I woke up at 3:30 having slept really well and started updating my notes again. The plan today was to return the key to the shukubo at 7 o'clock, look around the temple grounds and then slowly make my way towards Marugame the place where I spent 2 years of my life. I planned to finish at Gōshōji (#78) and stay at a great zenkonyado called Utanguru.
Getting myself ready took a little bit longer than I had anticipated and one reason was that I had forgotten to charge my camera battery. So, while I waited for my battery to charge I decided to tidy the place up a little too. I re-folded all the blankets and bedding and gave the room I had been sleeping in a quick going over with the vacuum cleaner. The house was an old style Japanese house, there were still family portraits on the walls of the living room and also a small family altar. The house had just not been lived in very much but I could imagine it quickly returning to a very nice place to live. I had already given Takemoto-san some photographs but a bit of a tidy up was just another way of saying thank you. Having finally got enough charge on my battery I made a final check and got myself ready to head out. On the way out I left another photograph in the hall way along with a thank you note. The house had been a good place to stay and it had been great meeting the owner too.
It was a bright crisp morning as I stepped outside and headed the short distance back to the shukubo again. After returning the key I walked over to the daishi hall and thought about going down into the dark tunnel that ran underneath. The tunnel ran for about 90m under the daishi hall and during the first pilgrimage Sanae and I had both gone in and emerged out the other end unsure of what we had really experienced. I had experienced it for a second time the following day after the morning prayer service so there was nothing new to experience but I thought it might be a good place to pray. Those plans however changed after a large group gathered near the daishi hall so instead of the tunnel, I made my way over to the other side of the temple complex near the main hall to take a look at the hundreds of rakan statues. In another corner of the temple grounds back near the daishi hall I found more statues that looked like older rakan statues that had simply been retired. I found one I was particularly drawn to because the expression it had seemed to fit how I had sometimes felt at times during this pilgrimage. The rakan statue resembled a slightly sad melancholic looking figure lost in thought. After taking a few photographs of it I exited the temple via the main car park and headed in the general direction of Zentsuji Station.
A convenience store in the mornings almost always meant a coffee and dorayaki but I had a slightly more pressing need for a convenience store today and that was to replenish my stock of photographs. I had been giving them away at such a rate that the most popular ones were almost all gone. The first Family Mart I got to had a very old style photocopier which didn't print photographs so I just got myself a dorayaki and a hot coffee. The woman at the checkout had been busy doing something and seemed quite startled to see a foreigner standing in front of her. Speaking first in fast Japanese she then switched to English. I paid and then asked her to select a photograph she liked. She reacted with delight and then in a quiet voice, almost as if she was speaking of some unmentionable disease, she told me she was actually a Jehovah's Witness. She could have had the plague for all I cared because it was a very nice first encounter to start my day. I headed back outside and sat down to enjoy my morning fix.
As I looked up at the sky I could see rain clouds gathering ominously overhead. The wind had also picked up and it had started to feel a little chilly which meant rains was definitely on the way. My hope was that it would hold of until after I had finished at Gōshōji (#78) and was safely at Utangura. That said, the weather today didn't really matter so much because on the way to Utangura I would be passing through Marugame and whatever happened I wanted to keep my spirits up. I finished my coffee and headed on to the next Family Mart which was just 500m up the road and this one had the newer type photocopier so I got it set up to print out another 40 or so photographs. I also ordered myself another coffee and dorayaki. When everything was done, I gave a photograph each to the two staff, another to a delivery courier and was then on my way again.
As I continued up the road a car slowed down with it's indicator blinking that it wanted to turn across my path to enter a car park. I stopped and nodded to the woman driver to pull in and when she had driven past into the car park I continued walking. I hadn't gone very far when I heard what sounded like someone shouting out to someone. The noise of the traffic had drowned out who or what was being shouted but a little further on, with a lull in the traffic I clearly heard someone shouting out and suddenly realised it was someone shouting to attract my attention. When I looked back, it turned out to be the woman driver from the car I had allowed to pull in and she looked like she had run a marathon to catch up with me. In her outstretched hand she had a bottle of tea and even before she got to me I had a photograph of some beautiful cherry blossoms to hand to her. I thanked her for the tea and continued on the short distance to Konzōji (#76).
