After a couple days of light rest for my aching body, and some fresh new kicks and toe socks, Emilee and I headed off so she could visit her first temple. With ambitious plans to get close to the Pacific ocean that night, we took a trolley a few kilometers to give us a bit of a head start. We still had about 5 km to reach temple 31 from the trolley stop. The toe socks Emilee brought for me were so comfortable, protecting each of my toes from rubbing against one another and causing even more blisters. The new shoes made it feel like I was walking on air. Too bad it was still really flippin’ hot.
The first two kilometers were on pretty flat ground, but then the henro trail decided it would be baptism by fire for Emilee, taking us up a steep and winding climb up the side of a mountain. Most of the climb was on stairs made from cut stone or large rocks, none of them of standard height or depth. We tired quickly. Finally, at the pinnacle, we found ourselves in the middle of a beautiful botanical garden.
It was 10 a.m. and my shirt was soaked through with sweat. Emilee was glowing, which I have come to understand is what women do rather than sweat. It’s now summer here, which means daily temperatures of 90 degrees or higher with at least 75 percent humidity. My deodorant had given up the ghost well over an hour ago. Emilee has been wearing a jacket to cover up her arms and shoulders to be respectful to the Japanese people. I want to strip completely naked and try to cool down but I’m afraid of the sun burns where the sun doesn’t ordinarily get to shine on.
From a distance we spotted an incredible red multi-tiered pagoda on the top of hill. We knew this had to be Temple 31. Since it had been a few days since I had visited a temple, the rush of excitement returned and I was really looking forward to seeing the temple grounds and practicing my heart sutra recitation. We dropped our packs at the foot of the hill and climbed yet another huge set of stairs to reach the main and daishi halls, as well as the incredible pagoda. Temple 31: Chikurinji was founded in 724, and Kukai later visited here and practiced the Gumonji rites, which are said to increase one’s memory. That awesome five-story pagoda? It was built in 1980 after a previous smaller pagoda and the main hall were destroyed by a typhoon in 1899. Did I mention Kochi is due for another typhoon at any time?
On our way down, the Henro guidebook pointed us down a steep set of stairs made of crushed rocks, none of them level, making for a very difficult hike down on hurting feet and trying not to roll our ankles. We continued down these slopes for a couple kilometers. The slope was covered in trees, and while the shade was nice, it meant that we were constantly swarmed with mosquitoes. Any brief rest meant a few mosquitoes got a quick snack in. They must have recognized Emilee’s fresh flesh and continued to swarm her more often than I, probably recognizing that my blood has already been tainted by dozens of mosquitoes hundreds of miles ago.
Eventually the path leveled out and took us and along several canals filled with water, escalating the already high humidity. We were making good time, so we stopped to rest in the little shade we could find. I realized I was nearly out of water and the small village we had been walking through so far had offered no opportunities to refill. I spotted a cafe about a kilometer down the road and we decided to walk toward it, hoping I could refill my water pack there. When we arrived, we were greeted by a very polite barista, who insisted to fill my pack with ice water, rather than simply letting me fill it from the outside faucet. Bless her. Osamefuda and a photo later, we were back on the henro trail. We entered the outskirts of Kochi City again, and you could feel the temperature rise from all the additional concrete and blacktop of a the city. Our hike to Temple 32 was going to be a steep one up the side of a mountain, but Google Maps led us through a tunnel for a shaded shortcut. It was a long tunnel (long enough I was able to sing the entirety of “Bohemian Rhapsody” with my voice resonating off the wonderful acoustics of the tunnel walls), which spit us out on the other side of the mountain. The hike from this side now included a steep hike through a massive cemetery. Emilee and I were frustrated, the heat was clearly getting to us, and we decided we just couldn’t do it. We had enough for the day and couldn’t hike any more. Luckily, a bus stop informed us a bus would be coming by in 15 minutes to rescue us from the burning sun.
My plan was to stay at the tsuyado (free temple lodging) at Temple 32, but that meant we had to get there before 5:00 pm when the temple office closes. The bus route took us back through the main part of Kochi City and then we had to switch to a trolley to take us south again to near Temple 32. Unfortunately, the trolley ride was running behind, so rather than making it to our scheduled stop at 4:53 and sprinting the last kilometer to the temple before it closed, the trolley arrived at the stop at 5:02, meaning we literally had no chance of making it to the temple office on time. I had read about a small hotel across the street from the temple, which fortunately had a room available. Without meals, this was one of the more expensive places I have stayed at 4,000 yen per person. With meals, the total would have been 6,500 yen per person.
It was too late to order meals anyway, so we took a shower and walked to a nearby udon restaurant. Many restaurants will see us gaijin coming and will offer an English menu, but this small restaurant didn’t have one. We fumbled through the menu using the camera function on Google Translate and ordered a couple different bowls of udon. They were heavenly, mine with a rich pork broth and Emilee’s having a miso base. Mine came as a bit of an egg drop soup, with egg slowly drizzled into the hot broth as it was stirred and then a couple handfuls of delicious mushrooms tossed in afterward. Emilee’s had a fish cake (the pink and white disk), a raw egg, and fish roe. The cook came over after we ate and practiced his English on us, which was surprisingly pretty decent. He asked if we were walking henro and complained about the heat with us. He told us a henro master had came in earlier that day, which is someone who has completed the pilgrimage more than 50 times and get a special band to wear around his neck. This gentleman was checking into the hotel at the same time as us, so we saw the band. He was just as sweaty as I was.
We stopped at a nearby 7-Eleven for a couple beers to help soothe our aching bodies and collapsed back at the hotel, falling asleep before we finished our drinks. Tomorrow we’ll walk across the street to pray at Temple 33 and move on toward Temples 34 and 35, hopefully staying at the tsuyado at Temple 35.