Please start at Day One

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Days 46~55 Tokyo

Before leaving Japan, I spent the last ten days visiting sights in and around Tokyo. Even though I had finished the pilgrimage I still tended to gravitate naturally towards temples and shrines. Sensoji Temple is easily reached by tube in fairly-central Tokyo. Tokyo's oldest temple is very popular, and was busy with Japanese and foreign tourists. The Japanese paper lantern in the Kaminari-mon - Thunder Gate - is massive. I wanted to buy paper lantern souvenirs from the many tourist-stalls with the extensive temple grounds. In my eyes, the red paper lantern decorated with black Kanji is a quintessential image of Japan. However, Kazu thought the souvenirs were just tacky tourist trash and did not want one displayed at home, but I secretly bought one for myself anyway, and I keep it hidden in my locker at work.

Parts of the temple grounds which are usually closed to the public were open on the day that we visited. We did not know this, but quite by chance a Japanese lady who was visiting the temple with a group had two tickets she did not need, and she approached us and gave us the tickets. We joined a relatively small group of ticket-holders, and were shown through a gate, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy main temple precinct, into a peaceful traditional Japanese garden with pond and we were served green tea. Back out in the main precinct, we visited a small Shinto Shrine which was within the grounds of the Buddhist Temple. I have grown accustomed to this close connection between Japan's two main religions, which I think must be unique in the world. Most Japanese that I spoke to explained that they followed both religions, and neither is really mutually exclusive. I had not encountered Shintoism before I came to Japan, but on the Buddhist Pilgrimage I had experienced Shintoism at every step. At Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine, also easy to reach in central Tokyo, I picked up an English language leaflet about the shrine, which included an introduction to Shintoism. I read it with interest, I wanted to learn more about this religion. The leaflet seemed to explain more about what Shintoism is not, ie. it does not have a single central god, religious text or hierarchy of clergy; I intend to do some more reading.  At Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine there was an impressive wall of  Sake barrels, given as offerings to the shrine.
While in Tokyo, I stayed at a Business Hotel near Kazu's parents, and I experienced my first ever earthquake, although I didn't realise it at first. I had just stepped out of a hot bath in the hotel room, when I had that wobbly feeling as though I was about to faint. Worried that the bath had been too hot and I was going to collapse, I sat down quickly on the edge of the bath until the feeling would pass. The feeling did not pass, but I felt ok in myself, then I saw the bath water moving and realised what was happening. I wasn't sure what to do in the event of an earthquake, but decided I should probably get some clothes on in case we had to evacuate the building. The quake passed without incident, and I felt a few more while I was in Tokyo. I was in a large department store in Tokyo when I suddenly heard strange ring-tones on lots of people's mobile phones nearby - there is an earthquake early-warning mobile alert system that you can subscribe to. Kazu looked above us: apparently the thing to do is check that you are not standing underneath a chandelier or glass windows, we were clear. Some people stopped and simply stood still for a few seconds while the tremors passed, but most people simply carried on browsing in the store.

I visited the NHK (Japan's equivalent of the BBC) studios in Tokyo and met Kay Fujimoto and Mick Corliss who work for NHK World. I watched them record an edition of their weekly Japan-related English Language radio programme: "Friends Around the World". After I returned to the UK, Kay and Mick phoned me from Japan and recorded an interview about my Shikoku pilgrimage for later broadcast. I now listen to their programme each week on a podcast from their website. It is an interesting glimpse of Japanese life for people - like me - whose Japanese language ability is not yet good enough for regular Japanese TV or radio.

From my base in Tokyo, it was a relatively easy train journey to Kamakura. The train itself was slightly bizarre though. We had been travelling along regular railway tracks for some miles when the train suddenly turned into a high street and we rode down the road alongside cars and pedestrians. In Kamakura I visited the breathtaking Daibutsu - Great Buddha Statue. It cost ¥200 to enter the temple grounds in which the statue is based, but then if you want to climb inside the colossal, hollow, statue it costs another ¥20 which is a bargain at about 15pence.

While I was still in Japan I also visited a charity group Ippo Ippo - Step by Step, which organises events and Mount Fuji walks for cancer patients. The group invited me to give a short presentation on my pilgrimage at their meeting. I started the presentation in Japanese, but this only lasted for about 8 sentences and then I relied on Kazu to translate for me. After the meeting, which was held in Shizuoka Prefecture, we drove for half an hour to a vantage point for viewing Mount Fuji. This was my first proper view of the iconic mountain, but it was a hazy afternoon and we were facing the sun so I did not manage to take any decent photos of it. However, on my last day in Japan while aboard the Shinkansen - Bullet Train - from Tokyo, on my way to Osaka for Kansai International Airport, we were presented with spectacular views of the mountain. This is one of my last views of Japan, and my final photograph from my trip:

