Saturday, May 16, 2020

Join us along our journey from Temple 1-40 on the Shikoku 88 Temples pilgrimage hike. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Temple 40 and a race against time

 The Ryokan was noisy all night with the loud snoring of the other male tenants all night long. It kept Dreadknot awake but somehow I managed to sleep through it all. The cigarette smoke from the guy in the room adjacent to us easily wafted through the paper thin walls separating us.
At 6:44 am we made our way to Temple 40 (Kanjiziaji) , the first temple in Ehime and located up the street.  This is the furthest temple away from number 1 and has statues representing the seven zodiac. As usual it was lovely and peaceful and afterwards we sat and waited for a bus to take us to Uwajima bus station to get onto another bus for Temple 41. Halfway through the bus ride we decided to rather just keep heading straight towards the airport after numerous warnings from friends that we might not be able to get back into Honolulu due to travel restrictions, flight suspensions and border closures. I must say that Dreadknot-san’s navigational skills with the mapping and bus and train timetables is absolutely astounding! I am so glad to have him on my team!! After 10 hours of catching buses and trains we arrived at Kansai Airport in Osaka. It was 8 pm and we made our way straight to the Hawaiian Airlines desk. They instantly changed our ticket to tomorrow evening and informed us that flights to Hawaii will cease in three days time. Whew! We made it just in time!
So we get to spend a night in Osaka and do some shopping tomorrow and then get to go home before everything shuts down due to the coronavirus pandemic. 
Although disappointed that we couldn’t complete our quest this time around, we are truly thankful that we were able to have such a spectacular adventure up to Temple 40.
Arigato to the people of Japan and especially Shikoku who made our journey so special and memorable. We honestly were treated with such kindness and we shall be eternally grateful. It has been quite a profound experience to be gifted with “ossetai” (gifts) on almost a daily basis by complete strangers as symbols of acknowledgement and encouragement. We hope to return once the world has found calmness, health and peace and continue where we left off. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Temple 38 & 39

 A train, a bus and some walking took us to the most  southwesterly point of Shikoku Island to Temple 38 (Kongofukuji). It is believed that you can set off for the land of paradise from here. The Ashizuri point where the temple is located is absolutely beautiful and the Temple itself has immaculate gardens with a beautiful pond. So much inspiration for the garden I want to create in the future. Another 2 bus rides got us to Temple 39 (Enkoji). An eye washing well which is claimed to cure eye illnesses is present on the grounds. There is a statue of a turtle with a red bell on its back which represents the legend that such a turtle came there from the ocean in years gone by. 
As we stood in the temple grounds, we realized that this was the last temple in Kochi Prefecture and the end of the “ascetic training “ phase of the journey. The next phase in Ehime Prefecture is the “enlightenment phase”. One concept we discussed between ourselves was the principal of “ suffering is caused by craving and clinging to worldly things”, so we have decided not to cling to the idea of completing our adventure at this time. We can always come back and complete it when the world is more at ease.
The practical implications are that currently we are on the furthest point of the island from where we need to be to get to the airport. Our plan is to catch buses tomorrow which will bypass 3 other temples... so we will stop off at those and then hop on a train across Shikoku to Tokushima followed by a 3 hour bus to the airport and hopefully get onto a flight home. We already know that we’ll have to spend two weeks in quarantine there once we arrive back. 
Tonight we stay in a Ryokan (hostel type accommodation) next to Temple 40.
Strange times indeed!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Temple 36 & 37

 The Usa Peninsula area where we stayed at the minshuku is beautiful and peaceful. Our hike down to Temple 36 (Shoryuji) gave us epic vistas of the bay and it looks like a perfect place for families to go on vacation to, although not too built up or busy. The temple is named after Kukai’s teacher of Shingon Buddhism who he studied under in Shoryuji, China.
From the temple we had to backtrack and go back over the huge bridge to walk the next 23 km to the town  of Susaki. From there it would be another 37 km.
Along the shoreline walk we stumbled upon a little pizzeria on the waters edge with a full-on brick pizza oven. It was around lunch time so we had to stop.
The rest of the journey to Temple 37 included punishing road walks past bays, farms, villages, towns, industries, through numerous road tunnels .... on and on for back breaking distances and by the way, we’re still in Kochi Prefecture which seems like it will never end. When will we reach the enlightenment stage I wonder? Or will we ever get there?
We’ve had at least four different people handing us citrus fruits as ossetai which always came at very welcome moments.
Other observations have included admiring the bird life here. Sea hawks are everywhere, crows, ravens, cranes and ducks to name a few. Every inch of vacant and available land is used to grow food and it seems that most people have a veggie garden attached to their homes. Another thing we’ve noticed is that everyone seems to have a nice car! There is also a frustrating lack of garbage bins anywhere. We have no idea where people put their rubbish and end up walking for miles and miles with our rubbish to find a place to properly dispose of it.
In every single town we’ve walked through, there are megaphones erected on poles in the middle and at 7am, noon and 5 pm a loud song gets played to indicate those times of the day. We leave our backpacks unattended at temples without fear of our stuff being stolen which is amazing. We had to learn this level of trust.
Finally we got to Shimanto Town late at night and went to Temple 37 (Iwamotoji) were we asked the elderly caretaker lady whether there was any Tsuyado (free Henro accommodation). She gladly took us to a storage garage which had a cot bed and is intended for this purpose. We pitched our tent in the room which had a locked door.... all safe and sound. 

