Sudachi-kan turned out to be really great place to stay. I had fallen asleep very quickly but was awake again at 3 o'clock feeling excited about the day ahead. It was still a little too early to be making any sort of a start because breakfast was not scheduled until 6 o'clock and I wanted some breakfast before setting of again. I switched on the electric bar heater which created a lovely warm glow in the room and then settled back to continue work on my notes. The journey ahead today would see me visit several more temples and take me back towards Tokushima City again.
By 6 o'clock both Das and I were ready to head back to the main building for a little breakfast. It was beautifully cold crisp morning and in the light of day I could see exactly where we had been staying. Just beyond the house where Das and I had been last night was a drop down to a small river, an open field next to us and wooded hillsides all around. The sky was nice and clear and the sun had yet to make it over the ridge line. All four of us arrived on time and enjoyed a very nice breakfast. Uesugi-san had prepared rice balls and a bottle of tea for each of us to take with us. It didn't take too long for to finish breakfast and the elderly pilgrim was the first to leave. Nobuhisa who was still nursing his feet and wanted to set out a little later so, well fuelled for the day ahead, Das and I thanked Uesugi-san and set out just after 7 o'clock.
Das had worked as a travel writer, done a lot of travelling and seemed to have definitely found her rhythm far faster than I had when I did my first pilgrimage. I was being my usual self, sharing whatever information I had and giving helpful advice but I got the feeling she was quite happy to go at her own pace and in her own way. I was sure however that we would bump into each other again as I would some of the other ohenro-san I had already met. Today I decided to go ahead at my own pace and if we met again that would be good and if we didn't meet again that would be fine too. The plan was to try and make it as far as Sakae Taxis, a popular zenkonyado for walking pilgrims.
I had forgotten what the trail was like after passing Sudachi-kan last time. From my vague recollection I remembered it mostly being asphalt. However, after leaving Sudachi-kan we followed the trail markers onto a mountain path. The initial part of the climb up the mountain was pretty severe but to counter that it felt good to be surrounded by tall trees again. As I continued further up the mountain trail I came upon our elderly pilgrim from Sudachi-kan. He was maybe also finding the going tough and had stopped to take a cigarette break. I stopped very briefly to chat to him before heading on and I kept going until I joined the asphalt road that I did remember. My pack today also seemed to feel much better secured and I continued on at a very nice comfortable pace. I knew I was going to come up to a nice little hut and that was where I was planning to take my first break.
As I neared the hut a little old lady was approaching from the other side of the hut and she stopped and went inside and sat down. I followed her inside and greeted her. She spoke to me in a very strong local dialect and although I couldn't understand everything she was saying her manner was incredibly friendly. She pulled out her purse and from it a 100 yen coin. She passed it to me and told me it was osettai. I already knew what she was going to do as soon as she had started rummaging around in her handbag so I was ready to let her choose a photograph. She liked one of cherry blossoms and after making sure it was OK to take it she put it away in her bag.
After answering a few more of her questions and finding out she was 91 years old, I asked her if it was OK to take a photograph of her. She didn't mind but I waited till she was giving me a smiley face rather than the serious face most older Japanese seem to adopt when having their photograph taken. The photograph I took came out looking really nice and after showing it to her she said she wanted it. I told her she would have to give me her address so I could send it to her after I completed the pilgrimage. I handed her my notebook and pen and watched as she carefully wrote out her name and address. She tried to give me more money for postage but I told her it was not necessary. Before she could press the point further, I was strapped up, bowing and thanking her for the osettai and on my way out of the hut.
It had been nice meeting the sweet little old lady. The location too where I met her was set high overlooking a valley below and as I continued on down I kept a steady tempo with only brief stops to photograph the early blossoms or anything else that caught my eye. I continued like this for the next few hours without taking any further breaks. I passed through the small village where, like last time I found life sized mannequins that resembled mostly elderly people engaged in ordinary every day activities such as waiting for a bus, working in the fields, chatting to each other and so on. The journey was relatively easy and apart from briefly overshooting a turning all I had to do was follow along the Akaigawa River.
