It was an early morning for everyone at the temple for the morning ceremony at 6am sharp. Guests are invited to attend, although I don’t think it’s mandatory. Still, it was something I did not want to miss, so I got up at 5:30am after a very restful sleep.
The ceremony consisted of the monks chanting their prayers. Of course, I understood none of it, although at one point, I thought I heard the Heart Sutra or some variant of it, maybe, having heard the Heart Sutra numerous times during the pilgrimage. Then, each guest had the opportunity to offer incense in front of the altar while the monks continues to chant. I felt stiff and awkward while doing it, but think I managed without making any Buddhist deities angry.
After, the head monk gave a short sermon, first in Japanese and then in English for us foreign guests. Then it was breakfast time. We were ushered to the dining room and were served another delicious vegetarian meal.
At 7:30am, I had finished my meal and excused myself, saying my goodbyes to some of the other guests I had chatted with last night and this morning. I had to visit the Okunoin and then return to Osaka to pick up my extra bag, then head to the airport to catch my evening flight back home. I was exhausted just thinking of it all.
I returned to my room to pull on my white henro vest for the final time, then went and checked out and left my backpack in the luggage storage room.
As I walked through town, it was amazing how easily I slipped back into the henro mentality after my week off. I know simply dressing the part wasn’t enough to make you a henro, but somehow, putting on that white vest and carrying my staff was enough to make me feel like I was strolling through Shikoku all over again.
I made my way through town and found the famous cemetery. I bowed at the first bridge, the traditional entrypoint, and walked. I passed by numerous gravemarkers and memorials. Most looked (and likely were) quite old. Some had information boards next to them, indicating which feudal lord’s grave it was.
I walked slowly, taking it all in. It was peaceful and quiet. It was still early, so I supposed most people hadn’t started touring around yet, and I only came across the occasional person or small groups of people. I passed by many henro, who were leaving after laying their respects at the Okunoin. Again, all the henro were cheery and greeted me with big smiles. I felt like I was back on Shikoku.
At last, I found the Okunoin, the final resting place of Kobo Daishi. According to Shingon Buddhist belief, Kobo Daishi never died but is on eternal meditation in the Okunoin on Mt. Koya. Consequently, it is the most sacred spot for the sect.
I offered a candle, incense, and osamefuda at the main hall and offered a quick prayer. Two monks were there and I felt awkward in front of them, so I didn’t linger for long except to buy two good luck charms – one to replace the one I lost weeks ago, the other for a friend.
I moved on to the back of the hall, Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. It was intensely quiet. I offered another candle and more sticks of incense and prayed. This time, I took my time, offering my silent gratitude for everything. And then I sat down on a bench and simply took it all on. A nun came buy to pray. A man was walking hurriedly back and fortn between some other point and the Okunoin, chanting as he went, probably in hopes of having his prayers granted. A couple of tourists came and went, and I wondered what they thought of it. I’m sure that if I were just a regular tourist, before the pilgrimage, I probably wouldn’t have understood what the huge deal was. As for me, it had an odd sense of finality to everything.
Still, the lack of emotion surprised me. The tears did not fall. Maybe I had already accepted the end back at Ryozenji.
Still pondering, I left and made my way back to the front of the hall to leave. I stopped to watch a procession of Buddhist monks, who settled in the hall to chant what I recognized to be the Heart Sutra.
I, along with a bunch of other tourists and a few other pilgrims, watched for a while and I enjoyed listening to the soothing chanting, knowing it would likely be the last time (at least for now) I would hear it. After maybe 5 or 10 minutes, though, the chanting showed no signs of stopping so I decided to leave.
I walked back into town and decided to stop by Kongobuji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism. It was near the center of town and I had a bit of time to spare. The monk who checked me in at Rengejoin told me that the Garan was worth seeing, but it was on the other side of town and I guessed I only had about an hour to spare. So, Kongobuji it was!
I went to the main hall and offered a candle and some incense. Then I paid the entrance fee to see the temple’s collection of painted sliding doors, then returned to the office and got my book stamped. The lady who stamped my book flipped through my book quickly and congratulated me on finishing the pilgrimage.
After, stopped by a cafe in the middle of town to pick up a snack. I ended up having a soda float, and on paying, I spotted some souvenirs for sale on a shelf, including a little henro figurine. I purchased it along with my float. As I retrieved my staff to head out, the cafe owner rushed up to me and handed me two chocolate-covered pretzel sticks as osettai. It was my first osettai since leaving Shikoku, and my last osettai of this pilgrimage; I was touched. I hurriedly wrote out an osamefuda and gave it to him.
I then returned to Rengejoin and picked up my things, then hopped on a bus to Koya Station and took the cable car and train back to Osaka.
It took me slightly longer than expected to get back to the city so I had to rush to get my extra bag from the coin locker and reorganize my things in my bags so everything fit and complied with airplane rules.
I took an express train to the airport and was able to check in quickly, thank goodness! I was also able to check in my trusty walking staff and the airline even gave me a box to put it in. I had to bring my sedge hat with me, though, and I got plenty of looks!
My last meal was a conveyor belt sushi restaurant at the airport. Sadly, the quality of the sushi was really disappointing but I ate enough to fill my stomach.
My flight left at 6:55pm, bound for Hong Kong, where I would fly to Vancouver, then fly to Toronto. I bid goodbye to Japan, wondering when I would visit next. I felt it wouldn’t be for a while. However, I was still so grateful for all the wonderful memories it had given me.
Post-Pilgrimage Thoughts: To be honest, I thought I would have been more emotional on this day, but everything in me seemed to finally be at peace with the fact that I was finished and about to return home. Mt. Koya truly seems to be a special place. I would love to return to Mt. Koya one day in order to explore it more and say hello to Kobo Daishi again.
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.