Shikoku Ohenro – Final

May 1st and 2nd Closing the loop

It is 40+ km from Temple 88 to Temple1. I would take 2 days. I left my minshuku below Temple 88 early and soon the Ohenro signs led me on to a final forest path where I lost much of the 600 meters that I would need to lose today. When this final trail finished it was onto quiet country roads. I had a lot of contemplation to get through on this day. I was now finally feeling very healthy and I had a chance to ruminate on the previous 46 days.

I only slightly regret that I had to ride about 125 km of the walk. I probably made up that difference in poor navigation, wandering around looking for accommodation or food and heading off in search of some other attraction. But then so do the other henro who are doing the walk. There is so much that I would do differently were I to get a chance to start over. But that is all hind-sight now. The easy feeling that I had during the last two weeks, even with knee troubles, are what I would attempt to replicate for the whole trip. That is a very idealistic notion but I believe those who do this trip a number of times would get to that point. Obsessing over all the logistics of the day to day challenge of this walk greatly reduces the value of the walk, and experience would reduce the need for.. But all in all the walk was very valuable to me. I certainly feel pretty good about the walking I was able to do and the experiences I had were priceless. This is a trip that will stay with me for a long time to come.

I got down into the valley about noon and found a Family Mart where I had a break. I still had another hour past Temple 10 and 9 to get to my business Hotel. The next day, reversing my first day’s walk back to Temple 1 was a bit emotional as I recognized different spots and recalled the trouble I had following the route that seems so easy now. I have now completed the circuit. I got another stamp in my book and soaked up the ambience for about an hour before getting the train into Tokushima and my hotel.

I had to kill one more day in Tokushima and so I walked up and saw the Awa Odori. The most popular street dancing festival in Japan occurs in October in tokushima it is called the Awa Odori. It dates back some hundreds of years and has evolved with the passage of time. But it’s very attractive and a lot of fun. The dance is so popular that throughout the year they have daily presentations in an auditorium. This was a real family affair and as part of the show kids , old people and even 76 year old Canadians are invited up to try the dance

I spent the night at a Henro House near Temple 1. The next morning the man in charge arranged for a middle-aged woman to go back to Temple 1 with me to go through the temple visit process. It was a bit late for me but it was nice to get a little explanation. After that the man drove me to a big famous Shinto shrine and we went through the process for Shinto temples. And then he drove me to the bus stop where I caught the bus to Osaka.

May 4-6 Osaka

I was just killing time in Osaka. Is it is so out of sync with my Shikoku walk that it took me sometime to adjust. The first morning I walked about 2 hours before many people hit the streets to get to Osaka Castle. Other than that my time in Osaka was spent waiting for my appetite to allow for another meal. There must have been a thousand places to eat within a few minutes of where I stayed. The challenge on Ohenro was often where to find something to eat. My challenge here was which one to pick. I found Osaka far too big to even try to see.

May 7-9 Koyasan
A two hour train ride, the final 15 minutes of which is a cog-train, gets you to Koyasan at close to 900 m. It was cold, windy and raining when I arrived and stayed that way. This is a temple town created by Kobo Daishi 1200 years ago as the centre for Japanese Shingon Buddhism. The mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, who the adherents claim is blessed with everlasting life is here. The mausoleum complex is called Okuno-in. It includes a two km long cemetery dating back those 1200 years, said to contain 200,000 funereal artifacts. It is set in a cedar forest with trees over 200 years old, which are the youngsters in this ancient place. Henro, to begin or to end their pilgrimage come to Koyasan and in particular to Okuno-in to offer their walk to Kobo Daishi. It is the final part of my orei-mairi, the wrapping-up so to speak.

There are about 40 temples at which you can stay, Shukubo, at Koyasan, and they are all heavily booked and a good fifty percent more expensive than any other places I have stayed here. You attend service in the morning and eat vegetarian. I would think only a small number of people here were henro. It reminded me more of a less commercialized Banff than any other place.

Of the other places I visited here Kongobu-ji was next most important. It is the head temple for Shingon Buddhism. Of note here is the largest stone garden in Japan. I have been thinking of these gardens as Zen gardens, but I guess they are not exclusively so.

I was quite moved when I got the final nokyos in my nokyocho from Kongobuji and Okunoin. The monk at Okunoin who did the caligraphy leafed through my book, looked at me and then congratulated me in both Japanese and English

To completely finish the experience I took trains to Wakayama, a port city below Koyasan and then the next day, May 10, a ferry back to Shikoku. The ferries were more basic and trains would not be invented for 1000 years but Kobo Daishi and 1000s of pilgrims since have navigated their way around this pilgrimage and then across to Koyasan. Each would have had their own experiences and gained value in unique ways. While not one of the devout I can now understand a small part of why pilgrimage is pursued.

Just to wrap up a bit. I was less prepared for this trip than for most of my trips in the last few years. I did not figure out how I would be spending each night until I was into the trip. As a result I carried too much in the way of sleeping equipment and cold weather clothing. I probably should have brought a smaller camera. Using a tablet to send these posts was adequate but less satisfying for me then the laptop that I normally carry. Even with a separate keyboard I did not enjoy the writing as well. The other problem with this system is that I I didn’t set up photo editing and so I’m less happy with the pictures that I have attached to the posts.

Those issues aside, it was still wonderful. Perhaps I should do another one…

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Ohenro – Final Days


Since my last post my knee has improved as I found a way to walk it back to 80%.  I have been able to complete the walk to all of the 88 Shikoku Temples.  I still have more to do, get back to Temple 1 and then extend the pilgrimage to Koyasan, near Osaka. There will possibly be one more post on this trip

April 24th day 40
After a number of full walking days the rest of the trip will be shorter days. I am using more days than I need on Ohenro rather than having too many days after Ohenro. I will be going from 20 – 25 km days to 15 – 20 kilometer days. There are still a number mountainous days even some henro-korogashi sections remaining but I look forward to those days.

After the morning service at # 75, Zentsuji, and a late breakfast it was off to a rural side-street day. There were three temples 76, 77 and 78 to visit. Number 78 had particularly nice gardens. Along the way I had stopped for early morning coffee and then for a late morning hour and a half early lunch during which I made a Skype call to Julie in Calgary. This could be part of my approach for easier walking days, long breaks during the walk.

I arrived at my accommodation at 2:00. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I was quoted 1000 yen to stay. This is less than a quarter of what I normally pay for accommodation-only places. I was not given a room when I arrived but was invited in to a sitting area and was offered tea. It was now raining quite steadily so my plans to head out to find a restaurant were put on hold. Over the next couple of hours both Peter and young German Chris along with a Japanese boy arrived. We were still all sitting in the living room with the owner while his wife brought us tea and snacks. Along the way we each took our turn in the hot bath.

Somehow we found that there was another room with four sleeping mats. Peter and I wanted to go out to find something to eat. The woman said that the closest restaurant was too far walk in the rain so she would drive us. So off we went with the plan to walk back. We had a nice visit and dinner but it was still raining so, as she had asked, we called and she came to pick us up.

In the morning we had a full Japanese breakfast and she also packed a rice ball lunch. When it was time to leave we were asked for 1000 yen. This was at least a 5 to 6000 yen night. Peter and I tried to pay more but were refused. This is obviously a zenkonyado of sorts, where people offer free or low cost accomodation to henro.

April 25th day 41
My first short day was reasonably successful. I had a long mid-day break, I missed the afternoon rain and had a nice evening. This next day was not as enjoyable or rewarding. I visited Temples 79 and 80 but was unable to find a nice stop during the day, so I arrived at my minshuku before noon. My minshuku hostess didn’t turn up until 3:00, so I hung around temple 80 and sat in a couple of little restaurants longer than I wished.

But she made up for it when she did arrive. She immediately got my clothes off and washed them, the meals were great and when I was able to get her to understand my agenda she completed my bookings through to Temple 88. This latter task was assisted by the quiet man I had been connecting with since Temple 38. This would be the last i would see him now as I was moving onto the slow track.

April 26, Day 42
This next day involved two mountain temples, 81 and 82, a little henro-korogashi and lots of forest. I was enjoying my walk a little too much and missed the first turnoff. To shorten the story a bit, I got a ride with a car-henro, walked part of the trail twice including the climb to the highest point, missed another part and only walked about an extra km or two.

I connected with Peter at 81 just after he tripped on a chain across a road that he didn’t notice. He scraped his knees and nose and loosened a bridge. I guess I’m not the only one doing these things. There was a nice long trail down off the plateau leading onto the back streets below. I went through an area where they were making bonzai trees and watched an ancient man setting up to begin work.

The next day a couple of hours zig-zaging into Takamatsu got me to Temple 83 where I made another navigation blunder. I took the wrong major feeder road which meant the short 14 km morning became 17 km. Still I left my bag at my business hotel at noon and spent 3 ½ hours in Ritsurin Gardens, a great way to break up the day.