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Days 44~45 - Koyasan

The town of Koya, sitting on top of a mountain, feels much colder than Shikoku. At 6am this morning Kazu and I, Shun-san the trainee-priest, and three other priests huddled together in the relative warmth of the temple's main hall for prayers. During the prayers, there were various offerings of incense and tea which were made to various deities. We were invited to participate but I felt nervous because I didn't know what to do, and so I was very glad to have Kazu so that I could watch her then follow her - although I think she was just bluffing actually. We spent all day sight-seeing, and there are plenty of photo opportunities at this World Heritage Site. It felt good to have the opportunity simply to explore, without having to worry about the time and to start plodding on again to reach my next stage.
Not so many people stopped to talk with me here at Koyasan as we wandered around the pagodas and the 100 or so temples taking pictures. A Gaijin - foreigner - even one wearing the Henro pilgrim outfit is possibly not such a novelty here, or maybe it was because I was with Kazu and so less approachable. I am sure that I would not have practised my Japanese so often on Shikoku if I had been walking with Kazu. I had decided to wear my Henro outfit for the last time today. Technically, I had already achieved Kechigan - the 'end point' - when I reached Temple 88. Then when I returned to Temple 1, I completed the circuit of Shikoku's circular pilgrimage route. However, many of the other pilgrims I spoke with on Shikoku planned to visit Koyasan after completing the 88 temple circuit, to report to Kobou Daishi who is laid to rest at Okunoin Temple. Many see this as the true conclusion to the Shikoku Pilgrimage. 
The route to Okunoin Temple was via a long winding forest path, lined with hundreds of thousands of tombstones, making this Japan's largest cemetery. We stopped to read some of the stones, Kazu helping me with the Kanji, picking out important family names. It was an enchanting and peaceful approach to the temple, and to Kobou Daishi's Mausoleum. When we reached Okunoin Temple, we followed my familiar temple routine and then I received the final stamp in my Noukyouchou - temple stamp book. 
Back in the town centre later on, Kazu and I wanted to ask someone to take a photo of us. I approached a young man walking past and I asked him, but he started laughing at us and pointing to himself: we hadn't even recognised Shun-san - our trainee-priest from the last temple - in his school uniform! 

For our second night at Koyasan, we had booked a different Shukubou - temple lodging - at Muryokoin Temple. This temple was slightly larger that Sanboin and had a few other guests staying there. We were served more delicious vegetarian food by young trainee-priests. The bedrooms were all in a long row along a  corridor at ground level. They were separated from each other and from the corridor outside, only by thin paper, glass and wooden sliding doors. Kazu and I spoke in whispers. The floorboards creaked loudly with everyone's footsteps. Kazu told me that this was a deliberate security designs in older traditional style buildings, something to do with advance warning of assassins during the night. It was at Muryokoin Temple that I proposed to Kazu, and she accepted. We agreed that I should still formally ask her Father's permission when I would meet him for the first time the next day.
The next day, we walked back to the cable car station, rode the cable car back down the mountain, took a train to Osaka, and then caught the Shinkansen to Tokyo. After a tube ride, a local train and then a taxi we finally arrived at Kazu's parents' apartment and I met her family. I gave Kazu's Father my completed Noukyouchou - temple stamp book, which was currently my most treasured possession; and I asked him for permission to marry his daughter, which seemed like a fair deal!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Day 43 - Leaving Shikoku

As I watched Shikoku getting smaller from the top deck of the ferry, I felt sad to be leaving the island that had been my home for the past six weeks or so. I might never have the chance to return. It was also apparent from a distance just how mountainous the island is.

I followed the same routine as my ferry journey to Shikoku: staying up on the top deck watching the land getting smaller, then feeling cold and going downstairs to sit cross-legged on the carpet with my boots off, writing my journal. It feels more familiar this time. I have just re-read what I wrote on my first few days in Japan and I am amused to read how scared I was of miso, rice and green tea for breakfast. This was not just my first ever pilgrimage, or first ever trip to Shikoku, or even to Japan; I have not travelled much at all prior to this, and especially not to a non-English speaking country. I think I was a nervous traveller, or non-traveller to be more accurate, so now I feel rather proud of myself. A couple of people on the carpet area are sniffing loudly every few seconds. This is something that I still cannot become accustomed to. There is a constant barrage of noise here, from the two sniffers and also from two TV's at each corner of the room, each on a different channel.
I met my partner, Kazu, at Hashimoto Station, as we had planned via email, and we took the train as close to Koyasan  as possible. The penultimate leg of the journey was taken on another impossibly steep cable-car that gave me vertigo. So instead of appreciating the scenery I watched my fellow passengers and noticed that for the first time in six weeks I was no longer the only foreigner. This was the largest concentration of non-Japanese people I had seen since I left the airport. At the top of the cable car, everyone boarded buses for Koyasan, but we stopped for a lunch of Sesame Tofu and Soba noodles before walking the 3km or so into town.

It was a sunny day and an easy walk but Kazu sometimes sounded out of breath as we walked and I figured that I must have become relatively fit since I started the pilgrimage. We entered Koyasan via the main gate Daimon and stopped to take photos before heading towards our Shukubo - temple lodging. Kazu had come straight from Tokyo and wanted to sight-see, take of photos of temples and go inside every food shop or gift shop, but that had been my entire routine for the last six weeks and I just wanted to reach the Shukubo before it became too cold and dark, to relax and catch up, so I had to drag her past every distraction to Sanboin Temple.

