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!
So, I woke up early and got to Temple 40, Kanjizaiji, by about 6:20am. The stamp office wouldn’t open til 7am, but I figured I could do my prayers and sit and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere before getting my book stamped, and that’s exactly what I did. There were a few other henro around, but none stuck around to chat.
When I went in to the stamp office, some other henro were chatting with the man at the counter, then said their goodbyes and left. I handed my book to the man and he noted the little note that was given to me by the elderly man at Sakura Ryokan near Temple 11. I couldn’t read it, so I had kept it in hopes of finding someone who could. The man asked me some questions, noting my Japanese family name, and we ended up chatting a little, as best we could given the language barrier. He told me to wait and returned with a little box. Inside, were origami women in kimono, some attached to clothes pins. He told me to take two – one for myself and one to take home to my mother. I chose two I liked and dug into my bag and gave him a ginger candy from my stash. He seemed equally happy with the return gift. I bowed and thanked him.
Having met such a cheerful and friendly man and having gotten such a lovely surprise osettai, I felt much cheerier than I did yesterday. I sat on the bench for a few minutes, thinking about how, every time I feel like giving up, someone or something happens to change my mind.
I went to the nearby bus stop to wait for the bus that would take me to Uwajima. I was soon joined by a young Japanese woman who was also a henro and had a massive backpack. She was headed to Matsuyama to try out the famous Dogo Onsen and relax. She said that she had planned to stop after Temple 40, so now she was relaxing after a tiring pilgrimage. Her English was quite good, so I asked where she was from, and she said Sapporo. I asked her, “Isn’t it cold there?” and she said enthusiastically, “Very, very cold!” I told her I was from Canada, where it was also very cold, and we had a laugh about how warm Shikoku felt in comparison. I was a bit sad I wouldn’t be able to travel with her; she seemed like such a fun person to be around. But as they say…ichi-go, ichi-e.
The bus ride to Uwajima was uneventful and I nodded off to sleep a couple of times, but I had to stay relatively awake to ensure I didn’t miss my stop. When the bus arrived at Uwajima Station, the Sapporo henro wish told me in English, “Have a good trip!” And I turned back and said, “You too!”
It was still only about 9am by the time I reached Uwajima Station. I had plenty of time to sightsee before I could check into the hostel at 4:30pm. I dumped my backpack, hat, and white vest into a coin locker at the train station, then headed out. There was nowhere to store my staff, so I took it with me. By now, I was seeing it as my walking companion and constant support. The wood was chipped and worn, the painted characters were smudged where the sweat from my hands had gotten to them, and the end was frayed. However, they were signs of how much I used it and depended on it during this pilgrimage. I still felt a bit bad for losing my original one at Temple 20, and I wondered briefly where it was now, but I was still happy to be using my current one.
My first priority was Uwajima Castle, but I kind of wanted to find a cafe to have some caffeine and maybe something to eat, something more substantial than the bun I had at the temple. I wandered around and eventually found a western-styled cafe in a covered shopping arcade. I ordered some milk tea and a toast set, which came with a big fat piece of buttered toast, a small fried egg, and (literally) a mouthful of salad. Although it was simple, I was in heaven. I had missed breakfasts like these, similar to what I ate for breakfast at home. I was so used to either having rice, fish, and mis soup at traditional inns, or just eating a bun from a convenience store.
After, I headed to the castle nearby. The castle sits on a hill and was a bit of a climb to get to. Even without my backpack, I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath and wipe away sweat from my forehead. The stairs were made of big stones and were a little tricky at times. I was glad to have my staff with me.
Uwajima Castle is quite small. I learned from the displays and English information pamphlet that the castle originally had many other buildings and gates but they were eventually lost to time. Still, at least the admission price was only 200yen, so I paid the fee and went up to the top of the keep for some beautiful city views. Like all original castles, it has beautiful old wood in its interior and steep, almost ladder-like wooden stairs.
