After 7 Days walking Ohenro I am a few hours from Temple 23 which marks the end of the Dojo of Spiitual Awakening. In my case that might mean that I am getting used to the walk and my body is beginning to work into shape. I am also enjoying it very much in spite of rough weather. A large part of the reason for my enjoyment has been the accommodation that has allowed me respite from the weather.Tommorow I will enter The Dojo of Ascetic Training where I guess I will practice the aspects of pilgrimage that I have learned.
After a long day waiting in the airport in Calgary, the flight to Tokyo, running around Narita Airport and then an hour shuttle bus to Haneda airport and an hour flight to Shikoku I was finally in my hotel room in Tokushima at 10:00 p.m. . It had been a long day with complicated logistics but I was successfully ready for my walk. I was awake at 4 and so by breakfast time I was ready to hit the street. Two Metro legs got me to Banda station close to Ryozenji. Temple #1.
The first 10 temples are spread along a mountain range North of Tokushima. it took me two days and a few Metro trips to walk the Henro route between the ten temples. The walk wanders through small communities much of the time on quiet neighborhood streets. Sometimes there was the odd path that went through forest. I had forgot how nice these Japanese neighborhoods are. Many buildings have ornate tile roofs with unfinished pine siding that becomes black and brown with age. They seem to me to come from a different era.
I had decided rather than just spend time in Tokushima to get over jet lag I would actually go to the beginning, buy my henro gear and do the first few temples. I ended up doing 6 temples, about 25 km 7 hours. From there it was a an hour and a half bus ride back to Tokushima Station followed by more walking back to my hotel. It was a hard day for me even without carrying my full pack.
The next day now with a full pack I was back on the bus returning to a point close to Temple 6. I walked past 6 and on to Temples7, 8, 9 and 10. The further I got along the Route the more rural the communities became. About half the temples are nestled into the side of the mountains and sometimes require a side trip to find them and then some significant steps to climb up to the temples. The temples are all gorgeous. Many have histories going back a thousand years but most have suffered fires over the years and have been rebuilt over the centuries. The various temple artifacts though may be hundreds or thousands of years old. It may seem strange to enjoy a walk through neighborhoods but for me it was a pleasure to see all of the slate roofed unfinished wood homes complete with Bonsai Gardens that I came to appreciate so much 8 years ago when I came to view the Sakura, the cherry blossoms.
Of course I saw many henro in the temples and even some akuri henro walking along the route with me. It is said that the true pilgrimage is what happens between the temples not what happens in the temple. For me this is certainly the case. On this kind of walk my mind wanders through a whole range of things possibly some may even be spiritual in nature. On my second day it was raining most of the day and I enjoyed the rain turning the slate roofs silvery Gray, the water dripping from the ornate eaves onto the cacophony of foliage all places have. As I got over my rush to get to the next temple I began to hear the birds even though I couldn’t identify many. I met one other gaijin henro. Rose, a young New Zealand women is attempting the whole Ohenro as well. She also is carrying a full pack with camping gear and so is struggling like me. I saw her at Temple 8 and 9 but not after that.
Leaving Temple 10 I now turned and headed to the mountains on the other side of the valley. My accommodation was in a ryokan somewhat off of the route. I crossed the Yoshino River and took a Metro 2 stops where I was helped to find my ryokan. It was very basic but the practice was consistent with all that I have used. When I come in they get the tub running. They take me to my tatami matted room, get the electric heater running and point out the tea and snacks. By this time I have begun to stiffen and may have to just fall on the floor to get my clothes off. In the beginning as the day progressed I got slower, more awkward and lost any facility with stairs. I don the bathrobe (I know it has a proper name) and head for the bath room. First a significant washing is required. I just do it standing with the hand held hose. But if you are sharing your bath with another he will sit on a small stool and scrub with copious amounts of soap and then rinse it all away to be repeated at least three times. Finally the highlight of the day. Into the tub. With some luck you can almost submerge and you can stay as long as you like. Meals are set and communal. Lots of fish. Most of the 8 or 10 dishes that arrive on a tray are cold but always hot miso and rice. It works for me. Each night I think I won’t be able to get under way in the morning but I do.
On my third walking day I had about an hour’s walk to get to Temple 11. It is situated at the base of a range of mountains, this one to be crossed. Unfortunately this hour had its price later in the day. Temple 12, Shosanji, is the first Nancho temple. The route to the temple is henro-korogashi. Literally..where a pilgrim falls down. For me it was a 7 hour walk crossing three 800 m passes. I also managed to lose the way at the end resulting in an extra 5 km on a road. Nanchos are mountain top temples so I had another hour of stumbling down from Shosanji to my ryokan. I was quitting in a number of ways. I hadn’t fallen down but I was very close to it … henro-korogashi. I’m sure the ryokan guy assumed I was done.
