Please start at Day One

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Day 31 - Professor Tanaka

I stopped at a Henro Rest hut this morning, before commencing the final 2km ascent to Temple 60. The road I had been walking on stopped suddenly, it went nowhere, but there was a pilgrimage path-marker on the other side of the road, pointing to the steep forest path, and what is described as a Henro Korogashi - a place where pilgrims fall down. A couple were at a spring near the rest hut, filling up plastic 2litre bottles with spring water and loading them into the back of their car, I saw them fill up about 20, they had come out of their way just for this water. The spring was not somewhere that you might just happen to "pass by", they had driven to the end of a long road, which lead nowhere, simply for the water. As they were about to leave, the woman ran over to my rest hut and gave me a large bun with bean-paste inside, as O Settai. I didn't want to miss out on this precious water, so I filled up my own water bottle with the spring water and started to climb, sometimes virtually on all fours as it was so steep.

Near the end of the climb I caught up with a Buddhist Priest who was standing for a minute to rest. Professor Tanaka spoke excellent English, without an American accent. He told me that he had spent years teaching Buddhism and Macrobiotics in the US and the UK a long time ago. He had been involved with an organisation called the East-West Foundation based near Old Street in central London, small world!

I bumped into Fujii-san this afternoon near Temple 63, this seemed like a huge co-incidence but I suppose it`s not really, given that we are both travelling the same path. We bowed, shook hands and chatted like old friends, then parted again. At Temple 63 there is a large stone with a hole, according to the guidebook: if you can walk from the main hall to the stone with your eyes closed, while making a wish, then put your walking staff through the hole, your prayer will be answered. I examined the stone, calculated the height I would need to be holding the staff at, walked back to the main hall (counting my paces), turned around, closed my eyes, made my wish while slowly walking 20 paces and got my staff through first time. So did I cheat? No, just some careful preparation and attention to detail - which is also what will probably make my wish come true!

  • Distance walked today =  27.5km
  • Distance walked so far = 619.5km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 60; Yokomineji, Temple 61; Kouonji, Temple 62; Houjuji, Temple 63; Kichijoji.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation =  Hotel and breakfast ¥6,100, Saijo Urban Hotel, Saijo City, Ehimeken 〒793 0030
  • Expenditure today = train fare from Iyo Himi near Temple 63 to Iyo Saijo for the hotel ¥200, evening food and sake ¥1646, and out again for an ice cream ¥296, four Temple Stamps ¥1200.
  • Settai = bean-paste bun, at Temple 60 a Japanese car-henro was chatting with myself and another young Japanese walking-henro who I saw at a couple of Temples yesterday, he then gave me and the young walking-henro a ¥1000 yen note each and said it would pay for a big bowl of udon noodles, the calligrapher in the stamp office at Temple 60 gave me a hot ginger drink which was very warming, the staff in the hotel this evening gave me a hotel small bath towel to keep as a gift.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Day 30 - GPS Tracker

I met an interesting chap called Hal in the hotel lift this morning, and had breakfast with him. I assumed he was American from his accent, but he is from Norway and visits Japan regularly with his work. Everyone I have met so far who speaks English, speaks with an American accent, and this includes Japanese, American (!), Austrian and now, Norwegian. Hal`s father has asked him to use a GPS tracking device since he returned to Japan after the earthquake and tsunami. Hal wears the device, and Hal`s father can log in online and see exactly where Hal is at anytime, anywhere in the world. Hal forgot to wear it the other day and his father could see that Hal did not make his usual journey to work which caused concern, Hal received a gentle reminder to wear his tracker!

On the approach to Temple 58 there was a sign saying it was just 100 metres away (actually it said 0.1km - the Japanese seem to prefer just Kilometres rather than Metres), and sure enough after 100 metres I saw the impressive main gate, with the two scary looking chaps. Fujji-san had told me that the one on the right usually has his mouth open while the chap`s on the left is closed, I have been checking this and so far he is right. Anyway, the front gate was deceptive, as had happened with a few temples already, because it is another kilometre of very steep paths and hundreds of steps before you reach the actual temple grounds. In Temple 58 I met a man that I seen about 40 minutes earlier at Temple 57 with a video camera, he told me he was making a DVD about the pilgrimage, he gave me a couple of discs of films he had made previously and took my email address, he said he will send me a copy of his new DVD when it is finished.

At Temple 59 a bus party of Henro arrived and they lined up to shake hands with this statue of Koubou Daishi (the Buddhist monk who lived 774 to 835 and founded this pilgrimage), a few of them also rubbed his head.
  • Distance walked today =  29.3km
  • Distance walked so far = 592.0km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 56; Taisanji, Temple 57; Eifukuji, Temple 58; Senyuuji, Temple 59; Kokubunji.
  • Kouban visited today =  I think I will have to give up on the police in this prefecture, Ehime. I buzzed at two small Kouban today but no one was home at either, which is fair enough. But early this morning near the large Imabari City police station I saw three smartly dressed officers strolling slowly along the road, and asked if I could take a photo of us together; but they said they were too busy, I have some colleagues like that too. There have been occasions on duty when I have been rolling around on the floor with a violent person but people have still come to ask me for directions and I have had to politely tell them that I am too busy. However, I will always pose for the camera when a tourist asks me.
  • Accommodation =   Hotel including breakfast ¥5900, Terminal Hotel Toyo, Nyuugawa, Saijo City, Ehimeken 〒799 1353
  • Expenditure today = four Temple Stamps ¥1200, incense from Temple 56 ¥400, gifts at Temple 57 ¥1000, bento lunch ¥395, evening food and sake ¥    .
  • Settai = DVD`s from film-maker at Temple 57, hot lemon drink outside main hall at Temple 57.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Day 29 - Five Star Hotel

Back in the saddle this morning after my rest yesterday. Nothing really remarkable happened today, or if it did I didn`t notice. There was a buffet breakfast at last night`s hotel so I "filled up" for the whole day, walked to Temples 52 and 53, then took a train journey of about 40 minutes and walked a bit more to Temples 54 and 55. I met a few other Henro, a local farmer near Temple 52 Taisanji gave me three oranges as O Settai (a gift or assistance to a pilgrim), then I looked for a hotel with internet access, seven hotels didn`t have a PC, the eighth one did. The calligrapher in the Stamp Office at Temple 55 had given me a map with a very expensive hotel nearby, which was not in my guide book, probably as most Henro are on a tight budget, but this pilgrimage should not all be about sacrifice hardship and austerity, I am on holiday too. The price of a single room only was ¥10,914 but the reception clerk told me they did a special "Henro Deal", I don`t know if this was true or if she was just doing me a favour, but she gave me the room, a pass for the open air spa bath (usually ¥1,050 extra) and also a pass for breakfast (usually ¥1,500 extra) all for ¥9,000. I have already got my money`s worth as some of my socks are starting to fall apart but there was a sewing kit in the room for me, there was also a brush and a comb but I won`t be needing those. The hotel is a huge building which towers over the city of Imabari. The hotel is really a small village, with a gym, swimming pool and various shops and restaurants inside.

At Temple 53 Enmyouji this morning, there was a small hidden Christian statue at the side of one of the halls within the temple grounds. This was for Christians secretly to worship during the time when Christianity was prohibited in Japan. I haven`t translated the notice yet, but I understand the carving on the stone was made to look like a Buddhist saint or deity, but is actually the Virgin Mary.

