Day 1-28

Longing for the horizon, and beyond…

We travel to Shikoku for a second time. ‘The same round trip?’, everyone asks us when we announce our journey. ‘Yes, the very same.’ ‘But certainly the other way, counterclockwise?’ ‘No, clockwise again. Counterclockwise you only walk to repent.’ ‘Aren’t there other trails to walk?’ ‘Of course there are, everywhere in the world. In Japan, there are several pilgrim trails. We did look at them, but we want to go the same way.’ ‘Why?’, people use to ask, Dutch as well as Japanese we meet. Why? We just don’t know. Maybe the word ‘longing’ describes best what we feel. But longing fot what? ‘For the horizon’, says Mels. And for me? For being on the road…

If you would like to read more about last year’s trip, go to www.yna.nl/henro (Dutch only)

Day 1: Aching feet
I get up at six, after a very short night. Need to clean the bathroom yet, we’ll be away for three months less two days after all. The past weeks have been quite busy. We did prepare our 1200 kilometer pilgrimage on the Japanese island of Shikoku better than last year. We now know better what to expect and hope to cope better. The whole trip has been Excellified (by Mels of course) and we made reservations, not only for the first six nights but also for the last Shikoku week, which will be the Golden week, when it will be almost impossible to make reservations, as we experienced last year. No such problem this year. We prefer to book the rest ourselves, to keep some flexibility in our programme.
Our feet are prepared in a better way as well. After having French inlays made, we had another pair made by Joselien, a podologist in Mierlo, who supports pilgrims to Santiago de la Compostella. Just before our departure these inlays have been finetuned. I had my feet massaged by Jacqueline, a massage specialist in Huizen, who supplied me with massage oil and pressure point schemes as well. We both still have -– after a year –- painful feet after walking a bit. We both bought two pairs of new hiking shoes. Mels, who originally wanted to travel with only a light backpack, now has one pair of hiking shoes in his suitcase and one pair in his backpack. I have an extra pair in my backpack and trust the pair I walk on. After having done 400 kms of preparatory walking, the pain persists, although at a different spot….

During the past months we have been very busy preparing the trip’s last part: after the henro trail we will travel another three weeks to interview Japanese ceramicists, and visit museums, galleries and other interesting locations, preparing the exhibition on contemporary Japanese ceramics. It has been taking a lot of preparation, because we need interpreters as well as introductions. And Japan has proven to be a lot more closed than we thought….

Now we are well under way. The airport taxi picks us up at ten, and at half past two, half an hour late, the KLM-flight to Osaka takes the air. This time we fly past Nova Zembla, but it’s still cloudy. And after the first movie –- Cairo Time (what else?) -– I fall asleep.

Day 2: Changement de decor
The sun rises beautifully over the desolate Eastern-Russian hills. We arrive an hour early in Osaka: the pilot was allowed a shortcut. At half past ten we already ride the highway-bus (Kansai Airport Limousine Bus) to Tokushima on Shikoku Island, where we will sleep in hotel Sun Route, opposite the railway station. The weather is very nice and sunny; not until the evening the forecast rain will start to fall. Spring-like temperatures make a marvelous day. After a late lunch (sushi, what else?) and a cappuccino in a western restaurant, we sleep the rest of the afternoon. At night, sushi again, this time in a crowded and small restaurant. Sitting at a low table, I look at the man who is so dear to me. I enjoy the moment. We get to talk (a little of course…) with a group of Japanese hikers. One of them is a forester and he is working for nature preservation. He invites us home. We should phone at temple 23.
We use the hotel lounge wifi (this time we brought an ipad and a laptop…) and back in our room we start to rearrange our luggage: all no-fly toiletry and foot care products from suitcase to backpack and all books, travel info and gifts (which would have made our cases too heavy) the other way around. Tomorrow morning we will have our cases sent to the ryokan before temple 12, through the perfect takyubin system.

Day 3: The dejavu-effect
The dejavu-effect started already in the air: oh yes, how terribly hot it was in the plane and at the airport (and everywhere else in Japan…) and oh yes, those concreted river beds and seashores (I already see them from the air). And, later, at the airport and riding to Shikoku: oh yes, the vending machines with cold drinks and hot coffee, and oh yes, the toilets with heated seat, various bottom cleaning options and flush mimicking sounds to mask your own production. And oh yes, the small golf courses with plastic grass, sand and lake, discernable from afar by the high 15-20 meter netting. And oh yes, bowing personnel everywhere and the ‘arigato gozaimashita’ choir in the sushi restaurant, and oh yes, the slipper acts (inside slippers, outside slippers, toilet slippers…), and oh yes, my big big Western body that doesn’t fit any chair or toilet, and oh yes, the Gordian mishmash of telephone and electricity cables over the streets, and oh yes, the left hand driving traffic with small cubical cars and dashboards full of cute animals, oh yes, the first two tones of the Bird Waltz when I’m allowed to cross the street. Oh yes, the ubiquous television sets, in restaurants, dining rooms, lounges…, with a mixture of quizzes, news, sometimes a soap, and most of all, many many eating people: zooming into oral detail… And oh yes, those hard matresses in Western hotels…

We have been warned, that the second walk would be a disappointment. That it would never be like the first time. But maybe that’s not what we should expect. Maybe it will be a joy of recognition. Maybe this time we will walk more peacefully, knowing that we can do it… maybe… we should not expect anything…
This dejavu however, makes us somehow come home. We both walk with a wide grin on our faces.

