I slept really well and was awake at 03:30 updating my notes. I felt very grateful for having found such a great place to spend the night. The old lady in particular was a real delight and she seemed to enjoy having a non-Japanese staying who she could communicate with. I had just finished updating my notes and was starting to pack up when around 7 o'clock she turned up with some breakfast for me. It was more than I had expected because she'd prepared onigiri, miso soup, some pickles and a cup of coffee. She could have prepared anything or nothing and I would have been just as grateful for having stayed there. This place and places like it were free or cost very little to stay but what was often priceless was the feeling you were left with. It was a feeling of real gratitude towards people who did something for you for seemingly no real reason at all.
I had finished my breakfast and done all my packing when she returned again. She checked that I had left a message, had added my osamefuda and most importantly not forgotten anything in the washing machine or left something hanging up. I always checked very carefully that I didn't leave things behind so I reassured her and told her not to worry. She then took the photographs of the flowers I had given her and taped them to the wall where she had her newspaper clippings. Before leaving she asked her husband to photograph the two of us together in front of the zenkonyado. I also snapped them both together before saying goodbye and heading on. A little further on she turned up on her bicycle to make sure I took correct turn for the small tunnel under the main road. That was the last I saw of her as I headed into the tunnel. I was happy I had met her and that my stay in her zenkonyado could now also be a part of my ohenro story.
It was a cloudy start to the day and the forecast was for rain later in the day. My plan today was to visit Yashimaji (#84) and Yakuriji (#85) but before that I hoped to meet the parents of one of my former students. Yuka was the name of my former student I had met her as a 16 year old 24 years earlier when I first came to teach in Kagawa. I had met her parents during the time I worked in Kagawa and then a couple more times after that. The last time was during my first pilgrimage when Yuka herself was back at the family home near Yashimaji (#84) having just given birth to her second child a few days earlier. I had been fortunate enough to meet them all on that occasion. This time, if I did manage to meet them, it was most likely going to be only Yuka's mother. I stopped at a convenience store for my usual morning treat and while I was there I called Yuka's parents but got through to a voice message only. I decided to try again later.
The distance I planned to cover today was not particularly great but my progress was being severely hampered because of the condition of my left leg. My left leg had been feeling a bit strange for almost two weeks and the numbness, which I thought was due to an insect bite, had gradually got worse and worse. What was happening with my left leg today was cause for concern on a wholly different level because I realized for the first time that something was not quite right. The numb feeling I had was one thing but my leg also felt very weak and this I found a little disconcerting. Even as far back as Sankakuji (#65) I had deliberately taken extra care going up the steep flight of steps to the main gate but it was yesterday on the way up some steps at Shiromineji (#81) that I had almost taken a tumble.
I stopped at a couple of convenience stores on the way to Yashimaji (#84) and when I got closer the very steep 21% gradient on the final stretch of road before joining the twisting approach towards the main gate felt much harder than I remembered from my first pilgrimage. My main worry was slipping and falling so I took short steps and just kept going. It had started raining before I got to the top and when I finally got to the steps leading to the main gate the rain was falling steadily. I made my usual preparations and after completing my prayers rituals at each of the prayer halls I went into the stamp office and got my book stamped. I asked the man to choose a photograph and in return he gave me 3 very nice sweet snacks. The rain made it a little too difficult to take photographs so after managing a few I decided to head back down.
There were two routes back down, one was the same route I had taken up and the other was a steep mountain trail which you could access if you left the temple through a second gate on the opposite side. I exited the temple through this second gate and headed towards the car park to check out the hut and look at what I had heard was a very nice sea view. The rain however was just a little too heavy so I abandoned any idea of finding the hut and heavy cloud completed obstructed what probably was a very nice view. I headed for the descending trail and after stepping gingerly down some steep steps on a very muddy trail I came to a message in Japanese which basically seemed to be saying please be very careful because the descent is very steep. Even without a warning message the guide rope was a sure sign that it was not going to be so straight forward. After the troubles I had had yesterday on the way down from Negoroji (#82) I decided it would be better to return back down the route I had come up. I retraced my steps to the gate at the back of the temple and made my way through the temple grounds to the main gate. As I went down the short flight of steps immediately after exiting the gate I nearly took, what would have been a very nasty tumble. So, it was with a real sense of relief when I made it all the way back down without any further incident. I then just continued on towards Yakuriji (#85) which also had a very steep approach which I knew got steeper and steeper.
I was making slow ponderous progress and as I passed the cable car station which took visitors up to Yakuriji (#85) a woman called out and asked me to stop for some osettai. She sat me down outside her home and brought out what I think was a small plum jelly and some hot green tea. I had not really eaten anything for lunch so I finished it very quickly. She then gave me a small amount of rice with a bit of grated ginger on top and that tasted amazingly good. She told me she had been providing osettai like this for about 8 years and did so every day from 10 to 4 except Thursdays. I asked her to choose some photographs and after she had selected two she liked she took them and placed them just inside the entrance way of her home. As I left I bowed and when I looked back to wave good bye she was still bowing deeply in my direction. It almost felt like a scene from a ohenro movie I had seen. If I had needed an injection of ohenro spirit then it couldn't have come at a better time and it couldn't have come from a nicer person. Her name was Kayoko Sakakibara and the name of the place was Jin An.
