[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 18: Another “Henro Kogorashi”

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I woke up early in the morning with a raging migraine. To make matters worse, the walls in my hotel were paper thin and the person in the room next to me had their alarm go off at 6am sharp and they didn’t turn it off, and when they did, they kept hitting snooze for an hour. To say I was unimpressed would be an understatement.

I had meant to get up early and eat breakfast as soon as the restaurant opened at 7am, then check out and walk the ~6km to the base of the mountain where Temple 27, Konomine-Ji, was located. However, my migraine made me feel very nauseous, so I took some Tylenol and simply laid in bed for a while, wishing my neighbour would turn off their alarm. I decided to take the train instead of walk. My leg muscles and knees were still sore from the day before, as well, so when I got up properly, I took some ibuprofen and did some stretches. On the bright side, some of the swelling in my right ankle seemed to have gone down a bit and it wasn’t aching at all.

Still, I felt like crap, to put it succinctly. My body was stiff and sore, my head was pounding, and my stomach was both hungry and nauseated at the same time. I entertained thoughts of quitting the pilgrimage. I wasn’t Buddhist. No one was forcing me to do this. I’ was sure no one would blame me if I stopped. All I had to do was take a train to somewhere else in the country and I could relax. It was tempting. As usual, though, stubbornness won me over. ‘Just see what Temple 27 is like and go from there,’ I told myself.

I got ready and made my way to breakfast around 7:45 or so. While the Tylenol had helped some, my stomach still didn’t feel great so I opted for simply some toast with marmalade. I was glad I hadn’t ordered the large traditional Japanese breakfast, as it was more expensive and I wouldn’t have been able to eat it.

After, I packed up, checked out, and took the train to Tonohama Station. According to my guidebook, one could drop off their backpack at a shop called Konomine. I wandered around town a little to find it, but eventually did. I felt bad about simply leaving it there for them to take care of, so I bought some waffle crackers from their store. They were individually wrapped, so I stuffed a few into my day bag. Armed with only my purse, staff, and a cold bottle of Pocari Sweat (a popular sports drink here in Japan), I headed for the temple.

The ascent to Konomine-Ji was about as steep and as high as Temples 20 and 21, and as such, it is considered a “henro kogorashi” or “henro falls down” (another translation I’ve read is “henro’s downfall”). Even though I felt much lighter without my backpack, it was still exhausting. The sun was out in full force and had me sweating and feeling overheated. Most of the path was on open asphalt road with hardly any shade (as opposed to the previous mountain temples, where one walked under trees). Although there were some dirt paths, I mostly avoided them, as again, I was worried about slipping again and injuring my ankle more. I had to ration the sports drink I brought with me, and when I reached a rest hut about two-thirds of the way up, I rested for about 10 minutes, eating a snack and enjoying the shade.

Past the rest hut, the road became steeper (which I hadn’t really thought possible, but, well…the universe proves me wrong again) with tight hairpin turns. I was amused watching the cars go by. Even the cars seemed to struggle up and down the steep, narrow road, although I supposed their occupants were more comfortable than I was.

When I finally got to the temple, I rested for a while on a bench, allowing my body to cool down again. The main hall was up a long set of stairs and I wanted to rest up a bit before going. I wasn’t in any particular rush, as I had made good time, about 1.5 hours since I had left the Konomine shop. When I felt good, I made the climb up, enjoying the views.

At the main hall, I recognized the bright turquoise shirt of a walking henro I had seen yesterday. He, too, was drenched in sweat from the climb up, so when he was finished his prayers at the main hall, I gave him one of my packages of waffle crackers as osettai. We tried to talk a little, but his English was extremely limited, so he asked just basic questions, like where I was from. Then he moved on to the Daishi hall while I went back down the stairs to get my book stamped. Before I reached the stairs, though, he called out to me to wait and handed me an orange as thanks/osettai.

I got my book stamped, sat on a bench for a minute to adjust my knee compression wraps and re-tie my shoelaces, then headed down the mountain. I was nervous about this part, wondering how my knees would handle the constant downwards slope of the road. I went slow and avoided the dirt paths again. At the rest hut, I stopped again and ate the orange the other henro had given me. It was delicious.

Speaking of which, the other henro caught up to me at one point on our way down the mountain. He asked something about taking a picture, so I had said yes, thinking he wanted me to take a picture of him. But what he meant was he wanted a picture of me to send to his family, so I posed awkwardly, though I’ll admit, I was amused. He thanked me, then checked the time, and practically ran down the mountain. I was in awe of his speed. If I had tried to go at that speed, I probably would have fallen face first into the road. So, like always, slow and steady I went.