Peter, also spending the night at the same hotel, came in delighted that he got the two front teeth on his bridge glued back on for 1000 yen, about $10. We had a final dinner and beer together as he is taking a couple of days off here to go to one of the small islands. Like me he has extra time and is finding ways to kill days.

April 28th Day 44

Trying something a little different Peter and I had a late breakfast together and I left at 8:30. I walked for a couple of hours heading towards my next Temple but my first destination was Shikoku-mura Village. This is a Heritage Village with many old buildings gathered together on the side of the mountain that I would be climbing to get to Temple 84.

It was not too much out of the way but I spent two hours there and so by the time I made my way back to the henro trail it was afternoon. The trail was an easy broad but steep walkway. I began to realize the penalty for getting a late start. The muggy heat was tough to handle and I paid for it when faced with the rough henro-korogashi trail leading down from the mountain. After some super market oranges at the bottom I began the gradual uphill that would ultimately lead to the next Mountain Temple.

But I was looking for my minshuku for the night. This minshuku was not providing dinner but there was an udon restaurant close by that I hoped to find. It seemed to me that I was just getting into an industrial area that on this late Saturday afternoon wouldn’t have any restaurants open. In a concrete yard a guy was still working and I asked him if he knew where the restaurant was. He pointed a way through their yard on to the next street over. And there was one of the nicest restaurants I have seen so far. I had a high-end udon set meal with a liter and a half of beer, feeling quite happy with how smart I am. Or should I say it is better to be lucky than smart.

My minshuku was just a few minutes away. The elderly couple running the place where very nice and could speak pretty good English because they have a son who went to school in Edmonton. It was here that I encountered the smartest toilet I have seen. When I opened the door the seat raised itself and after I did my business I pushed the Eco button, it flushed and the toilet seat lowered itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if it also scrubbed down my splatters as well.

In the morning it only took half an hour to get the rest of the way up the mountain to Temple 85. I love the temples early in the morning. The air is so fresh, very few people around, the birds are singing and the light is special. The way off of this mountain, in contrast to yesterday’s rough trail, was a switch backing paved narrow road. An hour or so later about two and a half hours after I had left my minshuku my host pulled up beside me in a car. He smiled and held a small plastic bag out for me. In it we’re two osamefuda, the little name slips that I leave at each Temple. He must have been driving around for the last couple of hours trying to find me to return them. Much of the henro trail is on quiet little streets or even car free paths where he would not be able to find me. These two little sheets of paper are worth about $0.01 each and I have lots of them and that would have been apparent to him as well. Yet another example of the kindness and generosity of the Japanese people.

As the day went on I visited Temple 86 which was very rough and disheveled but had an elegant zen garden tucked away behind one of the buildings. Such a contrast. Around noon I went wandering again leaving the henro trail to find something to eat. The restaurant in my book was closed and so I ended up eating in a super market. This little deviation took an hour and a half. It is lucky I have lots of time. My day ended at a minshuku beside Temple 87.

April 30th Day 46
The long approach climb heading for the final nancho Temple took about two and a half hours. Along the way I stopped in at Maeyama Ohenro Koryu Salon. This is a fairly significant three or four room Museum of things related to Ohenro. I filled in some forms for their data base, looked at the displays and was given lots of ossetai. I also received a certificate celebrating my completion of ohenro and I guess I go into the record books. Once over two and a half hours of ever smaller roads the rough paths began. In my mind this section had some of the roughest henro-korogashi of the whole trip. There was some Hands-On-The-Rocks scrambling to get over a little summit at about 770 m and then a very rough trail that took me another hour to get down to the final Temple number 88, arriving at about noon.

I spent an hour just sitting at this final Temple trying to digest the last 46 days. My walking is not over yet, as I will add on a little orei-mairi. I don’t quite know all of the aspects of orei-mairi, but for me it means taking two days to walk back to temple 1 to more or less complete the circuit. And then a few days later I will travel to Koyasan near Osaka for a few days. Koyasan is a the burial place for Kobo Daishi, and probably the most important Buddhist site in Japan These concluding activities are to complete or to re-visit the experience. To others orei-mairi might mean repeating the trip, or doing it backwards. But let’s not talk of those. For now I am just dealing with having finished my Ohenro.

Finish at Mt Koya

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Into the Final Dojo (Nirvana)


Leaving Matsuyama saddled with a bad knee resulted in a few days of transport assistance, but I was able to work through that and have found a cadence that removes the need .  The end is near.

April 16th day 32
At 7:30 I left the Matsuyama youth hostel with the idea of seeing how far I could walk on my bum knee. It began to hurt early so I got the train for about a 20-minute ride. This left me with a 4 kilometer walk to Temple 52, set into a small forest after a short climbt. I met Rob from New York, only my second American. He was beginning a 3 week mini-ohenro, having been here and done temples before. He had come by taxi and will do a combination of walking and public transport. I never saw him again.
It was another 3 kilometer walk to get to 53 , a small urban temple. I arrived at my hostel at about 1:00 to a sign on the door directing me to go visit the Onsen. This was not something I objected to so I spent two hours having a snack and soaking in a selection of pools looking out onto the Seto Inland Sea.

The hostel owner is an interesting guy running this place as an independent hostel. He is a dog lover, a pack rat and an experimental cook. I was joined by Chris a young German boy about to set out on a short Ohenro after 3 months working here on farms. Our cuisine was an artful mix of Western and Japanese. In the morning we were offered western or japanese and we chose western. The result included freshly baked honey bread that was a real treat.

April 17th day 33

I was much happier with this day. It was a bit overcast which made walking more pleasant. Temples 54, 55, 56 and 57 are 3 to 4 km apart spread about Imabari City. Parts of the walk took me through some enormous cemeteries. I was able to regulate my walking speed so that my knee did not act up too much. Part of the solution seems to involve stopping from time to time. At midday I actually stopped for lunch something I don’t often do. On this day I used Skype to call Lilly as midday here connects with Calgary in the early evening.

Temple 57 is on the outskirts of Imabari and from there it was a lovely hour walk up into the mountains to Temple 58 where I had booked a Shukubo; temple accomodation. I arrived at 2 so I had a nice recuperation from my 17 km walk. I felt a little bit better, now hoping that if I can walk this kind of distance each day, supplemented by some transport, I should be able to get my Ohenro done. My leg was quite tired but I’m pretty sure I’m not doing any damage.

There are a few differences when staying at a Shukubo. Possibly most notably is that the food is vegetarian. I think it is still very tasty but for me maybe not quite as fulfilling. At this Temple the bath was more like an Onsen with room for five or six people. Another difference is that big tour buses often book into the temples. On this day a bus arrived at about 6:30 with possibly 50 people and everything now centered around the needs of the tour. The final difference is that there is often a Buddhist service. The service on this vsit was in the morning before breakfast. I attended and enjoyed the chanting and much of what happened. But then the monk just started talking to the group. Naturally it was in Japanese and so I left after a bit. The downside of the stay was that I didn’t get away from the temple until about 7:30 an hour later than normal.

It took an hour and a half to drop down out of the forest to temple 59 the final Imabari temple. From there I walked another 45 minutes to get a train that moved me on up the road a ways. I was now going to try something a little different. I spent the rest of the day visiting temples 64, 63, 62 and 61, backwards in other words. Unique among the temples visited so far was Temple 61 which is a big modern temple. I don’t know much about why this one is so different.

I then checked into Ryokan Komatsu for two nights. The reason for skipping Temple 60 is that it is a full day up and back from Komatsu where I would be spending the night. Getting in in the afternoon I had time to do temples 61 to 64. I chose to do them in reverse order because 61 was closest to my ryokan. This was a very good place to spend two nights for a number of reasons but the food was a prime reason. Dinner each night was a hot pot with different ingredients the second night.

April 19th day 35 – Yokomineji, Temple 60
I left for temple 60 at 6:30 finding my way out of town onto to a little used trail. The trail was indicated in my Shikoku Guide but is not the main trail that people take to go up to Temple 60. So I was not getting little ohenro signs that I’ve come to depend upon so much. It was an hour into the walk before I was confident that I was on the trail. My trail started out as what seemed to be logging roads climbing up into the forest. I was happy when my trail merged with the normal foot path coming from 59 and the regular henro signs began to appear. This would be a lovely day; 18 km, rising to 750m, possibly 1000m up and down, 6 ½ hours.. I was carrying a light pack and even with my awkward gait made good speed. I had a long lunch break at Yokomineji. I found it very peaceful and I was happy my knee did as well as it did.

