I slept extremely well and was up around 04:30 which seemed to be my normal ohenro wake up time when I did manage to get a good night's sleep. After making myself some coffee and enjoying not one but two dorayaki I returned to the comfort of my futon and continued updating my notes which I had started but not finished last night.
I had also decided that I really wanted to stay put for another day because I wanted to give my leg a rest plus the fact that it was forecast to be a wet day. In fact the next 2 days were forecast to be wet. I was going to send a message to Jun a little later in the morning to tell him that I wanted to stay but at 07:30 I received a call from him. He told me that an American ohenro-san wanted to stay at the zenkonyado and could I look after her. The reason he was telling me was because he was going to be away all day in Tokushima. I was of course happy to help and I readily agreed. He said he would call at the house later in the evening. I had a feeling the American ohenro-san was Das and a little while later I got a text message from her telling me that she had been told by Jun that I was the person to speak to about staying at Zenkonyado Aloe. Das had fallen behind after leap frogging me around Sekkeiji (#33) but she had closed up again and this afternoon she would be back sharing a great zenkonyado.
I left the zenkonyado just before 11 o'clock and found the bath house after asking at a local shop. The shop owner seemed to know that the bath house was not going to be open until a little later but didn't say so directly. When I got there I found out from a woman hanging out her washing that it wouldn't be open until 12:00 or that at least was what I thought I heard. I retraced my steps, stopped outside the shop where I had got directions to say thank you and give a photograph. He seemed both bemused and surprised about the photograph and asked if it really was for him. There really was a difference between how people in the city and people in the rural areas reacted to pilgrims and to foreigners like me who were doing the osettai thing back to front. It had started to rain so I decided to give up on using the hot bath and decided I would visit later in the day. I picked up plenty of food to last me the rest of the day but when I got back to the zenkonyado I promptly ate the whole lot.
Das turned up at 3 o'clock and I gave her a quick run down of what was what at the zenkonyado. After she got her washing going we caught up with what we had been doing for the past 2 weeks during which time we had not really seen each other very much. Das had followed a few different routes, got lost on some mountain and experienced a bit of a nightmare after Shoryuji (#36). Das and I had last bumped into each other as I headed up to Kiyotakiji (#35) and she was heading down and then on towards Shoryuji (#36). After finishing at Shoryuji (#36) she had been unable to find the zenkonyado that she had hoped to stop at. She had then continued late into the evening and literally had to beg to be allowed to stay at a minshuku which was already full. They had put her in some kind of store room which she told me was crawling with rats and that she had been unable to sleep. The following morning she had checked into a hotel just to recover from the ordeal. That turned out to be the reason I had got back ahead of her again. It had been 25 days since I first saw her looking slightly lost at Ryozenji (#1) but it was nice to see that the confidence and experience was there for her to continue the journey towards the finish.
I had still not been to the bath house so I decided to head back and we agreed to meet up a little later to grab some dinner. It was a typical sort of local bath house, a meeting place for people to catch up with each other as much as a place to get cleaned up and get a soak. When I arrived I was not dressed in any ohenro clothing and the cost of entry was only 400 yen. The man pointed to the rules for using the bath house and I remarked that I had used bath houses and hot spas many times and that I was doing ohenro. On hearing that, he said entry was osettai and handed back my money. For once I didn't have my photographs with me so I told him I would return after I had finished using the bath house in order to give him something.
The bath house was relatively small but perfectly fine for what I wanted. I got myself cleaned up and then took turns to try the different baths. One was a bubbling green concoction, a super hot bath, a jet bath and finally the cold water bath which was used mainly by the dry sauna users. After finishing with the baths I thought I'd have a go in the hot sauna too. I opened the door to sauna to find it completely full and backtracked out again. Someone immediately exited and held open the door for me, so I re-entered and sat down in the vacated space. The sauna had room for just 6 people and it was a full house. Some of the men started asking me where I was from and if I could speak Japanese and so on. I didn't mention I was doing ohenro but I told them I had lived in Kagawa 24 years ago and had been the English teacher at Marugame High School. I didn't speak for long because 5 minutes was about the extent of time I could usually survive in a hot sauna. I excused myself and after another quick wash I headed back into the changing area and started to get myself dried and changed.
