[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 42: Two Canadian Henro

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It was a slow morning and I was sluggish waking up. The last three days or so had been long and hard, and my body just wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep.

But I had a hostel reservation to keep, so I had to make it as far as Zentsuji City. The plan was to base myself there for a few nights to see temples in the area, sightsee a bit, and rest.

I got ready, packed my things, and checked out by about 7:15am, then cut across to get to Temple 70. A cafe on the way was marked in my guidebook so I hoped to stop theee for some coffee and breakfast.

Unfortunately, the cafe was still closed when I got there. I remembered that in Japan, a lot of businesses don’t really open til late in the morning, usually around 10-11am. The concept of a cafe not being open early in the morning still confuses me. I was actually quite disappointed that the cafe was still closed because it seemed interesting, including having a statue of Jesus wearing sunglasses.

So, unfortunately, I had to buy breakfast at a nearby convenience store. Sigh.

I walked the rest of the way to Temple 70 but had to stop at one point to remove my jacket. It was only about 8am but the sun was beating down on me and I felt incredibly hot. Even after taking off my jacket, I was still sweating. I hoped the afternoon would not be much hotter!

As soon as I walked into the temple grounds, a lady who had been sweeping leaves rushed over to give me an osettai- a tiny baggy of treats with a little note inside. Of course, I could not read the note but I appreciated it all the same. I thanked her and, after a moment, wrote out an osamefuda, ran back to her, and gave it to her.

I made my usual rounds and got my book stamped. Alana, the Canadian henro, said she was on her way to temple 70 and asked if I wanted to wait. We were staying at the same guesthouse so I figured, sure, why not? I wasn’t in any rush.

Alana arrived about 15 minutes after. I used the time to literally chill out in the shade of a big tree (I even had to put my coat back on) and relax. She also made her rounds and then we headed out together.

Our first stop was a convenience store. Alana wanted coffee and I needed something to drink, too. We picked up some drinks and an ice cream each, enjoying the fantastically delicious cold treats on a hot sunny day.

We chatted constantly as we walked. It was great to finally be able to converse in my native English without worrying about a language barrier. Alana shared the same sentiment.

We also shared the same complaint about the hot sun. Typical Canadians – never happy with the weather!

When we got to Temple 71, Iyadaniji, we deflated a bit when we had to climb up a hill, and then deflated more when we saw an intimidating amount of stairs. There was a little shop at the base and the owner said it was 550 steps. Some other henro were relaxing on some benches and invited us to sit down. The shop owner treated us to some tea and half a banana each as osettai, which we gratefully took.

We passed the time answering the usual questions (like “Where in Canada are you from?”) and watching some birds eat some seeds the shop owner had left out for them. One henro managed to get a bird to take some seeds from his hand.

Eventually, though, we knew we had to go. We ascended the many steps to get to the main hall and the Daishi hall. My left knee complained again.

At the temple, we met another foreign henro, a 70-year-old lady from Barcelona. Her English was not great but she knew French. Alana’s French was pretty good, so the three of us had a conversation in a strange mix of English, French, and Japanese. When we got as far as the language barrier(s) would take us, we wished each other well and went our separate ways.

Once we were finished, we took a few minutes to eat more snacks. We both could not understand why so many Japanese products were individually wrapped. I had bought a package of pieces of smoked cheese and each piece was individually wrapped. Also, the cheese tasted horrible. I forced myself to eat most of it, mostly because I didn’t want to feel like I wasted money on it.

We trekked back down the hill. The trail wasn’t the best. There were lots of little tree roots trying to trip us and fallen stalks of bamboo we had to climb over so it slowed us down a bit.

Still, we outpaced the henro from Barcelona and made our way to Temple 72, Mandaraji. We quickly made our rounds, cognizant of the fact that we were running out of time (it was perhaps around 3pm by this point). Between chatting and the hot sun, our pace was perhaps a bit slower than usual. We had reservations near temple 76, so we had to make it to at least Temple 75 by about 4:30pm.

Luckily, Temple 73, Shussakaji, was practically right next to the previous temple, though a touch uphill. We enjoyed the views and took yet another short break to rehydrate at a little rest area surrounded by vending machines on the temple grounds.

Temple 74, Koyamaji, passed by quickly. We rushed a bit through it in order to get to Temple 75, Zentsuji, in good time. I had heard it was a large temple with many things to see, including a 90m dark tunnel to walk through, so we didn’t want to get there last minute.

We hurried to Zentsuji and it was indeed a massive temple. It is said to have been the birthplace of Kobo Daishi, so it is one of the most important temples in Shingon Buddhism, and it definitely looked the part.

We made our rounds but wanted to find the tunnel. Alana couldn’t find it on a map (it was all in Japanese, though) so I did my best to ask a temple staff member who was cleaning the cabinet where one lights an offertory candle. I couldn’t understand the majority of what she said but I did understand that it was closed for the day and we would have to return tomorrow to see it. I highly doubted either Alana nor I would be backtracking, but I thanked her anyway.

Instead, we wandered around the expansive grounds, talked to a couple of tourists from Australia, took pictures, then took a break on some benches to rest our tired feet and legs. 

Alana proposed dinner at an actual restaurant instead of convenience store and I readily agreed. We found a nearby Gusto and went in. I ordered a pizza(clearly Japanese style with edamame, shrimp, and ham on it; it was actually quite delicious) and Alana ordered spaghetti with tomato sauce (literally that’s all it was). Like Joyfull, it wasn’t gourmet food or anything, but it was a step up from convenience store food.

After dinner, I wanted to take the train to our hostel. It was only maybe 3km away but my left knee was acting up again. I had pushed it hard over the last few days. However, when we got to the station, we had just missed the train by seconds and the next one was ‘t for over half an hour. We decided to simply walk.

We found our way to our hostel, Mi Casa Su Casa, located right next to Konzoji Station (literally) and across the street from Temple 76, Konzoji, which would be the starting point for both of us tomorrow.

The owner instantly welcome us in and showed us around. The guesthouse is small but our beds were clean and very comfortable. After showering, chatting some more, and comparing our plans for the rest of the pilgrimage, we settled to sleep.

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