I remembered the large enclosed rest area at Konzōji (#76) and once inside the temple grounds I made a beeline for it and sat myself down outside. As I sat there enjoying the temple surroundings a man came towards me, entered the rest area to wash his hands. When he re-emerged, he momentarily stopped and spoke in a nice friendly manner and said something I didn't quite understand. I responded to his greeting but I failed to do what I had been doing almost on auto-pilot and that was to give him a photograph. He had the look of a homeless person and maybe that fact had somehow caused me not to respond like I always did. I was quite sure he was homeless and as soon as he turned his back and walked away I regretted that I had not given him the bottle of osettai tea which was sitting right next to me on the bench. In fact, I still had the sports drink which I had received as osettai yesterday which I had not touched and another bottle of water which I had still not finished. It was too late to think about it now but I hoped very much that I would bump into him again on my way out of the temple. I got myself ready to go through the prayer rituals and with the temple nice and quiet it was good to reflect on some of the things that I had experienced over the past few days. At the stamp office the man doing my stamp asked me where I was from and after telling him I was from England I told him I was now living in Japan and had I taught in Kagawa 24 years ago. Before leaving I asked him to choose a photograph and then asked the other man to choose one too. Both ended up selecting copies of exactly same one.
Back outside I spotted a family at the main hall and watched as the father and then the young son pull on a thick cord which was hanging down from the eaves of the main hall. I had not really paid any attention to it when I prayed there a short while earlier but the thick cord had giant beads threaded on it and was looped over a wheel just under the eaves. As I watched the father and then the son pull on the cord, giant beads got pulled up and around the wheel at the top and then dropped down the cord. From what I could figure out it was like a giant version of the prayer beads and maybe pulling on the cord and letting the beads drop down was the same as counting the beads when you prayed. Anyway I wasn't quite sure what it was but it definitely looked interesting. After I had finished taking photographs I headed back out from the far side of the temple and picked up the trail markers heading for the next temple Dōryūji (#77).
The sky had clouded over and the first spots of rain were starting to fall so I picked up the pace and hoped I could get to Dōryūji (#77) before it really started to come down. During my first pilgrimage, just before I got to Dōryūji (#77) I remembered receiving a small ceramic jizo from a local man and I had been wondering whether I would see him again. When I turned into the street where I'd met him, a middle aged man started calling out to his father who was a little further up the road. The father was the man who had given me the jizo last time and he quickly returned and tried to tell me in English that he wanted to give me a jizo as a gift. I already knew that and I told him he had given me one almost 4 years earlier. I told him I had something to give to him this time and got out my photographs and told him to choose one. After he had thanked me and I had again thanked him, I continued on and the next turn took me to the main gate Dōryūji (#77) .
There was a very large group praying at the temple so I sat down to prepare my osamefuda, candles and incense. I ended up waiting quite some time for the larger group to finish. While I was sitting there I spotted two young foreign visitors and thinking they might be local Assistant English Teachers on the JET Program I asked and they in fact turned out to be JET Program teachers from Kyushu. They looked about the same age as I would have been when I first arrived in Kagawa as an AET 24 years earlier and they displayed the same youthful curiosity that I had when I first arrived. I offered the osettai tea I had received earlier to them and asked them to choose a photograph each. They said they didn't plan on spending too much time in Kagawa so I suggested they should visit Zentsuji (#75) and experience the underground tunnel. By the time they left the rain had really started coming down. I went through my prayer routines and then headed over to the stamp office to get my book stamped. The lady in the stamp office was about to be deluged with the arrival of another large bus group so after she finished my stamp I just gave her a photograph and headed back outside. Before leaving Dōryūji (#77) I got dressed in my rain gear and made sure my pack and everything important was well protected.
I exited the temple and headed into the ohenro shop just outside the temple gate. I had stopped there last time and on that occasion I had bought a child sized ohenro jacket as a gift for someone I met a few days later. The shop sold a lot of interesting ohenro related items and my attention was drawn to the large scrolls that I had seen people getting stamped in the stamp offices. In the shop they had similar fully stamped scrolls that had been placed inside large glass fronted frames and what surprised me most was the price. There were some that cost ¥310,000 with cheaper ones around ¥200,000. There were also framed displays of the red and white temple slips and they were priced at ¥60-70,000. Those with money to burn and no time could just come here and get their stamped scroll and place it on their walls at home. Near the entrance of the shop I saw an assortment of different hats that pilgrims wore. There were two bowl shaped ones and one was priced at around ¥3,000 and the other which looked identical except for being black in colour was priced at ¥30,000. I asked one of the shop staff nearby why the difference in price and although I didn't fully understand, it seemed to because it was made from different materials.
My question about the hat led to a conversation about where I was from and the other usual questions. I told them it was my second pilgrimage and asked the lady to choose a photograph. She picked one she liked and then another member of staff chose one she liked. They offered me some tea which they were offering to everyone who entered the shop and before I left they gave me a nice tenugui as osettai. I thanked them and headed back out into the rain. The rain had started to come down quite hard and it was still about 7km to Gōshōji (#78). I planned to add an extra 2km to that with a short diversion via the school where I used to work at. My progress however was interrupted by the welcome sight of a 7 Eleven so I decided to take a break and get some lunch. I got myself some pot noodle and sat and ate it in the shop. While I was there I spotted another one of the clever photocopiers and decided to see what kind of prints it would produce. I had been using mainly Lawson, Family Mart and Circle K stores for printing photographs and the quality definitely varied. The first 10 I printed in the 7 Eleven came out looking really good and I noticed they were were on Fuji film paper which probably explained why the quality was possibly better. I printed another 10 and before leaving the shop I gave 2 to the staff and then headed back out into the pouring rain.