We were the only guests at the temple that evening and we were greeted warmly. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that all the food at Koyasan is Shoujin Ryouri - vegetarian food, as eaten by monks/priests. This is what I had expected to find at all the temples in Shikoku and had been shocked by the amount of meat, fish and alcohol consumed. It was too late now, I had stopped being vegetarian somewhere around Kochi and was now enjoying, albeit with a lingering sense of shame, Japanese fish everyday. But for the next couple of days at least I could eat with a clear conscience, and the food was excellent.

We were served dinner by Shun-san, a 17 year old trainee-priest at Sanboin Temple. He is a High School student during the day, but then in the evenings he comes to the temple to work and study as part of his apprenticeship into the priesthood.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Day 42 - Cherry Blossom

I was constantly hearing about the springtime Sakura - cherry bossom - in Japan. It has taken me about two weeks of looking at it, smelling it, photographing it, talking about it, reading about it, being shown it outside my window, walking through snowstorms of petals, watching couples being photographed in front of it, and then sitting under cherry trees in Tokushima Central Park for a couple of hours this afternoon in the warm spring sun, I was finally convinced. Now, I understand.

Impossible to put into words ... well, almost impossible, I had been so frustrated by my inability to draw or write poetry based on my experience in Ritsurin Park. So this afternoon I decided to simply sit in Tokushima Central Park until I had written something. Here is the poem I was inspired to write. I can barely compose a simple Japanese sentence, so attempting to write a Japanese language Tanka (a tradition Japanese poem containing five lines of 5, 7, 5, 7 and 7 syllables respectively) was a little over-ambitious. It probably makes little sense, and I simply could not avoid the obvious comparison of the petals with snowflakes, but here is my honest response to Sakura:

Google translate churns it out as:
"Warm pink snowflake. Sakura flying, light snowfall of spring, I was found."
which is actually surprisingly close to my intended meaning.

Today was another rest day, my final full day in Shikoku. I was staying at the same hotel as when I passed through Tokushima after Temple 17. I visited Mount Bizan today, there was a cable car to the summit, but I was still feeling guilty for taking a cable car up the the mountain to Temple 85, so I walked to the summit of Mount Bizan in my Crocs to enjoy the panoramic views of Tokushima City. A notice at the summit said that one can see Wakayama Prefecture, the closest mainland, where I am heading tomorrow, but it was slightly hazy and I could not make it out. Halfway up the mountain I saw a photo-shoot of a model posing in front of an Italian sports car with cherry blossom in the background.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Day 41 - Ah the end, congratulations!

Temple 1 appeared very different from when I had first visited over a month ago. Physically it looked different, today was a much sunnier day and the blossom is now in full bloom. The temple had been all but deserted on the 2nd March, but this morning it was bustling with  families and couples, as well as three coach parties of Henro. I would have found these crowds daunting on my first day, but I felt experienced today, now that I had completed the 88 Temples, and I just about understood where to go, how/when to ring the temple bell, where to pay, where to stand, what to to do, what to say, how to chant my prayers, where to light the candles and incense etc.
There is a separate page in the Noukyouchou - the stamp book - for re-visiting your first Temple, and the shaven headed Nun smiled and said "Ah saigo, omedetou!" as she took my book to stamp it.
(Ah the end, congratulations!)  
  • Distance walked today =  13km
  • Distance walked so far = 818.2km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 1 again; Ryouzenji.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation =  Hotel and breakfast ¥6090,  Hotel Asutoria, Tokusima-shi, Tokushima-ken 〒770-0833
  • Expenditure today = bottle of cold tea and can of hot coffee ¥270, train from Hiketa Station - walking distance from last night`s hotel - to Bandou Station near Temple 1 ¥350, train from Bandou Station into Tokushima City ¥260, rental of laptop ¥500, toilettries ¥2276, Japanese vegetable curry and lager ¥1600, one temple stamp¥300, other food/snacks/drinks ¥1377.
  • Settai = the Nun who stamped my book at Temple 1 gave me an English language leaflet guide to Koyasan, and recommended a Temple lodging to visit.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Day 40 - Finished

I started walking this morning with the other two chaps who had stayed in the same Ryokan as me opposite Temple 87. We arrived at the Maeyama O Henro Salon a few minutes before it had properly opened, but they let us in early and gave us hot green tea. The O Henro Salon, conveniently en route to Temple 88, features exhibits relating to the pilgrimage and its history. The salon also contains a large 3D model of the island of Shikoku, like a relief map, with all of the 88 Temples marked on it with red lanterns. This map confirmed my suspicion that virtually the whole island of Shikoku is one massive mountain range, and made me feel proud of my achievement in walking around the majority of this beautiful, mountainous island.

The salon also presents free certificates to walking pilgrims. The certficate says 1,200km, but because I took the occasional train and bus I actually walked only about 800km. I discussed this with the other two chaps and they said as long you walked most of the route, that it was still ok to call yourself a walking pilgrim, as distinct from the car / bus tour pilgrims.
I was walking a bit too fast for the other two chaps, or maybe they just didn`t think much of my Japanese conversation, because they told me to go on ahead of them. It was appropriate that the path to the final temple, Ookuboji, was tough, a final challenge. I was in four-wheel-drive mode again, grabbing at tree roots and rocks to pull myself up the narrow rocky mountain `path`. I genuinely suspected that I had missed one of the Henro Path markers and had taken a wrong turning, and I nearly re-traced my steps on a few occasions when the path became incredibly narrow and steep. I was glad that today was a clear sunny day, the path would have been rather tricky in the rain.