But at breakfast feeling a bit better I decided to head off with a Henro from Tokyo. We started with an hour tough climb opening to my nicest valley views to that point. But I was committed to less time on my aching feet so I soon found a way to let my walking friend leave me. I sat a few times, spending 45 minutes in a Henro hut enjoying Osettai of coffee and an orange. I arrived at temple 13 at 2:30 and checked into my ryokan at 3:00. Still it was 23 km but much easier than the first three days. My feet swollen beyond recognition after scrub and tub and my joints frozen in their last used position will need to improve by morning, but they seem to do that, at least so far.
Starting out the next morning I think I felt better than any other day. Obviously an easy day now and again is essential. I might have made a mistake by booking accommodation at temple 19. Not many temples have accommodation and they tend to get booked up. So when my ryokan host phoned and indicated they had space I booked it. It means I will need to cheat a bit to get there before 5. Temples 14 thru 17 went well. 17 is the closest temple to central Tokushima and I had considered staying in my hotel where I have a bag with some things in it. Now it became important that I get on down the road 18 + 19 so I had to take the metro for a few stops.
Off of the Metro a young girl saw me looking at my map and offered to walk with me most of the way to Temple 18. We walked and talked for about an hour. She’s a University student studying to be a pharmacist like her father. It was raining again so I had another peaceful rainy forest walk that I have grown to love. Moving on to Temple 19 the rain became less enjoyable and so I was glad my walk ended for the day.
Facilities, meals and prices were similar to ryokan, but things went on earlier. We had a Buddhist service at 4:30 and our dinner at 5:00. I had to cut off about 10 km of the walk but did get to stay at a temple and had another easy 20 km day.
I ate dinner with six other aruki-henro. They are all the old but really seem to know how to walk ohenro. They carry small packs with everything they need to stay in temples and ryokan and have booked their accommodation each night in advance. They carry no electronics, small cameras and no camping stuff. Actually I guess they’re all younger than I am and so I will try to emulate their style while the weather is so bad.
My sixth day was to visit temples 20 and 21, the 2nd and 3rd of the six nancho (mountain top) temples. This means some more henro-korogashi segments. While it rained all day I quite enjoyed the whole day. A couple hours on a moderately busy road was rewarded by five hours of trail up to and down from the two nanchos. At the temples the rain and fog swirled among the buildings enveloping the lonely Buddha’s and Kobo Daishis. Only the odd aruki-henro would come by to pay their respects on a day like this.
Following the lead of my walking mentors I booked myself into an onsen at the bottom of a ropeway (cable car) that dropped from the summit by temple 21. This takes us off route but it is the only place to stay in these lonely mountains. I had a bit of a wait for the 3:00 check-in but it didn’t take long for me to get into the onsen. None of my mentors were in yet The fastest one came down with me but seemed to wàit. For me after a day like this I can’t wait. What a great way to go walking this is.
At dinner the discussion involved around how far each group would try to get the next day. Breakfast would not be served until 7 so that put us on the path a little late. It was also going to be a very rainy day. All but the fastest person we’re going to leave the main henro trail and head to a small town called Yuki where there are a few ryokans. I was still undecided at bedtime.
In the morning the rain was very steady and it was obvious that walking wasn’t going to be that great. I tried to get help booking a place in Yuki but wasn’t successful so I headed off. It took an hour on a moderately busy road to get back to the henro trail but then we were into the forest again and on a steep climb for about an hour and then dropped into lovely quiet roads to Temple 22. The fast guy was at Temple 22 when I got there but just leaving. The people at the temple were unable to book a place in Yuki for me so it looked like I would have to head on to Temple 23 where I could stay but would not be able to get meals. This bothered me a little bit because it was about 23 km away and it was now 11.
I was going pretty well and so I would be able to make it to 23 but it wasn’t something I was keen on. I walked steadily for the next few hours on a mix of roads and trails with quite a bit of up and down and seem to have no trouble finding my way but then I saw a road sign Tainohama Beach which is where Yuki is. Somehow I missed the direct route to Temple 23 so now I would have to try to find a place in Yuki. I walked into town and a friendly woman asked if she could help and I indicated I needed a place. She walked me to a place that let me in. So I did a lot of worry for nothing again. I was safely in at 3:00 which is kind of ideal these days.