  • Distance walked today =  19.4km
  • Distance walked so far = 562.3km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 52; Taisanji, Temple 53; Enmyouji, Temple 54; Enmeiji, Temple 55; Nankoubou.
  • Kouban visited today =  nil
  • Accommodation = "Henro Deal" ¥9000,  Hotel Imabari Kokusai, Imabari City, Ehimeken 〒794 8522
  • Expenditure today =  train ticket from Iyo-wake near Temple 53 to Oonishi near Temple 54 ¥640, four Temple Stamps ¥1200, PC rental ¥300, mouthwash, evening food and sake ¥1619, an extra can of Japanese Kirin lager from the hotel room`s mini-bar ¥300.
  • Settai = three oranges, "Henro Deal" at hotel

Monday, 28 March 2011

Day 28 - 3000 year old Bath

No bank or hotel so far had accepted my travellers cheques and I was starting to worry. I was staying in Matsuyama City for another day so I asked the man at the hotel reception to point me towards the biggest bank branch in the city, he obliged, and so did they, and I am now carrying lots of Yen. After the bank I went to Dougo Onsen, a Japanese hot spring and public bath-house which is a popular tourist attraction. It is 3000 years old and reputedly the oldest in Japan. I found the information board outside as confusing as the menus outside restaurants, but I gather they offered just a bath, a bath and tea, or, a bath, tea and a meal. I chose just a bath, which was ¥400, and then another ¥60 for a bath cloth and soap, and another ¥200 for bath towel rental. As this was a busy public bath-house I was concerned that my tattoos would be a problem, because of the Yakuza (Japanese mafia / gangster) association some onsen do not allow people with tattoos in. I decided I would claim ignorance, that I couldn`t read the "no tattoos" notice - which would be true. The bath was large and hot and full of sweaty men, it had an old-fashioned feel to it, not quite 3000 years old, but old and traditional enough to please a tourist like me. At least I am now used to the Japanese bath ritual and did not make a fool of myself by taking soap into the actual bath and washing myself, I sat at one of the showers around the edge of the bath and scrubbed myself obediently. I sometimes feel that the other chaps are watching to check that I clean myself properly before I get in their water. I received a few curious stares from other people in the bath, but I am used to that. People stare at me the whole time while I am at work in uniform, and people have been staring at me since I arrived in Japan. This is probably just because I am a foreigner wearing the Henro outfit, it happens mostly in the villages and in the mountains, I am not such an attraction in the cities. Maybe they were just staring at my fine physique in the bath, I don`t think the tattoos were an issue, I saw one bald old chap with a large pot-belly wandering around naked, he had a proper Yakuza tattoo over the whole of his back and buttocks and down the backs of his legs and no one seemed bothered.

Near to the onsen is a chic retail area with small stores selling sake, clothes, gifts and the same Matsuyama Tart that I received as O Settai two days ago and is a local delicacy. I bought some small gifts, but was conscious of the size and weight of everything, which I will be carrying on my back along roads and up mountains for the next two or three weeks. It was about lunchtime when I came out of the onsen and I was hungry, I went into an authentic noodle restaurant by myself for the first time. This did not seem such a daunting prospect now after Fujiisan introduced me to them, I even managed to muster up enough Japanese to negotiate a set meal which wasn`t really on their menu, I was very proud of myself! I had "Kitsune Udon", which translates as Fox Noodles. This dish does not contain fox meat, it is udon noodles in broth, topped with fried sweetened tofu pouches. In the late afternoon I visited Matsuyama Castle, which reminded me of Kochi Castle, a series of wooden towers and buildings on a natural rock, with a fantastic view of the modern city all around it. Matsuyama Castle was very pretty in the late afternoon early spring sunshine, some blossom is also starting to arrive. A group of photographers had set up their cameras on tripods to capture the perfect shot of the castle in the evening sun framed with sakura.

  • Distance walked today =  0km
  • Distance walked so far = 543.3km
  • Temples visited today = nil
  • Kouban visited today = nil.
  • Accommodation = Hotel and breakfast ¥4280, Hotel Taihei, Matsuyama City, Ehimeken 〒790 08--
  • Expenditure today =  Dougo Onsen bath, soap and towels ¥660, new mini brolly ¥525, Kitsune Udon Set Meal and Asahi lager ¥1600, various gifts ¥1735, ¥3150, ¥530, laundry ¥400, food / sake for evening and lunch tomorrow ¥895.
  • Settai = Japanese fan with Shikoku Pilgrimage route on it, from shopkeeper at gift shop

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Day 27 - Udon with Fujiisan

I had a very snotty nose last night, which gave me a restless night. Despite going to bed soon after 8:30pm, I did not wake up until 5:56am, only just in time for breakfast. Fujiisan and I had agreed to walk to Temple 51 together today, then go our separate ways. He was planning to stay in Matsuyama Youth (!) Hostel, and I wanted to find a Business Hotel with internet access. On the way to Temple 48 this morning, we paused at Monjuin Temple which is one of the "Bangai" Temples. "Bangai" means outside of the numbers, referring to the fact that it is not one of the official 88 temples, although it does have associations with the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

We arrived at our first official temple of the day just before 9am, Temple 48 Sairinji. It was beautiful in the morning sun, and now that we were getting to lower ground, nearer Matsuyama City centre, it was considerably warmer and I was able to remove my hat and gloves for the first time in about three days. My guide book (2009 edition) had said, "The main deity which is never shown to the public, has been placed facing backwards, so most people go to the back of the Main Hall to worship", so I dutifully walked round to the back of the Main Hall, bowed and paid my respects. Fujii-san was watched me, looking slightly puzzled. Then he told me that they now had a new deity, which he showed me through the front doors of the Main Hall, facing forward, so I started over again.

Temple 51 Ishiteji, is very close to Matsuyama City centre and was very busy, it is quite a tourist attraction and is a sprawling complex of halls, statues, shrines, pagodas, caves, and even has a mini precinct of shops and stalls all selling pilgrim / religious accessories. After we had finished at the Stamp Office, Fujiisan took me to a restaurant nearby to buy me Udon noodles as a parting gift. I had been too nervous to go through the curtained doorway into one of these traditional Udon restaurants by myself, as I found the menu too confusing; but now that my vegetarianism had temporarily lapsed, and with Fujiisan to guide me, it was a great experience.

However, I wasn`t eating my Tempura Udon noodles correctly. My typically English table-manners ensured that I didn't make a sound while eating. Japanese people display their enjoyment of eating noodles by slurping them loudly, quite ostentatiously even, and were concerned by my silence that I was not enjoying the food. Fujiisan showed me how to SLURP the noodles loudly! After we ate we said our goodbyes. I will miss Fujiisan, we have stayed in the same lodgings for nights, eaten about seven meals in a row together, and walked together for three days and become good friends. He has been my own personal tour guide, I have not had to refer to my guide book so often, although he occasionally misses a turning and we have to backtrack a few hundred metres while he laughs and says, "Oh mistake!". Fujiisan will continue walking tomorrow, but I am taking a day off for rest, relaxation and sight-seeing so he will get ahead of me, although when I take a train or bus I may catch up with him again.

I am not progressing very well with the "police" angle of this tour. I have passed a few Koban and larger police stations recently but walked past them. Arranged meetings would be easier, but due to my flexible timetable I have just been 'dropping in' for short chats with the Japanese officers which does not always work out conveniently. The theme of this blog is a Policeman's Pilgrimage, but I do not need to force a police angle into it, I am still a cop, so I assume I am already writing from a policeman's perspective naturally.