*almost finished. I proudly received the final Temple Stamp at Temple 88, it was an emotional moment but I managed not to cry and embarrass myself. I had made an effort to recite all of the sutras entirely from my Hiragana (Japanese alphabet) prayer books for the first time, without taking any shortcuts or resorting to the English. This took a long time and a series of other pilgrims had stood next to me, finished their sutras and then left, while I was still on the Heart Sutra, but it felt like an achievement. The two chaps that I had started walking with this morning arrived after I had finished so I sat and had a snack with them before continuing.

At the Temple Stamp office I also paid for the certificate below which signifies Kechigan (completion of the pilgrimage). However, opinion is divided and some say that one must complete the circle to achieve Kechigan, by returning to the temple you started at, which for me was Temple 1. And there are yet others who say that one must first complete the circuit, and then proceed to Koyasan to truly complete the Shikoku Pilgrimage. 

  • Distance walked today =  22.1km
  • Distance walked so far = 805.2km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 88(!); Ookuboji.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation =  Shirotori Onsen Hotel and two meals ¥6800, Shirotori Onsen, Higashi Kagawashi, Kagawaken 〒769 2714
  • Expenditure today = bottle of Kirin with evening meal ¥550, lemon Vit C drink ¥150, 88 Temple Certificate ¥2000, coin laundry ¥450, one temple stamp¥300.
  • Settai = as I was leaving last night`s Ryokan this morning, shortly before 7am, Okaasan gave me some sweets, a big bar of chocolate, a bottle of drink, then said "Shush" and checked the other guest weren`t watching as she gave me back one of the ¥1000 notes I had just paid to her. Free 88 Walking Prilgrimage Certificate, and tea, from Maeyama O Henro Salon.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Day 39 - Elections, Badgers, Cable Cars.

Apparently elections are being held in a couple of days. Minibuses full of waving people are constantly driving past, with very polite requests to vote for their candidate being screamed from speakers strapped to the roof-racks. As I left Takamatsu City this morning, I passed a campaign office with two canvassers standing outside in red jackets. Their technique was simply to bow repeatedly towards  the rush hour traffic passing by - they would certainly get my vote!

I received a volume of emails from my partner who is now in Tokyo with her parents. She was woken by an earthquake this morning, an aftershock from the powerful earthquake which caused the devastating tsunami on the 11th March, I have not felt any quakes yet in Shikoku, but she says I will get the 'real' Japanese  experience in Tokyo. We have arranged to meet at Koyasan and I am excited, this is a perfect arrangement. There have been occasions when I have been emotionally overwhelmed by a temple, mountain, forest, view or some encounter that I wanted to share with her, but by undertaking the main part of the pilgrimage by myself I have encouraged myself to engage more with Japanese people and to practise my language. Both of which aspects I have enjoyed, and both of which have made my experience more meaningful and memorable.

At Temple 84 there were two statues of badgers, large statues, large badgers. The sign, which helpfully was also in English, explained that people come from all over the country to pray to the Badger God Yoshima Tasaburou who, according to the legend once metamorphosed into human form to guide Koubou Daishi through the mist on the mountain. Worshippers pray to the badger for assistance in maintaining a peaceful family, marriage and success in the restuarant business. I love Japan!

Just before the final 1km climb up to Temple 85 there was a very tempting Cable Car up to the summit of the mountain. Of course I am not lazy, and I desperately wanted to feel the burn in my legs as I plodded up the mountain, but I was concerned that there might be some low level anti social behaviour, or some fare-evaders on the Cable Car, so I decided that as a responsible caring police officer I should conduct a patrol of the Cable Car even though I was off duty. I am proud to say that I maintained law and order on the Cable Car for the three minutes or so that it took the driver and I to reach the top. The Cable Car was not a suspended cabin like a ski-lift cable car. It was a one coach train, on an impossibly steep railtrack which was pulled up the mountain side by the cable, rather like the first steep section of any rollercoaster, just not quite as exciting.  

It had been raining all day, and this slowed down my walking on the mountain paths where the rocks and logs had become slippery. I arrived at Temple 87, my last temple for the day, at around 4:30pm and it was very quiet. I took the time to consult my electronic dictionary and translated a sign at the temple wash basin, "Rinse well. Don't drink the water!", I wondered how many of these signs I had inadvertently ignored at the previous 86 temples. The Ryokan was literally across the road from the temple, and when I arrived, tired and soggy, Okaasan gave me a hot ginger drink which hit the spot perfectly. In the evening she gave me, and the two other Henro guests, a hand-drawn map of the route from her Ryokan to Temple 88, and some brief instructions on which roads to take, she also advised us to stop off at the Maeyama O Henro Salon on the way to Temple 88.
  • Distance walked today =  26.5km
  • Distance walked so far = 783.1km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 84; Yashimaji, Temple 85; Yakuriji, Temple 86; Shidoji, Temple 87; Nagaoji.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation =     Ryokan and two meals ¥6000 , Azumaya Ryokan, Nagao, Sanukishi, Kagawaken 〒769 2302
  • Expenditure today = cable-car to Temple 85 ¥550, candles at Temple 86  ¥150, four temple stamps¥1200.
  • Settai = the calligrapher in the Stamp Office at Temple 84 gave me chocolate biscuits. At Temple 85 "amacha" - sweet tea, and snacks were being handed out to all Henro as O Settai, they were celebrating Buddha`s birthday, which is on 8th April in Japan, but 8th May in most other countries.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Day 38 - Afternoon Tea in the Park

