Shikoku Day Ten: The Wisdom in Vulnerability

An early night made for an early morning. I woke up with 15 minutes to make it to the beach for sunrise. I was not the only one with the idea, but it did not make for an overly populated beach. There was also an older man appreciating the scene and a dog taking it’s woman for a walk.

I walked up and down the beach with my camera trying to play with different angles and find the best composition. Being still infantile in the art of photography I was pleased to have a scene different from the monotony of Buddhist temples. While it is an extravagant monotony, and one I won’t complain about, it was nice to have something new to work with.

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When I returned to the Ryōkan, breakfast was ready for me. The couple that owned the Ryōkan treated me with care as if I were their own child. At the same time, it was a wary care, almost apprehensive, so as not to offend my actual parents in the process. Everything they did was pensively weighted like they were asking with their motion, “is this okay?”

Their attitude made everything endearing and easy to respond to with gratitude as they seemed grateful themselves to serve. They may have been, as I found out they’d only recently inherited the house and had remodeled it into a Ryokan. They’d only been in business for a year, but the location was so remote I couldn’t imagine they would receive many customers other than henro.

I sat and enjoyed the Japanese-style breakfast, small portions of a large assortment of things. Salmon, soup, eggs, nattō (fermented soybean), nori (dried seaweed), vegetables, and rice. Another plate with fruit, tea, and crème brûlée waited for me at the end of the table. I was almost through with my first plate when I saw two foreign henro standing outside the large, glass sliding doors of the dining room that led out to the road. It was, again, Catherine and Ricardo.

I went outside to greet them. I did not intended to invite them in, but the mother of the house followed behind me, and she did. She offered them each a plate of crème brûlée, fruit, and a cup of coffee as o-settai. We sat in an awkward arrangement in the dining room with myself returning to the large table I was already eating while they sat at a second table. The two couples tried to speak to each other, learn about each other, and tell about their travels, but repeatedly turned for my assistance at my solitary table to bridge the language gap.

They ate quickly and were back on the road before I finished my fruit. I went upstairs to gather my things and made note of the weather report forecasting a lot of rain for the upcoming two days. It felt about time. While the heat provided it’s own challenges, I’d been lucky to have the weather I did for so long since I’d arrived.

The sun was particularly brutal on this day and I didn’t get too far before I felt the need to take a break. As far as the days of heat went, this one slowed me down considerably. My pace was slacking and I was privately aware that if Connor and Miles had not passed me the previous day while I was getting my early rest, they could very well be catching up soon.

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Myself and the couple running the Ryōkan.

My slow pace was exaggerated by the amount of stops I was making. Apparently, the comfort of the previous night and that morning had made me soft because, even though I’d had a quality meal in the morning, I stopped three more times to eat before five o’clock. I walked now with the mind of looking for a place to sleep. I knew I hadn’t covered a lot of ground, but it was easily excusable now that I was pacing myself for Cindy’s arrival.

I passed through a surfing town with a large beach that I strongly considered staying at, but I still had daylight and an urge to cover more ground. Even as I passed it by, I felt it was a decision I may regret. Walking through the town I ran into the familiar faces of Catherine and Ricardo once again, this time without their bags. They were staying in the town and told me they had hoped to get farther but all of the lodgings had been booked for the next two nights. They told me even in Muroto, where I was planning on meeting Cindy, everybody they called was booked for the following two or three nights.

This became a concern. I wasn’t going to make Cindy sleep outside, but I now had to worry that there may not be a place that we could stay. Either way, it was not something I could yet deal with. I thanked them for the information and moved on wishing them luck.

After passing through the village I took a stop in a small hut beside the road to look at the guidebook and see what was coming ahead of me. The light of the day was beginning to dissipate and I saw no promising beaches, huts, or shelters marked on the near future of the path. The hut had a roof, but no walls and four stumps were plotted as chairs around a small table. I had seen better huts farther back, but they were too far to return to now and the ground by the hut was too wet for the tent.

I sat paralyzed in thought, wondering if this were really the place I would be sleeping that night. It would be, by far, the worst spot of the journey up till now, but people have survived with worse. More than any other moment on the trail I felt vulnerable and alone. Even when Connor and I were still walking late at night, it was much easier to remain calm – even if a little frustrated – when there was another person with me. This was not the kind of alone I’d fantasized about when coming to Shikoku, but our fantasies hardly match up with reality.

Even as I was aware of the overreaction, I felt that the world was apathetic towards me. I had never been more sure I didn’t matter and I thought of the millions that deal with poverty and homelessness on a daily basis. I truly believed my strength was an embarrassment to theirs. This mood of vulnerability came sudden and it hit hard. Some faces even came to mind that I had ignored, or helped, in the past and I wondered if anyone would care to help me.

It got darker every second now and I thought of all the places so much better than this that I had seen. I wasn’t going to go backward, but I could keep going. I would have gotten little or no sleep here and it was honestly foolish to consider. I shook myself out of my irrational depression. If I couldn’t find anything better, I sure couldn’t do too much worse. And, if I really couldn’t find anything I could keep walking through the night. I was not without options.

I left behind the hut of vulnerability at a faster pace than I had moved all day. It didn’t take long to find something better. A large, open grass field just before a tunnel. It looked like it might be used as a parking lot – though I couldn’t imagine what for – and there was nobody there now. It would have been ideal to set up my tent. I can’t say what forces made me keep walking. Maybe the adrenaline I’d produced in myself wasn’t satisfied with the distance I’d traveled since leaving the hut. Either way, I kept walking. After another 45 minutes I could already feel my insecurities raising again. It didn’t take long, but it usually doesn’t in the nighttime. I had nothing to look for. I was wandering in hope of luck, and I found some.

As I approached a town I heard voices down a path away from the main road. I followed them towards a small, homely temple. I could hear the voices, but I could not see the sources. I climbed up the steps slowly while trying to make enough noise with the tapping of my walking stick so I wouldn’t alarm anybody with my appearance. I imagine I must have looked like a stray dog in desperation climbing those stairs. Two men sat in a small stone garden; one with his dog lying by his side, the other was Muriyama-san from the zenkanyado by Byōdōji.

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I looked at him and asked, in the most innocent voice I could muster, if I could stay for the night. He looked over to his friend, the head of the temple, who nodded in agreement. Muriyama-san showed me where the bathroom, shower, and washing machine were before bringing me to the shed we would be sharing for the night. Everything had an old worn out look to it and some walls were reinforced with thin pieces of wood. Regardless, I was grateful that my vulnerability at the hut had driven me away from there and towards the comfort of this temple. If I’m ever again ungrateful for a roof and four walls, I hope I can recall this night.

If you enjoy reading about the Shikoku Pilgrimage, make sure you sign up for the One World Home mailing list. One World Home will be launching on July 1 and will be focused on my travels and the way we are learning and growing as a planet.

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