  • Distance walked today =  15km
  • Distance walked so far = 543.3km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 48; Sairinji, Temple 49; Joudoji, Temple 50; Hantaji, Temple 51; Ishiteji.
  • Kouban visited today = nil.
  • Accommodation = Hotel and breakfast ¥4280, Hotel Taihei, Matsuyama City, Ehimeken 〒790 08--
  • Expenditure today = four Temple Stamps¥1200, phonecard ¥3000, stuff in hardware store (gloves, rainjacket blah blah) ¥1540, food for evening meal, sake, and snacks for  lunch etc tomorrow ¥2126  . 
  • Settai = Temple 48 gave out a sweet and a tiny origami shirt, udon noodles in a restaurant from Fujii-san

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Day 26 - 100 Years of Hospitality

It was another bitterly cold morning, with only a little snow, but my fingers were still throbbing with cold for most of the day. The ryokan I had planned to stay at this evening was fully booked, and so were the other two nearby. Apparently there are lots of high school rugby teams touring the area and all the Ryokan are busy. I eventually booked a ryokan, then Fujiisan told me this was the same he had already booked for himself, so we agreed to walk together again today. I found another payphone this morning, but it was another domestic-only phone, so this gave Fujiisan another opportunity to laugh at me. We had to retrace yesterday's steps and walk back almost to Temple 44 before turning off towards the city of Matsuyama. We were already high in the mountains, and continued to climb gradually all morning to an elevation of about 700 metres. 

Around mid-day we started to descend from the mountains, we could see Matsuyama City below us, but still far in the distance. As we descended the temperature started to increase slightly, only slightly. People shouted to us from a building, they invited us to come in and eat, drink and rest. The building was called Sakamoto-ya, a Henro hospitality station. We met Isshiki-san, who is a schoolteacher during the week, and he volunteers on Saturdays to help out at the Henro hospitality station. Sakamoto-ya is very well established, this hospitality station has been dishing out food, drink and assistance to walking Henro for over a hundred years. We were given warm grilled mochi, hot green tea, manjou, a kind of "tart" which is a Matsuyama speciality, an orange each, and a bundle of assistance and information leaflets - some of which were in English.

Fujii-san told me he is 72 years of age, but he is fit. Although we mainly walked together he was sometimes ahead of me; he walks faster downhill, and I walk faster uphill. He was his usual cheerful self today, he is very good company and an informative tour-guide. He says Konnichiwa to everyone we pass, and starts conversations with anyone and introduces them to me. He is able to tell me the names of all the flowers and trees we see, and the food that I am eating. He gives me information at each of the temples: which stones to stand on, which stones to sit on, which ones to put my hands on etc. He watched me washing my hands at one of the temple wash-basins and told me I was doing it wrong, he showed me the `proper` way: 

1 hold the ladle in your right hand and fill it with water,
2 pour the water over your left hand to wash it,
3 transfer the ladle to your left hand and pour water over your right hand to wash it,
4 transfer the ladle to your right hand again and pour water into your cupped left hand to drink from and wash out your mouth
5 tip the ladle up so that water pours out over the handle to wash the ladle.

  • Distance walked today =  23.3km
  • Distance walked so far = 528.3km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 46; Joururiji, Temple 47; Yasakaji.
  • Koban visited today = nil.
  • Accommodation = Ryokan and two meals ¥6825, Chouchinya, Matsuyama City, Ehime-ken 〒791-1133
  • Expenditure today = two Temple Stamps¥600, can of coffee to warm up my hands ¥120, gift at Temple 47 ¥200. 
  • Settai = Fujii-san gave me a keyring/talisman of minature traditional Japanese sandals - it is now hanging on my walking staff, warm grilled mochi (ground rice cake), traditional Matsuyama "tart", hot green tea, manjou, and an orange received at Sakamoto-ya Henro hospitality station.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Day 25 - Poncho Pals

There was only one other guest at last night`s Ryokan, an old chap called Fujiisan, who talked and laughed really loudly on his mobile phone in his room in the evening. The internal walls of the ryokan were - literally - paper thin, and you can hear someone turning the pages of a book. I'd had a long difficult day yesterday and craved warmth and peace in the evening so I definitely didn't find his laughter infectious at this time, however I am habitually wrong in my first impressions of people and Fujiisan became my best friend on the pilgrimage. I couldn't get the heater in my room to work last night, asked for his help and he sorted it out for me. We discussed our walking plans over dinner and it transpired that we are both staying it the same ryokan again tonight, so we agreed to walk together today.

We started walking at 0630 hours and it was bitterly cold. Our day's walking gradually took us higher into the mountains and we both walked very fast, to try to keep warm. I have been winter walking in Scotland, no problem, with three jackets, two hats, proper gloves, ice-axe and crampons. I really hadn`t brought that kind of gear with me to Japan. I didn't need an ice-axe and crampons but my hands were aching with the cold today. It started to snow around mid-morning, only lightly at first which was pretty, but then so heavily that we both stopped to put on our ponchos ("kappa" in Japanese, which I think comes from a Portuguese word). The walking was difficult today, the wind was biting, especially in the tunnels, and we walked through some long dark tunnels today, where you could not see either end of the tunnel while you were in the middle. Fujiisan had to get his torch out to light the path - I had posted back my torch as I considered it too heavy.

I found a payphone early enough in the morning still to be able to call home at a respectable time of day, I was really starting to miss my partner so I asked Fujiisan to wait for me for five minutes, but the payphone was 'domestic calls only`. I felt miserable, cold, wet, tired and lonely, and ready to cry. Fujiisan could sense how I was feeling, so he started laughing and pretending to cry, wailing, "I love kanojo" (kanojo - Japanese word for girlfriend), he cheered me up so much. Fujiisan was always smiling and laughing, sometimes I didn`t fully understand what he was saying, or laughing at, but it was difficult not to join in, he kept up my spirits today.

At Temple 44 it stopped snowing suddently and the sun came out for about five minutes, the roofs of the temples started to steam. Fujiisan bought manjou (steamed bean-jam buns) for us to share. Fujiisan had planned a different route for the afternoon's walk from me, but I told him my plan, which was to go to the hotel first and dump our bags so that we could have a lighter walk to Temple 45 before doubling back to the hotel afterwards. He liked my plan, and we reached the hotel in the early afternoon, it is called Furuiwa-yasou which means "Ancient Rock Hotel" named after the rock formations opposite the hotel which are a scenic tourist attraction. We continued walking to Temple 45 Iwayaji, which I think translates as something like Cave Temple. It was a spectacular group of buildings, statues and halls built on and in a mountainside. A pattern has definitely formed where the most difficult temples to reach, are also the most rewarding and scenic. When we returned to the hotel I was still very cold wet and tired and in need of some hot green tea and a bath. Furuiwayaso is an Onsen (spa resort) and the bath was just as spectacular as the rocks outside, the hot water cascaded down a huge natural stone arrangement in to the olympic size bath, there were three of us in the bath, but it could have fitted another ten or more people. After the bath I had ten minutes in a massage chair, in a room which looked out on to the rock formations outside.

  • Distance walked today =  30.5km
  • Distance walked so far = 505.0km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 44; Daihouji (so I am now half-finished, or, I still have halfway to go, depending on your viewpoint), Temple 45; Iwayaji.
  • Koban visited today = nil.
  • Accommodation = Ryokan and two meals ¥6800, Furuiwayasou, Kumakougen Town, Ehime-ken 〒791-1213
  • Expenditure today = two Temple Stamps¥600, can of hot chocolate to warm up my hands ¥120, coin laundry ¥300, massage chair ¥100, can of Asahi Japanese lager ¥450. 
  • Settai = manjou

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Day 24 - O Settai

Last night`s ryokan owner spoke reasonable English and was very helpful, he discussed my plans for the next two day`s walking, and booked the next two night`s accommodation for me. The PA speakers in his town played "Moon River" last night at 5pm, and then played the Westminster Chimes this morning at 6am.

I walked a short distance from the ryokan this morning to the train station. Then I became too comfortable on the warm train, and I missed my stop. The next stop was quite a bit further on and I had to wait over an hour for another train to take me back. The rail staff were all very helpful and the conductor marked something on my ticket so that I would not be charged again for the return journey. Eventually I arrived in Uchiko Town, which has an antique street with rows of shop-fronts in the same style as hundreds of years ago. Notwithstanding my false start this morning, I still had a long time for just a short walk today, so I strolled casually and had time to browse in the shops. There were lots of tempting goods, but I had to refrain from buying presents as I was now painfully aware of the importance of keeping the weight of my rucksack down.