It`s on days like today that I wish I could paint or write poetry. I felt inspired by my visit to Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu City, which is the largest garden designated as a special National Scenic Area and comprises of six ponds and thirteen hills set against the breathtaking evergreen backdrop of Mount Shiun (I copied that from the park guide). I had failed in my intention to learn drawing skills before I came on the pilgrimage. I didn`t write any poetry or draw any pictures today, but I took loads of photos. The above photo is virtually identical to the one in my guidebook. The park is so carefully designed, every tree, lake, bridge and even stone has been deliberately positioned for maximum aesthetic appeal, so there is now even a recommended point from which to take the best photograph.

Today was a rest day, no walking, no temples. The park was busy with people eating picnics and having wedding photographs taken against the backdrop of cherry blossom, very romantic, and I suddenly felt lonely without my partner. I spent most of the day in the park, it is in the centre of a large busy city, but the park was peaceful and beautiful. Plum and cherry trees were blossoming, today was a warm sunny spring day with just a gentle cool breeze. I sipped Matcha (fine Japanese powdered green tea) sitting on a tatami mat in Kikugetsutei tea-house overlooking Nanko Lake. Kiku-getsu-tei (moon-scooping-house) tea-house was originally built around 1640 and later given that name by Yoritaka, the feudal Lord of  Takamatsu in 1745, inspired by the words of Chinese Tang Era poet Yu Lianshi who wrote, "When I scoop the water, I hold the moon in my hands." 

The waitress who served me breakfast in the hotel this morning is the same one who served me udon last night in a restaurant about a block and a half away, we were both surprised to see each other again this morning. She is busy!
  • Distance walked today =  0km
  • Distance walked so far = 756.6km
  • Temples visited today = nil
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation =   Hotel and breakfast ¥7,860,  Royal Park Hotel, Takamatsushi, Kagawaken 〒760 0048
  • Expenditure today =  various gifts ¥1,350 and ¥2,585, entrance to Ritsurin Park ¥400, cup of tea ¥710, lunch snacks ¥263, coin laundry ¥400, evening snacks and sake ¥1243. 
  • Settai = I took a long time deciding between two gifts in a shop in Takamatsu City today. Eventually I made my choice, paid, and was leaving the shop when the shopkeeper called me back, and gave me the other one as a gift.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Day 37 - Wooden Fish, Temple Sketches, Almonds & Fish

 At Temple 82, a Japanese man called Tsuneishi asked me in careful  English how long I had been in Japan, but without thinking I replied in Japanese, he fell about laughing as he was surprised to hear gaijin (a foreigner) speaking Japanese. He was also surprised - as are most Japanese people that I speak to - when I told him that I am Buddhist. I explained that I had been reciting the prayers from an English language guide-book, which he also found hilarious, but that I intended to start reading them from a Japanese book now, in order to practise reading Hiragana quickly. Hiragana is one of the Japanese phonetic alphabets, I think the technical term is a "syllabary".
He used a Mokugyou to lead himself and his two friends when they prayed. A Mokugyou (literal translation = wooden fish) is a small wooden fish-shaped drum used  to strike a rhythm for each syllable. He asked me to join him and his friends in reciting the sutras, which I was happy to do. He kept up a fast pace with the Mokugyou and I was stumbling over the hiragana, but I made a valiant effort.
At Temple 81 I saw Masaoka Shigeru-san who had stayed at the same Ryokan as me two nights ago, he was sketching the temple in a small sketchbook. I met a chap called John in London almost exactly a year ago at a Japanese `arts` festival, he gave a small presentation on the Shikoku Pilgrimage that he had undertaken previously, I was already planning my trip so was very attentive. John showed us his sketch book during the presentation. He had also drawn a picture at each temple rather than taking photos, I thought this was a excellent idea and I had made "learn how to draw" a priority on my list of things to do - which I never got around to doing. I saw Masaoka-san again at Temple 82 and he gave me some chocolate as O Settai; then, as I was leaving Temple 83 I saw him sketching again, and he said if I could wait for 15 minutes he would give me the sketch as O Settai - of course I waited. The photo above is Masaoka-san sketching, while I am patiently waiting. Below, Masaokasan's sketch, and also my photo of the same scene, his sketch is easily a more preferable souvenir of Temple 83 than my photo.

On my blog, I have been writing "Expenditure: ¥1269 for evening snacks and sake etc". My typical snacks here are very different from what I would have eaten back home, but seem quite familiar to me now, This is a typical selection: 
Ume-shu (Japanese plum wine) with plum inside the bottle. 
Packet of Almonds & Fish. 
Green Tea Old Fashioned Doughnut, on the packet it says in English, "Please eat at breakfast and the tea-time. Surely you will be satisfied."

