It was another very early start for me and I woke up to my alarm around 5:00am. I snoozed for a few minutes, enjoying my comfortable bed, then quickly got ready and packed up the rest of my things. I had no idea what to do with the towel osettai the hotel had given me. I didn’t need a towel because I already had one, but at the same time, to refuse osettai and leave it behind was rude. So, I reluctantly added it to the many things in my backpack already.
The weather forecast called for rain all day so I preemptively put the rain cover over my pack and had my poncho in a side pocket, ready to go in case the rain really was heavy.
I had a long way to go – about 31km – due to lodging issues, which was why I started so early. There is only one minshuku near Unpenji on this side of the mountain, and it was already full when the Cyclo no Ie staff tried to make a reservation for me. The next closest town was Awa Ikeda, which was several kilometers further east, so I booked myself into a guesthouse there.
Breakfast was simply a yogurt drink while I waited for my train. I always felt a bit nauseous early in the morning. Suffice it to say, I am a night owl, not an early bird. The henro schedule is tough for me.
I took an express train out of Saijo to Iyo-Mishima Station, the closest to Temple 65. From there, I popped into a nearby Family Mart to pick up more water, onigiri, and snacks. It wasn’t raining but it was cloudy, so I kept my waterproof outer shell on in case it did decide to start.
Unfortunately, I had not checked the elevation profile for today’s route. The path became an incline, which I expected, but then became a hiking trail. While it wasn’t particularly steep, I was sweating buckets in the humid warm weather and my legs still felt sluggish after climbing to Yokomineji yesterday (though thankfully they were not painful).
I caught up to a small group of three men, all walking henro. A man in a blue coat recognized me and he mentioned Uwajima. It clicked: he was the lost henro I had helped the morning we both left Uwajima over a week ago. Another man had stripped down to just his pants and t-shirt and had stopped to also wipe sweat from his face. I was glad I wasn’t the only one feeling overheated.
The three men went on ahead while I gave in, put down my pack, and took off my coat. Even if it rained, I would welcome the coolness it would bring. I stopped caring. I just needed to cool off!
I felt a bit better without my stifling coat but still worked up quite a sweat. I finally made it to Temple 65, Sankakuji, located at an elevation of about 352m. Still, I chuckled to myself silently again when I saw two steep flights of stairs that needed to be climes up to get to the temple itself. Every temple seems to have stairs.
A small tour bus group of henro arrived at the same time and we ascended the steps together. As usual, it was a rush for them to light their candles and incense and do their prayers at the two halls. I took a couple of minutes to put down my pack at a little rest area with the other henros’ packs and prepare my osamefuda.
By the time I made my prayers, it had started to rain gently. As expected, though, I enjoyed the feeling of cool rain on my overheated body and made my rounds without my coat or poncho, then went to get my book stamped.
I chatted with the henro I had met in Uwajima a bit. He said he was going to head to Bangai Temple 13, then head to Unpenji, Temple 66, and the final one of his trip. I wished him well and we waved to each other as he left.
I returned to my backpack where another henro with a bright yellow pack cover was getting ready to leave. I wished him well but stayed for a few extra minutes to eat a quick snack and have some sips of water.
With that done, I put my jacket back on and I descended back down the stairs and rejoined the henro path, which took me through a gentle descent back down the hill. My left knee complained a bit but otherwise did ok. I had a tendency to hold my walking stick in my right hand, but did my best to hold it in my left to give extra support to my left knee.
When I got to the base, the three men from before were coming up from another path. I thought for sure they would have gotten further than me by that point, but they likely took a longer path. They pointed out a road to me and said it would lead to Unpenji but I had my doubts. They disappeared from view (to find Bangai Trmple 13) while I could consulted my map and Google.
I ended up finding the correct path and continued on. I was tempted to stop at a rest hut but felt fine and felt more urgency to keep walking. I still had over 20km to cover and it was past 10am already.
The path became a gentle ascent again, this time following a busy road. And then it started to rain harder.
Around 11:15, I found the next rest hut. I took shelter from the rain, grateful for the respite. The henro with the bright yellow backpack cover was already there! He must have been very fast. He had just finished his break and would be going straight to Unpenji. I looked out at the rain and wished him luck and told him I would be going to Unpenji tomorrow. He wished me well, too, and left.