Once I turned away from the river I started seeing signs for Tokushima City and I began to recall some of the sights. I knew there was a very nice rest hut just before Dainichiji (#13) and I planned to take a quick break there before heading on to the temple. I had been going for almost 5 hours by the time I arrived at the hut. The hut is named Oyasuminashi-tei and is situated on the right side of the road as you head for Dainichiji (#13). It is easily one of the nicest huts on the whole trail but it's only for resting. This time like last time, it had a hot water, coffee, tea, oranges and chilled water in the fridge. I made some hot coffee, had a small oranges and a few sweets. Unsurprisingly after the big breakfast at Sudachi-kan I had not felt hungry at all. The last time I had come this way, Takuya and myself had not eaten much at all and I recalled stopping as soon as we got into the village with the mannequins and getting some snacks from a local shop. Having rested long enough I wrote a thank you message in the guest book and included a photograph and my osamefuda. I then continued on my way to Dainichiji (#13).
Just within touching distance of the temple a man on the other side of the road called out to me. I crossed over and he offered me a choice of canned drinks, an orange and a bag of sweets. I accepted a canned coffee, the orange and just a few of the sweets rather than the whole bag. As way of thanking him, I asked him to choose a photograph and the one he picked was of the last blood moon. I thanked him again and then continued the very short distance to Dainichiji (#13). I remembered Dainichiji (#13) for a couple of reasons, one was that it was right next to the road and the other was that directly opposite was a very nice looking shrine.
I headed inside and found a quiet spot to set my pack down and then went through the usual prayer ritual at each hall. Prayers done I headed to the stamp office and after getting my book stamped handed the lady the photographs I had and asked her to choose one she liked. She started looking through them carefully so I told her I would go out and take a some photographs and return in a while. I was taking photographs at every single temple but rather than photographing the usual things like the main gate, the prayer halls, I tended to focus on something unique that might help me remember the temple. At Dainichiji (#13) for example, there is a large statue in the middle in the shape of two hands coming together as if to pray and within the hands is a another statue.
I noticed a pilgrim sitting alone and over heard him telling a small group of men who had just entered the temple that he was sleeping out along the trail. I thought about giving him the canned coffee and orange I had received a little earlier but I thought it might be better when he was alone again. I went back into the stamp office and the lady was mulling over which of 2 photographs to choose. The easiest thing to do was to let her keep both of them so I told her to keep both of them, collected the rest and headed back to my pack outside. I packed up and got ready to leave. The small group had gone and the pilgrim I was planning to give the canned coffee and orange too was now at the statue of hands in prayers. Not wanting to disturb him I thought I would just leave the canned coffee and orange next to his belongings which he had left on one of the benches. As I walked past him, I noticed that he had actually fished out a 10 yen coin from the offering box using a small telescopic stick used for picking up small metallic objects. Rather than thinking he was doing something wrong it seemed to confirm in my mind that giving him the coffee and orange was the right thing to do. His back was turned to me as I neared the main gate so I just left the items next to where he had left his things. They would have been impossible to miss. I turned, bowed and followed the markers heading for the next temple.
The trail to the next temple was very nice but it wasn't very long before I arrived at Jorakuji (#14). I easily recognised Jorakuji (#14) as the one with the exposed rock surface near the prayers halls. I went through my prayers rituals at each hall and before heading to the stamp office I looked around for things to photograph and was surprised by find two cats sunning themselves on one of the statues. I photographed the cats and a few other things and then went to get my book stamped. Again I offered my photographs and after some indecision the woman decided on something she liked. In return she handed me a small envelope like the ones you receive the small temple slips in, I took it and thanked her. I didn't look at what it was until a little later but it turned out to be a beautifully coloured version of the simple black and white temple slips given out at each temple.
After leaving Jorakuji (#14) it was another relatively short trip to Kokubunji (#15). Kokubunji (#15) was a temple I could easily recall because of it's really eye catching and beautifully shaped main prayer hall. Unlike the smaller or wider squat looking prayer halls found at most temples, this particular one has 2 tiers, is extremely tall and looks majestic. It was definitely one of my favourites and I remembered Takuya and myself rushing to get to it just before the stamp office closed for the day. Today I had no such worries and more than that I seemed to have the whole place to myself. The most noticeable change was a brand new daishi hall which stood out just because it was so new. After finishing my prayers and taking a few photographs I headed to the stamp office.