I passed another of the un-manned roadside stalls today. The sign advertised that it sold -  カキ - (Kaki) but there were none left, and I had no idea what a Kaki was. I consulted my dictionary to look up what delight I had missed out on; only to discover that Kaki has a quite baffling array of different possible definitions. So the roadside stall had sold out of one of the following: Flowering Plants, Oysters, Persimmons, Hedges/Fences, Vases, or Firearms!

As a police officer, I often see people behaving at their worst, obviously because that is usually when people need call the police. I think that over time this has jaded my view of humans slightly. This was redressed today; I received three separate O Settai (gifts / assistance to pilgrims). In the morning a lady in the street had seen me walking past in my Henro outfit and shouted out to stop me to give me some dorayaki (small pancakes with bean jam inside). At lunchtime, I was sitting in a bus stop, I had already eaten a midday snack and I was simply killing time because I did not have much further to walk, but the Ryokan owner had told me not to arrive too early as she had a dentist appointment and would be home late. As I was sitting in the bus shelter, no longer warm from walking, trying to huddle myself into a corner away from the cold wind, I saw an old man using one of those wheeled shopping bags to steady himself as he walked. He walked very slowly and passed me twice, going in the same direction each time, so I think he was just out exercising and had been doing circuits around the block. On his second lap, he stopped for a short break in the bus shelter and I must have looked a sorry sight because he me ¥120 (the usual price of a can of coffee from the vending machines) and told me to buy a hot drink. Later in the afternoon as I was walking slowly alongside a road, a car stopped ahead of me, and a young girl jumped out and ran over to me with a croissant, while her smiling mother waited in the car.

Today had not been so much fun, I planned my day's walking really badly which resulted in having far too much time in the afternoon to walk a short distance on flat roads, in a cold wind, with no temples to visit, and nowhere particularly interesting - or warm - to go. The random acts of kindness I experienced today lifted my spirits enormously. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people of Shikoku and felt particularly emotional today, no one actually saw me crying though.

  • Distance walked today =  19km
  • Distance walked so far = 474.5km
  • Temples visited today = nil.
  • Koban visited today = nil.
  • Accommodation = Ryokan and two meals ¥6300, Takahashi Ryokan, Oda, Uchiko Town, Ehime-ken 〒791-3501
  • Expenditure today = Train from Unou Machi to Uchiko - partway to Temple 44 ¥1250, coffee at train station while waiting for a train to get me back to the station I had missed ¥120, strawberries  ¥220, more Mizumushi cream ¥2000.  
  • Settai = dorayaki, ¥120, a croissant

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Day 23 - Fish

In the hotel`s restaurant at breakfast I was drinking green tea and eating the Japanese style food that I had ordered (rice, miso soup, a little fish etc), I looked over to the table next to me and a group of about ten Japanese people were all tucking in to western style toast, scrambled egg, croissants and coffee with cream.

Today was remarkably uneventful, I took a short train journey from Uwajima station to Iyo-Miyanoshita which was a 15 minute walk from Temple 41, then I spent the rest of the day plodding, to Temples 42 and 43. My days on the pilgrim road have fallen into a routine already. At Temple 43 I met an Austrian couple who are doing the pilgrimage by car, they have been living in Japan for over 40 years and are retired now. Their daughter usually lives and works in Japan, for an Austrian company; but the company had ordered her back to Austria - for her own safety - as the company was concerned about Japan being too dangerous at the moment. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office - with whom I registered before coming to Japan - are sending me emails warning against non-essential travel to north-east Japan and Tokyo, but I am still planning to go to Tokyo once I have finished the pilgrimage, which should be around the middle of April. The Austrian couple also gave me their business card with contact numbers on, and told me to call them if I needed assistance with anything.

I have eaten a small amount of cooked fish a couple of times already now, and enjoyed it. When booking the next hotel or ryokan, the `vegetarian` food issue was causing a lot of confusion and a few places refused to take me, so when booking this evening`s ryokan I just said no meat, but fish is ok, in the knowledge that I would be served sashimi - raw fish. I chose a decent ryokan to start eating more fish, this was apparently a very well established ryokan with a good reputation, and the food was excellent, including the sashimi. The ryokan had a little star next to it in my guide book which means it is recommended by the Japanese National Tourism Organisation.

On my dinner table there was a pot of soup stock on top of an - unlit - small fire / stove thing which I`m sure it has a proper name, but I forgot to ask. Luckily this was still near the start of the busy Henro walking season and there were only a couple of other guests at this Ryokan so the owner had enough spare time to "guide" me around the dinner table. He gave me instructions about the stove, which he lit just as I sat down to start eating. The lid was kept on the pot, and once the stock was boiling, I had to take the udon noodles (which were pre-cooked, but were now cool and waiting on a side plate) and the small pieces of vegetables, and plunge them all into the stock for a couple of minutes to heat them through before eating them, exciting and delicious! One of the other dishes -  cooked Sea Bream - was so pretty I had to take a photo before spoiling it by eating it, presentation is very important in Japanese cuisine. 
  • Distance walked today =  16.1km
  • Distance walked so far = 455.5km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 41; Ryuuouji, Temple 42; Butsumokuji, Temple 43; Meisekiji.
  • Koban visited today = nil.
  • Accommodation = Ryokan and two delicious meals ¥7875, JNTO recommended Ryokan Matsuya, Unomachi, Uwajima City, Ehime-ken 〒797-0015
  • Expenditure today = Train from Uwajima to Iyo-Miyanoshita near Temple 41 ¥210, three Temple Stamps ¥900, bottle of vitamin water ¥150, gift and incense at Temple 41 ¥500. 
  • Settai = box of matches given to me at the incense stand, various offers of assistance

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Day 22 - Posh Laundry, Temple Etiquette

My right ankle joint had been sore for a few days, and I was limping on Day 20, so gave myself a short walk yesterday. Only 15km, but a painful 15km. I planned another fairly short walk today, just 22km to Temple 40, with a short break at one of the Henro Rest Stations, and I planned to stay at the Shukubou - Temple Lodgings. However, my ankle pain had completely disappeared today, maybe it just needed an easy day like yesterday to rest. So I arrived at Temple 40 before 2pm today, much earlier than expected and decided to go on a bit further. I spoke to the man at the Temple Stamp Office, which was inside the main hall, I apologised for cancelling the accommodation, but he was very helpful and gave me a map of  Uwajima City - where I was planning to get a bus to - and marked a couple of hotels on the map that were near the bus station, he also gave me a bundle of leaflets with information on all the temples in the last two prefectures Ehime and Kagawa.

I caught a bus to Uwajima City and found a posh hotel to stay in. I needed to do some laundry today, but this hotel was far too posh for one of the convenient "coin laundries" that I had been using so far. Instead it had a personal laundry service, but each item of clothing was individually priced: socks ¥210, underpants ¥262, undershirt ¥262 etc, I did some quick mental arithmatics then resorted to hand-washing my socks and pants in the basin, I will dry them with the hair-dryer later.

This is a 休憩所 Kyuu Kei Sho between temples 39 and 40, it is a Henro Rest Hut, for walking pilgrims to rest and answer the call of nature etc. I visited just one temple today, Temple 40, and I have settled into something of a routine. The booklets that the attendant at Temple 40 gave me, show a recommended etiquette to follow at each temple, in brief:
Step 1 - bow at the main entrance gate
Step 2 - go the water basin and wash
Step 3 - ring the temple bell
Step 4 - light a candle and incense
Step 5 - go to the temple`s main hall and pray - there are various recommended prayers and sutras to read
Step 6 - go to the temple`s Daishi hall and repeat Step 5
Step 7 - go the Stamp Office to stamp your book

I have been following Steps 1 to 4 as these are not too dissimilar from the routine that I have been following for years in the UK before beginning to practise meditation or chanting. For Steps 5 and 6 I am replacing the sutras and prayers with my own practise, which has been to meditate silently for a short while, either one of the meditation practices I have been taught at the Western Buddhist Order centres, or simply to take time to `connect` with myself, my thoughts feelings and emotions. I feel uncomfortable with the Japanese prayers, they are too unfamiliar.

