I had not slept much the night before and feeling very tired I had fallen asleep very quickly around 9 o'clock. When I woke up again and looked at the time, it was just shy of midnight and that was where my real sleep ended. It was extremely quiet where I was and the only sound I could hear was the continuous sound of the water falling over a small drop in the river about a 100 yards away. I got up to use the wash room and the sky was completely clear and full of bright stars. My sleeping bag was not really doing it's job very well but it was also not really designed for near zero or sub zero temperatures. Even with an inflated mat underneath I could feel the cold coming through. It wasn't the harshest cold I had ever experienced but it made sleep almost impossible. The only good news was that I knew I would be up and walking again in a few hours time.
I had set my alarm for 05:30 and when it sounded I didn't really feel like getting up so I lazed for another 10 minutes and then forced myself to get out of my sleeping bag and get myself ready. I was finally all done by 06:30 and ready to move. Yesterday on my way to the hut I had seen a sign about the ohenro trail further on being closed due to some kind of construction work going on. It recommended detouring via Route 56 so I backtracked a little from where the hut was and joined Route 56 right from the start. The last time I had done this route I had started at 03:30 and just kept going until day break when I arrived at Aguri Michi-no-eki. I couldn't really see what was around me and the thing I remembered most about that early morning walk was the sound of a wild animal which sent me scurrying as fast as my legs would carry me.
This morning as I set of it was a bright clear frosty cold morning and an electronic road sign showed the temperature to be a lowly 2C. It had probably been zero or sub-zero during the night which probably explained why I had struggled to sleep. First target was the top of the Nakano Pass which was 6km and I set of at a determined pace. The traffic was thankfully very light but I was feeling quite energetic despite not having had any breakfast. All the snacks I had bought the evening before I had eaten during the night and all I had was my emergency dorayaki. The emergency dorayaki was always only for a real emergency or when I was unable to resist. The emergency doarayki was also regularly replaced to ensure freshness. After just one stop to remove my extra layers I arrived at the top of the Nakano Pass and when I looked back from a small viewing area the views back down were great. I had made it up in reasonably good time and it was was still only 08:00 with another 14km or thereabouts to Iwamotji (#37). My plan was to get as far as Aguri Michi-no-eki and get something to eat but seeing a small supermarket I popped in and got myself an onigiri and an energy drink. After my early morning exertions I needed a little something to keep me going.
When I arrived at the michi-no-eki a little while later I discovered it had been completely refurbished inside and everything looked new. The restaurant too looked very different and it was still on a breakfast menu. I wanted something more substantial so I asked the waitress if there was another menu and she told me the lunch menu would be available from 11:00. I only had to wait 15 minutes so I asked if I could use the power sockets near my table to charge my camera battery and plug in my small laptop. She told me to go ahead and at 11 o'clock she returned to take my order. I ordered a set meal which comprised a bowl of rice with tempura and some miso soup. I also ordered a meat filled bun called a nikuman. I had ordered the nikuman because I had been expecting the set meal to be fairly standard but the bowl of rice turned out to be huge. That said, I managed to eat every last morsel in the hope that, excluding my coffee and dorayaki excursions, it would keep me going until sometime the following afternoon. I left the michi-no-eki and headed for Iwamotoji (#37) which was now just another 3km away.
Along the way I saw another electronic road sign indicating that the temperature was now up to 5C but what was more interesting was that I was seeing patches of ice where the sun had yet to cast it's warmth. The most interesting ice formation I saw was ice that had formed on a moss covered wall. Water gentling cascading down the wall had iced up and this had created a really interesting contrast between the vivid green moss and the patches of ice. It was only after I stopped to take a closer look that I realised that the light coloured areas around the moss were in fact patches of ice. By the time I reached the approach road to Iwamotoji (#37) the temperature according to another electronic road sign had climbed to 8C.
Iwamotoji (#37) was a very nice temple and today it looked particularly nice because the cherry trees dotted about the temple grounds were just starting to blossom. I set my pack down and got what I needed for my prayer rituals ready and then went through them without any distractions or any demands to hurry up. After finishing prayers I walked about and took quite a few photographs especially of the cherry blossoms which looked really pretty in the afternoon sunshine. The cherry blossoms also contrasted really nicely with the old weathered stone work. With photographs all done I headed to the stamp office.
