Day 13: Redemption

I woke up at 7:30 a.m., refreshed and to find out there was no rain. I gathered up my things and spoke to the front desk about the breakfast I had paid for when I booked my room. It appears the front desk had forgotten about me since I was a hermit in my room all afternoon and evening the night before. About a half an hour later the restaurant called and said my breakfast was ready. I’ll never get used to these big Japanese breakfasts. Everything was delicious. The bottle of milk was produced locally, and it was fully leaded and unpasteurized. It’s like having a Budweiser after you have been drinking Bud Light your whole life. It took some getting used to, for sure. 

As I was checking out of my room, the gentleman at the front desk presented me a bottle of water as osettai and an apology for the later start on my day due to the mishap with breakfast. I told him not to worry and gave him a photo and osamefuda. 

Across the street from the hotel is a massive statue of a young Kukai, as well as a sleeping Buddha statue. The Buddha statue was particularly striking in gold where all the plants are a wonderful green and the sky and ocean are blue. I hope my photos show just how towering this Kukai statue is. Down from the statue is a small prayer room filled with beautiful lamps. I’m not entirely sure I was supposed to be in here, but it was the only way I could find out from the staircases I took. 

About a kilometer down the road is one of the most important sites to all of the Shikoku pilgrimage. There sits Mikurodo Cave, where Kobo Daishi reportedly lived for three years while doing ascetic training. Eventually through this training, this is the location he became enlightened, and the morning star entered his mouth. As hot as it is here on this island I wish he would have swallowed all the other stars too. Following enlightenment, he looked out from the cave and all he could see is the sky (“ku” in Japanese) and the sea (“kai” in Japanese) and changed his name to Kukai. Due to rockslides this time of year, I had to wear a sweet hard hat in order to visit the cave. My head is much bigger than that of most Japanese, it turns out. The cave is 40 or 50 meters deep, but almost as soon as I entered, I was getting rained on from the moisture and high humidity of the cave, paired with the lower temperatures of the cave. It was an incredible experience, and much cooler than being out next to the ocean. Along the floor were dozens of small crabs, which seemed to enjoy the cooler temperatures as well. I’m not Buddhist, but walking around the cave had the atmosphere of being in a very sacred site, similar I imagine to visiting the Vatican City or Jerusalem. I could have spent the day inside, just getting lost in thought, but I had temples to visit.

A short walk later I reached the henro walking trail to Temple 24. It was a steep hike up hundreds of stairs, often comprised of loose, jagged rocks. Needing to stop several times along the way meant I’d be swarmed by mosquitoes. Apparently those other asshole mosquitoes didn’t drain me of all my blood a few nights ago because these mosquitoes made big bloody splats when I would slap them on my legs or arms. A few days ago, MiKi, the helpful gentleman at the train station, told me it took him about 20 minutes to hike up to Temple 24. I now know MiKi is full of shit. Once I finally reached the top, I tossed off my massive pack onto a bench and collapsed onto an adjacent bench while dozens of bus henro stared at me in bewilderment. I stripped off my shoes and socks to let my feet dry out and called my mom and a few friends to tell them how much I hate rain, mosquitoes, and blisters. I spent about an hour hanging out and watching the bus henro go through the temple rituals, and at this temple, banging small rocks on a much larger rock, which has mystical properties that causes it to change musical tones depending on the size of rock and location of the strike. I was entertained. A few bus henro came to chat with me to find out where this gaijin was from. Many wanted my photo, so I made a few pose with me at times. Temple 24: Hotsumisakiji was founded in 807 by Kukai after returning from China. After going through the rinse hands, drink, bang bell, and heart sutra, another walking henro approached me to say hello. His name is Kazuhiro, and I learned he was born in Kochi prefecture (where I currently am) but lives in Tokyo with his family. We said goodbye and I proceeded to walk a couple kilometers down the mountain on a series of switchbacks of roadway. I wasn’t going back down to face those mosquitoes.

After walking along the ocean for a few more miles, I found a wonderful spot to rest for a while and stripped off my shoes and socks again and sprawled down on a sidewalk adjacent to the ocean and called Emilee to tell her that so far today hasn’t been as awful as yesterday. She seemed relieved. After about 45 minutes, I saw Kazuhiro coming toward me. He was walking pretty slow, so I invited him to sit with me for a bit to rest. His wife is an English teacher, so we were able to converse pretty well. Kazuhiro started walking yesterday and walked 40 km through the rain, pretty much the same distance I desperately  road on a bus. He was pretty tired from it. We both decided we’d try to get to Temple 26 that evening to try to stay at the temple lodging and would walk together to do it. A few miles later, Kazuhiro wanted to find lunch, and located a small restaurant located adjacent to a fish market right along the ocean. At the market, I was followed around by several small children who were excited to learn that I was from America and spoke English. They followed me around saying what I understand to be the only words they knew, “Hello, how are you?” They were sweet kids, and eventually stopped at an oscillating fan to cool off. I know kids, it sucks outside right now. 