I then proceed to Step 7. The temple stamps are only ¥300 each, but when you multiply this by 88 temples it comes to ¥26,400 and add to that the ¥3,000 I paid for the Noukyouchou (stamp book) at Temple 1, and that is ¥29,400 which is about £237 UK Sterling. This makes it quite a valuable book simply in monetary terms, in other terms it will be priceless when it is complete. One cannot bypass the pilgrimage and simply buy a complete book of stamps. A buddhist priest warned Rex, Rachael (how are those guys?) to keep an eye on our Noukyouchou (stamp-book) near the end of the pilgrimage, as they would gradually become more valuable, and more likely to be stolen. Surely there aren't any thieves in Japan?
  • Distance walked today =  22.1km
  • Distance walked so far = 439.4km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 40; Kanjizaiji.
  • Koban visited today = nil.  When I first received contact from the President of the Japan Section of the International Police Association he asked for my detailed itinerary so that he could organise meetings, but I was not able to supply any detail at all. Because I need to stay flexible to allow for slow painful walking, or brisk trots like today I simply don`t have any itinerary extending more than an a day at a time. Therefore I have not been able to organise any arranged meetings with Japanese Police, my original plan was to buy two stamp books, one for the temples, and another for the Koban, but I decided against this. I have chatted with police from Tokushima and Kochi Prefectures so far, and had my picture taken with them, I have two more prefectures to walk through, so I will try to stop in at least one Koban in each prefecture but, as already mentioned, I feel that all the authorities are understandably busy at the moment given the current situation in Japan.
  • Accommodation = posh hotel ¥8407 (which includes a big Japanese style breakfast for ¥900), Hotel Clement, Uwajima City, Ehime-ken 〒798-0034
  • Expenditure today = can of coffee ¥100, bottle of Pocari Sweat ¥150, one temple stamp ¥300, bus from Temple 40 to Uwajima City ¥1350,  food for evening and snacks/lunch etc ¥1775   .
  • Settai = use of one of the Henro Rest Stations (picture above), assistance from calligrapher in Temple 40 Stamp Office

Monday, 21 March 2011

Day 21 - Beside the Sea

I left the curtains open last night so that I would wake up naturally with the sunlight, which I did, shortly before 6am. I need not have been concerned though, as at 6am precisely a rude loudspeaker somewhere blasted out a deafening tune for 30 seconds. This is just one example of something that had been completely alien to me, but which I have already got used to. Most towns I have stayed in have a loudspeaker PA system that plays a tune, a siren (which I had been mistaking for the tsunami warning everyday since the 11th) or an undecipherable message at 6am, 9am, midday or 5pm ....  My clothes had dried overnight in my room, but my boots - which I had simply stepped out of and left at the front door after I arrived, dripping wet, yesterday afternoon - were still cold and damp when I put my feet in them this morning.

I had some spare time until the bus I intended to take, so I kicked about on the beach and the rocks. Due to my tight schedule, I had previously marched straight past every beach, on a mission to reach the next temple or accommodation. Standing on the sand this morning, watching the waves rolling in from the Pacific, I felt like I was on a proper sea-side holiday, espcially after the Fish 'n' Chips last night. Today was warmer, dryer and sunnier than yesterday.

I wanted to visit the Kaitei (sea bed) Museum, which is a striking red and white building resembling a space-age light-house and is just off the coast, connected by a walkway on platforms. Inside the museum you can go down 7 metres under the sea and look at the sea bed through thick glass windows. Earthquakes and tsunami were at the front of my mind as I nervously crossed the walkway, I did not want to be stuck 7 metres under the sea in a space-age light-house. The attendant at the museum entrance told me that the water had been churned up by yesterday`s strong wind and rain and so visibility was now less than a metre and you couldn`t really see anything. I returned to the beach, with some relief, and explored rock-pools until my bus came.

On the bus, the driver was wearing a smart uniform, including his hat and white gloves. This is another aspect of Japanese life which initially struck me, but is now perfectly normal. All the bus drivers wear their uniforms, including hat and gloves, as do the taxi drivers - who also usually wear shirts and ties, sometimes bow-ties. You would never see that in London.

One of my friends has commented that this Turtle with a Bell on his back at Temple 39 reminded her of the statue on an Elephant with a Castle on his back at 'Elephant & Castle' in London. After Temple 39 I walked to my hotel, which is right next door to Sukumo City Police Station. It is not a small Koban, it is a busy city police station, so I did not venture in to say Hello. Even here in Shikoku, which has not been particularly affected by the tsunami, I have the impression that all the authorities are busy with more important concerns recently.

I phoned my partner this evening, she is still in London and she is very upset by the situation in Japan. She is busy organising fund raising events in London for the tsunami relief effort here in Japan. I am still watching coverage of the devastion on the Japanese news everyday, and starting to feel guilty that I am here in Japan enjoying myself while around me people's homes, schools, businesses and lives have been ruined or lost. Takashima-san discussed this with me, and encouraged me to continue with my trip. He is retired now, but had planned for a while to take 40 to 50 days out with his wife and other friends, to do the pilgrimage. His home prefecture has been affected, he does not yet know the extent but he said there is no point in cutting short his trip and returning home, he is determined to complete the pilgrimage. Everyone in Shikoku is getting on with their lives, I see the hotel and shop employees are going to work as normal, it would be more disrespectful for me to leave Japan now and take away my business from them.  My trip is hardly hedonistic, amidst the news of death and destruction in Japan I need this pilgrimage now more than ever.

  • Distance walked today =  15km
  • Distance walked so far = 417.3km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 39; Enkouji.
  • Koban visited today = nil
  • Accommodation = hotel (no meals) ¥4800, Akizawa Hotel, Sukumo City, Kochi-ken 〒788-0003
  • Expenditure today = bus from Tatsukushi to Sukumo City ¥1400, one Temple Stamp ¥300,  food for evening and next breakfast and lunch ¥2085.
  • Settai = 

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Day 20 - M&S mini Brolly, Fish 'n' Chips

The rice-balls I bought last night and put in the mini-fridge for today`s breakfast were frozen solid so went in the bin, instead I had a packet of toasted rice-cakes, some peanuts and a coffee. The hotel was next to the train station, and so also next to the bus stop. The bus timetable had changed and it arrived 10 minutes earlier that I expected, but luckily I generally arrive early for everything. I boarded the bus which would take about an hour and a half, and stop virtually outside Temple 38, saving me about two day's walking. I had been in contact with my partner who would be waiting for me in Tokyo once I finished the pilgrimage. I was still absolutely determined to visit all 88 temples and even see a few tourist sights on the way, but I was now balancing this with a desire to spend more time with my partner in her home city, and be introduced to her family for the first time. 

On the bus was a young girl who sat staring at me then giggling and whispering to her mother until eventually she came and sat in front of me and practised her English. She asked my name, and if I can write it in Japanese (which I did), where I am from and where I am going. She told me that she is 13, her name is Kanna and she is on the bus to visit her father who is in hospital. Her English is good, but like my Japanese. I have set questions that I can ask, but I can only understand the answer if the other person keeps to the set 'script'. When I attempted to chat normally to Kanna she gave me a blank look, the same blank look I think I have been practising for the last three weeks.

