Japan, Long-Distance Walking, The Backwards 88
Comments 18

The Backwards 88, Day 47: And Then, Suddenly, I Ran Out of Temples

Hey, all!

Yes, the circle will be unbroken — thanks for asking. At 4:50 this afternoon I entered the temple gate at number 1, bringing me back to where I started, completing a 1,200- or 1,300km loop of Shikoku and a 47-day tour of 88 freakin’ temples.

I guess I’m in pretty good shape for an old bastard as my sum total of aches and pains after all that tarmac-pounding and mountain stomping is: zero.

In fact I was seldom tired for more than five minutes on the whole walk. Injuries: three missing toenails (keep your eye out), some degraded toe skin, aching knees when I woke yesterday — but they’re fine today.

I think I’m getting good at this stuff!

As Matt (a former henro along with his wife Nori) at Sen Guesthouse back in Matsuyama said when I was there, you’re just starting to get good at the whole thing and then you reach the end. A damned shame.

I have all my rituals and routines down, and have nights in my tiny tent/bedroom/ office/base camp down to a fine art. I rarely felt like I was pushing it to the limit, especially in the last couple of weeks. I took longer than I expected but a lot of newbie henro still react with shock when I tell them how “little” time I took.

You’ll notice this post is almost photo-free. I took a ton today but I’m low on computer battery juice, and in the process of getting pleasantly drunk. When I achieve that I aim to move on to unpleasantly drunk. Editing them will be increasingly problematic. But stay tuned.

I’ll be hitting you with a lot of pictures in the next few weeks (I just checked and I have 5,001 just from the pilgrimage, mostly unedited — a ton of those are multiples and I’ll be deleting like a demon, but I’ll sure be busy when I get home), plus some thoughts on the pilgrimage and an explanation of sorts of the mental stuff I’ve been dealing with.

Because, yeah, the mental shit was the hard part, especially in the first couple of weeks. And I had an epiphany the other day (it happens on long walks; I manage half a dozen per day) that it would be therapeutic to share the basics and get it out of my head.

I’ve been feeling much better, the weather’s been wonderful for walking, and this morning was unbelievably gorgeous. I woke up near a quiet road (see picture at top), was walking into sunrise at 6:00, and an hour later was leaving the first of my final seven temples.

I also encountered the 16th and 17th praying mantises of my journey, picking both up to let them crawl and “pray” on my hand, and scoot them to the relative safety of the road. It was a great day for cats too — probably a dozen, and I bought dinner for the last one.

But I had tears in my eyes off and on through the day. I don’t want it to end. Will miss the freedom and all those achievable goals, short- and long-term. The beauty and the joy of making art out of nature, chance and light.

Lately there’s the smell of burning rice stubble in the air, persimmons are hanging ripe and Halloweenishly orange on bare branches, and the sun is sweet and soothing. Been hiking in a beanie and down jacket (sometimes wear pants as well). Cosmos is blooming in dazzling pastel thickets everywhere you look.

Damn, gonna be tough to leave. But I’ve already decided I need to come back and do it in the “right’ order.

Every day for a week I’ve stopped for at least three or four great roadside conversations with henro just starting out. I’m the veteran, and a gyaku-uchi to boot.

Respect. I needed some of that.

I’ve also enjoyed lots of tips from fellow walkers for my next long ramble. Won’t be in Asia, but I’ll be back.

Alright, I’m on 29% battery and think I’ll split this michi-no-eki and stumble back to Temple #1 and set up the tent back in the parking lot — the pilgrim shelter is too close to awful Rt 12, as I found out to my detriment last time.

I can recharge there and the Lawson’s konbini is close if I need more refreshments.

I’ll be in touch. Next goal is a couple of days’ R & R back in Matsuyama. Thanks for reading, especially all the commenters. I hope some of you will be interested in the on-paper collection of temple shots I have vaguely planned after a shit-ton of work once home..

*          *          *          *          *

Oh God, a local just drove up, and on learning I’d just done the henro, backwards, said, “Just a minute, please,”, went to his car, came back with a bag of bread rolls, and said “O-settai,” as he handed them to me, followed by a paper cup which he filled to the brim with Shikoku-made plum sake.

My heart chilled with apprehension. One sip and a warm friendly glow swept away the chill in a tsunami of contentment.

He also pointed out the nearby bus shelter, and informed me (local knowledge!) that the lights go out at 9:00, permitting sleep. Then he left me, sparing me the burden of painfully slow, drunken conversation.

That would have been all too circular — it’s how I spent the last night I was at the temple.

Suddenly that temple seems a world away. I’ve done enough freaking walking, I reckon. And seen my fair share of temples.

This is my 350th post. Wishing you the happiest of trails.

