[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 21: To Tosa City


It was a restless sleep. I had an ambitious day planned – to walk to Tosa City and hopefully manage to get to Temple 35 before getting to my hotel, some 30km distance of walking total – but I had to catch an early morning bus to Temple 32 from the Kochi Station bus terminal. Added to that, the walk involved a short ferry ride, and the ferry departed only once an hour. If I messed things up and got my timing wrong, I would be way behind. Luckily, I managed to book a room at a business hotel, so check in time mattered less than at a minshuku or ryokan (where you need to arrive by about 5pm at the latest in order to have time to wash and have dinner in time).

I woke up in a sleepy haze at 5:40am. It took me a few minutes to get out of bed, but once I was moving, I got ready and packed up. By now, packing up doesn’t take me long and it’s an efficient process, taking just minutes. It helps that I don’t care much about my appearance during the pilgrimage, so I put my hair up in a simple bun, brush my teeth, splash some water on my face, and that’s it for a beauty routine.

I was checked out of the hostel at 6:15 and the wife of the owner saw me off. Every time I saw her, she was always so cheerful and sweet.I thought about how difficult it must be to run a hostel. According to the information they gave me, they were at the reception desk until 11pm and it opened again at 6am. And I’m sure their days were filled with cleaning and maintaining the hostel, and preparing meals for guests, as well as helping guests with tourism-related things. There is a reason why I decided to return to this hostel, despite the fact it was far off the henro trail.

At the train station, I had a bit of a wait until the next train. A man sat on the waiting bench next to me and tried to strike up a conversation, but as usual, the language barrier was too high. Even still, he gave me a stick of gum and wished me well. It was a small gesture, but a supportive, friendly one, nonetheless.

I took the train to Kochi Station, then hurried to the bus terminal. If I read the bus route map correctly (it was all in Japanese and I had a heck of time the previous night matching up the kanji to figure out the route), the bus would be leaving at 7am from platform 1, but I couldn’t be sure and I only had minutes to figure it out. I rushed into the information booth and asked. The staff confirmed the bus would be at platform 1. Whew!

I boarded the bus and it was an uneventful ride. As soon as I got off at the right bus stop, I ran into another walking henro with a turquoise backpack. We greeted each other and made the short but steep climb up to Temple 32, Zenjibu-Ji. It had a relatively good view of the coast so I took my time there, taking pictures. There was another walking pilgrim with a dark green backpack who was also making his rounds.

From there, I took the road for cars down the hill rather than risk the steep dirt path. Just outside of the temple grounds was a rest hut where a pair of foreign pilgrims were getting ready for the day. They greeted us first, and we greeted them back. I would have loved to talk with them but, again, I was pressed for time and had to make it to Tanezaki port to catch the ferry.

The henro with the turquoise backpack had taken the dirt path. The henro with the green backpack had taken the road like me, but once we were back on flat ground, he completely outpaced me. Even if I tried to walk quickly, he was still faster. I marvelled at his speed. Back home, I’m regarded as a normal to fast walker, but this man was leaving me in the dust, and his backpack was probably a similar size to mine. He was also older than me by at least a few decades.

I knew the ferry would leave by 9:10 so I guessed he was trying to make it in time. I wondered if I could manage it, too. However, after about half an hour, it became clear I wouldn’t. With only about 10 minutes left to go, I still had a little over a kilometre left to walk. I slowed my pace a little, but not by a lot – I had to use the bathroom!

Eventually, I got to the port in good time, with over half an hour until the next ferry at 10:10. I made use of their bathroom and when I got out, the man with the turquoise backpack was there, too. The man with the green backpack arrived shortly after, so I guessed he took a wrong turn somewhere. I hadn’t had anything to eat yet, so I bought a can of hot chocolate from the vending machine and drank it quickly.

The ferry arrived and we boarded along with some cyclists and one scooter. It was a short but nice ferry ride.

From the other side of the harbour, it was just a little less than 2km to the next temple. A car stopped me on the way and told me about their ryokan near Temple 37. They gave me a brocade and gold osamefuda in addition to a business card. I thanked them and they wished me well before taking off. I still hadn’t thought that far ahead in much detail, but I kept the card to think about for later.

At Sekkei-Ji, Temple 33, I made my usual rounds. The two other walking henro were already there, as they had passed me when the ryokan owners had stopped me. There was a vendor selling some citrus fruit and other foods. I asked how much a single fruit cost, but he only sold them by the bag, and I didn’t want a whole bag. They were simply too heavy. I spotted packages of kenpi sweet potato chips, and bought one. I snacked on a package as I walked for breakfast.They were delicious, though not really the healthiest. Still, I needed something solid in my stomach.