  • Distance walked today =  25.8km
  • Distance walked so far = 756.6km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 81; Shiromineji, Temple 82; Negoroji, Temple 83; Ichinomiyaji.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation = Hotel and breakfast ¥7,860, Royal Park Hotel, Takamatsushi, Kagawaken 〒760 0048
  • Expenditure today = three Temple Stamps ¥900, Tempura Udon noodles and bottle of Kirin ¥1600, evening snacks / lunch tomorrow ¥936 , train from Ichinomiya Station near Temple 83 to Takamatsu City for the hotel ¥340, bottle of Vitamin C Lemon drink and bottle of `Amino Vital Body Refresh` drink ¥300.
  • Settai = A female Buddhist Priest, Rev. Bisho Saito, who is leading a bus tour of Henro spoke to me yesterday at Temple 78 - in good English - and I saw her again today at Temple 81, she is Japanese but based in Australia, she gave me ¥1000 for lunch. Masaoka-san, gave me chocolate at Temple 82, and his sketch of Temple 83. A female Henro also stayed at the same Ryokan as Masaoka-san and me two nights ago, has been walking at a similar pace to me and I keep bumping into her, she gave me biscuits at Temple 83.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Day 36 - Prayer Books

I bought two books of Buddhist sutras, in Japanese, today at Temple 80. These sutras are the Buddhist texts which are recited at each temple. I had initially resisted this as it was alien to me, I didn`t understand it and so didn`t feel comfortable joining in. I did not initially buy the `prayer books` at the Temple 1 shop, so I had been paying my respects and reverence in my own personal way, and quietly reflecting and meditating at each temple. Previously in the UK, I had also initially resisted Buddhist chanting at the Western Buddhist Order centres that I attend. I felt a desire to join in but I feel uneasy with any kind of ritual that I don`t understand, but after listening to the chanting for some time (weeks / months) and listening to what people had to say about the mantras they were chanting, I eventually joined in. Similarly with the Japanese Shingon Buddhism prayers, I did not want to join in, and recite something I didn`t understand, simply to please the Temple Stamp Office staff, who sometimes glare at you reproachfully if it looks like you are not praying properly! My admonition from the attendant at Temple 75 yesterday was still ringing in my ears.

Anyway, I don`t like doing things just because I am told to, but after a couple of weeks of listening to other people at the temples reciting the sutras, some in monotone, others quite melodic, and after talking to people about the sutras and doing a bit of research on the web and in my guidebook, I had started to join in, a bit nervously at first, in a very quiet voice. My guidebook has easy to follow instructions with all the characters in Roman alphabet, but I am supposed to be practising my Japanese too, so I bought books of the sutras today, in Japanese. My routine at each temple is constantly developing, I am still enjoying a quiet moment of reflection and meditation, but I have now also included reciting the sutras, even though I am probably getting the pronunciation all wrong; but I feel better for it, and the temple staff also seem happier.

My feet were quite sore today, the previous two day's walking had been tough and I had covered a lot of distance. The joints in the balls of my feet are aching. I thought I had passed through the 'blister stage', but two new blisters have suddenly appeared. I think I have become a bit smarter now though: straight after Temple 79 I went to my hotel, it was too early to check in, but I have found that hotels are happy to let me dump my bags, and then I walked, with a much lighter step, to Temple 80. After Temple 80 I then backtracked (on the train) all the way back to the hotel, from where it will be much easier to approach the next temple tomorrow morning, I think I saved about a 2hour / 9km walk. At Temple 80 there was a 'mini pilgrimage' within the temple grounds, consisting of 88 shrines/statues/marker posts, representing each of the 88 Temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Maybe this is for the busy Salaryman who cannot take a couple of months off work to complete the 'full size' pilgrimage.
  • Distance walked today =  18.6km
  • Distance walked so far = 730.8km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 78; Goushouji, Temple 79; Tennouji, Temple 80; Kokubunji.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation =   Hotel and breakfast ¥5,640, Hotel New Century, Sakaideshi, Kagawaken 〒762 0003 
  • Expenditure today = three Temple Stamps ¥900, food for evening and snacks / lunch tomorrow ¥1642 , two books of Sutras from Temple 80 ¥1050, train from Kokubu Station near Temple 80 back to Sakaide City for the hotel ¥210, plasters ¥399.
  • Settai = while walking between Temples 79 and 80 a lady drove past me in her car, then stopped suddenly and ran over to give me a ¥500 coin.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Day 35 - Stamp Relay, Say your Prayers!

 I woke up naturally at about 06:00 this morning, I switched on the TV to check the time and immediately saw one of my partner`s friends on the TV, he was talking about traditional Japanese arts, Geisha and so on, which was slightly surreal at 06:00 in the morning. He is originally from the UK but now works in arts and broadcasting in Japan. I have never met him, but had  seen his photo and heard his voice and he was instantly recognisable on TV.

