[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 19: Spring Rain

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For the first time I a while, I was woken up by my alarm. I had had difficulty getting to sleep last night even though I was completely exhausted, so I estimated I only managed about 6 hours of sleep. The first thing I noticed was the soreness in my legs. Thankfully, it wasn’t my joints; it was my muscles, which was to be expected. Most henro, by this point, had walked many days and their bodies had adjusted. I had taken a break, so my muscles were still getting used to the exertion o the walk. Oh well.

I made my way to breakfast at 6:10am, and again, we were served up a big meal that was insanely delicious. Unfortunately, because I was still so exhausted, my stomach just didn’t feel up to eating. Even on the best of days, I don’t usually eat much first thing in the morning – usually, just a piece of toast with jam or peanut butter. I hoped my hosts wouldn’t be offended and think I didn’t enjoy the food, but my Japanese wasn’t good enough to explain to them the reason for my lack of appetite.

As the sun came up, it confirmed what we already knew : it was going to be a wet, rainy day. The other henro said they would likely be using other methods of transportation today, but I was resolved to walk. Besides, even if I did take the train, it was still a bit of a walk to the temples themselves, so I felt I might as well walk from temple to temple on the main henro route.

I left just a bit before 7am. My hosts, despite the rain, stayed outside to see me off until I was on the main road again. I will admit, I had been reluctant to leave their comfortable home.

But I had to move forward. With my waterproof outer shell and sedge hat on and my rain cover over my backpack, I set off, determined. Fortunately, the rain was light, though constant. I had a large poncho ready to go if the rain became heavy, but I never had to use it.

My walk took me through some residential streets, then quickly turned into farm fields again. The red arrows and route markers were familiar friends to me again. I didn’t see other henro out, though I could guess why and I couldn’t blame them.I was also glad I had gotten Temple 27 out of the way yesterday while the weather was good. I probably wouldn’t have tried to make the climb up in rainy weather. Although the weather was damp, it actually made everything seem peaceful and somehow, I felt good. I turned on my iPod and listened to music as I walked down the long roads.

About 2km away from Temple 29 was a small rest hut in an exercise park. I stopped to rest my feet, as I had been going for about 1.5 hours at that point. I checked my messages and enjoyed being out of the rain. Then I got going again, eager to get to the next temple.

Not long later, I came across a convenience store. I went in immediately because I remembered that I needed a new pen after forgetting mine back in Kannoura. I wanted to be able to write out osamefuda again. I bought a small bottle of hot milk tea, as well, to counteract the cold dampness and drained its contents right away.

I continued on to Temple 29, Kokubun-Ji. A henro on a motorbike stopped and asked me where I was going. Her Japanese was a bit off and she didn’t look Japanese either, so I told her, in English, Temple 29. She told me she was Taiwanese and from Vancouver. I was amazed. Not only was she a solo female henro (which was rare enough), she was also a fellow Canadian. She was using an app on her phone to give her directions to the temple,but she had been going in circles trying to find it. I pulled out my guidebook and showed her the map, telling her to keep going straight, then turn left after the river. Her app had told her the temple was before the river. She thanked me and set off. I didn’t linger, either.

I reached Kokubun-Ji not long after. Because of the rain (probably), there was hardly anyone around. The temple grounds were silent save for the gentle patter of rain and the sound of a swishing broom. It was really quite peaceful and I did my best to stay quiet myself so as not to disturb the atmosphere. I noticed the female motorbike henro at the Daishi Hall, but since she was praying, I didn’t bother her. Instead, I went to pray at the main hall, where I noticed they had individual sticks of incense for sale for 20 yen. I figured I might as well, thinking back to the pilgrim at Temple 26, who had given me a candle and incense from his own stash to light. I left 20 yen in a box on the table and used the matches provided to light my incense, then put it in the big incense urn. I silently prayed and left an osamefuda.

I moved on to the stamp office to get my book stamped. On my way, there was yet another hall that had its altar opened up. There was a golden statue of the Buddha surrounded by other statues and works of art. I didn’t go in, but I did admire it from the outside. I noticed that all the offertory incense had long burned out, and I felt bad, so I bought some more incense of 20 yen and lit it. Then I got my book stamped.