As I was about to hand over my book to the woman in the stamp office, a monk came over and started asking questions and telling me about an American woman who he said was probably now at Onzanji (#18). I knew it couldn't be Das since she was still somewhere behind me but I knew someone called Laura from the US had who had left Ryozenji (#1) a day or so ahead of me. I asked if it was someone called Laura but he didn't seem to know. Since I already had my photographs out I handed them to him and told him to choose one and while he chose I gave my stamp book to the lady in the stamp office. He found one he liked and I then gave the other photographs to the woman after she had finished with my stamp book. She also eventually ended up choosing one and after a short discussion between them in which the only word I caught was osettai, the man disappeared and soon returned with an envelope. I could see that it contained a 1000 yen note. It was way too much for just a simple photograph so I told him to choose another. With that done I thanked them for the gift and headed back towards the main gate.
Next was Kanonji (#16) and as much as I tried, I seemed to have absolutely no recollection at all because all I could remember was going from Kokubunji (#15) directly to Sakae Taxis the last time I had done ohenro. However, when I got there I recognised it immediately as the cute little temple Takuya and I had visited the morning after we had stayed at Sakae Taxis. During the first pilgrimage Takuya and I had been too late to get the stamps so we had skipped the temple, gone for some udon and then gone straight to the zenkonyado.
Kanonji (#16) had to be one of the smallest and least conspicuous of all the temples. I went directly to the stamp office which was a small space with a couple of benches and a counter where you presented your stamp book. I just wanted to leave my pack there while I went and prayed at the two halls first. As I set my pack down the window above the counter slid open so I greeted the woman and told her I was going to pray first. Until now I had been waiting to get my stamp done first before offering my photographs. On this occasion, my offer to her to choose one of my photographs seemed to be completely lost in translation because it seemed to completely throw her. So much so, that she refused to take even a look at them. Maybe I had come across as a suspicious salesman hawking cheap prints but whatever it was I wasn't going to insist. With prayers done I headed back to the stamp office and got my book stamped. I decided not to ask her again about choosing a photograph but instead asked if Sakae Taxis was to the left or the right of the temple. She replied Idoji (#17), which was the correct answer to a different question. I think she was still a bit flummoxed by my initial actions so I just thanked her and continued out the main gate and then in the general direction of Sakae Taxis that I remembered.
I double checked with a local car repair shop who told me Sakae Taxis was just a little way up the road. It was coming up to 4 o'clock and I was thinking of alternatives of what I would do if there was no space for me and one involved going to Idoji (#17) and then heading into the centre of Tokushima City, enjoying a late soak at an onsen which provided it services free of charge to pilgrims and camping out by the river. All that mental contingency planning seemed totally unnecessary because when I arrived at Sakae Taxis I found the owner and he immediately showed me upstairs and told me no one else was staying. I wasn't sure what Das was planning to do but I did remember her telling me that the owner of the place she had stayed at on the first night had told her that Sakae Taxis was no longer accepting women pilgrims. I told the owner that another female pilgrim was possibly on her way here and whether it was OK for her to stay. He replied that there would be no problem at all which I figured was good news for Das if she did end up turning up.
It was just after 4 o'clock and with Idoji (#17) just 2km away I decided to go and pray there and if necessary push on tomorrow and get through Onzaji (#18) and Tatsueji (#19). I had made much more progress than I had imagined and I knew if I got past Tatsueji (#19) that there were options for places to stay in either zenkonyado or huts. The sign for Idoji (#17) was just up the road from Sakae Taxis and remembering the general direction from last time I just followed the direction of the sign and soon picked up the welcome little red trail markers. It felt really great walking without a heavy pack strapped to my back. As I continued on my way I noticed 3 young elementary school girls on the other side of the road trying to keep pace with me and telling each other to say something in English. I just turned and waved to them every now and then which seemed to give them the giggles. They soon turned off and after a final wave, continued all the way to Idoji (#17).
