SOMEWHERE NORTH OF KONGOFU TEMPLE (#38), EAST COAST OF CAPE ASHIZURI, KOCHI PREFECTURE, SHIKOKU
According to legend, this location was given to Kūkai by a mysterious female recluse named Hokke-sennin. Kūkai carved two Fudō-myōō statues and created this temple which is considered a hansho (difficult place) ~ from Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide, my guidebook
Hi, everyone. It’s been a while. It’s always been a while…
How long’s it been since the last post? At least a week. This post will cover quite a lot of ground in more ways than one, but I’ll try to keep ‘er lighter than that last one. Shouldn’t be too hard, since, as the title suggests, I’m in a far better condition emotionally this time around.
Firstly, for the sake of clarity, that header shot, which I’m unable to caption, is from Temple #45, Iwayaji, the place referred to in the quote above — not Kongofukuji, which I visited yesterday. Kongofukuji must also be considered a difficult place, since getting there nearly killed me, yet again.
(Once again, there aren’t many temple shots here, as I’m saving them up for some kind of Grand Temple Experience when I get home — and of course there’ll be a lot of editing needed before then…)
Also, I realise that for non-henro, it might be tough to visualise the route, so I’ve included the handy map above. As you know, I’m in the extreme minority (haven’t heard of any others this season) in walking this thing “backwards”, from #88 to #1.
Actually, I started at #1 as it was easier to get to. Clockwise pilgrims usually continue from #88 to #1 at the end to complete their circle but once I reach #1 my circle is complete and I won’t have to return to #88 — luckily, since that first section to #88 was a killer!
I’ve been really enjoying my pilgrim days since the abyss I’d sunk into when we last spoke. I have a few dark spells each day, particularly when I’m tired, but I’m getting better at overriding them.
Aiding in my return to positivity has been great weather — generally sunny with lovely, clear-skied mornings and just a hint of autumnal melancholy beneath the blue. I thrive on the stuff (you might have noticed) and I’ve always thought of Japan as the most melancholy place on earth.
I’m also talking, however briefly, with a lot more henro, generally the true, aruki (walking) kind, now increasing in number as Autumn is a far more popular pilgrimage season than Summer. Each day I meet perhaps six or 10 on the road; if I’m in the mood and they don’t look too terrified, I might attempt a conversation and take their picture. I’ll include a few in a forthcoming post.
Finally, since entering Kochi, I’ve been enjoying some of the best scenery of the walk. I’m on the coast now…
..a nice change after all those damned mountains and rice paddies!
The only downside lately has been the distance between temples. I’ve had a few two-day stretches between temple fixes. Photographically this hasn’t been a burden, though, as the scenery, plants and animals have delivered lots of attractive subjects.
To summarise, I ended up staying for three nights at the Sen Guesthouse near Dogo Onsen…
..the last one on the roof in my new tent!
It was tough to leave such a calm, friendly oasis.
When I did, I managed half a dozen semi-urban temples in quick succession, and then I was back in the boonies:
I had a hilarious henro encounter late that afternoon as I headed into the hills. I was on a farm track when I saw a distant walker on the road above me, going the other way of course. He was tall and seemed to be wearing skin-tight knickerbockers.
He was almost out of sight when he saw me across the fields. I waved. He waved back.
“HELLOOOOOOOOOO!” I shouted.
“WHERE ARE YOU FROM?”
“ARE YOU GOING TO 45?”
“44. I’M DOING THE WALK IN REVERSE!” (44 was actually closer at that point.)
“OH! HAVE A NICE TRIP!”
And we went on our respective ways. It’s always fun to have a nice conversation in English on the trail.
I was looking forward to #45. I’d actually been there before, in 2008 — it was the final of a short string of temples I visited as I meandered for 30 days across this island, not as a henro but as a lost soul recuperating from a knee injury, a failed attempt to walk the length of the country, and getting dumped by a Japanese girlfriend in Nagoya.
On that trip I was walking the opposite way. All the temples of the last few days, and perhaps the next two or three as I head north, were/are revisits. And #45, Iwaya Temple, is one of the best-known and distinctive due to its remoteness and spectacular setting against a backdrop of cliffs:
I got three hits of o-settai (alms, or generosity to pilgrims) that day: a little baggie of candy from a passing motorist, a 1,000-yen note from a lady at the temple, and a bottle of hot bancha tea as I sat outside a convenience store that night.
