I let myself sleep until about 6am. A couple of my other roommates were up and getting ready, making it difficult to snooze, but in the end, it was for the best, anyway. Maybe it was Kobo Daishi’s way of getting me up and moving.
I quickly got ready and packed up my things. The cyclist henro was trying to find something for his bike and I did my best to help him search, but I had a train to catch. He looked genuinely worried about losing it and I felt bad, but he waved me off and insisted I get going.
I took the next train to Yasoba Station. Technically, I had left off further east at Kokubu Station near temple 80 and the route from Temple 79 to 81 was a bit longer, but required less backtracking through mountains, something my knees were sure to appreciate. The approach from Temple 80 to 81 was also noted to be quite steep and if I could avoid that section, all the better.
The route, when I arrived there, was unfortunately poorly marked. For the first time in a while, I had to find my way using my guidebook map rather than relying on the ever-present route markers and arrows. I think until I reached the base of the mountain, I only saw two henro stickers and one stone route marker, probably a record low. Even a Japanese walking henro had to stop at a Family Mart to ask for directions. At one point, a couple of locals had to point me in the right direction. It was very confusing.
Once I reached the road up to the plateau, it was much more straight forward. The road was nice and gentle, although it was already quite warm and I worked up a sweat yet again.
I stopped at a rest hut. I took out the hachimaki I had won at the Awa Odori Kaikan so many weeks ago in Tokushima and tied it around my head for the first time. It would both absorb sweat and provide cushioning for my skin from the hard frame inside the hat.
I stayed at the rest hut long enough to cool down and then continued on up a trail that quickly turned into a very, very long set of stairs. Yesterday, I had gone up the 700+ steps to Konpira’s main shrine and had no difficulties with it. These stairs were steeper and I had my backpack strapped to my back this time. I really felt the additional weight and was forced to climb the stairs slowly.
When I made it to Shiromineji, Temple 81, by about 10:15am. As soon as I got there, I put down my pack and rested, taking a few minutes to finish my bottle of water. Then I made my usual rounds.
The route between temples 81 and 82 was pretty much all mountain trail. Or rather, plateau trails, as both temples are located on what’s called the Goshikidai Plateau. It is known for its five peaks, all named different colors, that are said to have been named by Kobo Daishi himself. The trails were a bit muddy in a handful of places but overall, it was a nice walk and it was nice to be under the shade of the trees.
The last little climb before the descent to Temple 82, Negoroji, was a bit strenuous, especially in the heat (sweat was pouring from my face), but when I got to the top, I was grateful to be going down.
I reached a road and a little park where families were having hanami picnics. It was about 11:30 by this point, so I stopped at a rest hut there to eat the onigiri I had bought earlier in the morning. A little girl was walking around a little dog with what looked like her grandmother and she wished me well. Cute!
After lunch, I continued on and reached Negoroji. Of course it would feature…yup, more stairs. I made my way down a set of stairs then up two flights of stairs (seriously, who designed that?!) to the main hall and the Daishi hall. Again, I made my usual rounds and got my book stamped.
As I was leaving, an older female henro greeted me, so I politely greeted her back. As usual, upon hearing my accented Japanese, she asked where I was from. She (like everyone) was surprised I was from Canada and I got a whole slew of other questions (Was I alone? Wasn't I lonely?), plus a request to take my picture. She then handed me a whole ¥1000 as osettai. I felt bad taking money, especially that much, but she insisted I take it. I slipped it in my purse and vowed to perhaps donate it, either spending it for another henro or donating it to a temple or something.
I learned her name was Masako. She told me that she was 82 and she and her daughter, Kyoko, were doing the pilgrimage by car for her grandson, who was starting university (all of this is assuming I understood her correctly, though).
After I used the nearby restroom, the elderly woman caught up to me and asked where I was going next. I told her I would be heading to Temple 83. She said that they were also going there and offered to give me a ride. It was already about 1pm and Ichinomiyaji, Temple 83, was some 13km away with the first few kilometers spent getting off the plateau. And it was still blazing hot.
So I accepted the offer and enjoyed a wonderful air conditioned car ride to the next temple. They were both really sweet and the elderly grandma was really talkative (and did her best to speak slowly and clearly for me, as she only spoke Japanese) and asked me many questions.
When we got there, we went our separate ways. They went through the full prayer process at each hall, whereas I did not, so I naturally finished much more quickly. We took some pictures, I gave them an osamefuda (and they also gave me theirs), and they apologized for not being able to take me further, as they were driving back home after this temple. I told them not to worry and tried to convey my gratitude as best I could with my limited Japanese. They got me to the next temple in about half an hour for a distance that would have taken me three or four hours if I had walked.
My original plan had been to take the train into Takamatsu after visiting Ichinomiyaji, but as I had saved a significant amount of time from hitching a ride, I decided to walk back.
I ended up catching up with another walking henro I had seen a few other times in the past. He had a slow walking pace but always managed to get ahead of me because of my rest days. He figured he would be done the pilgrimage in two days, which sounded right. I told him I would take three, with one day budgeted as a rest/sightseeing day in Takamatsu.
I ended up outpacing him again and made my way to my guesthouse in Takamatsu. Along the way, an older man stopped me and ran into his house to grab me a tiny little green drink. He said that he drank it every day and felt great because of it. I wasn’t sure how great it was but enjoyed the cold drink.
When I found Guesthouse Wakabaya, I checked in and immediately laid down in my bed, feeling completely exhausted from the sun and mountains.
I did force myself up a bit later to organize my things, shower, and walk two minutes to a nearby ramen stand. I ordered udon with beef in it and ate the whole thing. Then I went to the nearby 7-11 for some dessert and breakfast for tomorrow. For dessert, I bought a little mousse cake shaped like a rabbit (because it was Easter!). It was cute but not the greatest cake, though I guess that’s what I get for buying a cake from a convenience store.
Still, I think it was the first time I could not truly celebrate Easter. It’s just not a thing here in Japan since it’s not a Christian country. In fact, I had nearly forgotten about it.
I ate my dessert in the Guesthouse common area and ended up chatting with a couple from Canada. They were originally from Quebec but now live in southern Ontario. I had fun chatting with them about their experiences in Japan and Canada.
Meanwhile, another foreign henro had checked in. I had actually seen him briefly at Temple 82 but we hadn’t stopped to talk. He was from Germany and recognized me, too. However, as I was leaving to get ready for bed, he was just returning to the common area to eat. I bid everyone goodnight.
Before I went to sleep, I got a message from Alana, the Canadian henro. She said she had made it to Temple 88 but it was a difficult climb. I dreaded it but knew I would have to face it one way or another.
With that in mind, I turned in to sleep.
Post-Pilgrimage Thoughts: The Goshikidai Plateau was more difficult than I expected. The ascent from temple 80 to 81 is labeled as a "henro korogashi" but nothing else is. However, the heat probably made all the ups and downs of the plateau that much worse. I honestly don't know how anyone does the pilgrimage in the summer! Then again, I'm not really made for the heat; I prefer the cold. Looking back, I should have done the pilgrimage during the colder months. The temperatures in March were much more preferable! Anyway, I was incredibly grateful for the ride I got from Masako and Kyoko, and the two of them were so sweet and seemed genuinely concerned for my well-being. The host at Guesthouse Wakabaya was also really nice and friendly. I met so many great people on this day, so despite all the sweat I worked up, it was all worth it in the end.
As for the 1000 yen that I received as osettai from Masako, I ended up giving it to the Henro Koryo Salon near Okuboji, Temple 88. What better way to pass on the sentiment than to a place that is about and for henro? (See the corresponding blog entry for more on that)
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.