We start the day with a cappuccino and a healthy sandwich in a Western restaurant again. Just to pamper ourselves, because this might be our last chance for the time being… It’s our first hiking day, which we planned to be very easy: 20 minutes by train to Bando Station, a 900 m walk to temple 1, do some shopping, perform our rituals in the temple, and walk at last 1,4K to temple 2 where we will spend the night.
It’s raining cats and dogs when we leave our hotel at eleven to have our breakfast, and there is a strong wind. But when we arrive at temple 1, the rain is almost over. The sun tries to peep through the clouds.
We take our time, first at the main shop, then at the temple shop. We both buy a new (clean and ironed) white henro shirt, a bit of incense, candles and a lighter, a set of osame-fuda (to write our names and intentions), a Japanese book with maps (we have discovered that it includes altitudes and a lot of additional information) and… 2 new stampbooks each. We should use our old books. At each temple a monk inserts three different stamps and a black calligraphy. If one walks the trail a second time, a new set of three stamps is stamped over the first ones. Last time we saw totally red die-hard stamp books. Their owners had more or less become tramps… We want to keep our books a bit tidy (of course we have our favourite aberration) and as a result we start over with new books. This time we are very alert to get the first stamp on its proper page because two books have exactly 88 pages for all temples and last time we messed up… This time the nice monk does it for us and inserts our names in kanji on a blank page, turns the book and puts her stamps on page last. We’ll see… Letting go…

We sign our names and departure date in the book of completion. It’s a new 2011 version and we see already a lot of names, Japanese but also some American, Australian, Czech, French. The oldest (Japanese) hiker is 81, the youngest 13.

And then the trek begins… First we do our rituals at temple 1: bowing at the entrance gate, washing hands, ringing the bell to make our arrival known to the gods (yes we have come again!!!), light candles and incense at the main hall, leave the osame-fuda with intention as well as a coin, recite the heart sutra in Japanese (and repeat all this at the side hall of Kobo Daishi, who walked the route first, 1200 years ago). We eat udon noodles at the little restaurant next to the temple because it’s over lunch time already.
A leasurely walk follows to temple 2, where we can spend a little more time in the beautiful Japanese garden, perform our rituals, visit the stamp office and register at the shokubo, the guest house.
We get a marvelous traditional room, 12 tatami’s with tokonoma, a veranda at two sides and a nice inner garden. The outer world can be hidden with paper and wooden sliding panels… We’re happy that nowadays these come with double glazed backing… Outside we have a private toilet. It’s just half past three when we arrive and I start my diary. Mels hurries off to the ofuro, the common bath and returns red as a lobster. I skip the hot bath this time…
We share a meal with a couple, a young woman and man, all Japanese. We converse with the help of hand and feet and our small dictionary. Later, in our room, we enjoy the beautifully lit garden and spread our Japanese beds early, because tomorrow morning’s service begins at 6.

Day 4: A dog’s life
After the short service in the main temple -– hondo –- and breakfast, we start our 15K walk, visiting temples 3 to 7, in the last of which we will sleep. The first days will be easy –- until temple 11 -– so that we will be able to accustom a bit. We need to get rid of our jetlag, and walking with full weight will be hard. Before temple 11 we find ourselves in the Yoshino-gawa delta, in reasonably flat terrain. The first mountains are between temple 11 and 12. After temple 12 the day’s distances will grow considerably.

We leave with nice weather, almost too hot for our coats. After a while, the air freshens and a little rain starts to fall. We walk through housed areas and sometimes over muddy paths between rice fields or past mixed woods with lots of bamboo. Although we walk a week earlier than last year, it seems more like spring: we see daffodils everywhere and of course camelias, often cut in form or as a hedge, and red with festive flowers. Shepard’s purse and purple dead nettle create lovely fields. Citrus fruit is everywhere, all kinds of yellow and orange in trees.
We take it easy today, take our time for each temple, take lunch from our backpack in a rest hut which we find every now and then along the pilgrim path. We encounter several unexpected pastry shops and give in to the last one… and take a coffee next to temple six. We arrive as early as three o’clock at our residence, temple seven. During the day, Mels exchanges his new shoes for last year’s (for which he got a half price rebate because they wore too much…). His feet keep hurting.

Some things have changed since last year’s walk: every now and then we see henro markers in English which destroys a bit of authenticity… Some things regretfully have not changed: last year there was a dog sitting in the shambles in front of a house, a quiet stately black and white dog, chained between heaps of rubbish, on a dying swiveling chair. We meet him again. Part of the rubbish has disappeared and has been replaced by a row of old mopeds. The dog sits on the handlebar of one of them, the only spot where he can sit dry and a bit comfortably. In Japan, we have seen quite a lot of digs, lying lonely at the end of their chains, but this image I will not forget easily…

Temple seven’s shukubo (guest house) is unexpectedly Western: two beds, carpet flooring that our shoes are allowed on, key-cards and our own bathroom. And, after a few tries… internet. Mels turns in after dinner and I work for a few hours more, though it’s impossible to send mail…

