By now I was growing accustomed to waking up with a road laid out before me. It is easier to get the day started when you not only know what you are doing, but also that you want to be doing it. There were days coming up when it would be harder to get started, but it was always a comfort to know that each day of walking was done out of my own interests. I wasn’t doing it for anybody else. ]
The morning of the fourth day was one of favorite experiences from the pilgrimage. Passing through high mountain forest roads, fields of fruit trees, looking down on the village below and the river in the distance. It was a pleasant step away from the city lifestyle. I walked slowly. If I would ever have the need to kill time, I hope it would die in a place like that.
I passed a few other henro on this trail, but the majority of my time was spent in solitude. I passed by Ricardo and Catherine again. Catherine fallen coming down a hill and had a serious gash on her nose. I could see from the dried blood on her face, been bleeding a lot. It began to bleed again as she sat on a cement wall by the road and applied a new bandage. I stayed with them for a while, but they were taking their time and were far more prepared for these situations than I was. I could offer very little beyond moral support.
They started out slowly behind me and fell out of sight. After passing through a small village at the bottom of the mountains, crossing a bridge over a river, and moving on to a main road I would follow to Dainichiji (13), I looked back and watched for them. I saw nobody for a few minutes. As my concern grew so did the awareness that there was nothing I could do to help them.
The Weight of Guilt
I moved forward with Catherine on my mind, hoping she was okay. I felt guilty that people had done so much for me and I did s little for her. Almost on cue, as I passed by a small convenience store, a man ran out and handed me a bottle of tea. Shortly after that, I heard another man shouting from behind me.
“Hello! Scoose me! Hello!” He was begging for me to stop. He caught up and handed me a can of espresso coffee and said to me with his arms opened wide for emphasis, “world and friend and brother!” I’m not a coffee drinker, but that still may have been the best o-settai I received.
Moving along roads back towards populated areas, the mysticism of the scenery dissipated against the sound of cars and motorcycles rushing past me. It was the hottest day yet and I took frequent breaks. I came around a shaded curb and saw an elderly henro standing by a small fruit stand.
I recognized this from where I had lived the previous year. Farmers sometimes set up stands by the streets where people could take what they wanted for ¥100. Of course, it wasn’t guarded, but there was an understood trust in the act. The man stood, only looking at the fruit. The fruits were looked like over-sized oranges and had more of a yellowish color. They were packaged in groups of two and I could see what he was interested in. “Half?” I asked him. We each chipped in ¥50 and took our fruit under the shade of a tree, ate, and spoke to each other.
The man, Yoshi, looked no younger than 65 and I was sure this walk was a big challenge for him, but he spoke as if he had no cares or concerns. He bit into his fruit and pleasure was washed onto his face. I peeled my fruit and took a bite. I was shocked by a sour slap to the face. The taste was like the month after a terrible decision leaving me apprehensive with my next decision. I wasn’t sure I wanted another bite. I ate slow and was able to adapt to the flavor. That was when I saw Ricardo and Catherine approaching in the distance.
When they reached us we each had a half of our fruit remaining and offered the two halves to the newcomers. They accepted and ate the fruits with haste. I warned them of the flavor but they hardly seemed to notice. I was relieved they’d caught up so I could know they were okay. Plus, having something to give them helped ease my guilt. I was the first to move on and it wasn’t more than 20 minutes before I arrived at Dainichiji.
Making Friends and Lots of them
When I stepped onto the temple grounds I’d barely had time to look around before a man who looked about my age greeted me, “I’m Kei, where are you from?” He’d cut straight off a chat he was having with another person and somehow pulled me in to create a three-headed conversation. This had already been, by far, the most social day of my journey, and it was not even noon.
Our conversation was short, pleasant, and left me wishing, for the first time, that I had somebody to walk with for a while. I would have liked to hear more about him, but he was moving on and I needed more of a rest after the 20 kilometers or so I’d already walked.