I couldn't remember what Idoji (#17) looked like but it one of those temples that looks very impressive as soon you look through the main gate. It was coming up to 4:40 so after washing my hands and mouth I headed first to the stamp office so that I didn't have to rush my prayer rituals. As I went in I noticed the same young Japanese cycling pilgrim who I had seen arrive at Kanonji (#16) a little earlier. I didn't actually know what he was doing but he seemed to be looking through his guidebook. I got my book stamped, waited for the woman to choose a photograph and then headed back outside. The young cyclist was still outside looking at his guide book so I asked him where he was going to stay. He said he didn't know, so I told him I was staying at Sakae Taxis and that it was free. I pointed out the location in my guide book and told him it was near a Family Mart. I waved him goodbye and wondered whether he would actually go to Sakae Taxis or not.
After finishing my prayer rituals and taking a few photographs I headed back towards the main gate and back to Sakae Taxis. When I arrived I saw the young cyclist's bicycle downstairs and Das's boots at the foot of the stairs so I knew they were both there. It was good to see them both because it meant I had company for the evening. The young cyclist was called Kenta and he had no idea about these free places to stay. He told us he had stayed in a minshuku close to Jizoji (#5) on his first day. If he had cycled a little further he could have stayed in the main gate at Anrakuji (#6) for free. Anyway we were all happy to be staying in a free place tonight.
I had not eaten since breakfast so I suggested we all go out to eat and we ended up going to an okonomiyaki restaurant not too far away. For the duration of the pilgrimage my plan was not to drink so I ordered oolong tea and Kenta and Das went with beer. The restaurant was small friendly little place and it was good to finally sit down after a long day of walking. Kenta we discovered was a 21 year old university student on spring break. He probably didn't imagine he would be dining out with 2 foreign pilgrims and staying with them in a free place. Das and I decided we would treat him to dinner, osettai for a fellow pilgrim. While we waited for our okonomiyaki I asked Kenta to choose a photograph he liked. Interestingly he chose the very same one Das had chosen and more interestingly it was the very same photo I had as the background image on my smartphone. It also happened to be my favourite photo of my first pilgrimage. When the okonomiyaki arrived it tasted really good and it didn't take us very long to finish everything. We hadn't ordered anything else but we ended receiving tofu and miso soup too which also disappeared with relative ease.
When we were done eating Das and I paid but before leaving I asked Kenta to ask the 2 women behind the counter to choose a photograph. Kenta explained why I was sharing photographs with everyone and they both looked through them and found ones they liked. I then passed the remaining photographs to another customer who had been watching with curiosity what had been going on. He starting putting the ones he really like to one side and from amongst 5 or 6 he'd set aside he really liked 2 so I let him keep both.
After we returned to Sakae Taxis we were joined by the owner. The owner Inoue-san, was 70 years old and he said he spent most of his time in the taxi office downstairs. The place where pilgrims stayed comprised of two rooms and there was plenty of space and bedding for about 6 people. The wall of one of the rooms was covered with osamafuda and messages from pilgrims who had stayed over the years. He told us he had been even interviewed by a Dutch TV program about the pilgrimage. As he was telling us al this I thought again that it was people like him who really contributed towards making ohenro a great experience for walking pilgrims.
I had not had a chance to ask him to choose a photograph so I asked him to select any photographs he liked and he ended up choosing 2 he liked. One of them happened to be a photograph of me again which meant in one day 2 people had selected the photo I had least expected to be selected. Inoue-san then decided to demonstrate ki energy and he demonstrated on Das first. He asked her to put out a hand and then with his own hands above and below he seemed to be able to generate some kind of sensation which Das said she could definitely feel. He did this to both her hands. Intrigued I also wanted to know what the sensation was. I put out my right hand and his hands were several inches above and below mine I distinctly felt a static kind of shock pass through the middle of my hand. I switched to my left hand and the sensation was different and stronger. He could also feel that the sensation was stronger in my left hand.
Before he left we asked him if he knew what the weather forecast was for tomorrow. After checking on his phone he told us it was for heavy rain and strong winds, the worst of both worlds for walking pilgrims and cycling pilgrims. Thankfully he told us we could stay another night unless another 6 pilgrims turned up. I had not seen many walking pilgrims so far and if some did turn up they were unlikely to number six. It was an interesting end to an otherwise already very interesting day and completely in keeping with what ohenro had been like the first time. The main difference being that it felt even better.
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