Day 5: Tombstone cemetery
After service (half six) and breakfast we try internetting a bit, but there is a knock on the door: could the room please be cleaned? A few minutes later another knock on the door: the priest himself asks whether internet works all right… At last we leave at half eight from the guest house, the very last ones… There are heavy clouds and a chilly wind. We see from afar the mountains we will have to cross in two days’ time, climbing to temple twelve: they are grey with rain.
Our program today is a 12,2K walk, visiting temples 8, 9 and 10. The past days we have noticed that our walking speed is a lot higher than last year; we even pass the Japanese henros. The result: a wrong turn to temple 9 instead of 8 makes us walk an extra K. We notice our mistake when making pictures of the remains of century old tombstones. But today, there is no hurry, the sun has come back and brings an enjoyable temperature.
Last year I bought a pilgrim’s staff at temple one and left it at temple 88, to be put into the special shrine. This time I did not buy one on purpose: during our last walk I’ve seen so many orphan, forgotten, staffs, that I want save one and bring it home. I notice one at temple eight, it seems alone to me… On its four sides the heart sutra is written. A staff with character. We like one another at once.
Having a staff means also taking extra care, for both of us. Me too, I forgot my staff regularly an left it standing in one of those special racks next to the temple. It means going back, taking sometimes many stairs. Last year it was exactly here that I left mine, and Mels was so kind to climb all those stairs again.
It’s almost noon when we arrive at temple nine. There is a funeral and quietly we perform our rituals. We buy little straw sandals at the stamp office to have them put into the hondo. Helps against foot pain… I buy an amulet-adresstag for a dog. Who knows for whom? ‘Your staff’, Mels hisses when we leave. ‘Yes, yes, yes’, I answer, as if I never forget it.
The udon-restaurant next to the temple is just closing, its owner needs to go somewhere it seems. We find another one just before the climb to temple ten. After lunch we follow the narrow road up. Last year a window opened somewhere and we were invited to leave our backpack. This time the same thing happens. A lot lighter we climb up, first a little macadam road, and then 333 steps up to temple ten. A special number, but I have forgotten what for… Mels is counting them and comes to 334, but he refuses to check… After our rituals, stamps we leave and Mels reminds me: ‘Your staff!’
We collect our backpacks at the little manufacturing shop of kakejiku’s – rolls of silk, paper, brocate, silk paper, for the 88 temple stamps and calligraphies, expensive: up to 1800 euro – and we are invited to (green) tea again. Very nice people, and the lady has started to speak a little English.
Just when we leave, it starts raining heavily. We take shelter at the udon-restaurant, which has closed now. It’s only a 20 minute walk to our ryokan and we don’t like to put on our ponchos or to get wet.
Already at three we arive at our final destination, ryokan Yawata, where we spent the night last year. Our room is 7,5 tatamis, with a small hallway with a washing cabinet and toilet. The ryokan and restaurant are not very nice, but its personnel is very friendly and the food is good and and more than enough. Originally, we decided to eat less and drink less beer, but… it’s all so delicious. Our pilgrimage seems to become some kind of culinary journey as well…
One of the guests tries to make a conversation: ‘Oranda? Ah Anton Geesink!’ and it becomes clear that he has studied a bit of Japanese-Dutch history: he knows the old Dutch trade posts Nagasaki and Deshima and… he knows Siebold, a Dutch doctor who collected Japanese plants, animals and artifacts for the Leiden University.
Outside, the rain drums the windowpanes. Back in our room, I count my blisters: I felt one on each little toe yesterday; they have grown today, in spite of (or because of?) preventive taping. During the night a gale bellows loudly.

Day 6: View of hell

Today our programme says 8-9K, and visiting temple eleven. That means we can start at nine o’clock; the cleaning lady has been around already. Weather is radiant, what a difference with yesterday evening! But it’s still very cold, in spite of the sun.

We have done just a short distance when we visit a small shop to buy a present for the lady of the next ryokan, who was so nice to us last year. We are invited for coffee. In a corner of the supermarket is a small stove with some people sitting around, on crates. They offer us coffee with sweet potatoes, hot from the stove. A lively conversation starts. They are very interested in Holland. When we leave and want to buy two packets of candy to give away later, we are not allowed to pay. ‘O-settai!’, the gift for henros… They wave goodbye.

We follow the river delta, and are soon only surrounded by rice- and other fields and sometimes a bamboo forest. People are working on the fields. We cross some of the Yoshino-gawa river beds, over low and narrow one-car-wide bridges that we share with other traffic. We hear the first nightingale and field lark and we see kwikstaarten, white herons, a comorant and ducks in many variations.
After having crossed the last river bed, we walk through housed areas again. Snowflakes start to fall (Snow?! On a subtropical island with palms?!). We are still staring into the skies, when a minute car passes. The visit to the supermarket is already an hour or so ago, but its 72 years old owner gets out of her car. She would like to make some pictures yet. From the other direction, another man arrives, also with a camera, on his other arm a little white dog. In the middle of heavy traffic all kinds of picture combinations are made. The woman offers a picture of the river valley in full bloom, so that we might know how beautiful it can be. And… she has a large bag of citrus fruit for us. Mels almost collapses under its extra weight… ‘Visit us next time again’, she says when leaving. We wave when she turns the car with a lot of noise.

We decide to have a coffee ate the same place as last year. The same man sitting at the bar, sipping coffee. The same little kawai groomed dog. The same owner, who recognises us and produces our business cards: ‘Boommels!’ We stay for a while. Our coffee is served in specially selected cups, because he knows we are interested in ceramics. When we say goodbye, we receive two cans of green tea, which we later drop into a vending machine, we still don’t like it…
At half twelve we arrive at ryokan Hoshino. The owner recognises us immediately. The son brings extra futons for mama-san with the bad back. We leave our backpacks at our room (6 tatamis, little hallway, cupboard and toilet unit) and leave for the sushi-restaurant where we did have lunch so well last year, when I was so tired that our host drove us there. Now we borrow two bikes and find the restaurant in no time. They recognise us. After a sushi feast we do some shopping and buy ‘Dutch’ tulips for our host. A visit to temple eleven follows and, just like last year, we have a look at the beginning of the mountain path that we will follow tomorrow: the day that is called the pilgrim’s hell… After our rituals we sit on a small bench, nicely in the sun. Just relaxing a bit before we will enter hell tomorrow.
Back at our room, each of us sitting on a double futon, I write my diary and Mels sighs translating into English. From our window we look at the heavily wooded mountain slopes: the first of the three ridges we will pass tomorrow…

Day 7: Snow in pilgrim’s hell
Pilgrim’s hell consists of three mountain ridges. Temple twelve sits on top of the last one. A 13K trip with a total climb of 1200 m. Tempel twelve does not accept foreigners, even those who have done the walk before, know Japanese customs and speak a little Japanese… So we need to do a few extra K – just like last year – to find somewhere to sleep. We have chosen ryokan Nabeiwa-so, a steep 3,5 K descent from the last ridge. Yesterday we saw that our new edition of the (English) guide now includes altitudes. That makes planning easier, but those climbs stay what they are…

During breakfast, our host points at the mountains: a thin coat of snow whitens the horizon. Exhilarated she tells us that we should expect 15 cm at temple twelve. A collective moan escapes the group. About twelve people will go up, starting from this ryokan alone. Snow won’t make it any easier.
When we leave at nine, it is snowing lightly. We take pictures, of our host and her son (tulips between them), and we need to be photographed again in front of the ryokan. Payment for the o-bento lunch and yesterday’s beer is refused. O-settai!