As I was changing, the customers from the sauna started coming back into the changing room and soon discovered from someone else that I was in fact doing ohenro. They were all very impressed and started asking questions about where I was staying, what I ate, how much it all cost and so on. It was nice chatting to them and I really wished I had had my photographs with me so I could have given some to them. Having dressed I thanked them again and stepped back through the curtain divider into the front and told the manager I would be back soon. Just around the corner I bumped into Das who had been out searching for free wifi and chatting with friends back home. She was all done and was just killing time waiting for me. I had finished at the bath house sooner than I had expected but I wanted to get back to the zenkonyado and return with the photographs.
Das had wanted to try some typical local food and the guide book recommended hyugameshi. Since I was planning on returning to the bath house with my photographs again, I figured we could ask the man there for his recommendations. Back at the bath house, I asked the man to choose a photograph he liked. He chose one and while he was doing this two new customers arrived and seemed curious to know what was going on. I handed each a photograph and the manager filled them in with the rest of the details. I asked the manager if the men who were in the in changing room earlier had left and he told me to take a look. I was fully clothed and booted so I tried to lean forward as best I could and stick my head through the curtain into the changing room. It seemed to be deserted so I figured they had either gone back into the bathing area or got dressed and left. I left an additional 4 photographs with the manager and asked him to ask the patrons who had left if they had been speaking with the foreigner and if yes, to give them one of the photographs. With photographs all done I asked him if he could suggest a place to eat. Everything looked like it had been closing up but he got a number from a local phone directory, phoned and asked if there was room for two. I heard him say that two foreigner customers would be turning up. He then came out from around his little counter, took a small map from a small bundle of maps clipped to the wall and showed me where we were and where we needed to go. It was just a short walk heading back in the direction of our zenkonyado. I thanked him and got Das to navigate us to the restaurant.
Das and I were soon outside the restaurant and once inside it was clear to that we were the two foreign customers they had been told to expect. There were customers seated around the counter but there was only one seat available and the diners already there seemed willing to bunch up to allow me and Das to sit down too. I really wanted to sit with the other customers at the counter and was hoping they could just find us another chair but instead the group of 6 customers who were together, got up and moved to the tatami area just to the side. The staff quickly rearranged 2 small tables in the tatami area into one long table and then moved all their food and drinks there. One of the customers even helped to wipe the counter down where Das and I ended up seating ourselves. I had just wanted to sit with them but they had kindly vacated the whole area for us. It helped that they were already had their fair share of drink so it was all very good-natured. I fished out my photographs and gave 6 of them to the ones who had but a moment ago been sitting at the counter but now found themselves slouched in the tatami area.
We got the menu which we couldn't understand so Das practiced her Japanese and asked the staff for their recommendation. After a few more questions we had decided on a platter of sashimi and a set meal compromising some other local foods. The food turned out to be very nice. One of the group who had vacated the counter bought us a bottle of beer which Das managed to drink along with the bottle she had ordered for herself. I liked my beer and before the pilgrimage I was drinking a beer almost every day and since the start of the year, in preparation for the pilgrimage I had given up drinking at least 6 or 7 times. However, since starting the pilgrimage I had easily avoided all alcohol without any trouble at all.
It had turned into a really fun evening, the customers and staff had all been really friendly and the food too had been very nice. It was coming up to 9 o'clock and Jun had told me he would return to say hello and meet Das too. We thanked the customers and the owners. I gave a photograph to the owners as we left and we were soon back at the zenkonyado again. Not long after Jun turned up and ended up chatting to Das and myself for the next 2 hours or so. We thanked him and he thanked me for manning the zenkonyado so that Das could also stay. After a few more rounds of "thank you"s for lots of other things we needed to be thankful for Jun left to return to his home.
For me personally, it had been great meeting Jun. I had literally had a home all to myself and given the state of my leg it had really been a Godsend to have stayed put for two days. As a thank you to Jun for staying I had bought a few items as osettai. Rather than buying something specifically for him I had ended up buying a large jar of coffee, washing powder, some chocolate snacks and 2 pots of instant noodles. Since I had made use of such items while I was staying I figured they could be put to good use in the zenkonyado by future ohenro-san who I'm quite sure will continue stop there if they are lucky enough to find details of the place on the mountain trail. It didn't really seem very much but after my discussion with him about zenkonyado, I realised more than ever that intention was the most important thing. It had been a long slow lazy but surprisingly full day and I was feeling exhausted. I tried my best to update my notes but my eyes were refusing to stay open so as I did last night, I pushed the laptop away, pressed the button on the remote control to switch off the room light and promptly fell asleep.
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