[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 34: Hanami!

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I was sorely tempted to sleep in, seeing as I only had about 12 km and two temples to cover, but I forced myself up and awake and was out by 7:15am. The hostel was having a hanami picnic near Ishiteji at noon and I wanted to join them, at least for a little bit. Hanami, for those who don’t know, is cherry blossom viewing, where people have picnics under the cherry blossoms. Also, I figured it would be good for me to keep the same sleeping patterns – early morning starts and early bedtimes.

The hostel staff had mentioned a Starbucks that was just off one of the routes to the next temple, so that was obviously my first stop. The last time I had been to a Starbucks was way back in Tokushima City. I was pretty excited! I bought myself a healthy breakfast consisting of a donut and a coffee frappaccino.

After, I went to find the henro trail again, which proved a bit difficult because of all the tiny roads and alleys. It also wasn’t the popular route, so the route markers were not as frequent. Eventually, with the help of Google Maps, I did find the trail of arrows again.

I soon ran into yet another hiccup, though. A large section of the road – and the henro route – was closed due to construction. A little old Japanese lady told me how to circle around the construction and rejoin the henro route but I could only understand a few of the words she used. I hoped I understood enough of what she said to not get hopelessly lost.

Luckily, a man out for a jog overheard us and made sure I found the road where I had to turn left. Thank goodness for kind strangers. I eventually found the henro route again with very frequent checking of my guidebook.

Temple 52, Taisanji, sits on a little hill. It was actually quite peaceful there since it was a little removed from the street (and even the street leading up to it was mostly a small residential one). I bumped into an elderly couple who seemed to be walking the pilgrimage (or at least part of it) and we greeted each other as we passed each other by. Hideki was also on his way out when I was heading in. Since I haven’t been relying on public transportation as much, I keep bumping into the same people who are keeping pace.

I did my prayers, keeping just ahead of a tour group of henro, then got my book stamped. I was hoping to buy some more incense since I was all out (and my remaining sticks were all broken into tiny pieces) but the stamp office didn’t appear to have any.

I moved on to Enmeiji, Temple 53, and the last one in Matsuyama City. It was only a short distance away, so I got there quickly, stopping only once to buy a small cold drink from a vending machine.

Enmeiji was fairly unremarkable but I took my time there to rest and wait for a group of bus henro to finish. While I waited, Hideki and I chatted a bit. He said it would rain tonight and we talked about how the forecast called for rain for the next several days. Neither of us was looking forward to tackling Yokomineji, Temple 60, in the rain, as it was a mountain temple with a steep and long ascent to get there.

Hideki left to keep moving on but as I had another night in Matsuyama, I was in no rush. When the temple grounds were nearly empty again, I did my prayers and got my book stamped, then headed to the nearby train station to return to central Matsuyama again. As I had walked the entire distance to the temples, I had no intention of backtracking on foot, especially since I wanted to join the hostel group for the hanami picnic and it was already about 11:30.

Unfortunately, I missed the train by 5 minutes and had to wait a half hour for the next one. I took the next train to Matsuyama Station, then took the streetcar (one of the cool features of Matsuyama) to Dogo Park. I wasn’t sure exactly where the hostel was having their picnic but I knew Dogo Park was a popular place for hanami.

They were not there but I did buy some takoyaki from a vendor for lunch. I bought the cheese takoyaki but was disappointed to find out that said cheese was the fake cheese slices that was melted with a handheld blowtorch. The takoyaki was still good, at least. I burned the roof of my mouth eating them, though.

I moved on to Ishiteji but couldn’t think where near Ishiteji one could do hanami. As I walked, I remembered seeing a park with cherry blossoms on my way to Ishiteji yesterday, so I headed there. After walking a bit down the river, I found them!

A Swedish guest I had met yesterday took my picture by the river with all my henro gear on. He was a freelance writer and was writing an article on the pilgrimage. I’m afraid I looked terrible after a month of traveling and walking half the day, but he said it was more “authentic”, haha.

I hadn’t brought any food but was offered the myriad of snacks they had. I nibbled on some but was still full from the takoyaki, which is a small but heavy dish.

After about an hour, I left early to do some supply shopping. After walking through countryside for the last few days and after failing to shop in Uwajima, I was running low on certain items and needed to stock up. Luckily, there was a drug store nearby, where I bought a bunch of things, then picked up some food fo m a convenience store, then returned to the Dogo area where the hostel is located.

It was warm so I stopped for some ice cream from a store that specialized in the myriad of citrus fruits that grow everywhere in Shikoku (and are frequently offered to henro as osettai). All their ice cream flavours were varieties of oranges and tangerines. I had no idea what the diffeeence was between them so I chose one at random. It tasted like oranges. I had no idea what else I expected. It was really refreshing, though, which is what I had wanted.

I went into a store that sells Studio Ghibli merchandise and picked up a Totoro cell phone charm. On my first trip to Japan, I had bought one from the same store but it had broken a few months ago. I felt it was fitting to buy a replacement at the same store.

After, I returned to the hostel to relax, wash up, do a bit of laundry (I wasn’t sure if the next hostel had laundry facilities), and eat dinner. The common area was much quieter than on the previous night. I think I was the only guest that was there. The only other occupants were the other staff (but they are very friendly, so that helped).

When it started getting late, Matt, the co-owner of the hostel, wished me well and offered me encouragement since I would be checking out before the front desk opened again in the morning. Then I headed to bed. I was so tired that, when I did fall asleep, I didn’t even wake up when any of my 3 roommates came in to go to bed themselves.

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