April 20th Day 36
I’m hoping this might be my last transport day. I took the train about 25 km and walked another 10 positioning myself for the mountain trails. At my minshuku were Stein from Denmark and Peter from Holland who I met at Komatsu

April 21st day 37
I was able to pick up the henro trail leaving town up to the base of the mountain. And then I lost it for a while and never was confident that I was on the trail until Temple 65 appeared. This Temple is about 300 meters above the sea and the town down below. Peter and Stein caught up to me here just as I was leaving on a quiet mountain road that never did lose much altitude. Again there were no henro signs. I started to head up a road that I knew was wrong so I turned around and finally did find a little henro sign and then a hut. As I was sitting in this hut with three young kids and their dog Peter and Stein arrived. For the rest of the day I was on course again.

There was a fairly significant drop down into another Valley and then as the afternoon heat began to get to me we had to climb to and through an 800 m tunnel that was one of the worst yet. But just on the other side Stein and I stopped in a roadside restaurant and had a wonderful bowl of udon. Peter who was trying to get to the next Temple carried on. The minshuku Stein and I were staying was only another half hour. I checked into minshuku Okada at 1:10. Within the hour I had my bath, washed my clothes and was sitting in my housecoat in the yard having a beer. Even though it was an early day it was still over 20 km and very tiring.
Also in the minshuku was a mountain guide with two female clients. He was guiding them around Ohenro in sections. Tomorrow we would take on the climb to 926m Temple 66, the highest point on the circuit and one of the nancho temples

April 22 Day 38
The trail continued down for about 15 minutes and then began the torturous uphill. This was the Henro-korogashi part. Nothing very dangerous but a real calf stretching hour and some. Stein passed me about half way up. It would be nice to be 68 again, or maybe I can blame it on my knee. We arrived at temple 66 at 8:15. Peter was still there. He had used the tsuyada or free accomodation that some temples have. There is usually no bedding or mats and only sometimes are baths available; in this case Peter didn’t get either.

On the way up to 66 I left Ehime, the Dojo of Enlightenment and entered Kagawa, the Dojo of Nirvana, the last leg of my journey. 

The part of this day I was anxious about was the two hours down, but the trail was not quite as steep and I was only a little slower then going up. One more nancho temple behind me. Onto the quiet rural roads I had another 8 km to Temple 67 followed by 9 more to my minshuku that was close to temples 68 and 69 that share a courtyard. This may have been the toughest of my final days.

April 23rd day 39
This was a 25 km per day but flat except for one small part. I would visit temples 70, 71, 72, 73, 74 and 75. Temple 71 rose about 200 m above the flat and it involved multiple sets of stairs going up and a lovely bamboo forest trail coming down. Other than that the day was spent mostly on quiet neighborhood streets. With all of the temples to visit there wasn’t much need to stop along the way. Pleasantly, I was stopped five times for ossetai which included an orange, two rice balls, candy, and two glasses of tea. I think this is the most ossetai I have had in a day to date. It was a lovely day but still tiring as it is has been hot the last few days.

Peter, Stein and I all had Shukubo at temple 75, Zentsuji, certainly the largest and most important of the 88 Shikoku temples. It was where Kukai was born and as a result the temple complex must number twenty or so buildings. At the morning service there were seven monks involved. Normally there has been just one.

From here Stein will take off as he leaves May 1. I will slow down to stretch out my time. I am beginning to develop a plan for my remaining days.


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Stalled in Matsuyama

After a number of days of feeling great and making good progress I buggered my knee.  I had planned on taking a day off in Matsuyama anyway.  Now I am hoping for body as well as mental recuperation.

April 9th Day 26 – To Uwajima
This was a non-temple day. I followed the highway for a while and then onto a trail that climbed over a pass to get by a 1.7 km tunnel. Trails like this are both a pleasure and a problem. They are slower and more taxing but I walk better on them, I think they are easier on my body parts and they are certainly more enjoyable. At least for me. I have met a few flatland Europeans lately that don’t agree

My accomodation was again too early and so as I entered Uwajima I decided to head up a moderate hill to Uwajima-jo (castle) and a nice view of the city and harbour . Built about 400 years ago the castle was never burned down and so is one of the few original castles in Japan. On my last visit I visited many castles and I was again surprised at how big they look from the outside but how small they are inside.

My accomodation was without meals again and so I stopped twice during my walk through Uwajima to eat and chew up some time. This was my least expensive accomodation yet but the lady was so nice. She brought lots of snacks and took my clothes to wash. It was a nice change from the full ryokan meal deal.

The next day I visited temples 41, 42 and 43. As usual when I don’t have a provided breakfast I am under way early, and so even with 7 km to start I was at the first temple at 7:30. The walk to the next Temple included a road with long rows of tulips. At Temple 42 I met at a Dutch woman , Angela, that I would bump into over the next days.
I really enjoyed the next significant trail that climbed over a high ridge dropping back down after a good four hours of trail walking which even included a tunnel.

I was pretty bagged as I laboured up the road to 43. So I was somewhat surprised when a voice from a car called out “Ken”. It was Jessica from Colorado who I had last seen two weeks ago. Her feet had almost finished her. She was now riding with a Japanese car henro. They were off to 44. It would take me two days to get there. I had a nice final trail walk over the ridge down into town where I was again treated to a “let me wash your clothes while you have your bath and then come for your 10 course dinner”. The nice side to life as a henro staying in booked accomodation.

April 11th Day 28

This was another long road walk that didn’t turn out very well. To break up the morning I had a coffee in a Family Mart, one of the day’s few treats . The highlight of the day was going to be another trail walk over a tunnel. But I got to the tunnel and there was no trail. Looking more closely at my map I realized I should have picked up the turnoff down the hill a ways. I wrestled with the idea of going back but there’s something in my DNA that does not allow that. The 1100 meter walk through the tunnel wasn’t actually that bad. The big mistake that I made was going a bit too fast down the 8 or 9 km steep busy road that just would not stop.

I struggled on through Ozu and onto Uchico with a knee tightening as I went. The only saving grace for the day was the minshuku. This one is run as a restaurant with the minshuku on a second story. The whole place was very nicely decorated and maintained. In the restaurant the owner had an impressive collection of manga books and a collection of model cars that had taken 20 years so far. I have been at times using Skype to book ahead each day but if I think there will be issues I get my host to help. He turned out to be a gem. After all options for the next day failed my host and I worked out a 40 km day that began with a 10 km bus ride. He also gave me a pack of stick on cold patches for my knee.

In the morning, after a western breakfast for a change, my host helped me get onto a school bus with instructions to the driver where to let me off. The part of the route that I bused over was the ugly busy road part. I began walking as the roads became quiet mountain roads. After about 4 hours the tiny road became a trail and finally topped off at 800m, the highest yet on this walk. Along the way I connected with Angela from a few days ago. My knee was bothering me but I was hoping it would resolve itself.

We dropped down into the next valley and up again to Temple 44, the halfway point of my walk, temple wise. Angela caught up again as I was leaving 44 for the final 4 km up through the forest over a smaller pass to a large purpose-bulit minshuku. Probably twenty five henro were here. Lots of machines for clothes, a toilet in every room. Quite a change. I had dinner with Angela and Irma from Switzerland. This was a very good day for me but the knee is a niggling issue. On the trails it is not bad but on pavement I struggle. There is not much doubt now about what is best for me.

I booked another 30 km day for tomorrow that I know I shouldn’t do. I will have to find a bus at some point.

April 13th day 30
Without a pack I was away at 6:30. Within 5 minutes I found the trail that left the road and rose onto a ridge. It was a lovely up and down walk for two and a half hours to Temple 45. Dropping down from the ridge I passed some minor temples before the main temples. It made for a very different approach. The temples are also different in that they are nestled up against a cliff face. The normal approach to this temple is a very long set of steps up from the valley. For aruki-henro, if you find the trail, you drop down from above. Neat.

I had an hour and a half walk along quiet roads back to my minshuku to pick up my pack. Now I had to work on my knee. I caught two buses on up the road toward Temple 46. The second bus dropped me and one other henro at a stop high above the valley. From here it was 4 km, 1 hour walk down the rest of the way into the Matsuyama valley and around to Temple 46. The fast guy that I met a few days ago pounding up the trail past me was wolfing down a quick lunch at 46. He said he had another 15 km to go and was going to up his days to 40 km.

I walked across the street and checked into my minshuku. It is even larger than last night. We are now on the outskirts Matsuyama, maybe that’s what’s happening as we come close to the big city. I only walked 15 of 30 km today. I hope it helps.

April 14th Day 31
This was a 15 km half-day. I am walking into the center of Matsuyama. Along the way I will visit temples 47 48 49 50 and 51. My knee is no better after my night’s rest but at least I can walk slowly and there are no significant hills.  I am trying to be careful. It is all City Street walking often on quiet roads but also on busy small roads with no sidewalk. As automobiles began to take over in these old cities the pedestrian world suffered. At least, unlike in Kochi, it is not hot and the temples are more or less strung out in a straight line.