I walked through increasingly rural territory again. I felt good for the first few kilometres, but at about the 3km mark to the next temple, my backpack weight started to get to me. I stopped at a vending machine to buy a sports drink. I needed to keep hydrated but it was also an excuse to simply not be walking. Truthfully, though, the day had been cool and overcast, for which I was grateful. It was perfect walking weather.

By the time I reached Temple 34, Tanema-Ji, my feet were sore and my right ankle was aching again. I guessed about 15-20km a day would be my limit before my ankle started protesting. I guessed it hadn’t quite finished healing yet.

I took some time to sit on a bench at the temple. The man with the green backpack arrived about 5 minutes after.  I finished my sports drink, took some ibuprofen for my ankle, and made my rounds around the temple.

Takema-Ji is apparently a temple where pregnant women go to pray for safe childbirths. Apparently, when a woman becomes pregnant, she brings a ladle to the priest of the temple, who then knocks out the bottom, then keeps it for two days at the altar to pray for. Then the woman will bring it home. If the childbirth goes well, she brings back the ladle and donates water in thanks. Dozens of ladles with open bottoms can be seen around the statue of Boddhisatva, Kannon.

In keeping with the theme of the temple, I prayed for the women I knew who were pregnant, especially a cousin of mine.

I took a bit more time exploring the temple and enjoying not having my backpack on my shoulders.  At some point, the henro with the turquoise backpack also came by and prayed. The two other walking henro left before I did, but I took my time. I had almost 10km between Temple 34 and 35.

At around 12:30, I decided to go. I felt better after my rest, but again, after about 3km, my ankle and shoulders started to ache again.  By the time I entered Tosa City at around 1:30, I was starting to limp a little and it had started to rain. That decided it. No Temple 35 today, especially since it was also situated on top of a small mountain (nearly 200m elevation). My new plan would be to leave my hotel early in the morning to get to temple 35, then return to the hotel to retrieve my backpack and check out, then continue on my way to temple 36.

Since I was no longer in any rush, I decided to have a proper lunch. According to my guidebook, there was a McDonald’s in town – comfort food as well as calorie-dense. Perfect. My eating choices had been terrible, but I figured I could justify it by all the walking I was doing. By now, food was simply a source of energy. I didn’t really care what it was, so long as it gave me energy and was palatable.

I remember learning a long time ago that Buddhist monks would eat only the bare minimum of food. They saw food as simply something to stay alive, something to put in their stomachs. In my comfortable world at home as a student, I couldn’t understand it at all back then. Now I could.

I ordered some food and ate. McDonald’s never tasted so delicious. I enjoyed bein in a warm, dry place, too, and took my time eating, writing up this blog post. I was mildly entertained by a group of teenagers being questioned by two policemen, perhaps asking them to stop loitering by the restaurant entrance. I also noted the other people in the restaurant – a pair of young women hanging out over lunch, some old men chatting over coffee, a woman with three kids in tow. It was amusing knowing that McDonald’s here in Japan was not so different from the McDonald’s back home. At one point, another henro walked in. We nodded to each other in recognition, a sort of solidarity, I suppose. I did not recognize him, though.

When I was done with my meal, I wasn’t ready to leave yet and the rainy weather was making me sleepy. I ordered a cup of hot coffee and sipped at it slowly.

It was nearly 4pm by the time I left McDonald’s. It was still raining, but knowing I was fairly close to my hotel, I didn’t bother taking out my rain gear. I pulled up my hood, then went into the nearest post office. I had bought some local flavoured Kit Kats for friends back home because they always make for interesting souvenirs to try. However, I didn’t really want to carry them around for the next month, so I sent them back home. Again, the staff knew no English, but we got through the transaction with individual words and lots of hand gestures. Once I had paid, she handed me some postcards with my receipt as osettai. I was surprised and not sure what I would even do with them, but I appreciated it from the bottom of my heart.

I then made the short walk to my hotel and checked in. My ankle, while no longer swollen, was quite sore and I was grateful to peel off the compression bandage and lay down for a bit. I wondered how far I would get tomorrow. I wondered how far I would get in this entire pilgrimage itself.

Dinner was a quick trip to the Family Mart convenience store nearby. It was still damp outside but it wasn’t raining anymore. I hoped the trail to Temple 35 would be fine by morning.


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