Kazuhiro and I proceeded into the restaurant and I ordered a tempura udon meal. It came with udon noodles (think super thick noodles, about like 4 or 5 strands of spaghetti together) with battered and fried vegetables and shrimp. Kazuhiro ordered a bonito bowl, which was a bowl of rice topped with freshly cut raw strips of bonito, a type of fish. Kazuhiro shared a slice with me, and it was a very mild flavored fish. 

Back on the road, we followed a hot winding road alongside several marinas and through small towns filled with small shops. These towns seem to be much less affected by the decline in population, but that’s likely due to the fishing industry guaranteeing a lot of jobs. 

About 6 kilometers later we finally reached Temple 25. Just outside the entrance, Kazuhiro entered a fruit market and bought me an orange that was grown locally. What a guy! He wanted me to taste the local produce. I’m no citrus fruit aficionado, but I can confirm it did very much taste like an orange. It was a bit less tart and more sweet than the typical varieties found in America. We proceeded to Temple 25: Shinshoji, which much to my expectation required climbing a million steep steps to reach the main temple. Shinshoji also founded this temple in 807 and carved a statue that local fishermen pray to it for protection at sea. Year 807 was a busy year for Kukai. Kazuhiro and I climbed the steps and performed the temple rituals. It was nice to watch him go through the proper practices, as I really have no idea what I’m doing. He’s very particular in the ritual, including lighting candles and burning incense at each of the two temple halls at each temple. That’s just more stuff for me to carry, so I skip that part and only stumble through the heart sutra at one of the halls, rather than both. 

I waited at the temple office for Kazuhiro, and we discussed making reservations for the evening nearby as the temples would only be open for another hour. Temple 26 was still an hour away. Kazuhiro called Temple 26 and was able to get us each a room there, for about 6500 yen, including supper and breakfast. He also okayed it with the temple to allow us to get there after the temple closed, so we weren’t in a major rush for the remaining 5 km, including climbing another freaking mountain. Kazuhiro insisted we stop at several shops along the way, the first one being a gift shop. I waited outside, growing annoyed with how long it was taking us to get somewhere I could have a hot bath and do laundry. When Kazuhiro came out, he handed me a coin purse for me as osettai and to welcome me to his home prefecture. He also got a gift for Emilee, which I won’t spoil here. I’m working on my patience this trip, I swear, and I realize I need to release that negative energy and attitude when times are at their toughest. About a half mile later we stopped at small fish market, where Kazuhiro purchased some sort of fermented fish as a snack, and insisted we sit outside to eat and rest. I didn’t object this time. The owners of the fish market brought us a small dish of beautiful sashimi (raw fish) as osettai, and explained we would need the extra energy to climb the mountain to Temple 26. Great. The gift was very welcomed. I love the people here. 

I believe I ate whale at one point today, as that’s a very prominent food in this area. After watching Whale Wars several years ago, and seeing the brutality of the whaling industry, that was hard to swallow. But it tasted good and has been a very important part of Japanese culture for hundreds of years. So I get it. I’ll try to avoid eating any more of it.

A few kilometers later, we found a small henro rest area, complete with an ice maker, restroom (no bidet), and shower. It looked suitable enough to pitch a tent inside of. I’m thankful I didn’t have to resort to that. Especially because the shower was out of service at the time. Kazuhiro and I took some bags of ice for the road and each left a thank-you message on the white board to the local community that provides the rest hut.

While we rested, Kazuhiro and I checked the map for the proper route, finding that there was actually two ways to get to Temple 26. The first, was 1 km long, a walking henro path straight up the mountain. The other was 2 km long and followin the winding roadway taken by vehicles. Both of us having hiked up Temple 24 and been eaten alive by mosquitoes, made the decision to take the longer route, which still included a very steep incline. After stopping several times to take photos (read: rest), we finally reached Temple 26, We found we still had to climb another million steep stairs, only to find it closed and deserted except for a gentleman repairing something in the temple office. 

We wandered around a bit and finally found the lodging place. We were told we had to eat first, although both of us just wanted a bath and to sleep. The temple lodging was located in a building filled with incredible wood sculptures and beautiful art. 

Kazuhiro and I begrudgingly dropped our packs off at our rooms and found the dining hall. As soon as I walked in I saw my friends Filiz and Udensiro (again, likely butchered), as well as 5 other Japanese car henro from near Fukushima. Filiz and Udensiro were so surprised and excited to see me and even though we only chatted the day before for a few minutes, we were connected through this journey and it was like a reunion between old friends. We stuffed ourselves on so much food and the room was filled with laughter and stories, Kazuhiro translating the older car henros stories for us to English. Dinner was followed by a hot bath in the onsen, a well deserved soak in the hot tub. Kazuhiro climbed two mountains and walked more than 26,000 steps that day. After the bummer of a day yesterday, this was a great rebound. I went to bed early, since we have a prayer service at 6:00 am with the head monk. 

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