I circled around to its northern gate, then went to check out the Date Clan Museum. Uwajima Castle was ruled by the Date Clan, and the museum has many artifacts relating to them, such as a palanquin, some kimono, wall scrolls, samurai armour and weapons, jewelry, dolls, lacquerware, and pottery. Although the vast majority of the information was in Japanese, I still enjoyed looking at the beautiful works of art the Date Clan left behind.
After, I was kind of at a loss as to what to do. I thought about heading to the infamous sex museum out of sheer curiosity, but reviews of it said it was 800 yen and was mediocre and not worth the price, so I gave it a pass. I decided to find something to eat for lunch, then, as it was about 12:30 by this point. My guidebook said there was a KFC and McDonald’s in the northern end of the city. I headed in that direction but got lost a few times. I eventually found the KFC but not the McDonald’s, but the same plaza had a few other restaurants, namely an Italian food restaurant. I went in, tempted by food that wasn’t rice, fish, or miso soup. I ordered a small pizza set, which came with a drink, salad, and dessert. Simple stuff, but it was heaven for the change of pace it offered.
With my stomach full, I was out of the restaurant by about 2pm. I wandered back to the train station and hung out there, planning the next few days of my pilgrimage. I made the decision to try to walk the until Matsuyama City at least, as the terrain looked nice. Then, at about 3:30, I got my stuff from the locker and headed out. I wanted to stop at a convenience store on my way to the hostel and the hostel was a solid 30-40 minute walk from the station.
At a convenience store, I bought dinner – some onigiri and dried oranges – then made it the rest of the way to the youth hostel. The youth hostel sits on top of yet another hill, so again, it was a bit of a climb up and I quickly worked up a sweat, especially as I had my backpack with me this time. I had all my layers on because it had been a bit rainy and chilly, but by the time I got to the hill, it had stopped raining and it felt warm and humid. Figures.
I was a bit early for check-in but the lady who was running the hostel for the owners welcomed me in anyway and showed me to my room. She spoke good English so I tentatively asked her if she could make some reservations for me when she wasn’t busy. She said, “Of course!” So, I threw some laundry into their laundry machines and mapped out how far I would walk each day and where I could stay. Unfortunately, the next two towns – Ozu and Uchiko – are a bit awkwardly spaced apart. They had plenty of lodgings, but I would have to either cut some days short while making other days quite long. As a result, my lodging choices were a little more limited.
As I was writing up a list, the hostel staffer came knocking at my door. “Do you want to see a nice sunset?” she asked. Well, of course the answer was yes! We hurried to the park next to the hostel but she said the sun, just a couple of minutes ago, had been a big orange ball, but now, it was covered by clouds. Still, the colours of the sky were beautiful and the park offered a wonderful view of the city, including Uwajima Castle. We took a few minutes taking pictures and chatting.
We returned to the hostel where it was nice and warm. I gave her my list of lodgings and she made some phone calls for me. Unfortunately, two were closed (one because the owner was sick, the other was closed on Sundays), so I ended up with alternatives, one of which was quite expensive. I hoped it would be worth it. There were no other lodgings in the area for at least a few kilometers. The only other option would be to stop a few kilometers earlier, making that day less than 20km of walking, or push forward another 10km past that inn to the next one. I wasn’t really keen on either idea.
We chatted for a little while longer before I she had to go to go about her duties, and I went to finish my laundry, shower, and get ready for the next day.
Post-Pilgrimage Thoughts: I will never forget the man at the stamp office at Kanjizaiji. He probably didn't know it, but after a rough day prior, I was ready to quit and told myself I'd see Kanjizaiji first, then take the bus all the way to Uwajima, then Matsuyama to spend the rest of my days in Japan just being a regular tourist. However, his kindness was just what I needed to get my mind back on track and allowed me to continue onwards with the pilgrimage. I didn't write about it in my initial blog entry, but I still remember sitting on the bench after receiving the origami girls from him and coming very close to crying. Thank you, kind man, wherever you are now!
After, I really enjoyed Uwajima and going around and visiting the tourist sights was another morale booster for me (on top of the simple but delicious breakfast). Past this point, I mostly had good days and didn't really think much of quitting anymore.
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.