Soon thick flakes of snow are falling. The narrow mountain trail up from temple eleven is slippery. We have to climb carefully but we arrive at nine at Chodo-an, almost the top of the first ridge, and at half ten we attain Ryusui-an, half way the next valley. Joren-an, on top of the second ridge follows at twelve. Quickly we eat our o-bentos. Resting too long is not an option, it’s way too cold and wet. It does not snow too much anymore, but a bitter cold wind blows and temperatures stay well under zero. Other henros have disappeared by now.
Mels doesn’t trust my staff. He has bad visions in which I fall down on it, into my eye or through my neck. But it goes well all day. Sometimes one of us slides down a few steps, causing sore ankles.
Just after one we start climbing the last ridge and already at three we arrive at temple twelve. We take our time and rest a bit in the stamp office, where tables and an oil stove are provided. The total climb took us less time than last year (within the ‘normal’ time of eight hours) and I’m less tired. It seems that my condition has improved!

Just a K before the ryokan I slide again, but my fall is dampened by my backpack. No damage done… The snow changes slowly into rain. When we arrive at the ryokan, a man is waiting for us outside. ‘I thought you were lost. We were worried about you!’ He is one of the other henros. He speaks English and a little Dutch because he spent some time in Holland thirty to forty years ago. Although we haven’t met any of the other henros, everybody knows about the Dutch ones. They were afraid we would be lost because of our late arrival. ‘Not lost, but slippery!’, I tell them. The lookout henro had fallen four times himself…
Our room is twelve tatamis, a tokonoma and wardrobe. Dinner is at six, but I have to wait until one minute before until all fourteen men have left the ofuro and I can have my bath. Yes, also the henro path is a man’s world… We are both quite tired and decide to take a day off tomorrow instead of three days later. The ryokan is full tomorrow so we ask them to make a reservation in onsen Kamiyama (hotel Shiki no Sato) where we stayed two nights last year.

Day 8: Waiting for wifi
Some rules in Japan cannot be changed: ofuro, shokuji (dinnertime) and… during daytime you should not be present in the ryokan. At breakfast at half six we talk with the nice Japanese guy who was waiting for us yesterday. We have noticed that there is a lot of exchange between henroes, and this year we join in. He has a few tips for critical choices: he gives us alternatives for the ryokans which refused us last year. In the Japanese version of our booklet a lot more places to sleep are indicated…

We stay in our room a while longer, but at eight the ryokan-owner is adamant: we need to leave. We order a taxi, because the onsen is quite far away and we have our two suitcases. When we arrive at nine, we apalogise at the ‘fronto’ for being so terribly early. We are excused and welcomed – they recognise us – and we sit down with all our gear in the lounge until our room (8 tatamis, tokonoma, inside veranda with chairs, hallway with washbasin and toilet; alas, this time no bath). Wifi is available but yukkuri, yukkuri: slow, very slow. At eleven they serve coffee and we upload our weblog, have our next ten reservations made, organise laundry and mail, sitting on the veranda, nicely in the sun. Mail is a crime. I’m throwing away mails for the umptieth time, but they appear time and again in my INbox. The first two times over a thousand came back. I cannot see anymore which ones I already answered… Sending mail seems impossible yet…

The evening meal is sumptuous. A whole restaurant full of people in yukata and on socks, we’re still not really accustomed.

Day 9: There are wide and narrow paths…
In the lounge where we have breakfast all tables face the view: a park with various kinds of vegetation and a water wheel, and a terraced mountain slope. Some camelias, a lone early cherry and a hamamelis are blooming, the rest of the garden is still in its winter gown.

At quarter past nine we leave, after having takyubined our luggage to temple 26, where we will be in ten days time. In front of the hotel people are preparing their market and they all wish us ‘gambatte!’ (Do your best, or : Have success!). We choose a more southerly trail to temple 13 than last year, 18 K mainly on secondary roads, undulating over several mountain passes; the last and highest are 210 and 250m.
Walking between some houses and fields, we see a group of men, sitting on the sidewalk. We are invited for (green) tea and they give us cookies and mandarins as well. The group is weeding and pruning trees. They point at the many cherry tree variations around, even hanging ones. Because of its cherry trees, this road is called the sakura-road. Only a few are blooming, most buds are still small. Before we say goodbye pictures must be taken…

The narrow roads wind around the mountain slopes and between the woods. Silence prevails. Sometimes a brook gurgles. We hear the very different sounds of ravens and nightingales. There is little traffic. The sun shines and it is getting hot. Soon our coats need to be removed. But then the sky darkens and it starts to rain. At the highest pass we find a little tunnel. The rain starts to pour down. No pauses anymore. We miss a turn (along this route there are no henro signposts and it’s not on our map) and after walking an extra K we arrive early at our ryokan Kadoya, next to temple thirteen. We are welcome, eat lunch we brought from the onsen at our room (9,5 tatamis plus wardrobe) and rest a bit. A day like this without any pause is quite tiresome after all.
Last year we took a more northern path from temple twelve to thirteen: a derelict trail over wooded slopes. Some parts had really fallen down, there we needed to carefully navigate. It was a very tiresome climb; on top of that we took a wrong turn somewhere (maybe at the start of the day as well) which caused a lot of extra K to do. That day (and the next) my feet really became a problem. I had blister problems for weeks. This year, the distance is shorter (we did the descent from temple twelve the day before yesterday), and walking on roads is a lot easier. The blisters on my toes have disappeared. Mels’ feet are hurting. He’s put on the shoes he bought last fall. He has been using these for the preparatory 400K and they are not so worn as those of last year’s henro walk. His still has internal foot pain and the new inlays cause his feet to become wetter than before, causing skin wear. My new inlays have been made from a different material and ventilate better, causing less moisture and therefore less blisters.

