Shikoku 2018

Day 27: Temples 81 – 83

It was another long day in the sun with a couple of mountains. I call them mountains, but I suppose they are very high hills! Going up and down, they certainly feel like mountains.

I was up at 6.00 and on the 7.09 train to Kokubu, where I’d ended at temple 80 yesterday. I could see at the station that it had rained recently, and there were dark clouds on the horizon. Rain wasn’t an eventuality I had taken into account; I hadn’t brought my rain clothes with me.

It was 7.30 when I arrived at temple 80 that I had visited yesterday, and it was already quite busy. I started the climb to temple 81, 6,6km away.  It was windy and I felt cold. The climb to 400m starts on small roads, and then a very steep path and steps. The view over the plain was fantastic, but it wasn’t great picture weather.

At 400m I was back on roads, followed by a very difficult path down to the temple at 284m. A cyclist passed me in the opposite direction. I smiled and bowed my head as he passed. He stopped and it turned out he was from Holland doing the trip on a bike. We chatted for a few minutes and he cycled away, whilst I was thinking that there were a hundred questions I should have asked him.

The path down to the temple was more like climbing than walking. Unfortunately I slipped and fell on my back. Luckily my daypack on my back took the brunt of the fall, and I was just a bit shaken, nothing else. Just before the temple there is a stone sculpture, below, that indicates that one is so close to finishing the pilgimage, that from this point, everybody should honour you. Beyond that, nobody is allowed to ride past you, but must dismount. I haven’t seen much of this practiced since I passed the stone!

Temple 81, Shiromineji was very well visited at 9.00, by people in cars. Legend has it that Kukai buried a jewel at the summit of the mountain, dug a well and prayed for the salvation of all living beings. Later Christo Daishi saw the spiritual light given off by the jewel and created a temple there. The tomb of a Japanese emporer is is also found here.

It is a beautiful temple with buildings at different levels, and therefore lots of steps. There were many Azalea still in bloom.

The first couple of kilometers of the 5,3 km towards temple 82 were along the same path I’d just travelled. It was easier going upwards. I met the French girl looking at the stone sculpture I mentioned earlier at the beginning of the difficult part of the path – she lived in the Alpes so was used to it. The path to temple 81 went up to 400m then down in a valley and up a new mountain to temple 82. There were signs posted for wild boar, and at a point when I was bent down tightening the lace on my shoe, I heard a repeated thumping sound and heavy breathing. I looked up, worried it was a wild boar, to find a Japanese cross terrain runner, running down the steps. A number of people were walking between temples 81 and 82.

I am sure that Temple 82, Negoroji, is beautiful when the leaves turn red as a very long stairs was lined by trees. The temple was different than the others. Once you had walked up the stairs one is led through various rooms in different states of darkness and contain the different halls, connected by corridors and with rows and rows of thousands of the same statuette.

The site was declared sacred by Kukai before he went to China, but legend has it that it was first established as a temple when a devil cow that tormented the people was killed.

The sun was shinning now which made the 12,4km trek to temple 83 even more tiring. I passed a signpost to 3 temples, 81, 82 and 83.

To start with it was down the mountain on a combination of forest paths and main roads, and then along main roads and side roads through agricultural suburbia I have got so used to, but is so different from Europe – with houses strung along the roads and rectangular plots of land growing rice or vegetables. Not every house has a plot, and I think sometimes these plots are owned by people not living in the houses. For the first time I saw some plots cultivating bonsai trees. There were very many more in all sizes.

I finally arrived at temple 83 tired. Ichinomiyaji was flat, no steps or mountains to climb. The monk signing the books gave me some sugar candy – I told him that it was needed.

The next temple, 84, was back past town and 14 km away. Halfway passes very close to my hotel. I considered whether I should walk back or take the train back to the hotel. I decided to walk and stop for coffee, a water refill and an ice cream when I passed a convenience store. The walk was along a minor road with some traffic, and absolutely nothing to see.

A man pulled up in front of me and asked if I wanted a lift, I politely declined and thanked him. He drove off. I could see a seven-eleven sign a couple of hundred meters ahead, and pulled out my water bottle to empty it, before replenishing. Suddenly a car pulled up across the road and the guy that offered me the lift, blocking the traffic, jumped out with a bag of two bottles of water, a rice ball (with green tea leaves) and an ice cream. I was totally overwhelmed, thanked him and took a picture of us whilst the traffic was still backed up – and nobody pressed their horn.

Of all the fantastic temples and not least scenery Shikoku has to offer, I am most and totally amazed at the kindness of the people. What on earth drives him and many others to do such a deed for a total stranger, and from a foreign country? And you hear similar stories from most people walking and even more from those walking in the jacket and hat.

The ice and water lifted me. I passed a shopping center called You and Me and went in to have a look – it was totally packed, one could hardly move around. Everything is pre-packed in individual portions, and there is so little fruit. I left after 5 minutes, there were just too many people.

I made it back to the hotel around 17.00 and sat for ten minutes in the wonderful afternoon sun, before going up to my room and a long bath – today had been hard.

I had noodles for dinner, very hot and very good. I fell aslep at 21.30, I didn’t have the strength to write the blog.

32 km today brings me closer to my goal of 550 km, which is 50% of the 1096km between temple 1 and temple 88. I’ve walked 539 km, with 83 temples visited and only 5 remaining.

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