Yesterday after leaving Temple 45 I walked some with a henro from Hokkaido. I loved his chuckle as we attempted to communicate. Today at each temple, there he was. He greeted me each time with his chuckle. He walks faster but spends longer at each temple. He will now get away on me and I will not have his smile and chuckle to look forward to.

Temple 51 is one of the key temples of the circuit. I visited this Temple in 2010 and I have been looking forward to a revisit. It is also about a 10-minute walk to the hostel where I am booked in for two nights in the hope that my knee will recover a bit. A further 10 minutes from the hostel is Dogo Onsen. This is Japan’s oldest onsen, some say dating back 2000 years. I hobbled down to see if my recollections from eight years ago were accurate. They were, over priced compared to others but still worth it because of it’s history.

Now I have a day off to see what happens.

After a day off my knee is certainly better, if not perfect. Tomorrow I’m off again. One day at a time. 

Into the Final Dojo (Nirvana)


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Leaving Kochi Prefecture – Finally

The dojo of Ascetic Training (Kochi) was pretty hard for me. But the infection from my blisters finally cleard up, I took a few short bus rides to deal with my poor accomodation planning and yesterday I escaped from Kochi.  Today I passsed the 600 km point and so I guess I am getting thing figured.

April 3rd day 20
There was a thick mist as I left the lovely ryokan near Temple 37. Shortly after I was stopped by a classic older Japanese man who was talking to a young female henro. The man was collecting henro signatures which I gave him in exchange for pictures and some candy ossetai. I connected with the woman a few times over the next few days. She seemed to speak reasonable English but Sylvie later on told me that she really didn’t understand very much, but said hei (yes) a lot.

After less than an hour along the highway Ohenro signs led onto a switch-backing downhill forest trail off of the plateau bypassing a series of tunnels. Back to the highway again we soon came to an onsen called Saga that is popular with campers as they can stay in a nice henro hut in the parking lot and use the onsen. The route left the main highway now for a delightful secondary road where I was passed by one vehicle in an hour. I was going slowly, taking a few pictures when I was caught by Sylvie from Switzerland who I had first encountered in Kochi. We walked together for a while but she was on a tear and I needed a shoes-off-for-a -while break.

The hardest part of the day is from 1 to 3. It is hot, the traffic is bad, the feet are tired. My first 30+ km day in a while finished waiting from 3 to 4:15 for the minshuku owner to turn up. Still, using machines I got my walking clothes washed and dried before dinner. The owner and his wife, who did the cooking sitting behind a bar, must have been over 100. He forgot to bring the miso at night and to fill the rice cooker in the morning. Usually dinner includes 5 or 6 bites of sashimi, this dinner had 20. Strange place. A contrast to the elegant service of the previous night.

The next day between highway sessions in the morning and afternoon most of the day was spent going through a large park and then on a long secondary road. At around 2 I sat down for a bowl udon and while in the self indulgent mood decided to take a bus the final 5 km, which included a 1.6 km long tunnel. I have begun to hate the tunnels as the faint light and roaring motor noise seems to exaggerate my poor sense of balance.

Getting off the bus and heading into my minshuku I seemed to be entering a seedy bar but I was welcomed and the host immediately started the tub running. I had some strategizing to do here so I was hoping for a nice place. In the next two hours before dinner I had made some decisions while I hand-washed clothes and soaked in the tub.

At dinner Sylvie turned up fresh from the tub. She seemed very pleased to see me. She had been spooked by appearances when she arrived as well. When a nice woman began bringing food out she relaxed further. Apparently the rough male world she encountered upon entering the bar like atmosphere was pretty threatening.

We began sharing approaches for the next few days. From here it is 27 km to temple 38 at Cape Ashizuri and then the shortest way on is right back to where we are. I had decided to take the day to walk down to the temple and then take the bus back, leaving my pack here and spending a second night in this minshuku heading on north the next day. Temple 38 is the South end of our walk.

Sylvie plans to walk down to 38 and spend 2 nights there. She is burned out and the next day will be a heavy rain day according to forecasts. So we agreed that we would do the next day together.

We started walking at 630. I had my camera my nokyocho and an anorak. My hostess found a small pack that was perfect. She also gave us a nice lunchtime snack. I was by now very happy with my place for the two nights. Half of the walk was on highway the rest on trails or small roads. The sea was almost always there. It was fun walking and talking for a change. It took us six hours which included two short breaks. The forecasted showers only lasted about half an hour. After our respective temple processes we had a coffee together, Sylvie went to check-in at the temple and I caught the bus back to my minshuku. At dinner I met another new foreign henro, Stein from Denmark. We discussed how we would each deal with the heavy rains of tomorrow.

April 6th Day 23

It wasn’t raining at 615 so off I went heading north now. I walked for an hour and a half on a misty morning to the point at which the walking route left the bus route. It had begun to sputter, decision made, so a short bus ride followed by an even shorter train ride put me 6 km from temple 39, the last one in Kochi Prefecture, and my booked minshuku. It was now raining and would continue all day. I’m not sure if I would have been any wetter if I had walked all the way but it would have been 2 hours later getting into the hot tub.

After an easy afternoon dinner was with 3 middle aged henro, only one walking I think. I got in trouble with the hostess when I snuck out to the covered veranda for my wet rain gear which by now had shed most of the water. The trouble was I did not put on outdoor slippers I just went out in my bare feet. There are separate slippers for outdoors, indoors in the hallway and in the toilet. And you don’t wear any slippers in the bedroom. My trouble is that my feet are too wide to fit in any of them so I often don’t use any rather than shuffling around with just a few toes stuffed in.

April 7th Day 24
The rain had stopped over night but it was now quite cold. There was a short half hour forest walk to get down from Temple 39 to the highway. It took another hour and a half to walk along the highway and through a fairly large town. I was watching the henro signs very carefully because there was major deviation from the highway. A lovely forest trail went from sea level on a very steep path up to about 400 m. With this kind of steep trail I’m always more worried about coming down. In this case the downhill was very wide and gradual with not too many rocks and roots to trip me up. The trail soon became a paved path and ultimately led to the highway. Happily a Lawson’s convenience store was right there and I had a bit to eat. Normally I don’t eat during the day because I’m expecting a good dinner. But tonight’s accommodation at Temple 40 is without dinner.

It took another 3 hours on very quiet roads to connect back to the highway for the final 45 minutes into town and to Temple 40. I had put my anorak on near the top and if anything I was still too cold as I was finishing the day. I had walked into a cold headwind the whole day that sapped all my energy. It was only 2:30 when I arrived at the temple but it felt much later.

Sadly I now had to walk back out onto the deserted streets to find something to eat. No restaurants were open so I had to settle for Noodles in Styrofoam . Quite a come down from ryokan fare.

April 8th day 25

The wind whistling up the street at 6 was not very encouraging. I stopped at the first convenience store for coffee, a banana and a cup of yogurt. I had decided that I would take the coastal route rather than the mountain route on the section. In part the decision was based upon the cold wind on the mountain tops that I had got yesterday and the wind was just as strong and cold this morning.

After two and a half hours of walking the picturesque coast I came to an Onsen that I had noticed in my book. I had an hour to wait before it opened but I made the decision that my cold bones needed some attention. There was a nice park where I could watch birds, mostly ducks, cranes and a few cormorants. The Onsen was great. Three pools including a cold pool and a sauna. I spend an hour warming myself and another hour feeding myself at their very popular restaurant on this Sunday morning.

Back out on the road I walked another three hours and then took a bus for the final 5 km to my ryokan. I had decided when I chose to go to the Onsen that a bus would finish off the day for me. Yesterday I didn’t need a bus although it was hard enough that one might have been warranted. Today was easy enough that I could easily have got along without the bus. I’m not sure what my approach will be for the days ahead but I plan on enjoying the days and getting lots of walking.


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On Past Kochi


March 27th day 13
It felt good to be working with clean clothes and my body felt pretty good as well. I got away at 6:30 and walked for three hours, a short break and then to a Lawson’s about 11:30. Having a lunch sitting on a Coke crate I was joined by Jimmy from Denmark. He is going a bit faster but will end up staying at the same place tonight.

I got to our hotel at 12:30 and took about 15 minutes before leaving my pack and heading up to Temple 27. It is billed as a nancho and so I am glad to have been able to leave my pack behind. It took a little over an hour to work across the flats and up the switch backing road onto to a trail to the temple. Some of the nicest Sakura I have seen so far lined the road and the trail up the mountain.

I spent about 45 minutes at the temple at least some of which was recovering from the hard day that I had had. It was another hour back down the mountain and across the flat to my minshuku. There were four of us in the hotel and strangely 3 are foreigners. Antonio from France who I had last seen at Temple 17 joined Jimmy, me and a middle aged Japanese man in one of the roughest minshuku yet.