At four the ofuro is ready. But… men first. I don’t like it because I’m cold and my back and shoulder hurt. A hot bath would really be welcome. Apparently it shows on my face, because the host comes back a moment later to say that we may go together… if we don’t tell anybody and lock the door.
At half six dinner is served in our room. People in the room at the other side of the hallway laugh, yell and run for a long time. Children’s party?

Day 10: This one is on Mels
The next morning we meet the noisy people: a man and two women. Different kind of party apparently…
We leave just before eight for a 15K walk, visiting temples 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17. We start with the one next to the ryokan. It’s dry now, after lot of rain last night, but cloudy and quite cold. After the visit, we walk along a narrow road, high between the rice fields. Later, we enter the city: we’re in Tokushima again, where we spent the first night on Shikoku. We’ve come full circle and will go south tomorrow.

Around eleven Mels smells freshly baked bread. He is right, There is a bakery in one of the streets, with a tearoom in the back. We buy cakes and get free coffee: ‘Osettai!’ We decide to take another pastry and ice cream.
We visit all temples at our ease and when we walk to our hotel, we see a couple sitting at a shinto temple, who look like Westerners. They are young people from the US, walk the trail for the first time and try to spend the night for free. Last night they weren’t successful and had to sleep under a bridge. He has a -18 proof sleeping bag, but she looks as if she hes been suffering… She gives a home made friendship bracelet to me; we give small Blue Delft clogs.

Last year, coming from temple 17, we passed Mount Bizan’s western and southern slopes, through the woods and over a pass. This time we take the other side through town, because we booked a hotel there. We’ve seen on the map that there are several McDonalds along the way. We stop at two of them, because they should have wifi. Not so, only for gaming. Some French fries and McFlurries later we continue our way, but when we leave I feel my back going wrong. It will be the fall I made a few days ago. A little paracetamol gets me going again.

In the end we don’t notice our hotel, we just don’t recognise the sign. Half a K later a man brings us back on track. He speaks a bit of what he calls ‘the king’s speech’.
Business hotel Kondo is a bit decrepid. In the longish room there are two single beds, wide apart, a sofa, a camping table and two chairs; There is a bathroom with a tiny bath, shower and toilet. No wifi available. The host – even after a few calls – cannot tell us where to find it. At that moment Mels realises that we are at just 500m from our first hotel on Shikoku: a first class hotel with wifi… Too late!

Day 11: More coffee than wifi
We start the day walking 500 m to and fro to find  internet. Close to hotel Sun Route – our first hotel on Shikoku – we saw several freespots: Starbucks and its Japanese copies. Bot no… nowhere there is real wifi. After many cups of (good) coffee we decide to go back to hotel Sun Route to ask whether we might use their internet in the lounge. ‘We have a problem and you can help’, Mels states in his best Japanese to the clerk. It works. The following two hours we work hard. But whatever I try, I cannot send any mail. As a last resort I transfer all mails I prepared during the last ten days to Word, to copy them (with a cable) to Mels’ Ipad. Because his machine does work. For each mail I need to retype address and subject and copy its contents from Word. I’m just doing the second mail when all mails on my own netbook disappear mysteriously to their recipients… No idea why.

At a quarter to eleven we start walking today’s distance at last. We walk back half a K and head to temples 18 and 19. At the latter we will spend the night. It will be an approximately 16 K trip. Most of the day we will walk in a southerly direction, following route 55, a busy four lane motorway with sidewalks. We pass industrial and sometimes housed areas. The road is flat and goes up and down only at bridges. We have quite nice weather and take our coats off. There is a strong wind in the right direction. We lunch on a bench in a supermarket:  sushi, yoghurt and fruits. A while later we visit McDonalds for wifi and a McFlurry. No internet here either. There are so many McDonalds here; during our last trip we saw only one. Did we overlook them unconsciously, just like all those pastry shops we couldn’t remember?

At half one we arrive at the spot where the southwesterly and northeasterly routes around Mount Bizan meet again. A few K before temple 18 we leave busy route 55 and follow a narrow road through rice paddies and hamlets. After another climb through the woods we arrive half three at the temple. We do our service and leave by the same path as last year, through a fairytale bamboo forest. We feel like ants scurrying in the grass. We see citrus orchards, fields and housed areas again. We take the main road over a low pass to Komatsushima, where we find  temple 19 trapped between the surrounding houses. Just after five we arrive at the guest house, just in time to join the otsutome (service) which apparently is held in the afternoon here. There is a free little sutra book for each of us. I keep using our own, with werstern text… After service we admire the beautiful main hall. This is one of the nice bonusses of the service: one is admitted into the best parts of the temple.

After dinner I spend some time typing in our room (10 tatamis with wardrobe). There is a knock on the door and a nun asks me whether I would like to use the  ofuro? She shows me the ‘secret’ private bathroom. For me to use, next morning as well. Lock the door! Sharing not allowed!

Day 12: No beer tonight
We have only a 10 K program today, but our ryokan is 7 K from the henro path. They said to phone them to be collected where the climb to temple 20 starts. Tomorrow morning we can be brought back. We decide to walk the whole distance. What is 7 K to a total of 1200 after all? It is a beautiful, sunny day and we take our time. There’s no rush. Around half ten we accept an inviting flashing light. We hesitate a bit, because the café looks quite dirty and shabby. But… we get a warm reception and excellent coffee. Our host brings green tea as well, with bean-based sweets, and sweets to accompany our coffee.
‘Osettai!’ We write in her guest book (‘fu dou shin’ or: ‘no way without a heart’), take some pictures and leave an osame-fuda. When we leave she gives us a bag of mandarins. And she has a tip for me to change how I carry my bags: not on one shoulder but on the straps of my backpack. They now hang in front of me and they rock sideways against my legs. I feel like in a harness, but maybe my shoulder will hurt less from now on.