I continued all the way to the top and unlike the first time when I had been treated to a great view of Takamatsu and Yashima Plateau, the view today was completely obstructed by cloud. That said, the statue of a seated Kukai looked really great against the pure white background which gave the impression that it was suspended in the air. I headed on into the temple grounds and set my pack down. Yakuriji (#85) was another one of those temples that I quite liked and what I liked about it apart from it's location high up was the style of the buildings. The grounds at Yakuriji (#85) seemed to be shared between the temple itself and a shrine. What was interesting was that the architectural style of the shrine buildings seemed to have been incorporated into the style of the main hall, or possibly vice versa. Apart from this, there were also pairs of guardian lions in front of both the main hall and what looked like the main shrine building. Plus, stones lanterns on the approaches to each of these buildings. The mix of styles really seemed to add to the character of the place. With my prayers done I got my book stamped and asked the man to who had done it and his colleague to select a photograph each. As I packed up and got ready to head down they gave me a bag of crisps and with bag of crisps in hand I headed back out of the rear entrance of the temple and started making my way down.
The next temple Shidoji (#86) was only about 7km away but there seemed to be no reason to rush to because most of the places I could stay at were all very close to the temple. Tomorrow would probably see me make it to Ōkuboji (#88) so I definitely didn't need to rush or want to rush. I had been told that Ryokan Taiyu offered walking ohenro-san a room without meals for just ¥3000 so that seemed like a good option. However, despite calling numerous times all I got was an answer machine or some strange sounds. I wasn't too worried because Taiyu was on the ohenro trail so I decided I would just make inquiries when I arrived outside. When I got to Taiyu it looked more like a big house with just a simple sign outside. I pressed the buzzer and heard a man's voice greet me. I told him I was a walking pilgrim, that the place had been introduced to me and did he have any rooms available. He said he didn't have any rooms for ¥3000 but he did for ¥4000. The cynic in me told me that I should just thank him and look for another place, so I thanked him and continued on. I had only gone about 10 yards when I spotted a sign for Ryokan Fujiya. I called and asked if they had any rooms available and they did and the cost was ¥4000 without meals. I could see Fujiya not far away so I told them I would be there very soon.
About 5 minutes later I was inside and in a simple Japanese style room that was perfectly fine for what I needed. The lady owner very kindly sent up two onigiri as osettai. I mostly wanted to shower so she told me where I could do that and it seemed to be a single shared changing room and a small shower room. I showered and put my clothes into the washing machine and returned to my room and decided to call Yuka's parents again. It was coming up to 6 o'clock so I wasn't sure if they would have time to meet but I thought I should at least call and say hello. Yuka's mother answered the phone and I got the feeling they wanted to meet and I definitely wanted to meet them but the only practical arrangement was to meet this evening so from having had no plans to meet at all, we quickly agreed to meet at 7 o'clock at the nearby railway station.
I got myself ready and headed out to the railway station. I had been waiting nearly 20 minutes when I spotted Yuka's father call out from across the road. They had been waiting for me at Shido JR Station while I had been waiting at Shido Kotoden Station. Just a small misunderstanding but the start of a fun evening at a local izakya. Yuka's mother was waiting in the car nearby and before long we were parked up and deciding what to eat and drink. Before they could toast another meeting I issued a brief ultimatum, I would only eat and drink if they agreed that the dinner was osettai from me. A bit of a stand off ensued from which I emerged the victor. They had treated me kindly on all the other occasions when I had met them so this time it was my turn because, as I told them, it was my osettai pilgrimage and I was on home territory. They didn't seem too convinced but we got on with enjoying the food.
Yuka's dad was enjoying his beers and sake and the whole atmosphere was really fun and relaxed. It was great to eat an assortment of simple tasty foods and with two people I had really wanted to meet. I explained my reasons for doing ohenro again and some of the great experiences I had had along the way. Although I had met them a few times before the difference this time was how relaxed it was to sit and just chat with them and everything was in English. It was also great to be able to share a lot of my photographs and Yuka's mum especially liked them a lot. The couple of hours we spent in the restaurant passed by very quickly and then the bill suddenly turned up. I had obviously not been paying attention to the time so it had probably been requested while I was busy enjoying myself. Thankfully, I was fast enough to get a hold of it first and get it all sorted out before a tug-o-war started.
It was Yuka's mum's turn to drive and they kindly drove me back to Fujiya and before driving away the pair of them got out of the car to say goodbye. I sensed some secret discussion taking place between them and all became clear when I spotted Yuka's mum retrieve a small bag from the back seat and slip some money inside. I told her I had seen what she had done but she told me it was just some fruit for the morning. I knew differently but I took the bag and waited for them to drive away. Back in my room when I looked in the bag I found ¥10,000. That was was way too much so I thought about what I was going to do and I hatched a plan to deal with it when I got back home. Yuka's parents were planning on visiting Yuka so I was sure their two young granddaughters would be needing some presents. We had been talking about osettai most of the evening and for me it was more than enough that they had come out to meet me even though I had given them no prior notice. More importantly Yuka and her parents were an important part of my link to Kagawa.
My day had started very well. It had then turned into a bit of a struggle at times because of the condition of my left leg. The osettai I had received from Kayoko Sakakibara at Jin An had come unexpectedly and at just the right time when my mood seemed to be rock bottom. Her actions had really lifted my spirits again and maybe it if it hadn't been for that I may well have decided on a quiet evening instead of calling Yuka's parents. As it was, meeting Yuka's parent's had ensured that the day ended on another real positive note. Another day was over and if all went well, tomorrow I would probably reach Ōkuboji (#88).
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