Temple 38 car park was packed and the temple complex itself was busy, it was a scenic sea-side temple and attracted a load of visitors. I took a couple of photos but did not hang about as I still had a way to walk to my hotel for the evening, and it started to rain. There had been some light rain on my second day of walking, and then snow on my third, but since then it had been clear everyday; bright and sunny on most days. In fact I have not been wearing that hat, or moisturising enough. I have "caught the sun", but I don`t have that healthy glow which comes from a week in the Mediterranean. I have more of the look of a prune-faced Arctic explorer, although I think I look quite dashing and rugged.

Once it had started to rain it did not stop; it merely paused occasionally. The wind was so strong that my wet clothes were blown dry in minutes during each pause. Most of the day`s walking was on coastal roads, being buffeted by wind, but a short stretch of the walk was through a forest. Among the wet trees it was sheltered from the wind and there was a lovely moist earth smell. This was certainly a difficult day, I did not walk particularly far, and it was mainly level ground, but the wind and rain made this quite challenging. Initially I couldn't be bothered with the hassle of getting my poncho out. It would involve stopping (which is difficult enough to do when one is keeping up a good pace) taking off my small bag, then my rucksack, unfolding the poncho, putting on the poncho, putting the rucksack and small bag back on etc. I kept my mini Marks & Spencer umbrella in a convenient easy-access position in my small bag, so I just held up my M&S brolly, supported by the walking staff. Eventually it was completely mangled beyond repair by the gales, I was forced to relent and took out the poncho.

Despite the poncho, I was dripping wet from the neck up and from the thighs down when I arrived at the hotel.  I am starting to thoroughly enjoy simple pleasures, like hot green tea and a hot bath, after a cold wet walk. This was called a hotel, but was like a cross between a business hotel and a ryokan, with the best aspects from each. I was in a large comfortable tatami room with a tea set for green tea, and a yukata to change into, but I also had a TV, a separate balcony area with chairs looking out to sea (similar to the Ryokan I stayed at in Murato on 11\03\2011), but I also had a private toilet and bath - which I could use whenever I wanted, there was a fridge on the balcony - with bottles of beer inside.

When I asked the chef at what time dinner and breakfast were, he asked me what time I preferred to eat at, and even asked what I wanted to eat :-) I was getting a taste for fish by now and so he made me fish, fried in breadcrumbs. I was halfway through this fish with some rice - which is of course standard fare in Japan, but then the chef came back out of the kitchen grinning with a small plate of chips that he had made especially for me, Fish 'n' Chips as a concession to the English traveller abroad. It was good comfort food, and only the second time I have eaten Fish 'n' Chips in the last 17 years.

  • Distance walked today =  23k
  • Distance walked so far = 402.3km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 38; Kongoufukuji.
  • Koban visited today = nil
  • Accommodation = hotel with two meals ¥6700, Hotel Nangoku, Tastukushi, Tosa Shimizu City, Kochi-ken 〒787-0452
  • Expenditure today = bus from Nakamura to Temple 38 ¥1900, one Temple Stamp ¥300, can of coffee and can of lemonade from a vending machine ¥250, bottle of Kirin Japanese Lager from hotel mini-fridge ¥500   
  • Settai = special personal treatment received at the hotel

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Day 19 - Down to just one plaster!

A monk led prayers in the Temple`s main hall at 6am before breakfast. He then gave a short talk about the history of the temple, but he spoke so fast that I only understood about four words, Takashima-san explained to me later what I had missed. The monk had been talking about the various connections and separations between Buddhism and Shintoism throughout history, although apparently he was somewhat biased. 

We all left the Temple lodgings at about the same time, a group of about eight of us, and set out walking together. So I was able to chat in English with Takashima-san again, he gave me his mobile phone number and told me to give him a call if I ran into trouble. He also told me that all but one of his group had experienced serious problems with their legs and feet since starting the walking pilgrimage, not just me then. I was down to just one plaster this morning, and this was the first day for two weeks that I was not in pain for the first few hundred metres walking.

The group stopped for a break after a couple of hours but I was in my stride, I had slept well and my legs felt strong, so I said my goodbyes and marched on. I only walked during the morning, and then at midday I took a train to the next city to get a hotel for the night. Today was another day of just walking with no temples. The next temple, which will be Temple 38, is similar to Temple 24 as it is situated on a cape pointing out in to the Pacific Ocean, with a very long walk from the previous temple. As I was waiting for the train I heard what I thought was the tsunami keihou again (tusnami warning siren) but realised that I had heard it practically everyday at 12 noon since the tsunami. It had just been one of the time-check signals that all towns in Shikoku play from PA systems at various times of day.

I checked that the business hotel had a computer with internet access before I paid, but I hadn`t checked it out properly, it is on a high desk in the lobby, with no seat, they obviously don`t want people to use it too much, so I have just stood / crouched over it for a couple of hours getting the blog up to date and uploading my photos - sore back.
  • Distance walked today = 18.5k
  • Distance walked so far = 379.3km
  • Temples visited today = nil
  • Koban visited today = nil
  • Accommodation = Hotel ¥5300, Nakamura Daiichi Hotel, Nakamura, Kochi-ken 〒787-0014
  • Expenditure today = Train from Tosa Sage to Nakamura (about halfway to Temple 38) ¥610.
  • Settai = a gift from Temple 37 was given out to us at breakfast

Friday, 18 March 2011

Day 18 - Japanese Schoolchildren, Temple Lodgings

I woke up quite grumpy this morning, Okaasan seemed grumpy with me too. I was disappointed with the ryokan, which was really just a spare room in someone`s house.  The bath and toilet were outside, the room was cold with broken window panes that rattled in the wind. I was kept awake most of the night, sometimes listening to their crying baby, and other times laughing at some comedy snoring that I was sure someone was doing on purpose. At breakfast I could not eat the raw egg, I had tried this previously and admitted defeat, and I could not eat the fish this morning, because it had eyes, watching me.

After a couple of hours of walking in a grumpy mood this morning, I had to enter a really cold dark long tunnel, but about halfway through I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, literally and metaphorically as I could see Hisami-san`s silhouette up ahead and hastened my step to catch up with him. Hisami-san told me to call him Sammy, and Suzuki-san still didn`t talk much, but kept on chanting. Sammy cheered me up with some Japanese proverbs which were difficult to translate, except for 剣禅一如 Ken Zen Ichi Nyo "The Sword and Zen are One." 
I left Sammy and Suzuki-san walking, and I took a train to the next temple, where I was also planning to lodge for the night. I arrived too early, so headed for a park marked on my guide book map. The path to the park leads round a high school playing field and girls were in pairs practising baseball hitting, one of them saw me walking past and shouted out "Konnichiwa" and they all stopped what they were doing, turned and bowed to me. A little further on the boys - in smart baseball uniforms - were doing some stretches after running round the field, one of them shouted out "Hello" and again they all started waving and bowing, of course I returned the greetings and bows. I think I would be scared to walking past a school playing field in London if the children started shouting out towards me. In the park, which was sheltered from the wind and felt very summery, a random stranger approached me with a bottle of chilled tea as O Settai.

At Temple 37 this evening the lodgings are very comfortable. A tatami room with green tea set on a low table, futon hidden away, and sliding doors and windows are all now comfortingly familiar to me. At dinner the message hadn`t quite got through again about the vegetarian thing. I apologised and they took away the chicken, and although I was not brave enough for the raw fish, the grilled fish looked really good so I kept that, and enjoyed it. I have decided to that I can take a little break from being veggie while I am Japan, it would be a shame to come here and not eat some fish. I would miss out on the whole the Japanese experience.

At the long dinner table - seating about 10 of us - a man surprised me by asking, in soft well spoken English, for my name. Takashima-san explained that he worked for multinational companies so has learnt to speak English, and he said his friends had many questions for me. He obliged by translating their questions and my answers. It was relaxing to chat in English, this trip is a fantastic opportunity for me to practise my Japanese, but it is draining after a while, like an eight hour Japanese lesson everyday and my head starts to spin. Takashima-san's friends seemed surprised that I am Buddhist, most Japanese people I have spoken to assume that I am Christian simply because I am English.