Unfortuntely I had to backtrack for a couple of hours to #44 — oh, the pain — and after a night camped at a michi-no-eki (these “road stations” are fantastic drivers’ rest areas with restaurants, clean toilets — often with soap! — souvenirs and a casual attitude to transients bunking down there), a male nurse on vacation brought me onion soup and coffee.
A string of great days followed. Here’s a sample just from that day:
There are tons of bus pilgrims at most temples…
..but we rarely chat.
T’is a lonesome and challenging life, being a gyaku-uchi (reverse order) pilgrim. At least I seem to spend less time getting lost these days. And I’ve stayed in several o-henro-goya (pilgrim shelters) of late, always alone.
The view from one the other morning:
And as I climbed from it into the mountains…
..and back into the forest:
..before venturing with some trepidation into this old single-lane tunnel (of course a car had to enter while I was inside)…
..and emerged in Uwajima City — the rustic fringes thereof, anyway.
And so it goes.
I had to travel a seriously knee-busting, lonesome, winding mountain road to reach #38, about 90 mins up and another 90 down into the dark, before an endless trudge up the coast to my improvised campsite on the Tosa-Shimizu waterfront.
I tried to use a mountain path yesterday but felt light-headed, weak, and broke at once into a cold sweat. Pushed it too hard the night before. Backtracked and took the twisting, narrow road down the west side of the cape. Lots of henro skip the west side and just backtrack on the east — shorter that way. Perhaps even saner.
I want to tell you about cats before I let you go. I keep meeting them: domestics, semi-strays and outright ferals. Most, as in Korea, flee from me in terror. But there are exceptions, encounters I relish. I think I must be getting old.
Yesterday as I sat outside the konbini having breakfast and charging my electronics, I met this young gal, who was either heavily pregnant or had just had a huge breakfast:
She was a sweetie, very affectionate, and I bought her a can of food which she quickly demolished:
Leaving the temple yesterday, I was crossing a bridge when this malnourished little guy actually approached me, meowing in distress:
He was so young and so skinny, with a wound on his shoulder that seemed to be healing. Great set of kitty balls, though! I was overcome with pity, dumped my pack, and rummaged through my food bag looking for something to feed him. Tough, unless he was vegetarian.
I squeezed out, rather dubiously, some of the Vegemite I’ve been lugging for my entire trip. To my amazement, he loved it, and wolfed it down straight from my fingers:
Then I tried him on carbs — he ate a whole walnut bun and then a slice of bread, which I shredded, smearing each chunk with Vegemite. All the while he was miaowing and rubbing against me and soaking up the attention.
I loved the little guy. It was so unfair that he had to live as a half-starved reject. I couldn’t leave him there, and though I knew it was impossible, experimented with lifting him onto my shoulders (he wouldn’t stay put), and fitting him into the top of my pack (ditto).
It was hopeless. And even if he were to accompany me along the way, what about at journey’s end?
Moving on was hard, leaving him there on the bridge with some more bread and a final pat:
I just hope some passing pilgrim or tourist takes pity on him, he really was a sweet little guy.
And then suddenly I found myself here…
..a roadside o-henro-goya with everything: drinks machine, sinks, toilet, washing machine, tables, soft beds, power, lights, a hot shower in the house behind, and ample places to plug in my rechargeables.
It took all of five seconds to dump my pack in wonder and relief.
I still felt guilty about leaving that hungry kitten back there. But I drank a beer I’d carried from a shop near the temple, let high-pressure hot water massage my aching shoulders, downed a whisky chaser, and then another, and after that things get blurry.
This morning I’ve had visits from three henro and a pair of surfer gals from Osaka. One of the henro gave me a 500-yen coin as settai. I’ve had three caffeinated beverages and am half-wired. Killed my whisky headache as well — I haven’t taken a painkiller in weeks.
Hard to leave this place but the road beckons. My Keen sandals are still good and I suspect they’ll make the whole 800 miles or so. Best footwear of my entire hiking career.
Between here and Temple #37, I’m doing a side-pilgrimage of my own devising. I’ll fill you in soon, the day’s a wastin’!
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote