featured lots of stairs. My left knee did not appreciate the descent down them all once I was done checking out all the temple’s buildings, which featured a unique looking pagoda, but even still, the pain was nowhere near what it was before. I took another dose of ibuprofen to keep the pain at bay.

By the time I was done, it was only about 1pm, so still a little early. I knew that Hiwasa had a sea turtle museum (they hatch baby turtles there and then release them into the wild), so I made the walk through town to get there. The vast majority of the displays there were in Japanese, so sadly, I couldn’t really appreciate all of it. Still, it was fun seeing all the turtles. They also had a viewpoint overlooking the Ohara Beach. The waves looked to be quite big and I enjoyed sitting on a little sofa they had and watching the waves roll in.

After that, I decided to make my way back to Hiwasa Station. On my way, I was stopped by two women who ushered me into a little room to sit and relax. They were offering tea or coffee as osettai. I chose tea and they provided me some delicious green tea (and tasted like it had some roasted rice in it, as well) with some manju. They showed me a guestbook and asked me to leave a message, which I happily did. I didn’t know how much they would understand, but I wrote about the kindness and warmth of the people of Shikoku – the truth, really. The women didn’t speak any English, so unfortunately, I couldn’t converse with them, but they were so cheerful and welcoming, I loved it and appreciated their kindness and generosity. I did not linger long once I finished my snack, so I put my backpack back on, thanked them profusely, and went on my way again.

When I got to Hiwasa Station, I looked at the timetable and realized the next train to Kaifu was not for another 1.5 hours. I noticed that the station had free Wifi, so I took advantage of that and uploaded some blog posts :) The one from yesterday got lost somehow, so I passed the time by rewriting it again.

The train to Kaifu was uneventful. Up until then, I had felt a bit bad about “cheating” and taking public transportation to get from temple to temple, but then I saw a few other henro boarding and disembarking the trains and I felt a bit better. At Kaifu, I had to switch trains (due to different rail companies) and boarded the most interesting train I have ever been on. This one was a relatively simple train on the outside, but the inside was decorated with (fake) cherry blossoms with lights and paper lanterns strung up on the ceiling. As the train made its way towards Kannoura (the end of the line), the lights’ purpose became obvious. The train went through numerous tunnels, and the lights on the ceiling were a fun (and functional) decoration in the dark. I loved it.

Kannoura was the terminal station and where I would be staying the night. I realized belatedly that I had enough time to take a bus that would take me closer to Temple 24, but I already had reservations in Kannoura. So, reluctantly, I made my way into town and found my hotel and checked in.

My hotel is right next to the Shirahama Beach. Unfortunately, it’s still far too cold to go for a swim (not that I brought a bathing suit with me anyway). It’s a bit of a rundown hotel, but hey, all I want is a clean bed to sleep in and a shower. There are a couple of restaurants sort of nearby, but I felt too tired to go for a walk. I used the little water boiler in my room to make my cup ramen. I was happy that I had bought it earlier today.

Tomorrow, Temple 24!

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