It was nice to be able to have a bit of a conversation over dinner. Unfortunately we would separate in the morning because Antonio still had to go up to 27 and Jimmy was going to fire on down the road. The weather now a bit hotter was beginning to play on my performance. Moving on seemed a struggle from the beginning even though my day was a bit shorter and it was actually a pretty nice walk. The last half was on a separate bicycle trail that often was bordered with cherry blossoms. I seem to be stopping quite early these days. This basically gives me a chance to wash clothes everyday. This nights stop was a lovely place right on the sea. As I was stretched out in my room a man came in to join me, beer in hand. He spoke excellent English so we had a pretty good conversation. He and three friends he’s traveling with are doing only a few weeks and take transport help if needed but not by design.

March 29th approaching Kochi
Next day after the first few hours walk the trail left the main Highway and started meandering among the rice fields on the east side of Kochi. I got lost and ended quite a ways away from where I should have been. A young fellow helped me get a taxi which took me to Temple 28. Three more hours through the market garden area of Kochi got me to Temple 29. On this stretch I was in a henro hut having a break when a woman from Switzerland joined me. It is strange how I continue to meet new people even after two weeks.

From Temple 29 to 30 I began to drag again with the heat. I now seemed to be entering the suburbs of Kochi along a river channel. Often the henro trail is away from the roads on small pathways. But the final bid on this day joined a busy road over at pass and down to my minshuku for the night. I left my bag and walked about 20 minutes to Temple 30. Temple 30 is paired with Tosa Jinja, the most significant Shinto Temple in Kochi Prefecture.

My three minshuku mates were 71 76 and 77. Our hostess was 75. This is obviously an old man’s sport. They were all staying in the same place the next night which is the place I wanted to get to but of course it was booked and I will have to do an extra four kilometers.

The next day we were fully in the city of Kochi. Following the henro markers in cities is tough but I managed with only two little hiccups. The first had me bushwhacking on the mountain that Temple 31 sits on. That cost me a bit of time and effort before I found my way into the Botanical Garden on the way to the temple. Dropping down from #31 I left the route a second time, this time to find a post office. I mailed some of my things back to Tokushima. I am now committed to staying in booked places. I’ve carried my bed roll over 300 km and had not used it so I decided to lighten my load little.

To get to Temple 32 we actually backtracked east a ways and found another mountain to clamber up. At this temple I saw my third mate from last night (I had met the other two at 31) and he looked as bedraggled as I felt. You can see much of Kochi harbour from here. Now I left the Henro route again for a three hour tiresome walk along a busy road and over a scary bridge to my ryokan. But I was in early, showered and bathed, my hostess took my clothes to wash and I begin to recuperate.

This was a very nice place after a tiresome day. City sections of Ohenro will not be my best. I think there was one other guest but I never saw him. I ate both dinner and breakfast in the kitchen with the hostess. She was very, diligent cleaning all the time and making sure that all my needs were satisfied.

The next morning I had about a 45-minute walk to get back on the henro route at Temple 33. Everything seemed better. I walked easily, the weather seemed cool and I never made any navigation errors to get to the temple. From Temple 33 the route was now completely in the countryside and it felt so good. I started taking pictures again and once again I was able to stay on route. Like Temple 33 Temple 34 was on the flat. Surprising. The walking continue to go well, over a large bridge to the town where I would be spending the night. I was way too early so I found a 7-Eleven where I use the ATM to stock up on money and sat for about an hour.

I left my bag against the minshuku wall and headed on up to Temple 35. This one back to the hill top style. I spend some time with a man that I had met a couple temples ago. He tried to phone for room bookings for me but was unsuccessful. It was too early in the day. An easy 45-minute walk put me back at a high end Bakery where I had a mid-afternoon snack and where I came back later for my dinner. This minshuku did not provide meals. As diligent as my hostess was the previous night this one was not. If there’s a less than pristine bathroom in Japan then it must be in this minshuku. To be fair my hostess is not very spry. She also has a very tough time communicating with me. I finally tried the audio from my translator app. She had not been able to read the written translations. Perhaps she doesn’t see very well but she was able to book a place for tomorrow and I know it will not be far enough. I have had a hard time getting the distance between my accommodations ideal.

April 1st Day 18
Coffee and yogurt got me going at 6:45. This is Sunday, the streets are deserted, gorgeous. The road crosses over a small pass into a village on a large bay. I had a second snack at a new convenience store and tried their ATM. Success, I am no longer stuck with 7-Eleven banking. The road continued on over a large bridge around the outside of the bay. I missed the turn to the next temple and walked almost 2 km to a resort on the top of a hill overlooking the sea. There a young couple found the temple on their cell phone and drove me all the way back down the hill to the turnoff to Temple 36. I had a nice visit at the temple with a couple I had bumped into at a few other temples. This was their last one as they had to head back to work. They give me a drink and a cookie as their final ossetai .

I now had to head back up the hill that I had already gone up an hour earlier. Past the point where a woman jumped out of a car to give me a 500 yen ossetai, past the turnoff to the resort and on along the lovely ridgetop road that I would walk for the next day. No matter how many mistakes it seems I am too early in the day for where I expected to be. I had close to an hour stop at a little food side vendor at a scenic lookout and then just before the turn off down to the fishing village where I had booked a place a car was waiting. It was my minshuku hostess. She was afraid I would miss the turn. Once again I was finished walking at 1:00. After walking around the village for a while my hostess started filling the big tub for my bath and demanded I get my clothes off so she could wash them.

I have been walking 20 to 25 km each day and as of the last 2 days it has not been near enough. I am falling quite a bit behind where I need to be to finish my 88 temples in the time that I have. From here on I will have to stretch myself a bit.

April 2nd Day 19
Our Hostess drove me and the young guy who came in late last night back up to the highway and off we went at about 7. I thought the young guy would take off like a shot but I got away first and I never did see him. He must be stopping even more than I am to take pictures of this lovely quiet walk. It was certainly the right advice to go on this longer route then the normal one.

I joined the main walking route after about 2 hours where I had my first vending machine drink of the day. Over the next hour and a half I passed five other henro, two of whom I had met earlier. That put me in a town that had a 7-Eleven where I got more money. From this town I took a 15-minute train ride to Temple 38 and certainly the nicest ryokan I have stayed at. From this town I now hope to ramp up to fulll walking days.

My Temple Process
I have tended to gloss over what happens at each of the temples that I visit. There are so many that it would be very repetitive. I have pointed out previously how lovely they all are. My process in each Temple does not compare with the process that good Buddhists go through. But it is my process and here it is:

1. Temples almost always have a torii often somewhat removed from the temple itself. Buddhist temple torii are quite different than Shinto Torii. Often some of the longest staircases rise above the torii to the temple grounds.
2. Once in the temple grounds I try to find a place to leave my pack and find a toilet if necessary.
3. A water well and dippers are used to purify yourself by rinsing your hands and mouth.
4. I then find the bonsho, a large bell under it’s own pavilion that is rung once by swinging a large suspended log onto it.
5. At the main temple or Hondo the devout begin reciting sutras, most notably The Heart Sutra. I try to be peaceful, particularly if I have been rushing. Each temple’s Hondo is dedicated to some aspect of Buddha. Ideally I would have thoughts related to someone’s needs associated with that aspect. That doesn’t usually happen. I leave an osamefuda.
6. I then visit the Daishi temple, dedicated to Kobo Daishi. Here instead of chanting sutra I hope that all henro have good experiences on their Ohenro. I leave a second osamefuda, which is a name slip with a wish.
7. I then take a few pictures from the many possibilities including the temples, the statues, other henro, the gardens, the views,…
8. I get my Nokyocho, temple book signed.
9. I might make some notes, have a vending drink, ensure I know which way to head and off I go.

All this takes 30 minutes or a bit more. Say 48 hours for the full contingent out of 50 or so days.

Escape from Kochi

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Ohenro – Kochi Prefecture, Part 1

In the last 5 days since my last post I have visited 4 temples and have  been walking along the southern coast of Shikoku. I have many more days on the southern shore before I finally begin to heading north again. I have had some physical issues and it meant that I had to take a day off but I am under way again.

March 22nd – day 8
Starting from Yuki at 7 in the morning I soon met the couple I had been walking with since temple twelve. We walked for a few minutes and then the sea appeared. A few minutes after that we passed the platform that Jennifer from Oregon had spent the night on. I think she was having a phone conversation when we went by.