I left the hotel and started walking at about 06:45, I found a payphone early and called my partner and Mother while it was still a reasonable time in the UK. I had a lot of walking today, with no real mountains. It is said that the journey between each of the temples is as important as visiting the temples themselves, and the pilgrimage should not be seen merely as a 'stamp relay'. However, I covered a lot of distance today, I was on a mission, and I bagged seven temples! I made a note in my pocketbook of the time as I arrived at each temple so that I would be able to tell apart the photos later. I remember that Temple 71 had LOTS of steps, and this is particularly memorable with sore legs after a month of walking. In one part of the temple there was a staircase which had exactly 108 steps, an important number in Buddhism. Within the main hall of Temple 75 there was a breathtaking colossal statue of the Buddha. The statue was overwhelming, it was golden and reached the ceiling of the hall, which was lit with equally massive Japanese lanterns - each larger than me. I politely asked - in Japanese - if I could take a photo, but the female temple attendant said, rather abruptly, "No, just stand there and say your prayers!" (my translation)

As I was approaching Temple 77 I heard shouting from behind me "O henro-san" ( - Hey Mr Pilgrim) and two men stopped me. One of them couldn`t talk - Matsui Youichi-san (but his friend spoke on his behalf) and he gave me a present of a small ceramic figure as O Settai. I have since been told that he is Jizou-samma and I have looked in my guide book and it says that Jizou are believed to be the guardian deity of children, pregnant women and travellers.
  • Distance walked today =  33.9km
  • Distance walked so far = 712.2km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 71; Iyadaniji, Temple 72; Mandaraji, Temple 73; Shusshakaji, Temple 74; Kouyamaji, Temple 75; Zentsuji, Temple 76; Konzuji, Temple 77; Douryuji.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation =   Hotel and breakfast ¥5,800, Marugame Plaza Hotel, Marugame, Kagawaken 〒763 0024 
  • Expenditure today = seven Temple Stamps ¥2100, food for evening and snacks / lunch tomorrow ¥1566, bottle of lemon drink and bottle of hot green tea from vending machine ¥240.
  • Settai = sweets from a henro on a bus-tour, a mikan (orange) from one of two ladies who were walking at around the same speed as me today - I saw them at most of the seven temples I visited today, a ceramic figure.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Day 34 - Prayer Aubergine

No need for an alarm clock this morning, at 5:10am the hustle and bustle of everyone else getting up woke me. The ryokan owner had told us last night that from his house to the next temple, Temple 66 usually takes about two hours, or one and a half if you are fast. It is only about 6km but it is up a mountain with a 927m elevation. I left the ryokan at 06:40 and was at Temple 66 by 08:15. It had not been too cold a morning, but as I ascended the mountain the temperature dropped rapidly and I was glad of the extra pair of gloves I had bought a few days ago, there was some light snow at the top of the mountain.

Most of the temples I have visited now are starting to become indistinguishable in my memory, but I am sure Temple 66 will remain distinct. My favourite temples are those perched on mountains, and the cold early morning walk to Unpenji in the snow was memorable. The temple itself had some interesting features, including the first Tibetan-style prayer wheels I have seen in Japan, and a huge collection of lifesize statues. Also at Temple 66 there was what looked liked a large bronze statue of an aubergine, on closer inspection I found that was exactly what it was. "O Tanomi Nasu" to be precise, which translates as something like "Prayer Aubergine", so for ¥500 you get an aubergine shaped wooden tablet to write your name, address, age and your wish, then you hang it on the aubergine shaped board. There is mine: third row down, second from the right.
Temples 68 and 69 share the same grounds. The calligrapher in the stamp office did both temple stamps at the same time, although they did not have a "two for the price of one" offer. I took a wrong turning coming out of Temple 70. All of the signs pointing towards temples are very clear and obvious, but most of the wrong turns I have made so far were while leaving a temple. I thought I had gone the wrong way from Temple 70 towards this evening's hotel, so I stopped to ask someone, I showed him my map and pointed to the hotel I was trying to reach, I think the English language on the map confused him so I pointed out Temple 70 and a main river on the map to give him some landmarks and he pointed out directions for me. I was not convinced he was right, but it seemed rude to ignore him, so I thanked him and started walking in the direction he had shown me. I kept walking until I came to another main river that I could not cross, but which gave me a landmark to get my bearings and I was able to correct myself, the man who had helped was now far out of sight so I turned around and reached the hotel eventually, after passing Temple 70 again on a 3km detour. 3km is a long way with sore feet. I was Mothers' Day back in the UK so after I had checked in, I went back outside to look for a payphone to call home. After over an hour of fruitless searching on sore feet, I had found one Domestic-only payphone and one out-of-order payphone, so I gave up and hobbled back to the hotel, sorry Mother!
  • Distance walked today =  32km (including 3km by mistake!)
  • Distance walked so far = 678.3km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 66; Unpenji, Temple 67; Daikouji, Temple 68; Jinnein, Temple 69; Kanonji, Temple 70; Motoyamaji.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation =  Hotel (room only) ¥3,800, Motodai Business Hotel, Motodaichou, Kanonji City, Kagawaken 〒768 0022
  • Expenditure today =  five Temple Stamps ¥1500, Aubergine Prayer at Temple 66 ¥500, and gift at Temple 66 ¥500, telephone card ¥3000, food for evening, and breakfast and lunch tomorrow ¥1648
  • Settai = this morning the ryokan owner gave us each two onigiri (rice balls) with pickles to take with us for lunch, a four year old Japanese girl gave me a sweet at Temple 68/69, she said "Hello" "Thank you" and "Goodbye" which was quite impressive, I did not know that much Japanese when I was four.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Day 33 - Shikoku Fever

I saw another van-ful of cops by the side of the road this afternoon, then about 200m up the road was another one in plain clothes with a small hidden speed camera. In the UK everyone seems to get very upset unless the speed cameras are advertised in advance, painted bright yellow and very obvious. 

