[The Shikoku Pilgrimage] Day 49: Orei-Mairi

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Habits are hard to break, I guess. Despite going to bed late and struggling to get to sleep last night, I still woke up at 6:30am. I stayed in bed for a while, enjoying the luxuxury of not having much to do.

Finally, after catching up on messages, eating a snack, and dozing a bit, I got ready, packed, and checked out a little before 10am. I immediately went to the train station and bought a ticket to Bando Station. I recalled my first day of the pilgrimage, where I missed the train by five or ten minutes and had to wait over an hour for the next one. Now I knew to take a picture of the train schedule ahead of time.

On the train, an older man sat beside me and when he saw my henro gear, started talking about the pilgrimage and asked me all sorts of questions. He spoke really fast and I couldn’t understand the vast majority of what he was saying, but smiled and nodded a lot. I had said, “Gomen nasai. Wakarimasen” or “I’m very sorry. I don’t understand”, but it didn’t stop him from chattering on and on.

At one point, he talked about the temple stamps but I couldn’t get what about them he was referring to,’so I pulled out my stamp book so he could possibly show me. He flipped through the pages quickly and seemed pleasantly surprised to see that it was full.

Before long, we arrived at Bando Station. At first, he seemed worried that I didn’t know the way but then remembered I had been to Temple 1 before and I was simply returning there. He waved goodbye and I thanked him anyway, still a little perplexed by him.

Despite the fact that it had been nearly 50 days since I first fumbled my way to Ryozenji, the route there felt very familiar and I found the sign pointing the way in no time.

As I neared the Niomon gate, I saw numerous people with new henro gear milling about, posing for photos and such. While I was ending my journey, numerous others were just starting, and still more were in various stages of the pilgrimage, scattered all around the island. And it would continue on like this in one continuous cycle as it has been for over a thousand years.

My first stop was the little shop that sold henro supplies. Unfortunately, I had run out of offertory candles at Temple 88. I could have just prayed without but at this point, it felt wrong, especially at the very end. So I sucked it up and bought a whole new package of candles, plus a couple of keychains as souvenirs.

I then made my way to the temple grounds proper and took the familiar sights in. At the main hall, I had to cut my silent prayer of gratitude short because tears finally came and I couldn’t stop them. I walked around a little in an empty part of the grounds to compose myself, then went to pray at the Daishi Hall. Again, I offered thanks to whoever was listening for allowing my to finish the pilgrimage safely.

Then I sat down on an out of the way bench and let the tears out. So much had happened to me since I had first visited Ryozenji, so many difficulties and hardships, but also so many great experiences and encounters. It had been an unforgettable journey, but like anything, it had to end. I was done.

After the tears stopped, I made my way back to the shop that doubled as a stamp office. The man took my book and asked if it was the last one. I nodded yes. He nodded and flipped to the last page, which was reserved for the temple a henro started their journey with. He took great care in writing out my stamp while I stood there sniffling. With my stamp, I also received a little black rosary-bracelet.

With that done, I left the temple, bowing deeply as I left the gate, then returned to Bando Station and just caught the train back to Tokushima.

I had reservations at a hostel in Kyoto but the next bus wouldn’t leave until 3:15pm and it was only about noon or so. I had time to kill. I helped an American family find their hotel and then ate curry for lunch. I felt restless from the lack of walking I had done, so I walked to the Awa Odori Kaikan, browsed the gift shop, and then walked back to the station.

I boarded the bus when it arrived. As the bus left Tokushima, I silently bid farewell to Shikoku and dozed off.

I arrived in Kyoto around 6:20pm. Again, the amount of people at the station caught me off guard, although it was a touch less busier than the last time since it was late in the day. I found the subway and took it to the hostel I would be staying in for the next few nights (Bird Hostel).

I checked in and organized my things. I took out most henro related things from my purse as I wouldn’t be needing them in Kyoto. For the first time, I pulled out all the osamefuda I had collected during my pilgrimage. It wasn’t much but they represented some of the wonderful people I had met. I took all of these items and stored them in the little locked cupboard that came with my dorm bed.

I didn’t feel like going out anywhere so I bought food from the hostel’s cafe/bar. The young Japanese woman staffing the counter showed me how to get a 10% discount by following their Instgram account. When I did, she found my account and looked at my own photos.

“O-henro-san?” She asked with surprise.

I was surprised that she even knew and confirmed that I had just finished the pilgrimage. She explained that she was from a small town in Ehime, but it was far from the henro route so I hadn’t gone through there. Still, it was nice to meet someone from Shikoku. I hadn’t shed my henro status completely yet, it seemed.

I ate my fill and relaxed a bit before showering and turning into bed. Tomorrow, I would simply be a regular tourist again, an invisible person in a crowd.

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