The first few hours of the walk went through forest on a very quiet old road. A white van came along, stopped and an animated man jumped out to tell me in broken but pretty good English that a better trail ran below the road. He drove on but a few minutes later was waiting again offering to lead me down to the trail. He then explained that it was a haiku trail. Every 20 or 30 m there was a post with a haiku inscribed on it. Soon the trail led back to the road and off he went again. But again he was waiting and pointed out a trail that went down to the sea. I headed down the trail for about 15 minutes before I saw my friend coming up the trail to make sure that I had not fallen. He then arranged to meet me at a shelter where he brought both hot and cold drinks. He was not yet through with me as we will see.

I arrived at Temple 23 about 11. One of the towers is on the cover of my guide book. I spent the normal half hour going through my process, climbing stairs and taking pictures. I tried to make a booking down the road for a place to stay but did not succeed. Leaving the temple I saw a likely looking place that could be a restaurant. It was in fact a fast food Udon restaurant. There were three other Henro . Two were a couple in the early seventies that I had met earlier in the day. The man showed me how to dish up my udon and prepare it.

On I went. I was now going a little slower than earlier in the morning. A bit over an hour later there was my friend on a bicycle. I don’t know how long he had been waiting but he took me off the road a few minutes to meet another friend. We sat on a platform overlooking a small creek had sushi and Japanese noodles, hot and cold drinks and identified birds. What a nice man.

At around the 30km mark I found a henro shelter that I was thinking of using to roll out my bed roll in. It didn’t look very inviting but I didn’t seem to have too many choices. I noticed the police station across the street so I went to ask if it would be alright to sleep in the shelter. They got fairly excited at this and got on the phone and found me a minshuku a bit over 2 km off the track by the sea. I used my GPS to get me there. Too bad the GPS can’t do the walking. There were no meals but with the food I had that afternoon I didn’t need anymore. There was a lovely stretch out fully hot tub.

Day 9 A Henro House
It took me a bit over half an hour to get back up to the highway where I walked into a Lawson’s convenience store. Some have a place to sit down to eat and I had coffee and a nice chicken sandwich for breakfast. I still had not made an arrangement for the night and I was worried about it when a Japanese man in a full henro outfit said hello and asked me if I wanted to walk the old henro route. This was a little strange as the Japanese aren’t usually so outgoing and I didn’t know what he was talking about. So I turned him down and kept going. It occurred to me as I got a few hundred meters up the hill that this was my friend from yesterday. The henro outfit had me fooled. I felt so bad after he had being so nice.

Most of the morning passed uneventfully. While at a rest shelter on Wi-Fi I was able to book a Henro House that was only a bit too far away. So the day ground away at my feet as I made my way down the road. The saving grace of course are the incredible ocean views on this stretch of the walk. But my feet hurt more and more as the day goes on. I stopped in at 2 grocery stores as I got close because Henro Houses do not provide food. They are inexpensive places to stay where you can cook your own food. It was a very strange place but it did have all that I need. I spent an hour was an interesting custodian trying to book a place for the next night. Once again the only success I had was right down at Cape Muroto. Like the last few days it was too far for my worsening feet.

Day 10, 11 Cape Muroto

I was on the road again at 6:30. The first thing I faced was about a 12 km section with no towns or services. The road itself climbs periodically over little head walls often with an a tunnel at the top. 2 to 300 M tunnels aren’t bad but when they get to be 500 or more they are quite uncomfortable to walk through except early in the morning when traffic is light. But by and large the walk on these days that are sunny and not too hot is pretty nice. I am now limping quite a bit because I have a blood blister underneath the ball of one of my feet.

About noon I had a nice rest and lunch and the towns started to occur more frequently again. As the day wore on I was going slower and slower and it became obvious that it would be a struggle to get to my booked Hotel. It took a bus about 8 minutes to go the last 5 or 6 km that might have taken me two hours. I never set out to be a purist about this walk but I had already lost that claim in Tokushima. I do however intend to keep walking all that I can. What I need to manage better are my room bookings.

Hotel Misaki
I dropped my bag off at my hotel and set off with two objectives. I needed an ATM for money and I needed to visit Temple 24 straight above my hotel. At the Visitor Center for Cape Muroto they indicated the next ATM was about 6 km away in town. I was really struggling at this point, no doubt too tired to think well so I asked them to call a taxi to take me to town. The taxi driver didn’t have a clue. We went to three different ATMs with no luck. I had him stop at Temple 24 on the way back. It is a lovely Temple up on the hill but I was now too frustrated to enjoy it. After completing my process at the temple I was able to walk down a switchback trail to my hotel.

I would say the Misaki is more ryokan than hotel but it is larger than normal so that might be why they call themselves a hotel. The set meals are the best I’ve had so far. Thankfully they also take Visa cards which further differentiates them from most ryokan.

An added treat for me was the little league baseball team and their 11 parents that were also guests at the hotel. They were obviously on a field trip and were having a blast. They ran around the halls and splashed joyously in the hot pool. I had said Ichiro (Suzuki) while first walking by them and so they repeated the hallowed baseball player’s name continually as we met.

By the next morning the internet confirmed that I had a money problem. I seem to have forgotten from my last trip that very few ATMs except foreign cards. My body also needed a rest. So I decided to take the day to find some money. It took me 6 hours three bus rides and a two-hour bicycle rental before I had some money and was back at my hotel. But my feet were rested, I had some money and I had learned that I have to be careful to keep the money stocked up. A nice bonus was nice long Skype calls with Lilly and Owen while waiting for one of my buses.

Day 12
After a great breakfast and a departing photo with the owner I was heading down the road at 7:30. Rounding Cape Muroto I was now headed Northwest for a while. It was a lovely walk along the Seawall and there was a bit of cloud cover to keep it cool. It took an hour and a half to get to Temple 25. It is a small Temple high upon a hill nestled into a neighborhood.

I was walking steadily my feet felt pretty good. The blisters are still there but at least the swelling in my feet is down a bit. I was also successful in booking a place only about 18 km away so it would be a leisurely day. Temple 26 sits high on a head wall above the ocean. Once on the trail up the mountain the forest closed in around me. At the temple a woman was offering ossetai of tea and boiled potatoes. That was a first. On the way down from Temple 26 just before I hit the switchbacks I found a nice bamboo pole to match my bamboo Kobo Daishi that I had been using since Temple 18. I had to cut it to length but it will do me nicely at least until I’m up and down the next nancho temple which likely will hit me tomorrow. On the steep Henro-korogashi trails I am much better with two helpers.

At 1:00 I saw what my book identified as a restaurant but was actually a ryokan. My booked place was only 300 m further along but does not offer food. The confusion of not having language skills wins again. At any rate all worked out. I had a lovely easy day. All my clothes are washed and I’m moving reasonably well. I will cook for myself.

It is unusual for me to include three photos of myself in a post but two of them are to provide scale.

Through Kochi


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Ohenro-The Dojo of Spiritual Awakening

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Ohenro, Pilgrimage in Japan

Ohenro ,the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Japan is a 1200-1400 km circumnavigation of Shikoku, Japan’s fourth largest island. Pilgrims, mostly Japanese Buddhists, have been walking the pilgrimage for 1200 years since it was created by Kukai(774-935) who was posthumously awarded the name Kobo Daishi by the Emperor at the time. Kukai helped create Shingon Buddhism from his studies in China and from his interest in nature. He made Buddhism available to all. He was an engineer, poet, philosopher, he created a new style of calligraphy, created a Japanese dictionary, started the first public school. You have to honour people like Kukai.

Ohenro has been percolating in my mind for about 15 years since I first began researching adventures in Japan. While on my 2010 cycle trip I rode a part of Ohenro and visited Temple #51 and Temple # 75, Kukai’s birth place further stimulating my interest .

Today most Henro, the name used for pilgrims on Ohenro, will take some form of motor transport, possibly most commonly on a bus tour with a group. Some cycle. Many will complete the circuit in stages over a number of years. A great many complete the circuit many times. All approaches are considered legitimate. In the spirit of Kobo Daishi there is no differentiation amongst henro but it is the walking pilgrim, Aruki-Henro, that is most traditional and that appeals to me.

This egalitarian notion extends beyond your pilgrimage approach to your station in life. Two henro practices illustrate this. The first is called Osettai: The practice of offering gifts like food, drinks even accommodation to henro. The second is Takuhatsu: Begging for food, money or Lodging. Takuhatsu is not much practiced anymore but osettai is very common and henro are encouraged to accept offerings to show their humility.

The cultural aspects are probably the most important reasons for my attempt. But the physical and logistical challenges are very appealing and I guess if I happen to “find myself” or “become one with Kobo Daishi or the Buddha” that could be good as well. They say that there are as many reasons for attempting a pilgrimage as there are pilgrims.