  • Distance walked today = 16.9k
  • Distance walked so far = 360.8km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 37; Iwamotoji.
  • Koban visited today = nil
  • Accommodation = Temple lodging and 2 meals ¥6500, Iwamotoji Shukubo, Kubokawa, Shimanto City, Kochi-ken 〒786-0004
  • Expenditure today = Train from Susaki to Kubokawa near Temple 37 ¥540, one temple stamp ¥300,  can of coffee ¥100, gifts from temple gift shop ¥1000, laundry ¥300.
  • Settai = bottle of chilled tea from complete stranger

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Day 17 - Big Bridge, Wild Dogs.

The business hotel receptionist had quoted me a price for breakfast, but she then quietly recommended the bakery next door. The bakery menu had a photograph of each breakfast which made life simpler for me, I pointed to one, checked there was no meat in it and ordered. I couldn`t understand the five different types of coffee on offer though, I had started to translate the first one and my dictionary came back with "charcoal burning" so I asked the waitress who said "European Style". I chose European Style, the Japanese style might have a raw egg, or some fish in it. My 'Egg Toast Set' breakfast consisted of a scrambled egg in a toast sandwich, miso soup, a salad, a single slice of orange. After that I chose a raisin bun and a banana & chocolate & cream waffle to take as my healthy nutritious lunch.
It was a cold windy day, walking over this bridge was not fun, it is called Usaoohashi, which means "something big bridge". I am not good at heights, I failed miserably as a telephone engineer: I was absolutely petrified everytime I had to climb up a ladder or telegraph pole. This bridge did not have much of a railing or pedestrian footpath and my traditional (but annoying) Henro hat was flapping about in the wind, threatening to take me with it of the side of the bridge. I still get butterflies in my stomach just looking at this photograph.

The Stamp Office at Temple 36 was warm so I stayed inside for a while and chatted with the calligrapher, she gave me "candy", and a lady working with a bus tour came in to the office. She had a pile of books and vests to stamp, for all the group on the tour. She said she recognised me from the stamp office at Temple 20, as I had been loitering and chatting in there too.
I stopped for rest on the way to my ryokan, on a cliff point looking out over the calm Pacific. This was quite an isolated area, but suddenly a dog was standing next to me, then three more, then two cats skulking in the background, I shared some snacks with them and they seemed happy. Hisami-san and Suzuki-san then appeared, but they did not have Oka-san with them. Apparently they had left him behind because he had a 'bad leg'. This conversation was held more in sign-language due to my inadequate Japanese, and so I am still not sure whether he just has a blister, is resting and will catch them up later, or whether he is completely lame and lying in hospital somewhere.

Hisami-san and Suzuki-san were staying at a Ryokan near mine this evening, so we walked together from the cliff point. As we neared the Ryokan, Hisami-san accepted a lift from one of the 'Okaasan' (female Ryokan owner, lit. Mother) who had come out to meet us in her jeep, but Suzuki-san and I walked the last couple of kilometres, he did not talk so much, but chanted while he walked, which was hypnotic.

At the Ryokan this evening I was served fish. Luckily for me (but not for the fish) the head and tail were missing, I did not have to look the fish in the eye, it was just a slice of something that did not appear to be something that used to be alive, so I completely sold out on my vegetarian principles and tucked in. It was very good. I was also served a couple of things in shells, but could not face eating them and had to leave them, I hope did offend the Okaasan by rejecting an expensive delicacy. After I left the dining room, I saw Okaasan sitting in my seat and pulling the dish towards herself.
  • Distance walked today = 27.7k
  • Distance walked so far = 343.9km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 35; Kiyotakiji, Temple 36; Shouryuuji.
  • Koban visited today = nil
  • Accommodation = Ryokan, dinner and breakfast ¥7000.  
  • Expenditure today = Egg Toast Set Breakfast, and raisin roll and banana waffle ¥950, can of milky tea (horrible) ¥120.
  • Settai = sweets from the calligrapher in the stamp office at Temple 36

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Day 16 - No Vegetarians.

Japanese TV was showing news of the after effects of the earthquake and tsunami on every channel virtually 24 hours a day, but I couldn`t keep up with the language, so I resorted to the news site. I was shocked by the extent of the disaster, which was far worse than I had thought; with a lot more people dead than I had realised. I hadn`t fully appreciated the ongoing concern about the nuclear reactors either. I kept seeing footage of the reactors on Japanese TV, with various experts drawing diagrams and pointing at models of the plant, but I hadn't been able to understand the significance. I was shocked when I read the news in English.
I walked a fair distance today, including a free ferry ride, my feet aren't hurting too much and I only needed to put two plasters on my feet this morning. At Temple 34, three chaps who were sitting taking a rest shouted over to me to come and say hello, I appreciate any opportunity to practise my basic Japanese. I met Hisami-san, Oka-san and Suzuki-san, I was embarrassed because I couldn't remember seeing them previously but Hisami-san said he recognised me from when we had passed each other as I marched briskly past him on the steep path up to Temple 27. We had been walking at about the same pace, and then I had taken a train ride, which put me a day ahead of him; but then I spent a day sight-seeing which put me back a day, so we were now progressing at the same pace again. 
As a result of healthy food and hours of walking each day, I have lost weight since being in Japan; which is convenient because most of the Japanese weighing scales only go up to 90kg. I had tried to book a Ryokan tonight - a traditional style Japanese lodging, but they had refused to take a vegetarian (!) so I booked into a Western style "Business Hotel" instead. I was looking forward to the communal meal enjoyed at a Ryokan, but I had enjoyed a sociable day chatting with a lot of other Henro while walking so I did not mind the relative peace and privacy of a business hotel.

  • Distance walked today = 30.5k
  • Distance walked so far = 316.2km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 32; Zenjibuji, Temple 33; Sekkeiji, Temple 34; Tanemaji.
  • Koban visited today = nil
  • Accommodation = business hotel ¥5775, Business Inn Tosa, Tosa City, Kochi-ken, 〒781-1101
  • Expenditure today = three temple stamps ¥900, can of coffee ¥100, evening snacks ¥1636
  • Settai = chocolate from another henro

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Day 15 - Bare-foot Sight-seeing

Today I enjoyed being a tourist. I did not get up early, I did not walk any great distance, I did not visit any temples or police stations, I just ambled about Kochi city in my Crocs. I had a lie in, and only just made it in time for the hotel breakfast, which was toast, half a boiled egg, half a frankfurter (which I spotted at the last minute and narrowly avoided eating), coffee, a salad and some kind of boiled cabbage.

The park around Kochi Castle was busy with joggers and office workers having their lunch. I took photos, bought an ice-cream and strolled around like a proper tourist, I did not have any schedule to adhere to today. At the entrance to the Castle Keep - which is an impressive multi-storey pagoda-style building towering over the city - I had to take off my shoes as the interior was tatami mats. I was wearing my Crocs today, to give my boots a rest, so this meant I walked around the castle in barefeet, which was a very liberating experience and quite comfortable on another warm sunny afternoon.

After the castle I went into a modern covered shopping precinct to look for some lunch. Many of the restaurants have plastic replicas of their dishes outside the front, for people to choose from, I couldn`t find any that weren`t fishy, and I was baffled by the restaurants that had just written menus. I was determined NOT to go into the McDonalds - which was packed with schoolchildren - but I was too scared to try ordering in a traditional Japanese restaurant.

