One of the reasons why I chose to stay in Kyoto again after the pilgrimage was because I realized that I would be able to visit the Toji flea market that occurs every 21st of the month. I love the flea markets of Kyoto. They’re so lively…and a perfect place to cheaply feed my kimono collecting obsession.
As well, Toji is one of the three important sites related to Kobo Daishi (and the flea market there is known as "Kobo-san"). The other two are Mt. Koya (where I had Temple lodgings reserved for my final night in Japan) and Zentsuji, Temple 75 on the pilgrimage circuit, which I had visited already. Since I was going to Toji anyway, I figured I might as well get a stamp from there. The pilgrimage stamp books contain three extra pages for any other temples one might visit, and I got the idea from another henro’s blog to use one of those pages for Toji.
So after a restful sleep, I forced myself out of bed around 6:45am, which felt late for me, got ready, and headed out. I caught the subway to Kyoto Station, then walked the ~15 minutes to Toji.
Toji’s grounds were already full of people and busy vendors. There was a variety of goods to be found, but as usual, I soon found myself spending my money on kimono-related items and food. I also picked up a few souvenirs for people back home.
As I passed by the different halls, I offered candles and incense (I had lots to spare, so why not?) and got my book stamped. The man who wrote mine out took such great care and probably took the longest to write from all the 90 stamps I had collected so far. Not that I was complaining. I remember one stamp I received was done in such a rush because the poor woman at the counter was inundated with books and scrolls from a large tour bus group. This was a nice change.
After seeing all the vendors to my satisfaction, I left the temple and bowed on my way out. I’m pretty sure a few people stared as I did so, but it now feels so strange not bowing before entering and exiting a temple.
My next stop was the nearby Aeon mall. I was tired of switching between my only two outfits that now hung loosely on my thinner body. Being active/travel wear, they were also not very fashionable. And while my shoes were fine for walking, they were dirty and the Goretex meant they simply did not breathe. I was also frankly tired of doing laundry every 3 days.
So I shopped! I mostly stuck to big chain stores, like The Gap and Uniqlo, because they offer a wide range of sizes. Despite losing weight, I was still bigger than the average Japanese woman.
I ended up buying three bottoms and two new tops, plus a pair of flats and a light cardigan. I wanted a new purse, too, as my small messenger bag was getting worn out and frayed, but the ones I saw were far out of my price range and my bags of purchases were already quite heavy. I would have to shop elsewhere.
I stopped at an okonomiyaki restaurant at Kyoto Station for a late lunch, then headed back to the hostel. I tossed all my dirty clothes plus my new ones in the laundry and relaxed as I waited for it to finish.
By the time my laundry was done, I was restless again. My knees were still giving me issues, but I felt like I hadn’t walked enough yet. I was so accustomed to being on the move all the time that it felt unnatural to be relaxing in one place for a long time.
I dumped my freshly laundered clothes on my bed, pulled on my sweater, and went out. I decided to walk to Pontocho, at atmospheric alley full of restaurants and bars and also one of the five geisha districts of Kyoto. I had actually never been there at night, so I wanted to see what it was like. Plus, it was about 2km one-way, a perfect distance for a stroll there and back.
I set a brisk pace, enjoying being on the move again. It was dark at this point but the streets were still full of lights and people. It was such a difference from the quieter towns of Shikoku. Heck, it was nice (though a bit strange) to walk on actual sidewalks!
I found Pontocho and slowly strolled through it, browsing the different menus on display and enjoying the red lanterns with plovers on them, Pontocho’s symbol. There were still lots of people around, though, so it probably was not as atmospheric as I would have liked. Still, I just wanted to walk, so I couldn’t complain.
I exited Pontocho from its north end and then stopped for a quick light dinner at a little restaurant, choosing udon with a small side of karaage (fried chicken). I then returned to the hostel, though perhaps a little slower this time. My knees were a bit painful and my stomach was quite full.
As I relaxed in the common area, I ended up chatting with a woman from Australia and a man from the UK. Both were playing their trips to Japan by ear, but were struggling on finding accommodation during Japan’s infamous Golden Week, a week where many Japanese people get time off work and go travel or visit family. As a result, trains and hotels fill up fast during this time. I would be leaving a few days before Golden Week, so I was, well, golden (har har har).
I helped Colleen (the Australian woman) figure out the train system around Japan and gave Lawrence (the British guy) some of the anti-inflammatory patches for his ankle that he twisted a while back but hadn’t given proper time to heal (I could sympathize).
We chatted about a variety of things until it was about 11pm and I excused myself to go to bed. 11pm still felt very, very late to me, even though I could sleep in tomorrow as I had nothing planned (and really should have been resting the knees and feet). It really is difficult to break habits.
Post-Pilgrimage Thoughts: I didn't mention it in my original blog post, but Toji Temple had a little display dedicated to the pilgrimage in its main prayer hall and across from the stamp desk. I walked past it and looked at the photos and got emotional all over again. "Shikoku-byou" is the term used to describe the feeling of being pulled back to Shikoku, and I can very much relate to that. Until I went to Mt. Koya, Toji Temple was one of my last moments of being a henro, even though I brought none of my henro gear. Upon praying again at the temple, getting my stamp, and seeing photos of the pilgrimage, I wanted nothing but to return to Shikoku. I also saw another henro go by (wearing the distinctive white vest) but I didn't get the chance to talk to him.
Besides that, though, the rest of the day was pretty fun. Buying new clothes might sound frivolous, but one of my pants was already frayed at its hems before the pilgrimage, but by the time I got to Kyoto, the hems were ripped up pretty badly. My other pair of pants didn't have an adjustable waist, so it was really loose since I had lost weight. Both my tops were quite loose, too. And like I said, it's time-consuming and expensive doing laundry every ~3 days!
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.