Whereas this is the first formal pilgrimage I’ve attempted it is by no means my first pilgrimage. When I stood on top of a small mountain in the Gokyo valley in the Himalayas absorbing the scene that included 6 of the 10 highest mountains in the world I began to realize that the 25 days of trekking in the Everest region with Rich King was for me a pilgrimage. Viewing through my telephoto lens the Khumbu Icefall, the South Col, on up over the Hillary Step to the summit of Mt Everest I was connecting with Mallory, Hillary and all of the early mountaineers who had preceded us. While we were not attempting these highest pinnacles of the world’s mountains we could worship, if I can use that word lightly, at their feet. Many of the long trips that I have done over the years can also be considered pilgrimages to relieve a need that had been stimulated within me, most often from my readings and the interests that they have fostered. So…

I am booked to fly to Shikoku on March 13th and will begin walking . I have enough time to walk the full 1200 km but who knows what might happen. There is a high probability that I will have physical problems.. feet, knees, hip.. It is possible the weather will get to me or I just might run out of gas. If I have to take a bus or train it will not be the end of the world. I’m sure Kukai will forgive me and possibly I will be able to as well.

It is considered good practice to make a few resolutions before beginning Ohenro. Knowing myself I will attempt to …

• walk slowly
• take time at all and stay at a few temples
• observe and enjoy all things and be patient
• talk to people but enjoy my time alone
• drink and eat well

My postings may not be very frequent or interesting to read as in the interest of simplifying my trip I will replace my laptop with a tablet. So cursory notes and possibly cell photos but I invite you to join me anyway.

Dojo of Spiritual Awakening

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North American Birds 2017

2017 Birding Photography

2016 was the first year that I worked at getting good photographs of North American birds.  I made trips to BC, New Mexico and Arizona and made many forays out from Calgary.  My collection pales in comparison to the 700-1000 bird species that will live and breed in North America or stumble in from Asia, Europe or South America.  But I did get some good portrait and action type photos in that year.  I continued my pursuit into 2017.

Around Calgary (winter, spring)

My first good bird photo of 2017 was on Jan 14 east of Calgary.  Rich King and I were in my car in a line of about five cars following the Nature Calgary tour leader as he lead us along meandering range roads looking for Owls, Hawks and whatever else we might see on that sunny cold winter day.  Terry Korolyk is a very experienced birder and has a good feeling of where to find our winter birds.  We saw and I got pictures of Snowy Owls, Great Horned Owls, Horned Larks, a Short Eared Owl and a few others.  I don’t usually get good photos while out with a group but it is always good to learn from someone like Terry and I will often return on my own when I can go at my own pace and try to set up for a good picture.  On this day I was quite lucky as our vehicle procession stopped just as my car was in front of a lovely Rough-legged Hawk on a fence post. I dropped my window and whipped up my camera just as he was launching from the fence post. One shot only, all luck, no skill or planning.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-leggeds breed in the arctic and mostly come our way in the winter, kind of occupying the Red-tailed territory who mostly migrate further south.  A week later I got a few more shots of a Rough-legged flying up the Elbow River below Owen’s house.This post will touch on some of the bird photos that I took in 2017 that are of new birds for me, or where I improved my collection of an old bird or finally I might just include a shot that I like.  At rough count I took over 3000 photos of about 100 kinds of birds in 2017.

White-breasted Nuthatch

During the winter I go out birding in the area around Calgary every couple of weeks mostly just to get out, sometimes searching the habitat of specific birds I might be looking for.  Chickadees, overwintering Ducks, Flickers, Waxwings, Nuthatches both red and white breasted are some that I find.

I followed the mother Common Merganser and three of her four chicks up the Bow River along Bowmont Park during the spring melt.  Ferrying chicks in this way is common for many water fowl and so it is the behaviour that makes this photo attractive to me.  I saw her a few times during my walk, always working hard in the ferocious river current.  What could have been so important about getting her brood so far up that dangerous river?

Common Merganser

American Goldfinch

As spring ripens some of the migrating birds add colour to the mix.  I found the American Goldfinch in the forest near my son’s house on the Elbow River.





Vancouver (Mar 10-17)

Tracking my progress: I would never have considered keeping track of my bird photography in the film camera days or until I started using Adobe Lightroom.  With digital photography (since 2002) all of my photos are pretty well accessible.  With Lightroom (since 2012) my photos can be cross-indexed and assigned keywords that identify aspects of that photo. 

Bald Eagle (2nd yr)

I drove out to Vancouver, joining my son Owen for the Vancouver Rugby Seven’s Tournament and stayed on for another five days to search for birds in the Vancouver Area.  I booked an AirBnB in Tsawwassen and each day visited some of Vancouver’s many birding hot spots.  It rained a lot but there were still lots of good birds waiting for me.  While there I found an excellent new Birding Guide to Vancouver that helped me find good locations.  I spent the whole time south of the Fraser River mostly in the area of Boundary Bay.  One nice thing about birding cities is that you find your way to the birds by walking, usually in parks.  Much of my bird photography is done from the car on little side roads as the car acts as a pretty good blind.  But in Vancouver I got lots of walking in, always a nice bonus for me.

Bald Eagle

The first thing that hit me in Vancouver was the number of Bald Eagles.  It takes four years for a Bald Eagle to fully mature and to develop its iconic feathers.  Most that I saw were at some stage along that development and many were seriously moulting as well.  I saw as many as a dozen in a single tree; I saw eight or ten young playing above the mud flats of Boundary Bay and there were almost always a few gliding above me in the grey skies.  But mostly they were just perched on posts or in trees.  At one time they were almost gone from the Vancouver area but protections now in place are working well.

A great site in the Vancouver area is the Reifel Bird Sanctuary, where I took these Wood Duck photos.


Wood Ducks

Wood Duck (fem)

The nice things about Ducks is the males are so easily recognized, but often the females are less obvious.  I like the pose of this male with a hint of a female in the back and have added a female in the interests of gender equity.  I think she is pretty distinctive as well.

Also at Reifel I got Spotted Towhee.  They should summer in our area but I have never seen one near Calgary.   I got the Bewick’s Wren in a little park east along the Frazer.  Its range just touches Canada in Vancouver.  Both are new birds for me.


Coopers Hawk

The area around the Fraser Delta is one of the best places in Canada to see raptors, particularly in winter.   Much tougher than eagles I did get a few shots of a Coopers Hawk near Boundary Bay.  A real prize for me was a Northern Shrike, also found along Boundary Bay.  These lovely little songbirds could be classified as raptors if they had stronger talons.  They hunt grasshoppers and other insects but also mice and voles like raptors.  The Northern come to Calgary in the winter as they come south and we might see Loggerhead Shrikes in the summer, but both while not rare are uncommon.


Northern Shrike

I was a bit early for the Shorebirds, which is one of the main attractions of the Fraser Delta.  I got some shots of Dunlin but nothing worth including.  Unfortunately the 2018 Seven’s tournament is also early March.  I added some nice birds here to my Lightroom repository.

Medicine Hat (April 29-May1)

My interest in Bird Photography arose in South Africa in 1985 while on safari equipped to capture the Big Five mammals.  Riding around in land rovers looking for wildlife I found the birds much more active and challenging to photograph than the animals.  Two other trips to the region in the 1990s consolidated that interest, which began to stimulate an interest in learning more about birds and how to get good photos of them. I have been in search of birds and taking photos of them in fits and starts ever since.


Western Meadowlark

I have been reading Trevor Herriot lately.  He is a Saskatchewan naturalist and writes wonderfully about the prairies and the threats it faces.  I was born on the prairie but have spent my life in Calgary fixated on the mountains.  While I don’t regret that, Herriot has heightened my interest in seeing more of the prairies while I can.  You can read that to mean that either I or the prairies don’t have much time left.

In either event I headed down to Medicine Hat to see what I could find.I drove the back roads both on the way down and on the way back.  The day I spent in the region I drove up into Cypress Hills Provincial Park.  I saw lots of hawks mostly Red-tailed and many ducks on the small ponds that were still pretty full.  When about 50 km east of Calgary Western Meadowlarks began to appear usually in full song.  They are a delightful draw for me and are possibly the definitive prairie bird and indicator of prairie health.  I also take videos so that I can get their song.

The best new species of this trip was the Ferruginous Hawk.  I got many good shots on my drive near Pakowski Lake, south of Medicine Hat.  It is our largest Buteo, is exclusively a prairie bird in Canada and as such has suffered from insecticides, poisoning of gophers and other habitat loss.


Ferruginous Hawk

Near Cypress Hills I got a nice series of shots of a pelican dropping into a little lake, catching and swallowing a fish.


Creston Valley  Birdfest (May 12-15)

Taking good bird photos is difficult.  It helps to have a good camera and high quality long lens. Given those, it is still tough.  Birds don’t often sit and wait for you to set up your shot.  So you have to be ready in advance and able to focus on the bird in an instant. But above all, as Ansel Adams would say; “You have to be there!”  Good bird photographers know when and where to go, they will be there before dawn  for many days before they get the shot they are after, if then. I have so much to learn and improve…but that also is fun.

