[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 26: Back to the City

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The two henro convinced me last night that I would have e3nough time to see the nearby Tsukiyama Shrine, catch the bus to Sukumo City, and get to Temple 39. So, that was the plan, as well as take a bus to my hotel near Temple 40, which I would visit the next morning.

My futon was thin but I slept heavily, waking up only once due to the fierce winds outside rattling the windows. I had thought it was raining, but when I left the inn in the morning, everything was dry, so I figured the winds had simply been that strong. I woke up early, around 5am, and lay in my futon for a full 15 minutes before getting up to turn off my alarm before it went off. Breakfast was at 6am and I had more than enough time to pack up my things and get ready.

Breakfast was wonderful, but I can’t wait to get home and have a simple Western style breakfast – eggs, toast, crisp bacon, cereal, or pancakes. Having basically the same food for dinner and breakfast gets tiring after a while, which is one of the reasons why I have been trying to book business hotels or hostels instead of traditional inns.

I was out a little after 6:30am after settling my bill with the inn’s owner. I was able to catch the last bit of the sunrise and took some pictures. The road took me through a couple more tunnels, then past a little fishing village. I took a few seconds to watch some fishermen take a few big fish from a big net.

At one point, the henro who didn’t know much English from last night caught up with me. Apparently we had crossed paths way back when I made the claim up to Temple 12, Shosanji, and he asked how my knees were. I thanked him for his concern and told him I was doing better now. It felt like ages ago that I had climbed to my first mountain temple. I was a bit sad I couldn’t remember him, but that day had been so difficult for me that all I remember is the pain.

Tsukiyama Shrine literally means “Moon Mountain Shrine”, and appropriately sits on a (small) mountain. According to my guidebook, the henro route mostly took some dirt paths. The initial path was short but steep, and in no time, I found myself on an asphalt road again. The other henro had gone on ahead when I had stopped earlier to take pictures, so I wasn’t able to see where he went. I couldn’t find where the next section of trail started, so I decided to simply take the road. The inclines were nice and gentle, and because it was still early, I had the whole road to myself. In no time, I found myself at the shrine. It was quiet and peaceful and completely empty. I wondered where the other henro was. Had he already visited the shrine and left?

Regardless, I set my pack down on a bench and explored, although the shrine is quite small and didn’t take me long to finish taking pictures. The shrine was old. I had read that no one was really sure how old it actually was, as records don’t go back far enough. Although the shrine is Shinto, before the Meiji Restoration, there was no clear distinction between Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan. It is said that Kobo Daishi came to Tsukiyama Shrine and performed ascetic practices, which is probably the reason why this shrine shows up on the guidebook with a Buddhist swastika next to it.

Just after I finished taking pictures, the other henro showed up! He commented that I was fast, but I told him I had taken the road. He said that the trail had taken  him up, then down, and that it was narrow and difficult in parts. I was intensely glad I had taken the road. I told him the road had been quite easy.

After I used the toilet and he finished visiting the shrine, we parted ways, with him walking to Sukumo City and with me taking the bus there. Sukumo City was still something like 25km away. Before he left, I gave him two ginger candies I got as osettai yesterday, and in return, he laughed and gave me another piece of candy. Despite the language barrier, kindness and friendliness had managed to break down that wall. We wished each other well and went our separate ways.

I went back the way I came and ran into a couple of other walking henro I didn’t recognize. We chatted for a minute before continuing on. I still had almost two hours until the bus would arrive, so I hung out at a rest hut for a while. However, the winds there were brutal, so I didn’t stay for long. Around 10:40, I decided to find the bus stop, which was nearby, according to my guidebook map. The bus wouldn’t be larriving until 11:50 or so but I didn’t want to miss it, and I just wanted to keep moving to warm up, as the wind was cold.

As I walked, started to suspect I had walked past the bus stop accidentally. There has construction on the road, so perhaps that’s where the bus stop was. Looking at my position on Google Maps, though, I reaelized. I was closer to a bus stop I had already passed passed on my way to Tsukiyama Shrine than the bus stop I had originally wanted to wait at. Oops. I was a bit frustrated, but decided that it was a good opportunity to walk and keep warm. The price difference wouldn’t be much either.