I came across this which is really quite wonderful:
Seven Gifts Needing No Wealth 
  1. Look upon others with kindness 
  2. Smile to others when you meet
  3. Speak to others with kind words
  4. Offer to others those free services you are capable of offering.
  5. Offer your heart to others 
  6. Surrender your seat or similar location to those that could better use them.
  7. Offer your own lodging to others in need.
Day 17: The temperature gauge read 3 degrees C when we got onto the temple grounds at 7am. The sound of drumming from the Shinto temple next door permeated the air. Fortunately there happened to be free Wi-Fi at the noukyosho office and when I looked on social media briefly, a few of my friends had sent me information about the level 3 travel advisory saying that all US citizens are advised to go home. We’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s Saturday. Hawaiian Airlines has discontinued their phone number due to being overwhelmed and we can’t get hold of them. I sent them an email 2 days ago asking for advice regarding return flights and have not received a reply. What a strange new reality we dare living in due to Covid-19!
Dreadknot and I decided to change our adventure plans and hopped on a train to Nakamura Town where we could catch a bus to Temple 38. He is plotting a train and bus route that will get us through the second half of the 88 Temples quickly while we try to figure out how we’re going to get home sooner.
This adventure has changed from a slow hiking challenge to an amazing race...

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Temple 34 & 35

 It felt great waking up in a secure room on the temple grounds. We have been averaging 9-10 hours of sleep per night, exhausted after walking all day. 
Temple 34 (Tanemaji) was a place where Kukai planted five kinds is seeds: rice, wheat, two types of millet and beans which he had evidently brought back from China. People also pray for safe childbirth at this temple.
During our journey from 34 to 35 we got off track and lost. We didn’t see adequate little signs, arrows or stickers pointing us in the right direction. Eventually we stopped at a flower shop to ask for directions and a very kind woman called Tomo, gave us a ride in her car to get us back on track. She dropped us off at an Udon Noodle restaurant where we were able to sample this local delicacy for the first time. Thank you Tomo!
Up another hill and many stairs to Temple 35 (Kiyotakiji) we climbed. At the top weee beautiful vistas of the valley below. The temple was gorgeous with a huge statue of Gyoki who founded this temple 723.
Late afternoon brought with it a drizzle and we planned to make our way to a Henro hut we could see on the map to camp there. On arrival we thought it was a great location and looked forward to an early night. As we were sitting in the hut chatting a man pulled up in his car and came towards the hut. We greeted him and thought it was strange that he didn’t greet us back. His behavior was shifty and awkward. He left the hut and started pacing back and forth a little distance away and kept looking at us, clicking his neck with his hands periodically. Our gut instinct told us he might be planning to mug us. After awhile he drive off and we ran as fast as our painful feet, now numbed by adrenaline would carry us. We didn’t want to wait around for him to bring back reinforcements or come back once we were asleep in our tent. It was dusk as we ran up over a hill on a rocky trail and down the other side into the town of Usa. It was dark and the town only had one minshuku (B&B) that we could find , located all the way at the end of it and over a huge bridge. 
We made it and are now safe and comfortable in our gorgeous room on futons on tatami mats in a room decorated with a samurai sword, Henro scroll and an intricate wooden carved temple. 
I also just received an email from Hawaiian Airlines saying that our return flight has been canceled due to downsizing flights from Osaka to Honolulu. We’ll have to deal with this in the morning.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Temple 28-33