Heading away from the prairies for a while I returned for the second time to Creston’s bird migration festival.  I had enjoyed it and learned a lot in 2016 and wanted to support them again.  The Bird Photographer and presenter that I have appreciated most at the few festivals I have been to is Monte Comeau and I went to his seminar again, gaining more motivation.


Rufous Hummingbird

As I have said before, I don’t usually get good photos when out with a group, but I went early and stayed over one more day.  In part I was also experimenting with getting out in an inflatable kayak, a Monte Comeau practice.  This is a bit laughable as I can’t swim and I am the least flexible old man among those of us whose heart still pumps.  I went out on one of the many quiet Kootenay River channels when there was no one around to humiliate myself in front of.  I launched well enough and it was lovely on the water but back at shore, struggling to get back out of the tight kayak cockpit I managed to flip over.  The one smart thing I did was to put my camera in a dry-bag before trying to get out.  I got a bit better and did manage to get some shots from the kayak but did change the boat for one I could manage better when I got back to Calgary.

I always get pictures of distant eagles and osprey and many ducks at Creston.  No new birds this year from Creston as I have been there a number of times.  The Osprey is from my kayak and I like the Great Horned Owl because he is really staring me down.




Eastern Kingbird



Great Horned Owl

Bowdoin National Wildlife Reserve (May 17,18)

So what birds do I already have?:  As I have hinted, I have taken bird photos going back over thirty years, but most are not included in Lightroom, my management system.  I made a big photographic step in 2013 when Rich King and I went on a self-drive wildlife safari in Southern Africa for two months.  I bought a pretty good long lens before this trip and I returned with many good birds. A similar trip that we made to Australia in 2015 was also very productive.  My birds from those trips have been cross-indexed in Lightroom.  Birds from earlier trips to India, South and Central America and New Zealand and others have not yet been indexed.  I have 50,000 digital photos and 13,000 slides but possibly not enough “round-to-its” to index all of the birds that I have captured. Optimistically I might have photos of 600 of the world’s 10,400  birds.

I had planned on heading from Creston straight back into the prairie.  My goal was Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan but I did not want to drive through Southern Alberta again.  So I headed down into Montana and drove to the North East corner heading for Bowdoin NWR, east of Havre.  Lake Bowdoin is one of the many lakes that attract migrating and breeding birds in the prairie.  A rough gravel road, about 50 km long meanders around the wetland reserve and a car acting as a blind is a good way to observe the birds.  I did the drive in the evening and then again early the next morning.

Ducks and Shorebirds were the prime attraction.  A couple of the really showy ones are the American Avocet and the Black-necked Stilt.  Avocets in particular are very accommodating for photographers as they will run along the road in front of you and then fly back and forth giving lots of opportunity to catch their flight.


American Avocet


Black-necked Stilt

I added a Wilsons Phalarope here because I love their name and they are a little different.  This shot is of a female showing breeding colours.  The male is non-descript as he broods and raises the young while his mate heads south early in the summer.


Wilson’s Phalarope

Grasslands National Park (May 18-20)

Early settlers ploughed away much of the native short and long grass prairie habitat, but lots of grassland remained to provide feed for cattle and horses.  The cattle and horses in effect replaced the functions that the Plains Bison had provided in creating a healthy natural environment.  But as time went on the use of insecticides, poisons, excessive hunting, elimination of natural fires changed the environment once again.  And then as mixed family farms were merged to form larger grain farms cattle and horses were eliminated.  Without the need to contain livestock fences and the little strips of grass along road allowances could be ploughed and seeded.  Now, possibly half of the prairie bird species are endangered or extirpated from the Canadian prairies. Yearly bird counts show prairie birds are declining for all prairie birds and at a higher rate than birds of other regions.  Will efforts like Grasslands stop the downward spiral?

Sharp-tailed Grouse

This was my major new destination for the year and I was anxious to get there.  It is not far from Bowdoin across the border to Grasslands NP in Saskatchewan.  I was a bit late getting there as I had torn a tire on the rough roads around Lake Bowdoin which meant buying four new ones in Havre.  I spent the first night at Val Marie in a little hotel with a Chinese food restaurant.  I was off at sunrise to do the 80 km gravel drive through the park.  I immediately had some successes with a Sharp-tailed Grouse warming on a fence post in the early morning sun.

This was followed by Lark Buntings and Horned Larks running along the gravel road in front of the car and then flying up to perch on fence posts or rocks.  Initially they appeared to me to be meadowlarks which were also plentiful.  About the same size and lots of black and white.  I was thrilled to find these iconic prairie birds so quickly.


Lark Bunting


Horned Lark


Bisson&Cow Bird

At the first Black-tailed Prairie Dog town I spent a long time scanning all of the mounds, hoping that one of the countless little brown prairie dogs might actually be a Burrowing Owl.  No luck.  At the visitor centre I was told that when the young owls are being fed you can sometimes see the parents flying in and out of the burrows they have usurped for their nest.  It was too early for that, but they weren’t optimistic about finding them at the best of times.  I did also see some big old single male Plains Bison.  Acting as an oxpecker a Brown-headed Cowbird was riding a big old male.  Perhaps they would have been called Bisonbirds if the bison had lasted longer. I was hoping to see a Bison herd, but the mothers have taken the calves into the remote parts of the park away from the males and voyeuristic photographers.  I think about loading up a pack with tent and supplies and walking out for a few days into this park.



I spent the night in a campground in the middle of the park to experience the prairie evening.  I also walked many of the trails emanating from the car parks along the drive.  I got quite close to some young Great Horned Owls, and Bobolinks.  I only saw Bobolinks while walking.  These strange little birds, like Swanson’s Hawks migrate back and forth between the prairies here and those in Argentina.


A strange bird to find here is the Marbled Godwit. It is one of the shorebirds like the rare Upland Sandpiper that are at home on the prairie far away from large wetlands.  It also feeds along the gravel roads.  I also saw a Loggerhead Shrike but my pictures of it are from too far away.


Vesper(?) Sparrow

I always try to get photos of the sparrows I see and then try to identify them from the photos.    Some of my shots here had me thinking that I had a Baird’s Sparrow, one of the prairie rarities.  It had what I thought might have been two key little black spots on its cheeks, but further examination of my pictures revealed it to be a Vesper Sparrow, or at least I think so.  Sparrows are a great identification challenge and without proper knowledge of their songs it is really tough.  I really need to learn the differentiating songs better.

The hunting Northern Harrier was taken above the marsh along Frenchman River moments before he dove into the grass.  As he didn’t come out I assume he caught what he was after.  The less official name of Marsh Hawk helps me identify these lovely hawks.


Northern Harrier above Frenchman River

I didn’t see any of the real rare prairie birds on my prairie trips but I was happy to find the birds that I did.   Hopefully by the time I get back I will be better at finding them and birds like the Bairds, Spragues Pipits, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs to name a few will still be with us.

Edmonton Area, Elk Island Park (June 4-6)

Driving north to visit friends I stopped at birding sites near Red Deer and Camrose and then I spent a night camped at Elk Island Park where I used my new and better for me kayak.  Heading up here puts me into the mixed forest area we call Parkland and so might reveal a few new birds.

Once again I saw and shot many ducks, some pelicans, a cormorant, flickers, a house wren and as always a few sparrows.


Red-necked Grebes

Getting out in my kayak as the sun came up cast a lovely hue on the birds that posed for me.  Most common here were Red-necked Grebes.  The neatest shots of the morning were coming around a corner amidst the bull-rushes I caught a Great-blue heron having his breakfast.  He didn’t offer to share.


Great Blue Heron

Kananaskis (summer)



Much of my birding effort happens while at the family cabin in Kananaskis.  In 2017 I spent quite a bit of time out on various lakes working on my kayaking skills, often with my big lens in my lap.  I added to my extensive Loon library.  Who will not be thrilled by a Loon call echoing across a dark mountain lake as the sun disappears.  The little Spotted Sandpipers are always fun. it was a treat to find one sitting on her eggs on the gravel beach.  I get lots of common birds in K-country, from Bald Eagles to White-crowned Sparrows.  A new one for me this year was the Audubon Warbler.

I got some adequate photos in Europe and then back here as part of the Calgary Christmas bird count I found for the first time some Red Crossbills.  My last bird pictures of 2017 were on Jan 30 in Kananaskis.  Last year while walking on the cabin road without a camera I stumbled on a male Spruce Grouse with four females.  I missed a good opportunity then but did find a lone male this year.

Spruce Grouse

Spruce Grouse

My photo collection did not expand as much as in 2016 but my knowledge improved and I really enjoyed the chase.

All for now.

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