Close to Marugame I was waiting to cross the road when I was approached by two women who introduced themselves as Haruko and Satako. The usual opening question was almost always related to where I was from and then the other usual questions about ohenro. Now that I was in my former home prefecture I could tell people about the schools I had taught at and that was something that always produced a surprised reaction. One of the women turned out to be a graduate of Marugame High School but she had graduated 50 years ago which made them both close to 70 years old. They had graduated even before I had even come to teach in the prefecture. I let them choose a photograph each and then continued on towards Marugame High School.
In 2009 I had returned to visit Marugame for the first time in 16 years. It was still two years before I would do my first pilgrimage but the spot I was now standing, was the spot where I had had my first ever encounter with an ohenro-san. That very first encounter had been with a Dutch woman who was doing ohenro alone. I would write about this encounter later after finishing my first pilgrimage because meeting her had probably been the final push I had needed to embark on that first ohenro journey. What I had remembered most about her that day was how happy she looked and how carefree she appeared. I had not exchanged details with her but I did call out to her to ask if I could photograph as she was walking away. At the start of 2015 a few weeks before I set out for my second pilgrimage I reconnected with her through another Dutch ohenro-san I had met through my first website and met later in person after her own first pilgrimage. The interesting fact that I learned was that the Dutch woman who I met in 2009 had written a book and in that book she had recalled that encounter with me. Her name I now knew to be Marleen van Poucke and more interestingly, we had both separately written about that very same encounter we had shared. Today there was no obvious Marleen van Poucke character but maybe there had been lots of such encounters already. Some of these encounters I was documenting but others I was storing away somewhere in the recesses of my memory.
During my first pilgrimage I had ended up visiting the school I used to teach at but today I had no such plan. Today the plan was just to walk around the school and pass by my old apartment building which was at the very back of the school. When I got to the apartment building, the only thing that had changed was that it looked even older. Looking at the old mailboxes I noticed that most of the names had been removed. Looking at the fronts of the ground floor apartments I noticed that they had been emptied out and I got the distinct feeling that the building would probably not to be there if I ever returned to Shikoku again. Standing there this time, there was none of the emotional reaction I had felt the last time I had found myself standing in front of the building. The building and the life I had here once was now a part of my past, a distant past.
As I made my way around the outside of the school the grounds were completely empty but I could hear shouts coming from the sports hall. Through the open doors at the back I could see the girls volleyball team training and a few boys playing basketball on the other side of the hall. I continued to the front of the school which looked like it had been nicely refurbished. Again there was no real emotional response to seeing it again because now it really did feel that it was a part of my life from a long time ago. That said, I could still picture myself as a 23 year old and clearly felt those memories as I stood there. I continued on beside the moat around Marugame Castle towards the long covered shopping mall that I always used to walk through to get to the station. The shopping mall looked like nothing I remembered because it had been torn down and it now resembled just another narrow street leading off from the main road. The other mall was still intact but like last time most of the shops seemed to be closed. I continued on and about an hour later I arrived at Gōshōji (#78) just as the rains came to a stop.
There was a different large group chanting the heart sutra outside the main hall so I decided to get my book stamped first. There were three staff in the stamp office and I remembered that the staff I had met last time had been incredibly kind to me. I particularly recalled a woman who had helped me with information about Utangura. When I asked the woman if she was working in the stamp office about 4 years ago, she said she was so I held out my stamp book and told her I had met her during my first pilgrimage. In every way possible, she did the stamp beautifully. From the respectful manner in which she handled the stamp book, to the way she put the stamps in, did the calligraphy and the way she returned it to my hands, all I could do was watch and smile. When she had finished, I gave her all my photographs and asked her to choose one she liked. She couldn't choose one so I said she could choose two. I then asked her to pass the photographs to her two colleagues who selected one each. I then went through my prayer rituals and as I prayed at the daishi hall the heavens opened up again. Beside the daishi hall were steps leading down somewhere and when I went down to have a look, I found a large room lined with row upon row of small jizo statues. After finishing in this subterranean chamber I headed back to the main gate and up the road to Utangura.
