Day 17: Kindness Lightens the Load

I awoke at around 6 a.m. to do some work and to get around for the day. The very kind lady that dropped me off said she would pick me up at 8:30 a.m. The owner of the place I stayed at arrived around 7:30 a.m. and made me some matcha tea and we had a nice chat. Her children work for an organization that promotes living in Kochi prefecture, to try to draw people away from moving to Tokyo and Osaka. So far, Kochi prefecture is my favorite I have visited, and understand why everyone I have met so far are so happy to live here. We had a difficult time conversing back and forth, and she had to leave after a short while, but I wish I had gotten to chat with her more. My ride was on time and I was surprised to find that she packed me a small breakfast and also a bento box for lunch. I didn’t stay with this woman, but she dropped everything last night to give me a ride to someone else’s house that she made arrangements with for me to stay at, picked me up in the morning, and then also packed me two meals. The people here are so unbelievable! All she would accept for payment of her generosity was my osamefuda and a photo. Breakfast was two huge slices of watermelon and a few onigiri (rice balls). She encouraged me to eat them on the way. She also insisted she take me to find Feliz so the two of us could walk together. We drove around for 45 minutes looking for Feliz but were unable to locate her. Eventually, the kind woman said she would just drive me to Temple 29, since Feliz might be there by now. I got out of the car to grab my pack and the lady said she understood I would be staying at a guest house in downtown Kochi City, and that she would just take my pack there for me so I didn’t have to lug it around all day. Having learned that it is very impolite to refuse Japanese kindness, especially that from women, I told her I would appreciate her taking my pack. Besides, no pack made it a lot easier on my shin splints. 

Temple 29 at 9:30 a.m. was beautiful. Bordered by tall bamboo trees, the temple had a lot more remote feeling to it, since it is located a 15 minute drive from the largest city in Kochi prefecture. Having been spared a few hour walk to the temple, especially from where I was dropped off last night, I took my time around the temple, observing the workers spray the trees (I assume for insects) and a couple older ladies rake the dirt garden. I was hoping that Feliz would walk in to the temple while I was there so I’d have some English speaking company for the rest of the day, but she did not. Temple 29: Kokubunji was founded as the national temple of Kochi prefecture. Kukai later came and performed a service called hoshiku, where he prayed to the same number of stars as his age, which will ward off misfortune and bring good fortune into your life. I found this temple to be so peaceful and relaxing, a great way to start the day.

Leaving the temple, and without the burden of my massive pack, I purchased a few waters at a nearby vending machine and placed it in my makeshift bindle – a grocery sack tied around my trekking pole and walking stick, and flung it over my shoulder. I haven’t shaved in three weeks, so I look the part of a hobo already.

The walk to Temple 30 was 6.9 km away, largely through rice paddies and alongside a river. For most of the walk, the sun stayed behind the clouds, making it a very comfortable  and manageable walk. 

In no real hurry, and for once having my place to stay arranged in advance, I took my time on the walk, even stopping at a small cafe for a cup of coffee. The owner brought me a slice of watermelon (my third before 10 a.m.) and a milk tea as osettai. I arrived at Temple 30 a little after noon. Shortly behind me was another walking henro, with whom we continued to pass each other, each of us taking breaks at different locations. I greeted him and we sat on a bench together. His pack seemed much more manageable, but he looked well weathered like he had done this journey before. He ate lunch on the bench while I went through the temple process. Temple 30: Zenrakuji fell into misuse after the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism. In 1929, it was rebuilt, but the old temple remained, so there was actually two temple 30s. Thankfully, I didn’t have to visit both of them since after some discussion they elected to cheat and simply call one of them the “inner sanctuary” to the other. Fine by me because the inner sanctuary looked like a climb up a mountain. There was a small shrine with a statue here where people over the years had left offerings in the form of snacks in case the statue gets the munchies. There is an abundance of cannabis sativa trees growing everywhere. 

I had my bento box lunch on the bench and observed several Japanese people go through the temple rituals, all to the wonderful sounds of birdsong. The bento box had a couple rice balls wrapped in seaweed, one of them with flakes of salmon mixed in. This might have been my most relaxing active day yet. 

I had a few miles to walk to the train station which would take me to downtown Kochi city, where I’d find my place to stay. The trains were packed with businessmen and school children, making their commute home from work and school. I was met with quite a few stares from the children. In front of Kochi Station were three massive statues of samurai. This was fun to see, as samurai have been largely missing from this adventure. I walked to my lodging and discovered it was an old capsule hotel, with two rows of four wooden boxes all side by side. My box, or coffin rather, was about 7 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet tall. At the end was a small privacy curtain. I was greeted by the sound of Feliz talking to the manager when I entered, and she was happy to see me. We situated our things and met a Japanese couple that was also staying at the capsule hotel. I needed a shower but they wanted to have dinner with us, so the four of us found a nearby restaurant in a huge Japanese arcade (think shopping mall, but with only a cover over the street). We found a restaurant that had been open for 150 years and had the most incredible mackerel sushi as a starter. The rice was flavored with yuzu juice, citrus fruit for which Kochi is famous for, and the whole thing was served hot. This was my first experience with warm sushi. The mackerel melted in my mouth. I also had a fried chicken set meal, which included wonderfully fried breaded legs and thighs, miso soup, rice, and several small side dishes. All of it was incredible. 

Following dinner, I still needed a shower, but was talked into going to a sake bar to sample different sakes. It was a really hard sell for them to talk me into it. Massa, the Japanese gentleman, lives and works in Tokyo, but his friend, Erie (not sure on the spelling), works at Matsuyama Castle in the city of Matsuyama. They are lovely people and both spoke very good English. We shared a lot of laughs that evening. We all walked back to the capsule hotel together and I finally got a shower. I then stayed up most of the night watching the Robert Mueller testimony, knowing I’d have an easy day making Japanese rice paper and getting to see more of Kochi City. Emilee arrives tomorrow night and will be taking a train to Kochi Station, so I’ll finally get a day to really rest my shin splints.

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