Please start at Day One

Friday, 4 March 2011

Day 4 - Snow Storm, a Lost Policeman Asking for Directions.

I had this romantic notion that Japan was always hot and humid, possibly gained from watching sweaty men mopping their brows walking through bamboo groves in Kurosawa films. I couldn`t decide whether I needed to bring both a fleece and a sweatshirt, I was trying to pack as lightly as possible, so I have brought an old sweatshirt with me, one that I can discard easily if it is not required. At the last minute before leaving the UK I bought a thin pair of running style gloves, and a light snood which can transform into a hat, both purchases were "just in case" (and not very heavy) to keep off the chill in the cool morning air I was expecting at the start of March; I assumed that I would be sweating my way through forests in just my tshirt by the start of April. So at 07:30 this morning, while walking through a snow storm to Temple 8, wearing my tshirt, shirt, sweatshirt, fleece, poncho (ok, so it doesn`t look very cool, but I`m in my late thirties now, I am allowed to favour practicality over style) and gloves, and with my snood wrapped around my bald noggin, I was grateful for my over zealous packing, and I was muttering curses to Kurosawa.

It is considered impolite to refuse gifts, it is considered particularly impolite to refuse "O Settai" (a gift offered to assist a Henro pilgrim), so I hope that the kind little old man in his little old van, who slowed down to my walking pace this morning during a particularly blizzard-y squall, and pointed to his passenger seat imploringly, was not too offended when I explained in Japanese that I was grateful, but wanted to walk the route.

It was still snowing lightly as I left Temple 8 and passed Rex and Rachael, I had been concerned about them when I first saw the snow but they were in good spirits, having slept in a temple bell tower last night. On my way from Temple 10 to 11, it had stopped snowing but was still quite cold and I went inside a small shop "Togawa Su-pa" to buy a bottle of drink and camera batteries. The shop keeper insisted that I sit in the corner of the shop on a low stool next to an elderly gent who sat grinning at me while warming himself on an old fashioned and dangerous looking gas heater, to drink some hot coffee, I accepted.

The shop keeper joined us and she started to grill some pieces of mochi (a kind of savoury cake made from ground rice) on a grill balanced on top of the gas heater that we were huddled round, and then she grilled me about London and about my Japanese partner. Thankfully she spoke slowly and deliberately so I think I was able to understand most of what she was saying to me, only occasionally did I have to get out my dictionary to look up a word, and she had to get out her glasses to check I was looking at the correct word, the elderly gent chuckled at this every time, and she did not seem satisfied until I had shown her my entire photo collection saved on the iPad - which she learnt how to use instantly. She put some sugar into soya sauce in a bowl to dip the mochi into, and gave me the first piece that was ready to eat, it was good hot, stodgy food - my favourite, and so very welcome on such a cold day. She seemed pleased that I will be meeting my partner`s parents for the first time, in Tokyo after the pilgrimage, but she seemed concerned that I was not married yet.

The pilgrimage route is marked by hundreds or probably thousands of marker stones, wooden posts, road signs and stickers on fences and lamp-posts, so walking from temple to temple is relatively easy. You don`t usually need a map if you are keeping to the official route, but if you need to take a detour, for example at the end of a day`s walk to find your accommodation, then there is a chance of getting lost as Japanese streets do not have names, and the maps do not bear much resemblance to the actual land. The size of some roads is confusing too. The map will show a road junction, but some Japanese roads are so narrow that they only look like cycle-paths, or private lanes leading to someone's back garden. I`ve managed to navigate through snow in the Highlands of Scotland, but today in Shikoku, after leaving Temple 11, I became lost and wandered round in circles for half an hour. I was on the outskirts of a town, not in the middle of the mountains, so I was not particularly concerned. There was no shortage of people approaching me in my Henro outfit to enthusiastically give me directions, but enthusiastic directions in English are difficult enough for me to understand. Eventually, someone I asked told me that she would walk with me to the hotel. I had noticed that she had to change the direction that she had been walking in, but she would not accept my attempt to refuse and she escorted me right up to the hotel entrance. I am always giving directions while I am work, mental note to self: talk slowly and give clear instructions.

The walking has been easy so far, mostly flat with a few stairs at the temples, but the dark mountains which had been lurking in the distance for the last three days are now suddenly in front of me. I am only planning to walk 12.9km to Temple 12 tomorrow, but it is through the mountains and this is reputed to be the first challenging stage of the pilgrimage.

  • Distance walked today = 21.8km
  • Distance so far = 42.8km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 8, Kumadaniji (Bear Valley Temple); Temple 9, Hourenji; Temple 10, Kirihataji; Temple 11, Fujiidera.
  • Koban visited today = nil
  • Accommodation = Business Hotel with breakfast ¥6300, Business Hotel Access, Yoshinogawa City, Tokushima-ken 〒776-0010
  • Expenditure today = camera batteries and bottle of chilled tea ¥240, four Temple Stamps ¥1200,  evening food ¥948.
  • Settai = offer of lift, a Henro lapel badge / tie-pin from another Henro, hot coffee and grilled mochi, escort to hotel.








訪れた寺= 第八番 熊谷寺、第九番 法輪寺、第十番 切幡寺、第十一番 藤井寺
日の支出= カメラの電池とペットボトルのお茶 240円、4寺分の朱印 1200円、ビジネスホテル(朝食付)6300円、夕食 948
接待= (吹雪の中で)車の助手席へのオファー、別のお遍路さんより遍路バッジとネクタイピン、暖かい珈琲と餅、ホテルまで連れて行ってもらった事。




  1. Hi, I'm hisako, grew up near kumadani-ji, temple No.8 in Tokushima. So, I am really happy to hear you enjoyed henro trip. Henro is usual scene for me.
    I am going to go cycling on henro route this summer with my son. I'm really look forward the tour and finding henros from abroad like you...
    Please try saka-uchi, the henro trip from 88 to 1, one day!

    1. Hello Hisakosan,

      I remember Kumadani-ji, I felt a bit nervous when I translated the name of the temple.

      From 88 to 1 would be very difficult as all the signposts are against you! Maybe one day . . .

      Enjoy your cycling