[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 37: A Temple in the Clouds

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After taking a day off yesterday, it was difficult to find the mental strength to get up early. I technically didn’t really have to get up early as the distance I had to cover today was not very far, but it still felt wrong starting a day of walking late in the morning. Fortunately, one of my roommates was up earlier than I was, so I suppose she inadvertently encouraged me to also get up early. And with great effort, I did.

I had to take a bit of extra time to pack all my things, as I had to change rooms today, so I did not really get out of the hostel until a little after 7am. The henro route runs close to the hostel, so I found it again pretty quickly, picking up exactly where I left off two days ago. The weather was overcast and drizzling rain just slightly. I didn’t have my big poncho with me, so I hoped the rain would stay light enough for my coat to hold up.

It was an easy straight walk to Temple 56, Taisanji. When I got there, I realized that I had forgotten my candles and incense in my backpack, which was all the way back at the hostel. I was a bit disappointed. Although I didn’t really partake in all the rituals at the temples, the lighting of the candles and incense was relaxing to me. I prayed to Kobo Daishi to forgive me for not lighting candles and incense at the temples today!

And as I got my book stamped, the rain started coming down harder. I looked at my guidebook, which said there was 3km between Taisanji and the next temple. It wasn’t much, but it felt like a lot if I had to walk through rain, especially without proper rain gear. However, my guidebook did indicate a rest hut about halfway there. I hurried to the rest hut and took shelter there. It was a nice rest hut with a large table and benches. I signed the guestbook and waited out the downpour for about half an hour.

When the rain lightened to hardly anything at all, I decided to keep moving. I was hungry, though. I had only a small dinner last night and my “breakfast” had been a small snack at the hostel just before I left. My stomach was craving something more substantial. I stopped at a Lawson’s convenience store, which required a small detour, but it was worth it. I picked up a drink and a red bean bun, downing them quickly before returning to the henro route.

Temple 57, Eifukuji, passed without incident. The rain seemed to have stopped for good and I hoped it stayed that way.

After resting a bit at Eifukuji, I steeled myself for the climb up to Temple 58, Senyuji. According to the elevation profile in my guidebook, it is a temple that sits at an elevation of roughly 280m. While certainly not the highest peak in the pilgrimage by a long shot, I knew from experience that even trails up short hills or mountains could be steep.

To my surprise, though, the hike up to Senyuji was quite easy. The trail was especially beautiful despite the mud, and I passed by blue ponds and bamboo forests. Low hanging clouds and fog surrounded the mountain, giving everything a sort of mysterious air.

Still, I had to chuckle a little at a signpost. It indicated that Senyuji was only 0.1km away, but a little sign tacked to the bottom of it said that the main hall was still another 20 minutes away. True to its word, the Niomon gate, signaling the entrance of the temple’s sacred grounds, was just steps away. It truly is my favourite Niomon gate so far. Its two guardians are not encased in metal mesh, but stand fiercely out in the open, gleaming white. Standing there, you can practically feel their eyes staring down at you.

From there, the path becomes a winding set of rocky stairs. This was perhaps the only “difficult” part of the path to Senyuji, and even then, it was nowhere near as bad as I expected.

At the top of the stairs was the main section of Senyuji, which was actually quite compact. Everything was shrouded in fog and mist and, for a time, I seemed to be the only person there (until a pair of walking henro also made it up the stairs). I took some time to wipe the sweat from my face (for it was warm and quite humid), then did my prayers.

After getting my book stamped, I noticed that there were some cannisters of tea and a bunch of tea cups set out as osettai. I helped myself and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was cold, sweetened tea. It was a bit too sweet for my personal tastes, but not too sweet that I found it undrinkable. I sipped at it slowly, enjoying it. And even though it was only about 11am, I wolfed down the onigiri I had bought earlier for lunch. As I ate, the fog seemed to lift a little and more henro (who had driven) arrived. Once I finished eating, I took that as my cue to leave.

I made my way down the rocky stairs (a bit nerve-wracking, truthfully, especially with my knees being the way they are), then made my down the hiking trail that led down the mountain.

A Japanese man going the other way said something to me in Japanese, too fast for me to understand. When he realized this, he asked where I was from, to which I, of course, replied Canada. He became quite excited and showed me his big camera, then asked if I was ok having my photo taken. He said he was taking pictures of foreign walking henro as a project. I thought it a bit strange, but thought, sure, why not? I had only one more temple to visit and had the time.

He took my picture at three different spots along the trail, buzzing around me and fixing this or that detail, like correcting the angle of my hat. I found this a bit amusing because I was sure I looked terrible from traveling for over a month and I was still a bit sweaty from the humidity, so I wasn’t exactly the prettiest model, no matter the angle of my hat. At the final spot, he gave me his business card and then hopped back up the trail, probably to see if he could find any other foreign henro.

I quickly found myself back on flat ground, navigating my way between farm fields again. I was surprised that I was still hungry. Fortunately, a convenience store on the way was my solution and I bought a quick lunch, eating it on a bench just outside.

Temple 59, Kokubunji, was my final stop and was located in a little suburb of Imabari. It is notable for having a statue of Kobo Daishi that you can shake hands with and make a wish, so of course I had to do that. There was also a big vase that is said to cure illnesses if you touch it while praying, so I did that, too. I prayed for my knees and ankle to heal well and take me at least as far as the end of the pilgrimage.

After finishing up there, I wandered over to the nearby bus stop, but found that the next bus wasn’t for another 1.5 hours. I decided to take the train back to Imabari, then, and walked a bit further to Iyo-Sakurai Station, a tiny station without even a ticket machine. I only had to wait about a half hour for the next train, which sped me back to Imabari.

When I got back into town, it was still only 2:40pm. The hostel front desk wouldn’t open until 3pm. So, with time to kill, I decided to go to Café Warm, the café I had visited yesterday. I had enjoyed it there and said I would try to return today, so I wanted to fulfill that promise. I was greeted warmly on arrival and I ordered a masala chai latte. At 650 yen, it was pricey, but I was surprised to find that it was made with real chai tea and was incredibly delicious, possibly the best chai latte I’ve ever had. I commented on this to the owner, and she seemed pleased. She said she had visited India a little while ago and brought some chai tea back to Japan.

After I was done, I chatted with her husband for a bit, too. He wished me luck on completing my pilgrimage, and I bid the owners farewell. Again, I thanked them for the wonderful chai latte. Heck, I had been tempted to order another!

But I made my way back to the hostel to change rooms. This time, I was set up in a capsule bed. It was still comfortable and all I needed was a clean, warm place to sleep, so I was satisfied with it. I took about 45 minutes to lay there and dozed off for a bit – not quite a nap, but the rest was nice.

Around 6pm, I decided to find something to eat. Since I missed out on yakitori yesterday due to a lack of appetite, I headed to the nearby yakitori restaurant tonight. I was glad to have gotten there semi-early, as the place filled up quickly (though, I remembered it was a Saturday night). I ate more than my fill of delicious food. I hadn’t been too fond of the fried chicken skin, which I found a bit too chewy for my preferences, but the fried chicken and lotus roots were delicious.

With my stomach full, I returned to the hostel, my last night there. Tomorrow, Saijo City!

 

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