We walk over single and double roads, through rice paddies and hamlets. Traffic is heavy and often we have to shrink ourselves for cars and lorries. A stong headwind starts to blow. In Katsuura we see, just like last year, hina dolls displayed everywhere: beautiful Japanese dolls in many sizes, sometimes in expensive doll houses. Grandparents use to give those dolls to their granddaughters on ‘girl’s day’ (hinamatsuri), March third. Many exhibitions of these dolls are organised in Japan. In Katsuura one can see them displayed during one month, in shop windows and just along the street.
When we take a picture, the door opens. We are welcomed inside. We are ushered into a large room, next to the shop. People sit on low benches, drink green tea with bean sweets. The room is decorated with dolls and silk flowers. The owner, his wife and an employee are very interested. ‘Oranda! Ahhhh!’ We are still surprised that everyone knows Holland and where to find it on a map. And that we have tulips and windmills. ‘We cherish flowers in our hearts’, a Japanese guy told me a few days ago. Last year Mels had put a small Dutch flag on his backpack – we felt a bit like Duch ambassadors after all – but it had little effect. The only ones who reacted thought it was French, because it had been blown sideways. This time we both have put a silk tulip on our backpacks and people react enthousiastically. Everybody knows tulips…
After some tea and talking, the owner comes in with two little bags. Carefully he removes a hina doll from one of them. I ask permission to take a picture, but he says to do that later and gives the doll to  Mels. Osettai! The second one is for me. We are totally taken aback, these are expensive dolls. We thank him extensively and give a small Delft Blue box and our business cards. We get a very warm goodbye, including four mandarins. ‘Ja mata rainen’ we say: see you next year…
The dolls cause a problem: they seem quite breakable to us and just putting them into our backpacks seems out of the question. Tomorrow we walk the second pilgrim’s hell after all. We decide to just carry the bags. We’re happy it doesn’t rain but we look a bit like a bell tower…

Just before 12 uur we have lunch in a restaurant at a   michi no eki, a ‘road station’. We’re not so hungry after all these goodies, but we don’t expect rstaurants after this one. There is no udon-soup anymore, so we get a tray full of food. Later, we stop to eat some bananas and mandarins, mainly to reduce weight. My back starts aching more, the pain radiating to my left leg, and I decide to rearrange my bags again.
‘Just another 1 to 2 K to the ryokan’, says Mels. But when a mini van stops for us a few moments later, we accept the offer for a lift to ryokan Sakamoto. The guy knows us, saw us yesterday working on our computers. At McDonalds? No. We can’t remember where we saw him. He is on his way with a friend to the onsen to take a bath. We ride kilometer after kilometer through the mountains. Awgh! I’m glad we took the lift…

Ryokan Sakamoto was recommended to us by the nice man at the ryokan after temple 12. We booked this one now, instead of the ryokan we slept in last year, whish is located just at the start of the climb to temple 20. Sakamoto is a luxurious hotel, an nicely renovated old school building. The room is large, 16 tatamis, many wardrobes, a hallway with washbasin and a balcony. They have washing facilities as well.  Downstairs, a few henros we met before in temple 19 guest house. We join them to internet a bit, facilitated by our host, who has drawn a cable through the entire entry hall. When I’m putting on my clothes in the ofuro, a Japanese woman enters. ‘Ah, Oranda?’ She must have recognised my buttocks, she can only see my back… She speaks English. It becomes clear that the ryokan owner of three days ago  (ryokan Kadoya, next to temple 13) told her about the Dutch henros and since that moment she hoped to meet us sometime. Later, during dinner, we join a table: their names are Kyoko and Hiroshi, both retired, she was a teacher at a primary school and he was a geodesian. They had planned to walk the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, but decided to do the Shikoku one first (in stages).
We have a nice evening. Last night’s henros like to party. Mels had decided to have no beer tonight. But… beer is passed around. The owner has a big bottle of sake and fills cups again and again… Pictures are taken, and more pictures. One of the group pictures will be used for the hallway; we’ll be seeing it next year… We keep our Dutch reputation up regarding drinking. We’ve got quite a lot of stamina… And we were thinking that those henros were serious people… Outside it starts to rain heavily. The little bus will leave at seven tomorrow morning. Awgh…

Day 13: Meeting people
At seven everyone is somehow ready for the bus. Even we are, with our bursting backpacks, after having buffered our hina-dolls in clothing and putting them in our backpacks. One of the henros stays behind but says farewell anyway. The bus with a total of 10 henros works hard to climb the slope through the hamlet. It’s decorated nicely with lampions and pumpkins in the trees and hina-dolls in front of the houses. The bus takes a shortcut trough two tunnels and brings us back to the henro trail.
We will visit temples 20 and 21 today and need to go an extra few K to our night’s stay: Sakaguchi-ya, the ryokan where we slept last year. Today is ‘pilgrim’s hell 2.0’: first – from the start of the slope – 2,6 K up to temple 20, a 450 m climb, down again to almost zero in the next valley, and after that a 3,6 K climb 500 m up to temple 21, and finally descend to our ryokan. A total of 13,6 K. It doesn’t look as bad as the first hell, climbing two instead of three ridges, but this advantage is well compensated by the climbing rate. Several stretches have a 30-40% rate…