GOAT, Naruto City, Tokushima Prefecture, Japan

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Well done mate, good on you. Thanks for taking us with you, much appreciated, the writing was a lot of effort on top of the day’s walking. Hope the R & R is enjoyable. Look forward to seeing those shots. Cheers, Rob

    • I appreciate your support, Robert. Excited about the next little stage — I can see the Inland Sea out the train window :).

  2. Denis LeBlanc says

    Congrats on completing your quest and for allowing me to travel virtually with you. While you did share some temple shots with us, perhaps one compilation of your photos will be all the temples, from start to finish and tell us a little about each one. Just a thought. Many thanks. Denis from Ottawa Canada

    • Indeed, Denis, I hope to have at least one shot of each temple, plus perhaps some history/personal reflections. Really excited about some of them that I’ve edited so far. Cheers for reading.

  3. Barbara Smith says

    Thanks Ian.. read to the end.. a nice emotional post for conclusion. I envy and applaud you for a life lived the way you wished not how convention dictates. as F. Sinatra sang in my day “I did it my way” good fortune for the next step, whatever it may be.

  4. Chris G says

    Well done Goat. I’ve really enjoyed these posts. i’ve had two recent hiking trips to Japan and you’ve given me some more ideas.

    I think I’ve seen the tent you are using in a few Montbell Stores. Is it the one with some type of tube venting on one side? I’ve often thought of asking the Montbell staff some questions about it but my Japanese (ie almost non existent) isn’t up to it.

    Would you mind letting me know how have you got on with it? From what i can see its suitable for 4 season use. Does it have a good porch size for cooking, storage etc?

    Good luck with the rest of the trip, looking forward to future posts!

    • Hey Chris, yes, it’s the Stellar Ridge (Is that how they spell it? I’ve only seen it written in katakana!) one-person.

      Yes, it’s a four-season, extremely lightweight, and comes with a ton of guy ropes and titanium stakes. I never staked it at all on the 20 or so nights I used it on the Henro. One of the best features is that it’s freestanding, which makes it perfect for this trail as you can set it up quickly and painlessly in tight spaces on wooden platforms or concrete floors etc if you want to avoid weather or dew etc, or on sand or rock where no stakes would work.

      Even the flysheet clips on so no stakes are needed, though the side ones if used would probably reduce condensation where the edge touches the inner.

      I love this little guy now but it did take a bit of getting used to. If you are a solidly built, tall westerner, it might not be the one for you. My two reservations are the width and the vestibule. I wish it was just six inches wider — it’s really built for Japanese dimensions. And the vestibule in my opinion is almost useless. You could prob cook in it, but forget storing a big pack etc there. I never used it after the first time as I didn’t need it, just tied the unzipped fly open at each side. I use my pack as a pillow anyway so that’s not too much of an issue, but in bad weather it would be tricky getting in and out, I reckon, without getting water inside.

      We’ll see how it goes when this comes up…

      Other than that, it’s beautifully made and designed, you just need to be very organised about where you put your stuff etc. And yeah, that ventilation “chimney” is funky. One night I had it angled just right to get a cool breeze flowing in through it. It comes with great insect-proofing too, and I know from experience that empty beer cans are easily jettisoned through it to the outside world.

      You can also twist it from within to work as a periscope if you hear people or animals etc outside on that side of the tent!

  5. Darius says

    Nicely done, Goat!

    I have never been to Japan (only Hong Kong in the Asian rim) and I can’t even imagine getting to hike a spiritual journey from temple to temple. So, thank you for taking me with you!!

    Look forward to more of your photos, digital and/or paper.

    Best High-Stepping Friend,


  6. Congratulations for a marvelous trip well done. I a looking forward to more photos and your reflection about the trip. Thank you.

  7. Chris G says


    Thanks for the comments re the tent very helpful. Sounds like a great tent but for the small porch. I think Montbell do a 2 person model but I’m not sure how much more it weighs.

    I laughed when I read your comments on the chimney! Sorry for the late reply, been doing some hiking myself with intermittent wifi.

    • No worries.

      I think I’m going to look into getting a Salewa Micra to replace the one I parted with on the walk. It had a centre- rather than end-entrance and porch, and a nice fat one at that; been updated quite a bit I think but that first one was a classic and I got close to 10 years out of it.

      Definitely sticking with a footprint from now on too — never used one before this trip and the realisation during an alpine rainstorm that all that abrasion in the floor would have very uncomfortable consequences…

  8. 🎉Wahoo! You Did it! Sorry I’m late in getting to the news. Stuff in life I guess. A hearty congratulations to you Goat! 🍻 Thankful you are in one piece too. Looking forward to the next update and follow up. Cheers! 🎈

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