Unpenji, along with Yokomineji, had been on my mind ever since I left Kochi Prefecture. They were two of the highest points in the pilgrimage and I dreaded them. After getting past Yokomineji, Unpenji was next, standing at an imposing 900+ meters.
I got up early again because I was so far from the main henro route. I was actually a little disoriented when I woke up. I had dreamed that I was back home and waking up in Japan, I was a bit confused for a few seconds. I had a moment of homesickness before henro business took over.
It was another very early start for me and I woke up to my alarm around 5:00am. I snoozed for a few minutes, enjoying my comfortable bed, then quickly got ready and packed up the rest of my things. I had no idea what to do with the towel osettai the hotel had given me. I didn’t need a towel because I already had one, but at the same time, to refuse osettai and leave it behind was rude. So, I reluctantly added it to the many things in my backpack already.
The weather forecast called for rain all day so I preemptively put the rain cover over my pack and had my poncho in a side pocket, ready to go in case the rain really was heavy.
I woke up extra early – 4:45am to be exact. While I knew it wouldn’t take me all day to get to Yokomineji and back, the problem, once again, was rain. The weather forecast predicted the rain to start up again around 10am and I hoped to at least be at the temple or almost at it by then.
Once more, I woke to the sound of rain. I peeked out my little square of a window and, sure enough, the rain was coming down steadily.
Today was the day I was to tackle Yokomineji, Temple 60, and said to be the most difficult temple on the trail. With the rain, though, I wasn’t too sure about doing it. In Matsuyama, Yoshi, the young henro going in reverse order, had suggested doing the nearby temples 61-64 first if it was raining when I was due to reach Yokomineji, so I considered it as I got up and ready for the day.
After taking a day off yesterday, it was difficult to find the mental strength to get up early. I technically didn’t really have to get up early as the distance I had to cover today was not very far, but it still felt wrong starting a day of walking late in the morning. Fortunately, one of my roommates was up earlier than I was, so I suppose she inadvertently encouraged me to also get up early. And with great effort, I did.
For the first time a while, I slept in…well, slept in until about 8:30, which to me, is sleeping in. My two other roommates were up earlier and packed up their things and checked out. I took my time waking up, waited til they left, and then got up and ready myself.
I didn’t end up leaving until about 9:30am. Despite the extra sleep, I felt a bit sluggish. I made my way to Imabari Station, which was practically next door, and went into the bakery/café there. I picked out a variety of pastries and ordered some milk tea, then sat down and enjoyed. I felt happy and relaxed, having nowhere in particular to go and delicious bread in my stomach. Again, any change from the traditional rice, fish, and soup was a welcome change.
I was thankful that my other roommates were also starting early. That way, I didn’t feel guilty when I had to get ready for the day at 6am. I left an osamefuda and some candy for the hostel staff.
I was out by 6:45am but had to take the streetcar back to Matsuyama Station, then catch a train heading in the direction of Imabari. I had a long debate with myself about where to get off. My original plan had been to take the train almost all the way to Imabari, but I had realized that this was probably the only section of the trail that went by the Seto Inland Sea coast and I wanted to walk a bit of it at least.
I was sorely tempted to sleep in, seeing as I only had about 12 km and two temples to cover, but I forced myself up and awake and was out by 7:15am. The hostel was having a hanami picnic near Ishiteji at noon and I wanted to join them, at least for a little bit. Hanami, for those who don’t know, is cherry blossom viewing, where people have picnics under the cherry blossoms. Also, I figured it would be good for me to keep the same sleeping patterns – early morning starts and early bedtimes.
Because my knee hadn’t been particularly happy with the mountain slopes yesterday, I decided to take the bus down to the edge of Matsuyama City, close to Temple 46. From there, it was flat terrain so I hoped my knee would be happy with that.
I ate breakfast with the female henro from the previous night but the male henro was nowhere to be seen. I guessed he had left earlier. I guessed some henro started off some days very early, sometimes as early as 5 or 6am. In any case, we chatted some more and I wished her luck with getting to Temple 45.
I woke up on and off throughout the night, so when it was time to get up, it was a bit of a struggle. I wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep until the afternoon. However, breakfast was at 6:30 and I had a long day to look forward to.
Breakfast was another feast and I could only eat about half of it. My appetite is never the greatest in the early morning. Hideki was there, too, and we exchanged osamefuda with our mailing addresses on them. He had asked for mine so he could send me pictures he took after the pilgrimage. After breakfast, the owner took us to the meeting hall connected to the inn, where he had pictures posted of some sort of summer festival (in May, I think?) where participants go down the river on connected rafts. After a little while, though, his wife must have told him to let us go, because then we settled our bills and were out around 7:20am – a little late, but we had more than enough time to make it to Temple 44 before it closed at 5pm.
Again, I woke up before my alarm after waking up once in the night. I found it difficult to get good sleep while on the pilgrimage. I am always afraid of accidentally sleeping in, especially since I’m not a morning person. Henro wake up early and go to bed early in order to maximize travel time, which is the opposite of my natural tendencies.
I woke up before my alarm around 5:30am or so, and simply laid in my warm, comfortable futon until my alarm actually went off. I heard the gentle patter of rain and when I got up to look out the window…yup, rain. I really wasn’t looking forward to walking through rain. I quickly got ready and packed up most of my things, then headed downstairs for breakfast.
I left the Uwajima Youth Hostel early, around 6am, to ensure I had enough time to get to my destination for the day – Temple 43, with my inn being right near it, in Seiyo City. The staff on duty was up early, too, to see me off. She even asked to take a photo of me in my henro gear. She saw me off with enthusiasm, and a part of me wished I could stay. I left her an osamefuda as thanks for her help making reservations last night.
Although there were none of the 88 temples in Uwajima, it had been on my “To See” list for a while because it is the location of one of only 12 original castles left in Japan. In other words, it’s main keep/tower was the original structure from when it was built hundreds of years ago, having survived fires, natural disasters, and wars. Most castles in Japan are reconstructions. However, Uwajima is a small city and out of the way, so I never had the time or opportunity to visit…until now!
The two henro convinced me last night that I would have enough time to see the nearby Tsukiyama Shrine, catch the bus to Sukumo City, and get to Temple 39. So, that was the plan, as well as take a bus to my hotel near Temple 40, which I would visit the next morning.
My futon was thin but I slept heavily, waking up only once due to the fierce winds outside rattling the windows. I had thought it was raining, but when I left the inn in the morning, everything was dry, so I figured the winds had simply been that strong. I woke up early, around 5am, and lay in my futon for a full 15 minutes before getting up to turn off my alarm before it went off. Breakfast was at 6am and I had more than enough time to pack up my things and get ready.
My name is Marianne and this is my journal about that time I decided to complete the 88 Temple Shikoku Pilgrimage. It was both the most difficult thing I've ever done and the most amazing thing I've ever done. It was truly an experience of a lifetime.