[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 33: The Familiar Sights of Matsuyama

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Because my knee hadn’t been particularly happy with the mountain slopes yesterday, I decided to take the bus down to the edge of Matsuyama City, close to Temple 46. From there, it was flat terrain so I hoped my knee would be happy with that.

I ate breakfast with the female henro from the previous night but the male henro was nowhere to be seen. I guessed he had left earlier. I guessed some henro started off some days very early, sometimes as early as 5 or 6am. In any case, we chatted some more and I wished her luck with getting to Temple 45.

After settling my bill and grabbing my stuff, I hurried to the bus stop. If I missed the 7:40am bus, I would have to wait 3 hours(!) for the next one. There were two men already there, one being a henro. We had the same idea – take the bus and get off at Shiogahama bus stop, then walk to Temple 46. He asked how I knew about Shiogahama and I showed him my guidebook. He seemed impressed that it contained that much detailed information.

The bus took us down from the mountainous interior of Shikoku, through long tunnels, and finally, to Shiogahama. From there, it was a short 2.8km downhill (but a gentle slope) walk on a tiny rural road to Temple 46, Joruriji. Along the way, we chatted a bit, although he didn’t know much English so conversing was difficult. I learned he was 70 and from Kyushu.

We got to Joruriji and did our prayers. While there, Hideki and the 76-year-old henro who walked with Naoko and I a few days ago also arrived. We greeted each other and laughed at the coincidence. I took some time to take some pictures and then we left for Temple 47, Yasakaji, which was only 1km away.

Yasakaji also came and went. The Kyushu henro finished his prayers very quickly while I took my time, especially to take pictures. There were some cherry blossoms in bloom on the temple grounds, which I took plenty of photos of. They were the first fully bloomed cherry blossoms I had seen so far on this trip. My partner for the morning asked if i wanted him to wait but I waved him off and told him I would be fine.  We would see each other on and off throughout the day as we made our way through the temples in Matsuyama.

Temple 48, Sairinji, passed much the same way. When I visit many temples in a day (which honestly hadn’t happened in a long time), they have a tendency to blur together unless they are unique in some way.

By the time I finished with Temple 48, it was about 11:30am. It was sunny and hot (a common complaint I would hear from walking henro throughout the day), so I decided to stop at a McDonald’s I saw on the way to the next temple. I did not enjoy my meal, though. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger, and although the bacon wasn’t practically raw, it still wasn’t the bacon I was used to. I finished my fries but could only stomach half my burger.

Another hiccup of my day was that Aunt Flow had decided to pay her monthly visit…and in the very day I wanted to visit the famous Dogo Onsen. With this feminine problem, I could not go. Talk about bad timing! I thought maybe I would return to Matsuyama briefly after the pilgrimage if I had the time to go to Dogo Onsen.

I made my way to Temple 49, Jodoji, and arrived at a good time – just before a group of tour bus henro arrived! I literally had my book stamped as the bus pulled in to the parking lot. I silently wished the stamp office woman luck. When I left the temple, Hideki arrived. He was sweating and commented on how hot it was, to which I heartily agreed. I was sweating despite wearing only my pants and t-shirt.

I moved on to Temple 50, Handaji, which sits in a small hill. After going through mountains, though, it felt downright easy. There were some beautiful cherry blossom trees in full bloom and the hill overlooked the city. It was actually quite nice. I took some time to relax after since I had time, and Hideki arrived, as well.

Upon leaving, a man running an ice cream stand stopped me and gave me a piece of candy and a small yogurt drink as osettai. I have him an osamefuda as thanks. The yogurt drink was incredibly delicious in the hot afternoon. I saved the candy for later.

The last temple for the day was the next one, Ishiteji, which I had seen before the last time I had been in Matsuyama. It is a great and unique temple that I remember enjoying a lot and the hostel I had reserved a bed at was just a bit past it.

My route took me through some nice neighbourhoods with beautiful homes with well tended to gardens. It was a far cry from many of the homes I had seen in rural Kochi Prefecture. However, the roads I walked on were tiny, barely able to fit two cars side by side, but factor in other pedestrians and cyclists and it made for some crowded space. I had to walk on the very edge of the road and, in a moment of inattention (or rather, focusing on looking for route markers while trying to mind the cars and cyclists), my foot slipped off the side of the road and my ankle rolled just slightly.

I cursed at the little patch of uneven pavement but my ankle didn’t seem any worse for wear, so I let it go and kept going, paying more attention to where I placed my feet.

As I got closer to Matsuyama’s city core, the sights gradually became familiar again. I spotted the massive statue of Kobo Daishi overlooking the city from atop a mountain near Ishiteji. As I crossed a bridge, blooming cherry blossom trees flanked a river.

When Ishiteji, Temple 51, came into view, it was like seeing an old friend again. A tour bus full of henro arrived at the same time, though, so I allowed them to hurry in first while I stopped by a vendor to buy some matcha ice cream. Tour bus henro were always in such a rush and I didn’t want to be caught up in it. I took my time enjoying the cold ice cream on a nice cushioned seat in the shade.

After I guessed enough time had passed, I went into the temple grounds proper. Ishiteji has numerous little buildings and halls, so I had difficulty identifying the main hall and Daishido, but managed eventually. The tour bus henro had mostly finished their prayers and were leaving, but the grounds were still full of other henro and tourists.

I set down my backpack and took my time exploring the grounds again. Hideki also arrived and did the same. We chatted a bit about our plans, then wished each other well again, and went our separate ways.

I picked up some cash, food, and even a beer (not something I usually do, but I felt I deserved at least that much for not getting to go to Dogo Onsen) at a 7-11, then made my way to Sen Guesthouse.

Similar to the hostel in Kochi, I had stayed at Sen Guesthouse the last time I had been in Matsuyama and liked it so much that I had decided to stay there again.

After checking in, the staff told me that there were two other walking henro staying the night and two cyclist henro (a couple). One of the henro, nicknamed Yoshi, happened to already be hanging out in the common area. He was from Himeji (where the most famous castle in Japan is located), spoke excellent English, and I learned he was doing the pilgrimage in reverse order. We had fun giving each other tips and ideas about what to expect in the days ahead.

A little later, the other henro came by. His nickname was Hyatt (like the hotel chain) and he spoke multiple languages, including English and Japanese. He liked to joke a lot and the three of us spent much of the night sharing pilgrimage experiences and joking around. I had a lot of fun, especially since they were both about my age.

I was the first to turn in to bed, though. I planned to start out early in the morning to reach the last two temples within Matsuyama’s city limits, then take the afternoon off. We exchanged contact information and said goodnight.

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