The door to Utangura was open so I rang the bell and waited. I recognised Irie-san immediately when he came out to greet me. I was dripping wet so I suggested that I should remove my wet waterproofs and boots first. He picked up an umbrella and told me to follow him around to the back of Utangura. Once in the back garden I removed my boots and asked for some newspaper which I wanted to stuff inside and after getting me some newspaper he decided he was going to do it himself. He refused to let me do the job myself and as much as I tried to stop him the best I could do was share the task with him. Irie-san was his usual stubbornly kind self. I got out of all my wet clothes and put everything into the washing machine, then showered and changed into some fresh clean clothes. While I was in the shower another pilgrim, Matthew had arrived. Matthew was also from England but based in Hong Kong and had picked up from Hotsumisakiji (#24) where he had finished during his first stint doing ohenro. This time he said he was covering up to 45km a day and despite starting only two and a half weeks ago he had easily caught up with me. He was wet and needing to shower and launder his clothes too so I let him get on with that while I sorted out my own things and then headed back inside to talk to Irie-san.
Irie-san noticed before I did that the washing machine outside had stopped and that my clothes were done. There was no dyer which was not a problem because nearby there was coin laundry and I was quite happy to go there and get everything dried. Irie-san however insisted that he would drive me to there and despite my protestations he drove me the short distance. Then as much as I encouraged him to return home, he insisted on taking me to the nearby supermarket so I could get myself something to eat. His stubborn insistence won again and he drove me the short distance to the supermarket. I asked if he still enjoyed his beer and he said he did so I picked up two big cans of Premium Malts. It was a beer I also really liked but I didn't tell him that I was not drinking during the pilgrimage because the cans were actually for him. I lined up at the checkout and waited while Irie-san waited on the other side.
As I waited, I noticed a little girl with her mother and younger brother at a different checkout. The little girl kept telling her mother that they needed to move to my checkout even though the one they were at was shorter. Her mother finally relented and they joined the queue behind the person who was behind me. It seemed the little girl was just interested and curious about me because every time I looked back, the little girl smiled. When I had paid for my things Irie-san helped me put them all into the shopping bags but before leaving I retrieved the two dorayaki I had bought and went back to the checkout and gave them to the little girl and told her mother it was osettai. I waved goodbye to the little girl who waved back and with that Irie-san drove me back to the coin laundry.
I told Irie-san that he should go back home because I could return on my own. He said he had to go and get Matthew too so I told him to go home and return with Matthew when his clothes were ready to be dried. My clothes were soon dry and a little later he returned with Matthew. Then as much as Matthew and I tried to force him to go home he simply refused. I even tried playfully pushing him out of the coin laundry but no, he was not going anywhere. The best he did was drive away to fill up his car with petrol and thankfully by the time he returned everything was dry and he was able to drive us both back to Utanguru. I gave the beer to Irie-san and told him they were for him. I had also bought some nice cookies for Noriko-san his wife. I told Irei-san I was not drinking so he got one of the cans of beer and I helped by opening and pouring him the first glass. Irie-san definitely liked his beer and he had soon finished the first can and was onto the second. After his beers he seemed to loosen up, relax and ended up talking non-stop. He had mentioned that he needed to go and collect another ohenro-san from Sakaide but given that he had been drinking, that job now fell to his wife Noriko-san. While she was out Matthew and I were instructed to finish of a whole plate of dumplings and as with everything else, protesting was futile. We had no choice but to eat.
Noriko-san returned a little while later with someone who turned out to be someone I had met in the early part of my pilgrimage. It was the the woman sendatsu (guide) who had given me her hexagonal shaped trail marker. The last time I had seen her was at Byōdōji (#22) and it was nice to see her again. After the arrival of our fellow ohenro-san, Irie-san fed us cake and hot tea. It wasn't necessary to go to so much trouble but to avoid being force fed to death I decided to excuse myself and headed to the sleeping quarters which were back out in the garden. Matthew decided to make a move too and when Noriko-san asked what time we would like our breakfast, Matthew wanting to make an early start said 05:30 for him and not being in any particular hurry myself I said 7 o'clock. With that I thanked Irie-san and Noriko-san for their kindness and was gone.
It had been a short walking day but it had been full of lots of memorable little encounters. The one regret I had was the encounter with the homeless man. After he left, I hoped very much that I would bump into him again but sadly I didn't. Why I hadn't given him a photograph or something else was a question that played on my mind a few times over the course of the day. The only answer I could think of was that I still had a lot to learn about the osettai spirit and maybe much more besides. On the positive side, it was great to be back in Marugame even if that strong sense of attachment I felt during my first pilgrimage was no longer there. I'd given photographs and passed on osettai to many people along the way. The little girl in the supermarket had been the star of the day and it was when things like that happened that I appreciated that for all the things I may still be doing wrong, ohenro was definitely working it's magic. To top it all, it was great to be staying at Utangura again because it was when you met stubbornly good kind people like Irie-san and Noriko-san that you understood what a positive affect osettai had on people.
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