[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 44: Konpira-san

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I slept on and off throughout the night, which was a bit frustrating, but by morning, I was in such a deep sleep that I hadn’t even stirred when my roommate got up and left early in the morning. She had either been very quiet or I had been that tired.

I woke up around 8:30am and took my time getting ready. I wasn’t even out the door until almost 9:30am, although the train would not arrive until 9:54am.

I took the train a few stops over to Kotohira, home of the very famous and popular shrine, Kotohira-gu (but more commonly referred to as Konpira-san or Konpira Shrine). It is an old shrine that was once both Shinto and Buddhist but during the Meiji Restoration, became a Shinto shrine only, and as a result, has architectural elements of both a shrine and a temple.

Seafarers and fishermen have long been known to worship at the shrine and pay for safety while at sea. I suppose it goes to show how important the sea is to an island nation like Japan.

The shrine is also known for the long, arduous climb to get there. It is over 700 steps to the main shrine and another 500+ steps to the inner shrine.

It was another hot and sunny day so I was quick to shed my sweater. I made my way through the streets lined with shops and restaurants and began the ascent to the shrine along with the hundreds of other tourists. Many had bought little walking sticks and I realized I could have brought mine. Oh well.

As I went up the stairs, I was amazed to see how strong my body has become since I started this pilgrimage. The old me would have had to stop to catch my breath multiple times but I only stopped twice on my way to the main shrine. It helped that the stairs were not steep. My main problems were the heat and my knee.

I stopped for a long rest at the main shrine to sit and enjoy some shade. I had the stamina to keep going up to the inner shrine but was worried about how my knee would fare during the long descent down. So I decided to not go all the way to the top and to simply stop.

After taking some pictures, I slowly made my way back down to town. I stopped occasionally to rest my knee or to grab some shade. I saw a couple of other henro making their way up the stairs and they, too, were quick hopping up the stairs past many of the tourists.

When I got back to town, I found an udon restaurant and went in. Kagawa Prefecture is famous for its udon noodles so I figured it was time to try it. I ordered tempura udon and enjoyed.

It was still a little early to go back to the guesthouse so I found a place that sold ice cream. I learned that another Kagawa specialty is oiri, a type of ball-shaped sweet rice wafer that is light and practically melts in the mouth. It was traditionally given to brides but can now be found everywhere in tourist shops and as a topping for ice cream. I hadn’t expected them to be so light but I was not that enthusiastic about them. It was like eating air, I suppose.

Still, it was nice to eat something cold on a hot afternoon. Yesterday, Naoko had said that the weather felt more like May weather than April weather. I was glad I was not the only one who was feeling the heat!

I meandered around for a bit but then headed back to the train station to return to the guesthouse. I walked over to a convenience store and picked up some drinks and food for dinner, then headed back to the guesthouse.

I ended up taking a short nap then forced myself up to shower and have a bite to eat. Two American henro (two older ladies who were cousins) had also checked in. I learned they were mostly hitchhiking or taking public transportation to get around between temples. We chatted for a while over dinner (they ended up buying food at a supermarket).

A Japanese traveler who had come to see Kotohira and its famous kabuki theater shared my dorm room but could mostly only speak Japanese. Later, an older man who was cycling the pilgrimage also checked in. He knew a bit of English due to traveling in the US so we could communicate a bit. I learned that he had done the pilgrimage four times before and was doing it again in sections. He showed me his stamp book and, true enough, many of the pages had 4-5 stamps in them.

With it getting late, I excused myself and turned in for the night. I had another long day ahead of me tomorrow.

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