 My left heel is very bruised from impact injury. I’ve got newer more cushioned insoles, taking anti-inflammatories and taped up the heel per a video we saw on YouTube. I’m going to use my trekking poles like walking sticks and put more weight into my hands on the poles. Lesson learned: when doing long asphalt hikes with a heavy load, you need very cushioned insoles. The Saucony insoles that came with my trail running shoes have been compressed into nothing and are now paper thin.
It is impossible to camp in many of the city walking sections and a hotel or minshuku (B&B) is sometimes our only option.
This section consists of paved road walking for many, many kilometers through one village and town after the next. Although the sun is out, the air is crisp and we can see thick snow on the mountain tops in the distance. 
Temple 28 (Dainichiji) is a place where it is believed that illnesses above the neck can be cured. The trail tried to spit me out at this point. The heel pain was taking over my brain and telling me I couldn’t go on.... “but I said no, no,no”, with the help of OTC pain relievers and a very caring and compassionate hiking partner who took some of the heavy water load on his back.
Temple 29 (Kokubunji) is a place where legend has it that if you pray to the same number of stars as your age, you will ward off misfortune and bring about good fortune to your life. 
Slow and steady gets you there and as long as I keep moving slowly I can keep going. The minute I stop, the restart on my foot is agonizing.
Temple 30 (Zenrakuji) This Temple historically fell into disuse when Shintoism and Buddhism separated. Only in 1875 ( after a 7 year spree of burning all Buddhist artifacts) were the people of Japan granted permission to practice whatever religion they wanted to. After discussion this place became Temple 30 in 1929. We obtained permission to have sanctuary on the grounds for the night and are extremely grateful for this ossetai.
Five o’clock in the morning is when we get up, before the monks and caretakers, out of respect so that they don’t have to deal with us packing up our camp. While we waited for the noukyosho office to open at 7am, we went across the road to look at the Shinto temple and grounds.
Kochi City is a sprawling city that seems to go on forever. We walked the highways, byways and village lanes, through a gorgeous botanical garden to magestic Temple 31 (Chikurinji) with its five storey pagoda (built in 1980) It’s original 3 storey pagoda was blown down by a typhoon in 1899.
From there it was much the same to Temple 32 (Zenjibuji) up on a hillock where we met Sakio from Tokyo. He has also walked the Camino Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This temple has become known to pray for the safety of sailors and fishermen and has magnificent views of Tosa Bay.
To get to Temple 33 (Zekkeiji) you have to cross a wide river via a free ferry. We arrived at 33 just before closing time and I asked the lady at the noukyosho office whether there was any tsuyado (free temple accommodation) and she said yes... so tonight we are staying in a lovely little enclosed cottage room in which we can sleep in our sleeping bags on our inflatable sleeping mats. Yay to another day on the Shikoku Henro.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Temple 24-27

 A large white statue of the monk Kukai stands over the road from the hotel we stayed in the night before. We are now on the southwestern point of the Muroto Peninsula. Along our journey we came across a cave in which Kukai evidently spent time meditating.

Temple 24 (Hotsumisakiji) stands in a woodland high up on a hill of course, on the tip of Cape Muroto. In the grounds is a large boulder with several indentations which produces a ringing sound if you throw pebbles against it. The sound is supposed to reach the spirits that have passed. Down the hill we plunged and walked to Temple 25 (Shinshoji) , a place where fishermen pray for protection while at sea. We didn’t count but it seemed like a climb of at least 500 stairs to the main daishi.
Another climb took us to Temple 26 (Kongochoji). While we were sitting drying our tent out above the temple grounds we looked for a couple of rocks to prevent the wind from blowing it and Josh brushed aside something... then jumped back in horror, as he had come across a mesh bag with human hair... super creepy!
By the time 5:45 pm came along we were still walking along Highway 55 and hadn’t come across a decent place to camp yet. Suddenly a little path appeared into the woods up against the tsunami wall on the beach side of the road and we found a perfect clearing for our tent.
It’s cosy in the woods here and we’re well sheltered from an icy sea wind that has picked up. See you all tomorrow.

 Day 12:
The wind was howling the entire night and we could hear the strong gusts but fortunately we were very sheltered in the woods. By 6am we were pounding the pavement again which continued for six hours before we reached Yasuda Town where we had to climb a very steep mountain to get to Temple 27 (Konomineji). This is considered to be the spiritual checkpoint temple (sekishoji). On the grounds is a beautiful garden, which is said to have healing waters.This mountain climb was an out and back and we asked the very kind lady at a store beneath the trail whether she would mind if we left our very heavy backpacks there and retrieve them once we had descended with our daypacks. It was such a relief not to have to climb with the load on our backs. My left heel is feeling bruised and very painful from all the road hiking.
By the time we reached Aki Town in the dark, I had been reduced to a limp
(from heel pain). We booked into a hotel as there is nowhere to camp here and I need to doctor my injury. I hope it feels improved in the morning.
The kindness of the people here is incredible. The man at the reception desk at the first hotel told us there were no rooms available as there was a gaming convention going on in the city. He hunted down the last available room in a different hotel and then walked us over there to make sure we found it easily. 
While I had my foot elevated in the hotel room, Josh was out hunting for a more padded shoe insole. He couldn’t find any at the grocery store but a man overheard what was going on and offered to take him to a store in the middle of the city, fairly far away and it was about to close.... so he bombed through the streets at high speed, missing the first store by seconds... raced to the next one and translated what was needed. Then he brought Josh back across the city in his work truck and refused any money for the ride... completely amazing!