[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 28: A New Friend

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I left the Uwajima Youth Hostel early, around 6am, to ensure I had enough time to get to my destination for the day – Temple 43,with my inn being right near it, in Seiyo City. The staff on duty was up early, too, to see me off. She even asked to take a photo of me in my henro gear. She saw me off with enthusiasm, and a part of me wished I could stay. I let her an osamefuda as thanks for her help making reservations last night.

I made the short trek into the city and came across a lost-looking henro. If I understood his Japanese correctly, he was just starting and planned to go as far as Temple 67. I pointed the way to him, and he seemed surprise that I knew the way without looking at a map. I then pointed out the red arrows that pointed the way. I noticed he pulled out his maps a lot less frequently after that :) I wished someone had showed me those arrows on my first day. I hadn’t noticed them until Temple 3!

We walked a little together,but I stopped at a Lawson’s to pick up something to eat for breakfast and some snacks for later, as well as a new bottle of water. I snacked on a bun as I walked up the road. I eventually passed an older henro (whom I would later learn was 76!) and the henro who had been lost. I tried to pace myself to save my strength for later, but I felt good and enjoyed the brisk pace. The road was a bit hilly but nothing very difficult. Lots of children on their way to school greeted me, which instantly put a smile on my face as I greeted them back.

After about 2 hours of walking, I encountered a rest hut. I wasn’t very tired, but put down my pack and sat down anyway. I was beginning to understand the importance of taking breaks, even short ones. It made walking more enjoyable and I felt less tired later on. During my 10 minute break, the other two henro passed by without stopping.

After my rest, I headed on to Ryukoji, Temple 41. Unfortunately, I missed and turn and got a little lost, requiring me to take a bit of a detour to find the henro route again. Thank goodness for Google Maps! By the time I got to Ryukoji, the two other male henro, amongst others, were already there and doing their prayers. I joined them and made my own rounds before getting my book stamped. I didn’t stick around long, though, knowing that the next temple was only about 3km away.

About halfway to the next temple, though, I had to stop to shed my coat. The cool morning had disappeared and the sun was out in full force. I was sweating. I continued on to the next temple without issue.

I did my usual rounds at Butsumokuji, Temple 42, as usual,. It was still early, though, only abou 10am. The next temple was only about 11km away, so I had the rest of the day to get there. I took a seat on a bench to take another break and have a snack and some water. A female walking henro joined me and sat on the bench next to me. I had seen her briefly at the last temple, but she had left soon after I arrived, but had taken a longer route to Temple 42. To my surprise, she spoke good English, and I learned she had spent a year in Australia several years ago. We chatted for a bit and then she moved on, hoping to get a little further than Temple 43 today.

I left not too much longer. The older henro caught up to me when I turned back, fearing I had missed a turn. He assured me that it was ok and our path would meet up with the main route if we turned left at the next corner. We walked together a bit, but he fell behind when the road became an incline. Still, I had to admire his strength for someone his age!

The path became a dirt hiking trail that was steep in places. I knew this trail was to bypass the road tunnel ahead. I had to stop a few to catch my breath or wipe sweat from my face. Whenever I looked behind me, the 76-year-old henro was just a bit behind me. He seemed faster on the dirt tails than the roads somehow.

We eventually reached asphalt road and a rest hut. The female henro was also there, but when we got to the hut where the hiking trail resumed, there was a gate and sign saying that that the trail was closed, perhaps due to a storm. sharing some snacks and hydrating ourselves (I wasn’t the only one who was feeling the heat!), we returned to the road and took the tunnel. The tunnel was a bit long and did not have a dedicated pedestrian path, but we made it and there weren’t too many cars, thankfully.

When I exited the tunnel, the female henro was reading a map. She pointed down the road and said it was the quickest route. We walked together and struck up a conversation. I learned her name was Naoko and she was taking a break from work to do the pilgrimage in sections over about a year. She was from Kagawa Prefecture, the next one in the pilgrimage, so I guess it was easy for her to reach the point where she had stopped previously. It felt nice to talk to someone in English rather than in broken, awkwardly stilted Jaanese.

When we rejoined the main road, we spotted the elderly henro ahead of us! We were surprised but he said we had taken the longer route while he had taken the trail that was more direct. Oops. Oh well, at least we got some good conversation in and we still had plenty of time.

A little further on, we caught up to the cutest pair of henro I have ever seen – a 10-year-old boy and his grandfather from Osaka.The boy had all the henro gear, including a kid-sized vest and a walking stick. Amazing. Both of them had good pace despite their ages, and the kid looked like he was having fun.

At a rest hut, I asked Naoko if I could sit for a while. My feet were a bit sore and the sun and heat were draining my energy. I didn’t sit for too long, though, because I didn’ want to hold her up. So, after about five minutes, I got up and we continued on to Temple 43, Meisekiji.

The approach to Meisekiji was a short but steep climb that had us both out of breath when we reached the temple grounds. We did our prayers and got our books stamped, then took a break on some benches. We exchanged contact information. She had plans to only make it to Matsuyama City before returning home again, and there was no guarantee we’d meet again on the trail. She said that, when I reached Kagawa Prefecture, to send her a message and she would try to meet me and walk with me. I was happy to hear that!

Naoko and the elderly henro went on ahead while I sat on the bench for a while longer. It was only about 3pm, and I had about an hour of free time. Thirst, however, drove me to head on and back into town. The trail was initially steep but short. However, my legs were tired and it was more of a struggle than it should have been. I was grateful when the trail started heading downwards.

When I reached town again, I found a 7-11 and bought myself two drinks and took out more cash. It was the first 7-11 I had seen since Kochi City. I drank one bottle in its entirety in one sitting, which is how thirsty I felt. The sun was still beating down on me.

After I figured it was late enough to check in to the ryokan I had reserved a room with. It had been expensive but it came highly recommended in my guidebook. When I arrived and checked in, I realized it was a true ryokan, though perhaps a bit more of a budget ryokan. Some minshuku have “ryokan” in their names, but they are a bit bare bones to be actual ryokan, which has more personalized service.

I went to wash up shortly after arriving, desperate to scrub the dried sweat off of me. After, I enjoyed a long soak in their bath, which even had a bubbling section that felt great on my tired muscles. Dinner was absolutely delicious and I got to try shark for the first time. It was on the bland side, though, so I would prefer an alive shark in the ocean than on someone’s plate. Still worth the try, though.

After all that was done, I returned to my room to relax and turn in for the night.

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