I finally found somewhere that was not authentic Japanese at all, I think it was called Mr Donut, obviously heavily influenced by American culture, but with a quirky Japanese touch. So I had soba noodles followed by a donut and coffee as I watched the world cycle by. Everyone rides bicycles here but I have only seen one BMX and one mountain bike so far. All of the bikes here seem to be the same model, what I would call a "Lady`s Shopping Bike", I don't think young people in London would ride them, but here in Shikoku even the young cool guys are riding them. The type of bike that has a lowered top-tube on the frame so you can still wear a skirt, and a lamp and shopping-basket at the front. All the bikes have the same locking mechanism on the back wheel, which secures the wheel to the frame, but does not secure the bike to anything, outside every shop are rows of these bikes resting on their kick-stands.

  • Distance walked today = 0k
  • Distance walked so far = 285.7km
  • Temples visited today = nil
  • Koban visited today = nil
  • Accommodation = Hotel and breakfast ¥3800, my second night at Hotel Sun Atlas, Kochi City, Kochi-ken 〒780-0822
  • Expenditure today = entrance fee to Kochi Castle ¥400, ice cream ¥200, soba noodles, donut and coffee¥560, box of sweet potatoes and inarizushi (suchi rice in fried tofu pouches) ¥250.
  • Settai = nil - unless you count the free coffee fill-up after I must have been sitting for too long in the noodle and donut shop.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Day 14 - Traffic Cops

On the road to Temple 30 I saw a man in plain clothes, sitting at the side of the road with what looked like a small speed-camera and a radio. Sure enough, about 100m up the road was a van full of uniformed officers handing out speeding tickets. I had my photo taken with one of the officers, he was wearing a face mask, as were a couple of the other officers. I still haven`t quite got used to seeing them,  I have seen Japanese people wearing them on the tube in London, and they are very common here, but we would not be allowed to wear them in London.


I stopped on the way to Temple 31 to visit Takasu Kouban and had my photo taken with officer Matoko-san, he gave me something cold to drink. I am not what it was, but it was very cold and refreshing on what had turned out to be a hot sunny afternoon. This was the first day that I have walked in just my t-shirt and the Hakui (traditional pilgrims` white vest), and the top of my head and my nose started to get a bit sun-burned so I relented a wore the Sugegasa (the conical sedge hat). I only wore it for a few minutes after buying it at Temple 1 before I found it too annoying, the top of my rucksack kept banging against the back of the hat so I took it off and strapped it to the back of the rucksack. However, this afternoon it became a very practical piece of clothing, all the Japanese Henro have been wearing theirs everyday.



The path to Temple 31 Chikurinji (Bamboo Forest Temple) was beautiful, it passed though Makino Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of the city of Kochi. After Temple 31 I had decided to finish for the day and get a hotel in Kochi city centre, about 2 or 3km away, I heard another English voice so asked the chap for advice (I really need to remember to ask for people`s names). He had just graduated BA in Religious Studies - major in Buddhism - and was halfway through a four week visit to Japan, he said my idea to stay in Kochi for an extra day was a good idea as Kochi is a cool city. He was getting a bus into the city centre, but it was about ¥900 so I decided to walk it, and wandered around until I found a hotel with internet access.

As I was at the computer, uploading photos, updating the blog, and replying to a load of "are you ok?" emails, one of the hotel employees was looking at my photos. Sogen-san, gave me a bead and crystal amulet which (if my Japanese is any good) he said he made himself, and also gave me his name slip which was a colour printed one. I think this is a modern version of the brocade name slips used by people who have completed the 88 Temple Pilgrimage more than one hundred times. He told me that by bus, by bicycle and walking, he had completed over a hundred circuits.

  • Distance walked today = 24k
  • Distance walked so far = 285.7km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 29, Kokubunji; Temple 30, Zenrakuji; Temple 31, Chikurinji.
  • Koban visited today = not really a Koban, but I visited a van full of traffic police at the roadside in Kamohara, visit to Takasu Koban near to Temple 31.
  • Accommodation = Hotel and breakfast ¥3800, Hotel Sun Atlas, Kochi City, Kochi-ken 〒780-0822
  • Expenditure today = three temple stamps ¥900, bottle of Pocari Sweat ¥150, stamps for 10 postcards ¥700, evening snacks (including Japanese lager and Sake) ¥1700, cream for Mizumushi (athletes foot) ¥1980 .
  • Settai = sweets from the calligrapher in the Temple 30 Stamp office, cold drink at Takasu Kouban.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Day 13 - Warning Signs and Tourist Sight Seeing

The route to Temple 27 was a steep path up a mountainside, another Henro Korogashi (pilgrim falling down point). The Okaasan at this Minshuku also suggested I leave my rucksack with her while I walked up the mountain. There was a warning sign on part of the path that I didn`t understand, it said beware of something but I had never heard of a "Mamushi" so put it into my electronic dictionary - apparently it is a Pit Viper - luckily I did not meet any.



Another Henro at Temple 27 gave me his name card, which was red - signifying that he has completed the Shikoku Pilgrimage between 8 to 24 times, he told me this was currently his 16th circuit, and he also gave me his friend`s name card as an omamori (lucky charm). It was gold, meaning his friend had completed the pilgrimage 50 to 99 times. Back at the minshuku at around 11am, Okaasan is hanging out the Yukata (the light informal Kimono style clothing) which I wore last night and which she has already washed. She confirmed that the local railway was running ok, this area had not been seriously affected by the earthquake or tsunami, and gave me an up to date timetable, a boiled egg and some coffee.



It would have been a 37.8km walk to the next temple, so I had decided in my new plan, to jump ahead and get a train from near the minshuku to the town of Akaoka, which was only about 5km from Temple 28, this would give my feet a rest, and give me time to do my first spot of sightseeing. At Tounohama train station, while waiting for the train, the tsunami siren sounded again, and I translated some of the more interesting notices on the platform. One poster had some useful counter terrorism advice, "Upon the discovery of a suspicious package, there are three rules: do not touch it! do not sniff it! do not move it!", good sound advice. The station was unmanned and on the train I wasn`t sure how to pay, I heard voices from the seats behind me talking in English and turned round to ask a young male and female for advice, they were both American and were in Japan teaching English.



At Akaoka I departed from the Henro path for the first time and visited the Ekingura Museum, Ekin is the nickname of a 19th century painter of folding screens. I think I was their only customer for the day, as the two ladies at reception seemed very pleased to welcome me in, they handed me a small lantern and ushered me into the darkened hall where the displays were kept, it took a while for my eyes to adjust to the dark after the bright sunshine outside. I don`t know if the darkness was to protect the precious screens, or to create a more spooky atmosphere, each of the screens was just barely lit by a dim yellow light made to resemble candle light. The paintings were grotesque, gory and to my surprise - and delight - bawdy! The paintings contained an awful lot of people being poked and groped, or having various bits hacked off, while onlookers pointed and laughed. I was self-conscious that the the two slightly serious looking museum curators could hear me sniggering like a schoolboy at some of the more "imaginative" paintings. As my Mother and my partner`s Mother may be reading this blog I cannot describe what I saw and still look them in the eye, but ask me when you see me, and I will tell you. This "Carry On" style art was a welcome relief after the more noble artistic efforts at the temples. The two ladies were disappointed that I did not want to sit and watch their 20 minutes educational video, I headed straight for the gift shop and bought a pack of postcards. After the museum I rejoined the Henro path and visited Temple 28 before going to the Ryokan for a big bath, a big evening meal, a small load of laundry, and I was ready to go to bed by about 7:30pm.

  • Distance walked today = 14.8k
  • Distance walked so far = 261.7km
  • Temples visited today = Temple 27, Kounomineji; Temple 28, Dainichiji.
  • Koban visited today = nil
  • Accommodation = Ryokan including two meals ¥6510 Marukome Ryokan, Kounan City, Kochi-ken 〒781-5232
  • Expenditure today = train fare Tounohama to Akaoka ¥890, Ekingura Museum entrance fee ¥500, gifts in giftshop ¥1600, two temple stamps ¥600, two more telephone cards ¥2000.
  • Settai = a boiled egg and coffee, and some more sweets.