[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 17: A Long Day

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My plan today was to take a bus down the southeast coast to Cape Muroto-Misaki, which is where Temple 24, Hotsumisaki-Ji, is located. Then, I would walk the ~30km to my hotel in the town of Nahari, visiting Temples 25 and 26 on the way. Ideally, I would start very early, but I realized that today was a Sunday, which meant that the earliest bus that let Kannoura Station was not until 7:44am. On every other day of the week, the earliest bus started at 7:14am. Oh well. There was nothing I could do about that.

My hotel in Kannoura offered breakfast for free starting at 7am, but I knew I wouldn’t have the time. I was feeling a bit hungry but did not have much in the way of food to eat in my backpack. I would have to wait until I found a store. I did buy a sports drink from the vending machine in the lobby, though.

I left my key at the front desk along with a few others from those who had already done so before me. I guessed they were other henro, who started earlier than I did, probably to walk the distance I would be crossing by bus.

I found my way back to Kannoura Station and waited for my bus. The bus ride was uneventful and the few other passengers were also henro.

I got off the bus at the bus stop at the very tip of Cape Muroto-Misaki. There is a lighthouse there, but, considering my ambitious plans for the day, I opted to not see it. The climb up to Temple 24 was exerting, featuring another dirt path and more tall, steep stairs. It was a short climb, but felt very long to me for some reason, and I was really feeling the weight of my backpack. To make it worse, the stone steps sloped ever so slightly backwards, so that even if you stood still on a step to rest, you had to lean forward a little, especially if you had a heavy backpack.e

I was supremely grateful when I got to the temple grounds. I was kind of hoping to get a good viewpoint over the sea from the temple, but it was surrounded by tall trees, so I couldn’t see anything. My muscles in my legs were already tired, so I dropped off my bag on one of the many benches and explored a little. I prayed at the main hall and wanted to give an osamefuda, but realized I had forgotten my pen at the hotel. Oops.

I made my way to the stamp office to get my book stamped. The man at the counter was nodding off to sleep when I entered, but immediately woke up as soon as I opened the sliding door. As usual, he stamped my book, but when I left, I had difficulty re-opening the sliding door. I ended up opening the wrong panel, which opened up another panel, and I had to reach back to close the other one. The man behind the counter was laughing, and I had to laugh, too, at how ridiculous I must have looked. At least I was able to provide a bit of entertainment to someone, especially someone who must have had a monotonous job.

The path down the little mountain was the same as the road for cars, which featured a constant gentle slope downwards and hair in turns. My left knee protested a little at the strain and it was slow going, but I did make it down. From the road, I got my ocean views and stopped a couple of times to take photos, so it wasn’t all bad. The ocean was beautiful but also scary in a way. It was just open water, as far as the eye could see. I chuckled to myself and remembered watching the movie, Moana, and couldn’t understand why someone would want to take a dinky canoe out into the open water, not knowing where the next patch of land would be.

According to my guidebook, it was 6.7km between Temples 24 and 25. The road quickly turned flat and took me through residential streets. At one point, I happened open convenience store and dropped in to buy some snacks and onigiri. I ate an “anpan” (a bun with sweet red beans inside) as I walked, considering it breakfast. Surprisingly, for a Sunday, it was very quiet. I would see the occasional person, usually an elderly person out and about, but that was it. I didn’t even really see any other walking henro, which I found a bit strange. I admit, it was pretty monotonous.

It was so monotonous that I walked past Temple 25 by a bit and had to backtrack. Temple 25, Shinso-Ji, wasn’t on a mountain but still featured a long, steep set of stairs that led to the main hall. With a sigh, I put down my backpack on a bench and headed up the stairs, wondering why Buddhist temples liked stairs and high places so much. Yesterday, Francis had joked that, whichever Buddhist monk put in the stairs on the way up to Temples 20 and 21, he must have been a masochist. I had to agree.

Again, I offered a small donation and a silent prayer at the main hall, then slowly descended the stairs to get my book stamped. I took a few moments to rest and watch other people go by before leaving myself.

On my way to Temple 26, I passed by a male henro sitting at a rest hut. I nodded to him but didn’t feel like stopping yet, so I pressed on. I stopped at a vending machine to drain theist of my sports drink and buy another bottle of water. I sipped on it and took a minute to simply stand there. The sun was out in full force with very little breeze, so although my weather app told me it was only 13 degrees Celsius, it felt much warmer, especially while I was out walking. As I drank, the man from the rest hut caught up to me, so I took that as my cue to get going. I still had lots of ground to cover.