As I ate an onigiri as a light lunch, I thought I probably could have had the time to do Unpenji today, too. However, tackling Yokomineji and Unpenji one after the other sounded like too much to me. That was one disadvantage to taking trains, I suppose – you don’t get as much of a break between temples, which can be a problem if they are difficult to access temples.
After eating, I took some more pain medication for me knees, hoping they would hold up. The rain was still coming down hard so I pulled out my poncho and put it on over myself and my pack.
And then I walked and walked and walked. At one point, the rain stopped but I kept my poncho on because the sky was still very overcast. Sure enough, around 1pm or so, the rain started up again along with quite a bit of wind. Again, I was grateful for my poncho. An umbrella probably would not have held up well against the wind. Thankfully, the waterproof aspect of my shoes also held up., although the rain was more of the light misty kind rather than the big heavy droplets.
After a while, my feet started to hurt. There were no benches or rest huts past the turnoff to Unpenji, so I sat down on a low wall at one point, not even caring that my butt was getting wet or that the rain was still pouring. My feet just needed a break!
I didn’t linger long, though, and kept going and going. After an hour or so of rain, it finally settled down and stopped. My feet were tired but I pushed on. I was tempted to stop at a cafe but, again, felt the need to keep going. Sometimes, if I took a long break, it felt harder to walk again after. Sometimes, it was just better to keep walking.
When I got into Awa Ikeda town, I could start to really feel pain, probably my arches starting to fall. I sat down on some covered benches at a bus stop for about five or ten minutes. My feet were quite sore and my back wasn’t enjoying holding up my backpack for so long, but I still had about 3km to go.
I forced myself to get up and keep going. I finally found my hotel around 3:30, only to find out check in time was not too 4pm. With regret, I realized I could have stopped at that cafe. Oh well, too late.
I returned a little up the road to a 7-11 to use their toilet and also bought a snack and a drink. I had snacks already but I just needed something to do to kill half an hour.
Around 4pm, I put my backpack and hat back on to return to the hotel. An elderly man chatted with me a bit in the parking lot and he sounded impressed that I was walking the pilgrimage and that I was from Canada. He wished me well and we parted ways.
I checked into my hotel. The owner spoke good English and, after one look at me, laughed and said, “That’s why you said you were walking here!” He was referring to the reservation form I had sent online, with one question asking how I would be arriving. I had chosen “Other” and wrote I would be walking. That must have confused him! But seeing me in my henro gear, I’m sure everything made sense in the end.
He showed me my room. I was hoping to eat at the hotel’s restaurant but unfortunately, it was closed every Monday and Tuesday, and with my luck, today was a Tuesday. I would have to eat convenience store food again and I was getting tired of it.
A little later, though, the owner called up to my room and suggested I go to a nearby supermarket. Every day, they make fresh bento boxes and every evening, they reduce prices to get them sold by the end of the day. Perfect! I thanked him for the suggestion and he said to come down to the front desk around 6:30-7:00 and he would give me directions.
I showered to get the sweat off me and then went down to the front desk, where the owner gave me a map and wrote where to go. I headed over right away.
I don’t know why I never tried going into a supermarket yet. This one, at least, was amazing. I chose the bento box with the most vegetables in it. I would never say this at home, but I sorely missed vegetables. I ended up choosing a vegetarian bento, but it was still satisfying and delicious…and best of all, it was super cheap! I also picked up some nuts and dried fruit, as well as some Pocari Sweat that was on sale.
Again, why had I not done this before?!
One thing that confused me at the supermarket, though, was how everyone uses baskets. I didn’t realize this until I was standing in line, where I noticed I was literally the only customer without a basket. I hadn’t picked up much but some people only had a few items, as well. Then I noticed why.
Basically, this is how it works: you bring your basket of stuff to the cashier. She takes an item out of your basket, scans it, and places it in an empty basket, she repeats this until all items are scanned and in the other basket. She gives you enough bags to pack your stuff in. You pay and then take your new basket of purchased goods to a nearby table to bag your items. Your old, empty basket is now the “other” basket for the next customer.
I felt a bit like an idiot foreigner, and once the cashier realized I couldn’t understand her rapid, polite Japanese, I think she understood my lack of a basket, too. She ended bagging my stuff for me.
After that particular culture shock, I returned to my room to eat and relax. It was still raining a little outside but it is finally supposed to stop tomorrow. I could only hope that the weather forecast this time was correct!