I returned to the Konomine shop to retrieve my backpack. Again, I felt a bit bad for using them like that (even though they were perfectly willing), so I bought a cold vitamin drink and wrote out an osamefuda for them.

I returned to the train station but missed the train by about five minutes, and the next one wasn’t for almost an hour. I took that as my cue to sit down and have something to eat, so I pulled out some snacks I had bought yesterday and chowed down. I took some more pain medication, as well, since my migraine was still lingering. Still, I was happy my ankle and knees had survived and barely hurt. As I sat, the sky turned overcast, foretelling the rain to come later tonight.

I took the train to Noichi Station, just east of Kochi City. By then, it was about 3pm, so I figured I had enough time to make it to Temple 28 (also named Daiinichi-]i) and check into my inn by 5pm. It was only about a 1.5km walk from the train station, and although it sat on a hill and the ascent was steep, it was a very short climb (only about 250m, as opposed to the 3km up to Konomine-Ji). Still, my leg muscles were tired from making the ascent to Temple 27 and protested a little.

Temple 28 was relatively small and didn’t take me long to explore. I got my book stamped and was on my way by 4pm. I made my way to my inn, which was just a few hundred meters north of the temple.  The inn was called Yuan and was a bright yellow house. I was instantly greeted at the door by a cheerful Japanese man, who ushered me inside and showed me around. At most family-run inns and ryokan, they will offer you green tea while you fill in the check-in paperwork, but what I got was a delicious cup of honey lemon tea. It was a welcome change. The style of the whole house was actually quite Western.

After washing up and relaxing in a hot bath, I returned to my room to make plans for the next couple of days. Tomorrow was due to be very rainy. I would also reach Kochi City by tomorrow, as well. I actually visited Kochi and did some sight-seeing during my first trip to Japan three years ago and loved it. I called ahead to the Kochi Youth Hostel, the same place I stayed at three years ago, and booked two nights there. It was far off the henro path, but I just loved it that much. The hostel is really nice and the owner, Kondo-san, speaks good English and is very friendly and helpful. I didn’t think I needed the rest day, but it would give me the chance to enjoy the city again and maybe catch up with laundry and banking.

With that done, it was dinner time. I was joined by a man from Tokyo who spoke a bit of English, so we were able to hash together a conversation with the little Englihs he knew and the little Japanese I knew. He, too, was doing the pilgrimage with a combination of walking and public transportation. We were served food and I have to say, it was probably the most delicious meal I’ve had on this pilgrimage so far, which is really saying something. Vegetables mixed with soft cheese (reminded me of the vegetable dishes we got in Bhutan), fried pork wrapped around stalks of asparagus, fresh salad (which I missed sorely, something I rarely say about salad), stewed potatoes and chicken, and stewed eggplant and meat in a savoury sauce. And, of course, rice. I was sad that my stomach wasn’t big enough to eat it all.

A bit later, we were joined by a jovial man and his teenage daughter. They were from Tokyo and were spending a few days in Shikoku to do the pilgrimage, but were short on time as the daughter had to go back to school. With our table full, it was nice to sit and have a conversation with people. Granted, I couldn’t understand most of it, but sometimes, they would try to speak in English for me or at least use basic Japanese words. They told me of some other foreign henro they had met, but I told them I hadn’t met them (apparently, two from France and one from Belgium).We had a good laugh when the father tried to pronounce the word “brocade” (referring to the osamefuda one uses if they complete the pilgrimage 100 times). He struggled with it and simply returned to using the Japanese word, “Nishiki.” True to the Millennial spirit, his daughter would use her phone to translate any words no one knew how to translate. Her English was fairly good, too, as I suppose she was still studying it in school.

As I mentioned before, the pilgrimage can be a lonely experience, especially if you don’t speak Japanese. Being able to sit and chat (albeit, in a limited way) with other people over a delicious meal was comforting. And I started feeling like I was enjoying the pilgrimage again. The last two nights, I had stayed in hotel rooms, which don’t offer one much interaction with other guests. The two nights before, I sat at my own table at dinner time, so again, I hadn’t really talked to many people (and the other henro hadn’t been very chatty, anyway). The change over this dinner was welcome.

With my stomach full and a smile on my face again, I returned to my room. As I sat and typed up this blog post, I heard the gentle patter of rain outside the window. I was glad I hadn’t given up.  Today, this pilgrim did not fall down.

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