To climb to temple 20 we can choose a western and an eastern route. Last year we chose the first, because it is easier than the other one, and it intersects with the normal road up, which gave us a second option. We choose the western route again but avoid the normal road this time. The trail starts as a kind of concrete macadam road, later there are concrete log steps and ‘normal’ trail. It’s quite steep from the beginning. The air is fresh when we start at half seven, in spite of the sun. Soon we perspire profusely, but still it is too cold to take our coats off. During our climb we take short breaks on the benches that we find along the trail. The higher we are, the better the views. A buzzard hovers over the river valley.
At a quarter past nine we arrive at the first temple.   Each temple has its own legends about Kukai (Kobo Daishi, who walked the trail first around 810 a.D.) and here, it is said, he saw two cranes who protected a statue of Jizo (who helps children who have died to enter the hereafter) with their wings. There are two crane statues at the main temple, and one of the stamps we get in our booklet shows a crane. We leave the beautiful temple compound after having performed our rituals. It’s too cold to sit down; there was ice on the water well…

A steep path down really attacks our knees and ankles. Unstable stones and tree roots are hidden by dry leaves. We need to tread very carefully. We hear the first frogs with their deep voices. When we arrive at the bottom of the hill at half eleven, we sit a while in the rest hut we remember. It boasts a real NASA office chair… The trail goes up sharply  again, over concrete macadam first, then the habitual concrete log steps. We lunch in a rest hut, at an idyllic spot next to a narrow brook. It’s still quite cold.
At two we arrive at temple 21, an extensive complex, with many stairs. It’s often compared to Koya, hence its nickname ‘Western Kõya-san’. It has the same mystical atmosphere, created by the ancient sugi trees (Japanese cypresses) and old temple buildings. We don’t stay here long either, there is a harsh wind blowing. There is some ice on the water here too.

A steep descent brings us to the valley where our ryokan will be. We arrive at four, almost an hour earlier than last year. It must have been the low temperature, causing us to skip rests, and of course the almost nonexistence of blisters. I only have two tiny ones. My back is pestering me a bit: going level is no problem but going up is quite a different matter, I need to bend forward. At night the pain increases. Everything here is small: washbasin, toilet and mirrors are low, mirrors are at buttock level and sitting on a cushion (for hours sometimes) is a crime.

At dinner I ask for a low chair, which makes me sit a little. We dine with Kyoko and Hiroshi again, and this time Onda-san joins. He is a 87-old Japanese who walks on his own. We met him before in the last two ryokans. Dinner is nice, with deep conversation. For both of us meeting people this way is one of the main things during our walk. It’s not reaching the goal, not scoring something. It’s meeting other people, making real contact. This is what we discuss together.
We are the last to withdraw to our room (smaller this time, 6 tatamis, but the same price, after ‘proper’  Japanse habit). Mels tries internet again, but sending mails is not possible, receiving is. We choose the alternative: lying on my (4) futons, because the day has been quite tiresome.

Day 14: Tsunami!
After taking pictures in front of the ryokan, the five of us leave at half seven, walking in line (‘file indienne’, as Mels says): Mels first, then Kyoko and Hiroshi, me and Onda-san last. It is snowing a little (doesn’t last long) and the skies look clouded, in spite of the early sun. We follow the normal road first, after that a trail through the woods over a pass, 250 m high. In the next valley we walk over single and double lane roads to temple 22, where we arrive at quarter to ten. The sun has reappeared, but the cold stays.
During our walk we put all the questions we have to  Kyoko. Yesterday evening she told us a lot about food. Every day we get a lot of dishes, but in many cases we don’t know what we are eating. And during the walk we see things we would like to know more about, but nobody speaks sufficiently English to inform us. Kyoko tells us about the things we pass, such as the graves. She doesn’t know. On Hokkaido, where she lives, only official graves exist; here on  Shikoku people are allowed to bury the dead on their own terrain. Burying is illegal; the dead may only be cremated. The ashes are put into a container, which is then put into a grave in the graveyard. Then, a stone is placed on top of it. Kyoko tells us about the influence of the ‘concrete maffia’ who have concreted most of Japan by now: rivers, brooks, coasts, mountains, everything is safely clad in concrete. Terrible!

Just after temple 22 we say foodbye to Onda-san. Between temples 22 and 23 there is a good walking day of about 26 K and he will skip that by taking the train. After all, anything goes as a pilgrim. One may walk a 100%, but a (partly) travelled pilgrimage by  bus, train or car is equally valid. Later Kyoko tells me that Onda-san is not able to read a map at all and that she has been worried about him since she started walking with him…
We proceed over various roads and through tunnels. We walk fast, because in the meantime we know: Japanese walk fast, eat fast and talk fast… A few times we take a short rest in a rest hut, and one time at a very old small temple next to a 1000 year old tree. We sat there last year. For the last part of the trip we can choose one of two alternatives. We take the sea one, because we want to spend the night at the ryokan we were last year. A few K before we arrive we use the ocean clearly. We go down to Tainohama Beach. Today the ocean seems quiet and sunny.
Just before our ryokan we say goodbye to Kyoko and Hiroshi; they will walk a bit further. We hope to see each othe again in Kochi. Already at two we arrive at  Green House Juen, one and a half hours earlier than last year (but we are quite tired!). The two dogs welcome us: the Japanese Inu – who has grown fatter and more inflexible because of a continuous position just in front of the stove – and the white Samojede. And after that our host says welcome. She prepared – quite thoughtfully – the same room as last year: 7,5 tatamis groot (my tatami counting is better now) with kotatsu (heated table) and cushions, an inner veranda with two chairs, a little table and a wash unit; there is a fridge (with stuffed pheasants on top of it) and a coin operated tv; hill view with squeaking frogs. She prepares the ofuro. We are allowed to go together. We alternate sitting on the small seat and in the deep end tap-side.
Later, sitting in the sun on the veranda, working on the diary, we hear sirens. Tsunami? We don’t think so, or is it? When the alarm persists, Mels goes down to have a look. The television shows the latest, since a quarter to three there have been three earthquakes, the most serious in Japanes history, a Richter 8,9 magnitude… With a 12 m tsunami hitting the eastern coast as a result. We are at the east coast as well but a lot more to the south and we didn’t notice anything. Slowly the news and its impact becomes real. We sit on the veranda uneasily for some time – we estimate our height some 10 m over sea level – and watch the news for a long time before having dinner.
In the meantime daughter Miki has come home. She does not study anymore but has a job. It is a heartwarming get together. We brought little Delft blue clogs for her and her mother and we bought a little address label for her dog at a temple. We feel a strange mixture of emotions: the joy of seeing them again and the exasperation about the disaster. Time and again we watch television and see the images. In Japan population is concentrated in the low areas next to the sea, because the mountains of vulcanic origin are too steep to exploit. It means many victims and damage when disasters like these hit. Our opinion about all these concrete coasts has changed now…
After a sumptuous meal we may use Miki’s computer to read the Dutch news (having only Japanese information is quite limited) but also to reassure family and friends by mail. It takes a long time, because we need to find all mail addresses. We try to mail Kyoko and Hiroshi as well, because they live in the affected area, but we cannot reach them. In the meantime, our host Makes a reservation for us. Her husband falls asleep with his head on the table…

