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.
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.