[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 38: Going Out of Order

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Once more, I woke to the sound of rain. I peeked out my little square of a window and sure enough, the rain was coming down steadily.

Today was the day I was to tackle Yokomineji, Temple 60, and said to be the most difficult temple on the trail. With the rain, though, I wasn’t too sure about doing it. In Matsuyama, Yoshi, the young henro going in reverse order, had suggested doing the nearby temples 61-64 first if it was raining when I was due to reach Yokomineji, so I considered it as I got up and ready for the day.

I got ready and packed up my belongings. I left an osamefuda for the Cyclo no Ie staff, who had accommodated me so graciously at the last minute, extending my stay from one night to three. Yoshi, one of the staff, also attempted making a reservation for me near Mt Unpenji (although they were full, sadly, prompting me to have to make alternative plans). I was grateful for all of it.

At the train station, I was still debating my plan for the day. After grabbing a quick breakfast from the 7-11, I mulled things over. The forecast called for rain every day for the next 3 days. However, I knew the forecast could change on a dime. Should I attempt it today or hope for better weather tomorrow? It was a gamble either way, and truthfully, as the area had gotten plenty of rain over the last few days, the trails were going to be muddy no matter what.

I finally made a decision: if it was still raining steadily when I got out at the train station, I would take Yoshi’s advice and do temples 61-64, then do Yokomineji tomorrow, no matter what. If the rain had stopped or slowed, I would go to Yokomineji today.

When I got off at Iyo-Komatsu Station, the rain had started coming down even harder and the clouds were a dark steel grey. Well, that decided it. For the first time in my pilgrimage, I would be going to the temples out of order, skipping Temple 60 and going straight to Temple 61, Ko-onji.

As I figured out how to get there from the train station, I met two elderly women henro. They said they were heading to Yokomineji by taxi. I was sorely tempted to ask if I could share the ride, but kept my mouth shut. Not only did I feel like I would be imposing, I had also made a promise to myself to walk up to every mountain temple when I started using public transportation to cut corners. I told them I would be going tomorrow due to rain. One mentioned it was supposed to rain tomorrow, too. I said I was praying for no rain! Maybe the forecast would be wrong! Still, they reassured me that I would be fine because I was young.

I said goodbye, wished them well, and left to find Temple 61 while they stayed behind to wait for their taxi.

When I reached Ko-onji, the rain was still coming down steadily. I had my rain cover over my backpack but wanted to pull out my poncho. However, there wasn’t anywhere to put my things down and get stuff organized. So, I moved on to the next temple in the rain.

By the time I got to Temple 62, Hojuji, a short distance away, the rain had nearly stopped. This temple was surprisingly small. Unless I missed something, they had one shared incense and candle area for both the main hall and the Daishido instead of having separate ones for each. I was confused but still did my best to go through my prayers.

A monk(?) stopped me as I finished and I worried I had done something wrong for a split second. But he was grinning widely and said something to me in Japanese that I didn’t understand. When I apologized for not understanding, he pointed to a big building behind the stamp office and said, in English, “Old Hondo (main hall).” Then he pointed to  the Hondo everyone was praying at and said, “New Hondo!” He laughed and I had to laugh, as well. His cheer was infectious.

I went to get my book stamped and the man said, “Ah, Canadian henro!” I was surprised and asked how he knew. He said another henro (one I had run across before) had pointed me out when I passed by earlier on my way to Temple 61. I guess I am semi-famous now :P

As I left the temple grounds, the monk from before waved goodbye to me and said in English, “See you soon!” In an ideal world, maybe I could, but I knew it was unlikely. I wished my Japanese was better so I could talk to him properly. He seemed like an interesting man.

I walked over to Temple 63, Kichijoji, also just a very short walk away. It’s grounds were stunning due to the cherry blossom trees it had. The temple is also known for a rock with a hole in it on its grounds. It is said that if you can walk from the main hall to the rock and put your staff through the hole, all with your eyes closed, your wish will be granted. I didn’t even try. Knowing me, I would probably trip and fall over something.

When I set down my backpack on a dry-ish bench, another henro who had stopped to rest mentioned the rain we had been getting every day. I agreed and mentioned how I still had to go to Yokomineji tomorrow. He said he had gone there yesterday and it was difficult, but he managed. He, too, said it was supposed to rain tomorrow, as well.