When I reached the bus stop, I had a little more than an hour to spare after my leisurely stroll down the road. I sat down and wrote out some thoughts about the pilgrimage so far.  Perhaps I would create a website to help other future henro. I had gotten a lot of inspiration and help from other henro blogs, and maybe my own experiences would be of help to someone else, too.

A little before the bus arrived, an old man came by to wait, as well. He handed me three pieces of candy as osettai, but two of them were unwrapped. I tried to only take the packaged one, but he insisted I take all three. I took them, thanked him, and gave him an osamefuda. He looked at it curiously, probably trying to decipher where I come from, being foreign. I am beginning to learn that many people, especially in the more rural areas, seem to like my osamefudaNot wanting to offend him, I pocketed all three pieces, as if savin them for later. I would later throw out the two unwrapped ones, but would enjoy the wrapped candy later.

I boarded the bus when it arrived. The scenery flew by and at a bus stop further out, the henro from Tokyo was there. He didn’t board but he did wave enthusiastically at me through the window and I waved back. I was happy to have seen him before moving on to Sukumo. He had been very nice to me and had made me laugh last night with his jokes.

I got off the bus at Sukumo Station and made the ~7km walk to Temple 39, Enkoji. I kept taking wrong turns, leading to longer routes, however, and I gradually got more and more frustrated and my mood turned sour. My route became 8km. My feet hurt. The sun was too hot. The wind was too cold. Sukumo’s streets were too confusing and busy. The cars were too numerous and I was breathing in their exhaust. The ground was uneven, hurting my ankle. There weren’t any route makres that I could see, so I kept feeling lost.

Again, I wondered to myself why I was putting myself through this. I was at an odd crossroads where my desire to finish the pilgrimage and my desire to quit were the same. I felt conflicted and my bad mood didn’t help matters.

When I reached Enkoji, I gratefully put my pack down on a bench. I took a moment to sit and redo my hair bun, then went to do my prayers. The wind made it difficult to light my candles and incense, but I did manage eventually. I prayed for peace of mind, wanting my inner turmoil to settle again. Going through the rituals again (after two whole days without) calmed me a little, though it completely.

As I took a few minutes to rest on a bench, I watched other henro come and go. None were walking pilgrims that I could see. Their backpacks were too small (if they had bags at all) and their white coats or vests were too clean and wrinkle-free. My own vest was a bit dirty and the dyes were smudged from being rained and sweated on. Some young women, perhaps just a bit younger than me, came by to visit and have their fortunes told. Their clothes were fashionable and their make-up and hair were perfect. I’ll admit, it wsn’t in the Buddhist spirit, but I was a bit jealous of them, especially when they hopped into their car and drove off. I couldn’t remember the last time I had it on make-up or nice clothes. My “holiday” in Kyoto felt like so long ago.

I left the temple around 3pm. Since it was getting a bit late and I was tired, I decided to walk to the nearest train station and take the train back to Sukumo Station. Back at Sukumo Station, I purchased a bus ticket to Ainan Town, and had some time to sit on the bench at the bus platform. I relished the feeling of being able to sit down, backpack off my shoulders.

Once on the bus, I spent the time going through my guidebook, making tentative plans for the next couple of days. I didn’t know where I should take the bus or train versus when to walk with the time I had left. I was now at the point where, in a little less than a month, I had to return to Osaka to visit Mt. Koya, then fly out the next day.

Decisions, decisions, once more…

When I got off at my stop, it was nearly 5:30pm. While my bus stop was right in front of Temple 40, it was too late to go in and get a stamp. However,I wanted to get there early in the morning to experience the temple’s peaceful atmosphere before the other henro arrived. I walked the short distance to the business hotel I had reserved a room at and checked in. The lady at the reception desk was cheerful and warm, which I appreciated after an emotionally rough day. Dinner was, once again, convenience store food, but I didn’t mind. Just having something in my stomach was enough.

After taking a hot shower, I inserted my feet. The blister on the underside of my left second toe was starting to heal, but a small one plus some chafing had developed on the back of my heel. Thankfully, my right foot was doing much better with only a small amount of chafing (and maybe a mosquito bite?) on the back of it. For some reason, my right foot seemed to be holding up much better than my left for reasons unknown to me. My feet must be different sizes and fit in my shoes differently. Or maybe my legs are different lengths, as my right hip bothers me sometimes. Whatever the reason, I would have to place more bandages and tape on my feet in the morning.

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