The stamp office was manned by two women, one was busy doing a stamp for someone but the other one greeted me and proceeded to do mine. I watched her place the 3 stamps carefully and deliberately onto the page before finishing it all of with the brush work. As she was doing this I got a photograph ready for her. I explained a little bit about where I was from and why I was giving her a photograph and on discovering I was from England she excitedly started telling me about a relative who was married to someone from England. When the other woman had finished stamping she turned her attention to us to see what all the excitement was about so I handed her the photographs and told her to choose one she liked. After she had chosen one she surprised me by giving me not one, but two brocaded osamafuda.
The osamefuda belonged to a married couple she said and when I turned them over I could see that the pair in question were 81 and 83 years old respectively. What was most outstanding was that the circuit count was in excess of 200. All this information was clearly printed on the back of the osamefuda. The couple had probably been doing the rounds of the temples constantly and almost certainly by bus or more likely by car. I had not expected anything but it was very nice to receive a pair of quite rare osamefuda. I thanked them and as I always did, I turned at the door bowed and thanked them one more time. I got my pack ready and headed out of the temple. The next stop was going to be Kobushinosato Onsen and I hoped I would be able to secure a spot in the circular ohenro hut with the Kukai statue.
Not long after leaving Iwamotoji (#37) I came upon a Lawson so I stopped to pick up some extra supplies for later in the evening and for something the following morning until I came to the next convenience store. Maybe because of the big early lunch back at Auguri michi-no-eki I seemed to have no room for a dorayaki so I just enjoyed a coffee before heading on. I had not gone very far when a friendly couple greeted me and the woman tried what limited English she had to ask to ask me a few questions. Whenever I was spoken to in English I always replied in English so I answered in my easiest slow English and then pulled out a photograph and presented it to her. In return she gave me a small handful of candy. My unplanned break over I then continued non-stop all the way to the onsen along Route 56.
The ohenro trail detoured twice from Route 56 and because of an incident during the first pilgrimage I avoided the first. The first quick detour was through a small wooded area and it was there I had surprised a black snake and I remembered it rattling it's tail for me. The chances of meeting another snake in the same place was infinitesimally small but I decided to reduce those chances to zero by sticking to Route 56. I did however detour onto the second which took me down a steep twisting trail back onto Route 56 again. With no new wildlife surprises it was a short 3km all the way to the Kobushinosato Onsen. When I arrived, the first thing I did was check the circular ohenro hut which was right in front of the onsen. I was pleased to see that it was unoccupied and that no one had reserved a spot on either one of the two wide benches. I left my hat and stick and ground sheet on one of the benches and headed into the spa.
I paid the entrance fee, took my locker key and continued on inside and wasn't at all surprised to see Inoue-san since he and I seemed to be walking at more or less the same kind of pace and I had seen him last at Shoryuji (#36). What did surprise me was how badly he was hobbling and as he came towards me I asked him what had happened and he said he had hurt his left leg. He wasn't able to explain how it had happened but it was serious enough for him to have gone to a hospital and then taken a train to get to the Kobushinosato Onsen. Kobushinosato Onsen had a restaurant and lodging facilities so he was going to stay and see how things looked the following morning. He looked really down and said he would probably have to rent a car if he was to finish all 88 temples. I tried to encourage him and said he should stay an extra day or so and see if his leg got better. He explained however that he had a limited amount of time to finish the pilgrimage before returning to work and seemed really despondent about the idea of not being able to walk the rest of the way.
He and I had been bumping into each other constantly since I met him on the way to Onzanji (#18) and I had come to really like him because of the serious way he conducted himself and the fact that he was always very polite and friendly. He said he would probably not see me again but I encouraged him again not to give up hope. To lift his spirits a little I took out the two brocaded osamefuda I had been given at Iwamotoji (#37) and gave one of them to him. The gold and brocaded osamefuda I had heard were good luck charms and I hoped it would bring him some good luck. We had already exchanged contact details and now that I wasn't sure if I would seeing him again I shook his hand and again told him not to give up.