This area is fairly central geographically in Shikoku. I left Ehime prefecture this afternoon, I am just inside Tokushima prefecture now (where I started), but once I leave Temple 66 tomorrow I will be in Kagawa, the final prefecture. My last Japanese Teacher's family name is Kagawa, but she was from Tokushima. I have managed to spend some time planning the rest of my pilgrimage. As long as I don't encounter any problems with accommodation, I should be at Temple 88 next Saturday, then back to Temple 1 the next day and stay in Tokushima City for an extra day. I am also planning another rest day in Matsuyama so I will have four rest days in total, one in each of Shikoku's prefectures' main cities. Then I will travel on to Koyasan where I have arranged to meet up with my partner and stay for a night or two.
This sign says "Henro Gambatte!", which means, "Pilgrim, hang in there / keep going!" These signs, and similar, are all along the pilgrim route, and are very encouraging on the more difficult parts. I arrived at the ryokan fairly early this afternoon. I have stayed at Business Hotels over the past fews days, so I enjoyed the social element at this ryokan. The Business Hotels are good for privacy, but can feel lonely, whereas the Ryokan are good for socialising: bathing together, sitting in the same Yukata and dining together. The internal walls in this ryokan are all paper and glass, so if someone in one room switches on a light or TV then everyone in the ryokan benefits from it! One of the guests had already heard about me, the Gaijin Henro - foreigner pilgrim. 

As we were finishing the evening meal, my fellow 6 guests and I were treated to a presentation by the owner, about the next section of the route. I couldn`t keep up with most of his Japanese but he was quite entertaining and obviously had a very detailed local knowledge of the route, he gave out two maps that he had drawn, advising which roads to take and which to avoid. I think he is quite a serious walker though, at one point he was saying, "You will pass a Henro Rest Hut here, but you won`t need that, don`t stop, keep walking ... "  The other guests were talking about O Shikoku byou, I may have got that slightly wrong, but it basically amounts to Shikoku Fever, which is the condition whereby once you have finished the pilgrimage and gone home, you will want to return and do the pilgrimage again and again . . .
  • Distance walked today =  17.8km
  • Distance walked so far = 646.3km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 65; Sanrakuji.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation =  Ryokan and two meals ¥6,000, Minshuku Okada, Miyoshi City, Tokushimaken 〒778 5253
  • Expenditure today =   one Temple Stamp ¥300. 
  • Settai = the driver of a bus-tour Henro party gave me two bananas at Temple 65

Friday, 1 April 2011

Day 32 - Japanese Baths

A pictorial guide to Japanese baths:
Step One.
Make sure you are entering the correct bath, I have not heard of any mixed baths in Japan. This hotel`s bath has a helpful notice in English, but this is unusual. As a general rule doors/curtains/notices tends to be in blue for the boys and red for the girls - or you need to start learning Japanese.

Step Two.
Strip. This is the changing room, slippers are left outside, some shared baths in hotels and public baths have lockers to put valuables in.
Step Three.
Enter the main bathroom, but DO NOT get in the bath! First, sit on a small stool at the shower, and wash yourself. It is important to wash yourself first, so that you are squeaky-clean before you get into the water. You will be sharing the bath if it is a large one, or, someone else may be using it after you if it is a smaller one. I`m not entirely sure why everyone sits down to wash at the shower, instead of standing, although I think I have splashed water and soap over chaps sitting next to me a few times while I have been standing up, so maybe this is why. At each shower there are generally two, or sometimes three, big dispenser bottles of shampoo and body soap, these bottles are also inside every hotel-room private bathroom.

Step Four.
Submerge yourself in hot wet bliss while admiring a view of Mount Ishizuchi, which at 1982metres is western Japan`s highest mountain. Not all baths have such an impressive view, this bath was on the 9th floor of the hotel.

 At Temple 64 I met Professor Tanaka again, he stayed at the same Ryokan as Fujiisan last night and told me that they were talking about me. I also met Airi-chan, who is 12 and has just completed all 88 Temples on the pilgrimage, she has been travelling around the temples in sections over a period of about six months by car with her family.

  • Distance walked today =  9km
  • Distance walked so far = 628.5km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 64; Maegamiji.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation =  Hotel and breakfast ¥6,000 (or  ¥5,500 I`m not sure which),  Mishima Daiichi Hotel, Mishima, Ehimeken 〒799 0405
  • Expenditure today =  train fare from Iyo Saijo to Iyo Mishima for the hotel ¥1200, evening food and sake ¥2043, one Temple Stamp ¥300, card for hotel`s cinema-on-demand ¥1000 - I watched "From Paris with Love", and half of "Inception" but fell asleep and started dreaming. 
  • Settai = brocade name-slip from Airi-chan at Temple 64, and ¥500 off the price of the hotel - I had paid ¥6000 already and was using the computer in the lobby when the hotel reception clerk came over to give me a ¥500 coin as O Settai to a Henro, however because of my poor Japanese I couldn`t work out if it was a personal gift from the clerk, or whether he was telling me that the hotel gave a discount to Henro, I will study Japanese much harder when I return.