I looked up at the sky; the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to peek through the grey clouds. I inwardly kicked myself. Now that the rain had stopped, it would have been fine to do Yokomineji today, but I was nearly finished the city temples. And I wanted to drop off my backpack at my hotel. It would mean a lot of back and forth travel.

With a grimace, I decided to stick with my plan and told the other henro I would pray to Kobo Daishi for no rain tomorrow. Sure enough, my prayer at this temple was for a safe journey to Temple 60 tomorrow and for good weather.

It was still early, only around 10:30am, so I took the opportunity to sit on a bench for a while. I watched a group of tour bus henro rush in. It was a huge scramble for them to get their candles and incense lit, then they gathered into a group and did their chanting and prayers. While I know that tour bus henro are no less spiritual or sincere than walking henro, I always dislike how rushed they are and I feel a bit sorry for them. They have a tight schedule to keep. I was glad to have the freedom to stay however long I wanted at the temples. Sometimes, I simply enjoyed sitting and taking in the atmosphere of a particular temple.

With only one more temple to visit for the day, I made my way slowly to Temple 64, Maegamiji. It was hot and humid and I was feeling hungry again. I longed for a bench to sit on. Then, about halfway to the next temple, I came across a tiny shrine with benches!

I gratefully out down my pack and took off my jacket, which I had kept on in case it started to rain again. However, the sun was still peeking through the clouds so I doubted it would rain more, at least for the next little while. I sat down and ate some snacks I always had handy in my backpack.

Once I was done, I made my way to Temple 64. It was a large temple that I enjoyed walking around in. Here, too, I prayed for a safe journey to Yokomineji tomorrow. A cyclist henro stopped to talk for a bit and even offered to take my photo, but I politely declined, knowing how sweaty I must have looked in the humid heat.

A guide stopped by the nearest vending machine and asked if I was walking. I confirmed this and told him tomorrow would be Yokomineji. Again, he told me it would rain tomorrow. I held back a groan. Again, I didn’t want to think about it. And again, I belatedly came to realize I could have gone to Yokomineji today. It would have worked out, but it was too late now. I would have no choice but to do it tomorrow.

He mentioned that a henro he was guiding was from Florida. I was impressed. He bought me a small vitamin energy drink as osettai, which I took gratefully and gave him an osamefuda. He seemed to like it (because it was written in English, maybe?) and showed it to the other guide he was working with.

They and their group left shortly after, then I decided to move on, as well. I still took my time, as I only had another 3-4km to walk to my hotel and it was only about noon. I had lots of time.

As I walked, two taxis bearing henro stopped me. Inside was the guide I had chatted with earlier and the henro from Florida. They handed me a big handful of candy as osettai and when I asked if it was ok to take that much, the Florida henro said, “You need the energy!” I thanked them and they drove off.

I kept going to Saijo City and stopped at a Joyfull restaurant for lunch. I had seen many of these restaurants all over the place while in Japan, but hadn’t tried it yet. I went in and accidentally sat down in the smoking section. I only realized it when the man in the booth next to me started smoking and I had no idea how to ask politely in Japanese if I could move tables, so I just bore with it.

I ate a very filling lunch of hamburger patty with veggies, fried chicken, and rice (good but not my favourite food), paid, and left, grateful to not be inhaling cigarette smoke anymore. I had at least sat in the booth next to the restaurant’s entrance, so I was able to get the occasional breath of fresh air when someone opened the door.

I took my time getting to my hotel, stopping briefly at the nearby train station to check train times for tomorrow.

Then I checked in to the Saijo Urban Hotel that I had booked. After staying in hostels for the last little while, it felt like luxury, even though it was probably only a 3-star hotel at best. To my surprise, the front desk staff gave me a brand new towel as osettai. It’s not unusual for minshuku owners to give osettai because they mostly cater to henro and are practically a part of the pilgrimage culture, but I never expected businesses like chain hotels to also think of henro. This was a first. I thanked them but forgot to give an osamefuda because I was so stunned.

I relaxed in my room for the rest of the day. I did a bit of route planning for the days ahead. The next few days were going to be long and tiring. After Yokomineji, I had another difficult temple, Unpenji, to tackle, and there were few minshuku in that area, meaning long distances to walk.

But as I planned, I came to a sudden realization: I was almost finished the pilgrimage. Although I wanted to quit so many times, I suddenly felt quite sad. It felt like a dream was coming to an end. I didn’t want to leave.

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