In the onsen changing room I recognized a young monk who I had seen at Shoryuji (#36) and again later heading towards Tosa Kure near where I had camped out came out. What was interesting about him was the fact that he was dressed in a dark coloured robe. This made some sense when I over heard him telling someone that he was trainee monk studying at Koyasan. On hearing Koyasan I pulled out a photograph I had taken at Koyasan after the first pilgrimage. The photograph was of a long procession of monks two deep walking towards Okunoin and I had captured them head on. When I presented it to the young monk he instantly recognised one of two the monks at the head of the procession as one of his friends at Koyasan. The chances of the monks at Koyasan knowing each other was probably reasonably high but in my photograph only the faces of the two monks at the head of the procession were clearly visible and on top of that, the photograph itself was nearly 4 years old. He wrote out a red coloured osamefuda and presented it to me after some kind of incantation as if to bless the osamefuda or possibly the recipient of it, namely me. The monk looked really young but a red osamefuda meant that he had completed the pilgrimage more than 10 times. I asked him where he stopped along the way he simply said he left that up to the Buddha.
I shaved and got myself cleaned up ready for a good long soak. As I sat in one of the indoor hot tubs a man started talking to me and then continued as I moved to the outdoor tub. He said he had seen me earlier from his shop as I walked along the approach road leading to Iwamotoji (#37). He had been doing the pilgrimage in stages over many years and seemed to know a lot about the places in Kochi. One of the most interesting stories he told me was related to the area I was in yesterday and it was a sumo story about a yokozuna (the highest rank) wrestler called Asashoryu.
Asashoryu was a Mongolian who made it to the very top of the sumo sport but he was forced to resign after a series of mishaps which included being videoed playing football while allegedly injured and more seriously giving his manager a black eye while out dining at a restaurant somewhere in Tokyo. The interesting part of the tale however was how he had got his sumo name which translated as 'Morning Blue Dragon'. The name I discovered was based on the name of the temple Shoyruji (#36). Not only that, while I was walking along the Yokonami Skyline route yesterday I had passed a school Meitoku Junior and Senior High School and I had thought it was an odd place to have a school because it seemed so remote. Asashoryu it turned out had attended that very school and as part of his training he used to do bunny hops up the long flight of steps at Shoryuji (#36). if you visit the temple you will understand how difficult this would have been because not only are there many many steps, each step is very high.
A less appetising story was how he had almost been attacked by a hunting dog near the start of the trail leading to the Misaka-toge Pass just a few weeks ago. From the Misaka-toge Pass you head down into Matsuyama City and I knew exactly the spot he was talking about. He said the owner who lived at that particular spot had failed to tether his dogs properly and one had escaped and come at him. Nothing had happened because the dog's owner had quickly turned up but he told me to be careful just in case. I had not seen any hunting dogs myself but I could certainly imagine them needing to be pretty aggressive and very strong to tackle wild boars. On a positive note, the fact that hunting of wild boars was going on in various places around Shikoku meant that wild boars didn't really hang about if they sensed people near. Anyway it was just a cautionary tale and given my predilection to conjure up all kinds of crazy wild boar encounters, it was not something I wanted to dwell on too much. A final interesting fact he shared with me was that the previous night had been the coldest night of the year so far and that certainly didn't require any explanation. Back in the changing room I thought the man definitely deserved a photograph for sharing those interesting stories so I let him choose a photograph he liked. He in return gave me 300 yen as osettai which was really not necessary but such was ohenro.
After the cold weather of the last 2 days it felt really good to ease away the aches with a good hot soak. Before leaving the hot spa and taking up my spot in the round hut with Kukai for protection I asked the staff if they minded if I used a bit of their electricity to use my laptop and charge my batteries. They didn't mind, so I charged up both my laptop and my camera battery. On the way out I thanked them and gave them a photograph. No one else had turned up in the hut and it looked like I would have it to myself. There was a heavy wooden table in the middle of the hut but I managed to move it to the side to make a little more room for my tent. My tent fitted very nicely next to one of the benches and wouldn't have denied access to either bench even if someone had turned up wanting to stay. It really had been bitterly cold last night and to avoid a repeat I put on a few extra layers. In fact I ended up putting on a long sleeved hiking top, a tight fitting sports t-shirt over that, a light fleece, a lightweight hooded jacket, another light fleece, a neck warmer and for good measure my rain jacket too. Feeling nice and snug, I settled down and thought about the day I had had. It had been a wonderful day in many ways because it had encompassed everything that was good about ohenro. There had been a fair share of nice encounters with people and there had been plenty of positive reflections. Just to keep everything in perspective, just before I settled down to get some sleep, it dawned on me that today was also the fourth anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Exactly four years ago I had been shaken violently from my sleep and rushed outside to safety. Many others had not been so lucky that day.
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