The hard part of the day was finished. For the remaining hours of walking I would be going to four more temples. Each of them was within a three-kilometer walk to the next, and I would be passing by the place I’d be staying for the night shortly before the last of them.
There were many people at Jōrakuji(14) when I arrived, so I went to set my things by some benches surrounding a small tree and wait for the crowds to disperse before taking my pictures. I took off my sugegasa (the sedge hat) and placed it between myself a woman on a bench beside me. She looked at the hat, looked at me, said something I couldn’t understand, then grabbed my hat and went to work. She pulled some strings and other equipment from a case she had and looped them around the inner lining of my hat.
The original chinstrap on the sugegasa is very simple and loose and the head lining is uncushioned and uncomfortable. It does not sit on the head well, and will fly off at the slightest amount of wind. By the time this woman was done with my hat I had an adjustable chinstrap and a small wash towel now cushioned the inner lining. It was a huge improvement in comfort and convenience.
I tried on my new sugegasa and was very pleased. I had an assortment of drinks I’d received as o-settai and gave her the coffee I wouldn’t be drinking. As I went to get my camera a boy approached me. He looked terrified. His parents and his younger sister stood behind him as he inched forward. I could see there was some parental pressure to get him to speak English with me, so I eased awkwardness by saying hello to him first.
He was very nervous to speak with me, but my English teacher instincts kicked in and I helped him struggle through a short introduction in which he told me that he likes animals, he lives in Japan (surprise), and his favorite animal was a bat (surprise, but seriously). I tried to speak with his sister as well and he was an awesome brother trying to help her sound out words and phrases like “hello”, “how are you?” and “I’m fine thank you.”
The walk from Jōrakuji to Kokubunji (15) to Kanonji (16) brought me more and more into more of a city setting – a small city that is. After leaving Kanonji, I began the search for the taxi company. It wasn’t far, but just as I started walking a car honked at me as I drove by and pulled over in a parking lot near me.
I was confused and unsure of what intent the honk had behind it, or if it was even meant for me. I didn’t stop but walked slowly as I saw someone climbing out of the passengers seat. It was Kei! He greeted me and went to open the trunk of the car where his backpack was standing. I hadn’t noticed before how immense his bag was. His friend helped him in his struggle to get it on his bag. The bag most have been at least half his weight. He was not a big man, but I did not envy his task.
Kei and I went to the Taxi Company together and signed in for the night. The owner showed us around. The parking area for the Taxis was under a lofted room held up by support beams providing a kind of makeshift garage area, but there were no doors or walls. Along the back of the garage there was a bathroom, a shower room, and two offices.
Kei gestured to some shoes on the ground beside the stairs to the loft. “There is American, from California, and German here,” he told me. He pointed to the shoes, “I know them.” Sure enough, as Kei turned into the loft ahead of me, I heard the scream, “KEEEEEIIIIIIII!!!!!!” When I came around the corner I saw Kei being tackled into a pile of blankets stacked against the wall.
The man doing the tackling was Connor, the German, and yelling with him was Miles, the Californian. The three of them had all met at Shōsanji and spent the night together. The next day Miles and Connor had moved ahead since Kei was moving much slower and made frequent with the weight of his bag.
While Connor and Miles continued shouting back and forth in their excitement Kei looked at me and said, in Japanese, “they always speak English so fast and I can’t understand. I’m happy someone is here to speak Japanese with me.”
“No problem (Daijoubu desu),” I told him.
I left my backpack at the Taxi Company and went to Idoji (17) by myself. It was nice to be at the last temple of the day and know that sleep was not far away. Key and I had dinner together that night. He was not only walking around Shikoku but intended to continue walking around the rest of Japan once he was done with the pilgrimage.
I left my backpack at the Taxi Company and went to Idoji (17) by myself. It was nice to walk without the weight on my shoulders. By the time I got to the temple it was getting dark and there was only one other person on the grounds. The sunset provided some quality lighting and it was nice to not to be concerned with getting back on the trail.