The little road turned into a dirt path that gradually became a steep incline. Both me and the male henro had to stop at regular intervals to catch our breath. Still, it was mostly a sloping path (which I found preferable to stairs) and whatever stairs there were, they weren’t terribly high or steep. Consequently, although the temple stood at roughly the same height as temple 24, it felt easier.

About halfway up, I stopped at a bench to put down my backpack. The other henro I was walking with told me (if I understood his Japanese right) to put my little plastic bag of food into my backpack, but I told him I would be eating it for lunch right now. He nodded, wished me well, and continued on. I wished him well and opened up an onigiri and munched on it. I had one more onigiri but wasn’t too hungry after the first one, Iso I tied the plastic bag to my backpack and moved on. Surprisingly, it wasn’t much further to the temple and I got there in good time. I set down my backpack on yet another bench and headed to the main hall.

The man from before was still there. He waved me over and gave me a candle to light and place with the other candles. Then he brought me over to the incense holder, lit his incense, then passed me some, as well, and motioned for me to do the same. I felt a bit awkward but did it. We then moved over to the main hall, where he chanted and I silently prayed, as usual. He moved on to the Daishi Hall, but instead, I took some time to rest no get my book stamped.

As I sat on the bench, he returned to get his book stamped, as well. Using what limited English he knew, he motioned down the stairs and told me about how the ladies in the little sitting room were offering tea or coffee as osettai. I thanked him. Then he left to go into the stamp book office, so I went to a nearby vending machine, bought a cold bottle of water, and placed it next to his backpack. I didn’t feel like it was enough for the friendliness he had shown me despite the language barrier, but I hoped it would do. The last couple of days had been a bit lonely, so I really appreciated a friendly face. As I left to find the osettai tea and he left the stamp office, I did my best to tell him that the bottle of water was osettai for hi but I don’t think he understood.

I went over to the little sitting room and the ladies immediately ushered me in with big smiles and placed a cup of hot tea in front of me, as well as some snacks. I took a piece of steamed sweet potato and enjoyed it. They offered me coffee, too, but I politely refused, as the tea was more than enough (plus, my stomach can’t handle coffee anymore). The henro from before rushed down to thank me for the water, then spoke to the ladies a bit, telling them he had told me about them because I didn’t understand Japanese. He waved goodbye and he left. The ladies were surprised and asked where I was from. They got a kick out of it when I told them I was from Canada. They remarked that I looked Japanese, so I told them my grandparents were Japanese. (Or, this is all what I could understand; I might be way off the mark on this one, as my Japanese conversational skills are very lacking).

Once I was done, I thanked them and headed back to the henro trail. I still had many kilometres to walk to get to my hotel.

Looking at my guidebook, the trail was mostly dirt paths. There was an alternative route that mostly used roads, so I opted for that one. The road was initially nice and gentle, but then turned into…yep, a dirt path. I realized that, even this alternative path had some dirt path, but as I descended it, I realized I had made a mistake. This path was obviously not used much. Not only was it steep but it was very much unkempt, with lots of loose rocks, loose dirt, and sticks. It was actually pretty treacherous in places, so I had to go very slow. Again, I knew that if I slipped again and my ankle took more damage, that would be it for me.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I managed to make it back to the main road. The road, again, became quite monotonous despite the beauty of the coast, but I was happy that I gotten to the last temple for today. The rest was flat road.  Still, the road seemed to go on and on and on, and I felt like I was going slower than usual. The kilometres were dragging by. Kochi Prefecture is actually known for being quite tough for pilgrims because it’s vast stretches of road with few temples and only tiny villages and towns. I popped in my earbuds to listen to music to help.

After a while, though, exhaustion was starting to set in. My feet were sore, my right ankle was becoming achy, and my backpack felt like it was filled with lead. There were no other henro around; just cars passing me by. I knew there was a bus line along this route, but it had been over an hour since I had passed the last one, perhaps about 5km back. Reluctantly, I kept going.

Finally, at long last, I found a bus stop. I didn’t even care that the next bus wasn’t due to arrive for over an hour. I sat own on a little set of steps and aired out my feet, lacing some bandages in areas that were chafing. Then I simply sat and listened to music until the bus came. The bus would take me the last 8km into Nahari town, where I stopped at a convenience store for food before walking over to the hotel.

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