My original plan was to take today to visit as many temples around Takamatsu as I could, then use the next day to sightsee or rest. However, the weather forecast called for heavy rain all day, so I made the decision to take today off and then see temples the day after, which was supposed to have better weather.
So I took my time waking up, enjoying the sleep in. I had woken up several times throughout the night and still had a raging migraine that had started yesterday, either from the heat or the change in atmospheric pressure with the switch over from intense sun to rain. The German henro was also sleeping in the dorm room and also seemed to be having a late morning.
I made myself get out of bed around 8:30am and slowly got ready, then made my way down to the common area to eat the simple breakfast I had bought yesterday (mango yogurt, a banana, and a can of cold cafe latte). The Canadian couple and the German henro were also there eating breakfast and we discussed our plans for the day. The Canadian couple were checking out and moving on to Kurashiki. The German henro had also decided to take the day off after a hard day yesterday and would be sightseeing around the city.
It hadn’t started raining yet so I made the decision to check out Temple 84, Yashimaji. After that, I would stop there and take the rest of the day off, as the rain would likely have started by then.
I bid goodbye to my fellow Canadians and wished the henro a good day, then walked over to Yashimaji. The hostel is quite close to the henro route, so it didn’t take me long to find the little red arrows that pointed the way.
As I walked down the road, I got closer and closer to a tall mountain/plateau. Sure enough, that was exactly what I would be walking up. It hadn’t looked very tall in my guidebook, but I guess everything looks small compared to Unpenji, even if it is objectively tall. A quick check confirmed that the temple sat at an elevation of 283m.
The road became an incline and I quickly worked up a sweat (again). An elderly walking henro was also making his way up. When we both stopped to catch our breaths and wipe sweat from our faces, we chatted a bit and then resumed our slow ascent. We passed by numerous other people along the slope, seemingly out for a stroll. Amazing.
My walking partner seemed to be a quiet and kind man. He stopped at every Buddhist statue to bow and he was worried that I hadn’t brought water or lunch with me (although I assured him that I would be fine and would be stopping after Yashimaji).
The path up to Temple 84 was more difficult than I had anticipated. It was a constant uphill path, so our legs were constantly working hard.
I eventually got maybe 50m ahead of my companion and was first to spot the Niomon gate. I encouraged the elderly henro to finish the last ~100m because we had finally made it!
By the time we got to the temple, it was gently raining. I realized I had forgotten my candles and incense in my backpack back at the hostel, so it didn’t take me long at all to make my rounds. Before I left, I ran to my walking companion for the morning and gave him a few pieces of candy as osettai. I had enjoyed his quiet but warm company for the hour we had walked together. In return, he gave me ¥150 and told me to use it to buy some juice or something to drink. I thanked him and we parted ways.
I made my way back down the same path. My knees were feeling the strain. In an effort to gauge their health (and partly because I had underestimated the climb to Temple 84), I hadn’t taken any medication and I hadn’t worn my compression bandages. Turns out I still needed them. By the time I got to the base of the mountain, my knees were feeling achy.
I took the Kotoden train back to central Takamatsu and found myself in a mall attached to Kawaramachi Station. I found the restaurant floor and had some omurice (omelette rice) at a cafe. I wandered around a bit more before going outside to check out the covered shopping arcade. It was still raining gently so it was a nice way to pass the time.
I picked up a few needed items, like more ibuprofen, inserts for my shoes (as any cushioning it had at this point was likely gone), and some oil blotting paper for my face (as the humid weather was not really helping things).
With that done, I found a Starbucks and enjoyed. Small familiar comforts were amazing where I could find them. They had two seasonal frappaccinos for sale (classic tea and American cherry pie) and I chose the tea frapp. I loved it and wondered why Starbucks in Canada didn’t do seasonal frapps as often.
After, it was about 3pm and I decided to return to the guesthouse. Although it was only one station away, I took the train to save my knee the exertion, even though it was feeling better after some rest (and no mountains).
I picked up some food from the nearby convenience store on the way. The rain was supposed to come down harder by evening so I wanted to get food before that. Sure enough, as I exited the 7-11, the gentle rain had become a downpour. I saw two young school girls without umbrellas hurrying down the sidewalk, getting soaked. I zipped up my coat and pulled up the hood, happy that it was waterproof, and returned to the guesthouse.
The guesthouse was much quieter tonight with less guests, probably because it was no longer the weekend. I ate dinner alone in the common area and tried to plan out the next couple of days. I sent off a message to Alana to ask her advice. The ryokan a little past Temple 88 was fully booked.
As I waited, I flipped through my stamp book. Between the beautiful images and the sound of rain outside, I was a bit melancholic. As I flipped through different stamped pages, I became flooded with memories. I had met so many people, seen so many things, and experienced so much. I remembered starting out this journey and thinking how difficult it would be to fill the pages of my book, but there it was, almost full now. Just four more to go. And to think, I nearly gave up so many times.
I thought about all the great people I had met. Where were they now? Did Jack, Saito-san, Fong, Michael, Tommy, or any of the others finish? Did they give up or were they still in the trail somewhere?
I couldn’t finish my meal. It didn’t taste good, so threw most of it out and ate my peaches in gelatin for dessert instead. It was more satisfying.
With the thoughts of finishing the pilgrimage soon, I showered and got ready for bed.