Just outside the stamp office was some coffee and tea as osettai. I helped myself and and sipped on one hot green tea. There was no place to sit, though. All the benches on the temple grounds were out in the ope in the rain. My own bag was on a soaking wet bench and I hoped the rain cover would keep it relatively dry. As I stood there, the motorbike henro passed by and she exchanged some greetings, then we went our separate ways.

There is a Zen Buddhist saying that goes “ichi-go, ichi-e” or “one time, one meeting.” It basically teaches one to appreciate every moment because it will not be repeated. This can include fleeting meetings with people, and I think it is an important lesson one must learn during this pilgrimage. I thought back to all the wonderful people I had met so far –  Jack, Tommy, Saito-San, and Michael, as well as the other henro from Yuan I had shared laughter with but forgot to get their names –  and wondered if I would ever see or talk to them again. I wondered where they were and if they were doing ok. I would have loved to talk to this henro some more, but we both needed to continue on. Because she was using a motorbike to get around, I knew she would outpace me very fast and we would probably not see each other again.

A few more pilgrims wandered in through the temple entrance, so I left. A part of me wanted to selfishly preserve the memory of this temple as peaceful as it was when I arrived. There was still 7km to go to get to the next temple, anyway.

I kept walking and the rain continued. If anything, it seemed to get a bit heavier. I had taken a side route by accident, but according to my guidebook, it had a rest hut up ahead. Or had I passed it already? I couldn’t be sure. I was tempted to turn on my iPod again, but I was glad I hadn’t. My path took me past marshes and fields, and the combined sound of rain and frogs was calming.

After what felt like ages of walking, I came across the rest hut. It was actually quite a nice one with benches, a roof, and three and-a-half walls. While it had one exposed side, it probably would have made a decent spot to camp out if one had a sleeping bag. I was grateful to put down my backpack and get out of the rain. I was glad my rain gear and Goretex shoes had held up, but I was getting a bit tired of the wet and just wanted a dry spot to sit. I signed the guestbook they had hanging on a hook and noted the last entry was from three days prior by a woman from Australia. I also left an osamefuda, but no one had emptied the box for a while because it was full. My name slip stuck out awkwardly through the little hole.

I sat there for a solid half hour and was tempted to lay down for a nap, still tired from the lack of sleep. HOwever, I knew myself too well and knew that if I took a nap, I’d never to get to Kochi City in time.

An elderly henro walked by but didn’t stop. I took that as a sign I should get going, too, so I reluctantly left the dry rest hut, put my backpack back on, and went on my way. The elderly pilgrim’s pace was surprisingly quick and he eventually disappeared from view. The road became a small hill, but I didn’t find it particularly difficult. I remembered back to my second day on the pilgrimage when I had to climb a similar hill and was completely exhausted by it. While I hadn’t lost weight, I had obviously built up stronger muscles.

The way down from the hill was a long set of stairs. I noted that my shoes, which were technically labeled as trail runners, did not have great traction on wet surfaces. I had hoped to make it to Temple 31, which was situated on a small mountain, but decided that A) I was too tired to make it that far and B) the dirt trails would probably be a bit dangerous in these weather conditions. I would save it for tomorrow, then.

I eventually made it to Temple 30. The rain had stopped and the skies had turned blue and sunny again.Again, I put down my pack on a wet bench and made my rounds through the temple grounds. On getting my book stamped, I bought some candles, incense, and a lighter, feeling I should at least be doing that much at each temple I visited. The henro who had given me some incense and a candle at Temple 26 had inspired me.

The lady at the stamp office asked me if I was walking, to which I answered yes. She handed me a small pack of tissues as osettai, which I accepted with thanks. I returned to my backpack, bought some sweet iced tea from a vending machine, and downed it in one go. Then I walked the short distance to the nearest train station and took a train west to the KOchi Youth Hostel.

I was still pretty early, though, so I went into a drug store nearby. I bought a new ankle compression wrap because my old one had sprung a hole, which caused an uncomfortable pressure point, where a blister was forming. Then I went into a convenience store and bought some food for the night.

Then I checked into the hostel. It was comfortable and familiar. But when I got to my room and bent to pick something up, I felt a shooting pain through my lower back. I knew this pain well, as I had previously strained my back badly three times in the past. I hoped it wasn’t debilitating. I wasn’t sure how much more injury my body could take on this liger image,  and again, I entertained thoughts of quitting. Time would tell.

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