This night at the school, like those before it, found me tossing restlessly in the cold. Fortunately, I was more able to take advantage of the time and got more reading done than I had at any point in the past week. Before hand, I’d imagined that, after a day of walking, I would have plenty of time to read and write, but with the planning that went into each day and the unanticipated social dimensions, reading and writing was happening on a small scale, if at all. I didn’t like it.
Kino left early, but Connor and I took our time. By this, I mean we took way too much of our time. Between finding rackets and playing badminton, repeatedly deciding our clothes needed more time to dry, exploring the school grounds, and making breakfast (which was more aligned with brunch), we didn’t leave the school until 12:30.
Two thoughts campaigned for my attention while we ignored the passing of time. (1) “This is not what I came here to do,” and (2), “you came to enjoy yourself, so relax and do it.” The latter of the ideals gained the advantage with the assistance of Connor’s carefree mentality, but the day would end with the former winning the decisive last laugh.
Tairyūji (21) sat at the top of another steep hike, only three kilometers in distance but rumored more formidable in difficulty. We elected to go a different way, walking about seven kilometers to a ropeway that would bring us straight up to Tairyūji. We imagined this route might save us some time. No matter which way we elected to go, we had to move fast.
We covered the seven kilometers to the ropeway, sometimes running, in just a shade over an hour. This option probably didn’t end up saving us any time and it may have even slowed us down because we had to wait two more hours for our trip up the ropeway. The views during the ride up were worth the wait, but I still had a pang of guilt for not traveling the traditional route
Once we arrived at Tairyūji, the route no longer mattered. The temple climbed into the ranks of my favorites simply by the appeal to my interest of altitude and mountainous scenery. On top of that, no other temple I saw was integrated with it’s forest setting as well as Tairyūji. The temple navigated the forest with paths like a game board leading to check points on a map. Each path took on it’s own character running through forest trees – some so large it would take five people hand-in-hand to reach around it -, a garden surrounding a pond that could make one feel at home no matter where they come from, or an opening in the trees overlooking the distance tree tops and mountains that seemed to suggest, just look at me and think. . . about everything, or nothing. Either will do just fine.
No Interest in Leaving
I love Tairyūji. I might have spent the night there were it not for the signs warning against the danger of severe nighttime temperatures. The appeal of the beauty so regularly surrounding me in Shikoku and the actual task of moving forward evoked a tug-of-war in my wanting to stay and wanting to move on. It was as common to wonder how much more ground I might have covered at the end of a day just as it was to consider how much longer I might stay in one place. The fact that either one would be done for the joy of it made it complete nonsense to stress over consideration of which would be a greater joy. How selfish I would be to find the slightest of pleasures insufficient.
We left Tairyūji in a hurry. If there was anything certain it was that we could not spend the night on the mountain. We had to get down if we were going to consider any possibilities of sleeping outside. We set a goal of reaching Byōdōji (22), or at least getting nearby before we stopped for the night. This may have been ambitious since we had almost 12 kilometers to go, part of that was an uphill hike, and it would soon be getting dark.
We ran down a majority of the mountain making significant progress in the short term. We passed a small hotel-style lodging that gave us pause as we weighed the appeal of stopping at that moment, but we moved on. We came to a crossroads when we reached the bottom of the climb. A woman left her work in her garden to speak with us. She let us know we could follow the maps route up and over the mountain or follow the road around. It was a longer distance, but we might be able to save some time with flatter ground.
Hunting for Sleep
Neither of us was prepared to anymore running for the day, but I still exaggerated my stride, and Connor was moving as fast as I had seen him move aside from his running. We passed through tunnels, over bridges looking out on a valley of farms and moved down a gradual, curving slope into the village we had just been looking at from above. I looked back to see where we’d come from, but the distance was growing indistinguishable as it grew dark.
We passed by a school and moved along a river where we saw a road sign indicating Byōdōji was only two kilometers away. We walked slower now keeping our eyes peeled for places we could camp out, but the ground was too wet by the river and under the bridges we passed. We walked all the way to the temple passing nothing but private property. I was frustrated, reminding myself that if we would have left earlier this would not be a problem. Setting up my tent in the parking lot seemed like the best option at that point.
Connor still had some hope and I followed him to a small building beside the temple where there was still a light on. He got their attention and handed the business over to me to see if there was anywhere to sleep nearby. I didn’t need to say anything. They understood just what we were looking for and wasted no time in gesturing to their car, signalling us to get in.
In most other scenarios, this may be a huge red flag, but not in Shikoku. We got in the car and they brought us down the street to a zenkanyado where we were able to spend the night for free. There were two other henro there, one particularly gregarious man, Muriyama Kunio, who insisted on snapping as many pictures of us as he could with his cell phone that look like it was from 2001. The area wasn’t luxurious nor was it spacious, but it was indoors and it was free. This was definitely a scenario I was glad I had Connor with me. If I was by myself I may have given up and slept anywhere.