We don’t have a good night’s sleep. We stay a awake a lot and when we fall asleep, we have nightmares about tsunamis…

Day 15: The day after…
According to our host the ryokan finds itself at an altitude of 15 m and therefore she doesn’t worry. Yesterday the tsunami has landed here during the afternoon or evening, still about one to two metres high. She tells us not to worry about our trip, although her husband offers to bring us to our next stop by car. Very sweet, but we prefer to walk.
First we work on the computer for a while. When Mels is mailing, I look around. I’m surprised how much better the ryokan looks. Last time, I thought it to be quite a shambles but now it looks even a bit chique. Mels hadn’t noticed the difference and questions my standard after all those dirty ryokans we have visited… He is woried about their turnover: he saw only a few guests in the 2011 guestbook. It’s a pity because people are very welcoming, the food is excellent and the ryokan clean. And… cheap.

On television and internet the news is heartbreaking. At the same time we get so many heartwarming mails. I cannot stay dry… Mels in the meantime tries the helmets on, which are lying about for an earthquake emergency. Suddenly, the dogs bark loudly. Danger? No, they’re after the monkeys in the garden.
We want to walk again, but we have mixed feelings: our trip seems a frivolous outing compared to what’s happening with so many victims and so much mourning…
It’s hard to say goodbye to our hosts Yuzuru and  Kayoko (his wife), daughter Miki and the two dogs  Natsu (short for Peanuts; the 8-year old Japanese Inu) and Kintaro (the 6-year old Samojede). We receive free lunches, take some pictures and then: ‘Ja mata rainen’. We’d better!

We start at half nine for a short trip, walking last year’s route, but only for a 10 K distance because we like to stay at temple 23. At first the road is at sea level. The ocean seems quiet and beautiful, no sign of the devastating power we saw yesterday. We watch it with mixed feelings, just as if a loved one has slapped you in the face. When crossing a fishing port some men are staring into the harbour waters. They point the tsunami signs to us: there are still vortexes in the water and a strong mark of yesterday’s highst level. We thought it to be the tide, but they know better.
After passing the hamlet we climb a narrow mountain path to some 50-100 m. We have long shed our coats because it’s warm and sunny.  We follow the normal road for some time and descend again. High in the air seven buzzards circle; three of them hover over us.  Back on the road a little white car has stopped. Two people get out, an older woman and a young man. They try to tell us something. We only understand  ‘osettai’. We think they want to offer us lunch and that we will need to stop at a large sign. ‘Kaikan’, the man repeats. No idea, neither has our dictionary. We don’t want to ride with them but trust meeting them again. We pass several seaside hotels. And grottos, one in a seaside rock, with a little bridge leading to it; another one deep under a hotel. We see small white cars everywhere; maybe it would have been clever to note the licence plate… In the meantime we have arrived in Hiwasa/Minami Town, almost at temple 23, where we will spend the night. Another car stops. A young Australian guy gets out to have a chat: Thomas. He lives here and teaches English. Yesterday he has been evacuated with the other inhabitants, but he thinks it’s a media hype. He gives a tip about a good restaurant – Hiwasaya –- but it’s closed so we walk on to the temple guesthouse which is called… Kaikan. No sign of the white car however. We arrive at one and leave our gear at our room (10 tatamis, wardrobe and hallway) and take lunch in the second floor restaurant. Then we visit the temple, which is like glued to the mountain hang. Many stairs later we have a splendid view over town, ocean, river and castle. No cherry blossom this time, the buds are still very small. We climb some more stairs to arrive at the stupa which leans on enormous concrete turtles.

Back down we grab our coats and walk to the michi no eki, where we suspect a freespot. We find the password on a billboard and sit down with our computers on our laps, just outside the little building where tired train and car travellers bathe their feet in an oval gutter with hot water. Sadly  Mels cannot receive mail, and I can’t send… Hours later I get up but my back refuses to cooperate. I scramble to get back to the guesthouse. After dinner it’s early futon time again…

Day 16: Sore bums
Today’s programme shows 17 K, proceeding further south along route 55, direction temple 24, to reach last year’s place to spend the night: ryokan Uchizuma-sou, a little south of Mugi, at the coast. We considered the scenic sideway along the coast, with its splendid sea views, but it’s longer and more hilly. We decide against, also because of tsunami danger.
But first the six o’clock service in the hondo, up all those stairs again. At the back of the main hall a high fire has been lit, a beautiful view. After breakfast we leave at quarter to eight, but we get stuck at the michi no eki. Trying internet again but to no avail… Sitting at the train station is a little bit better but very limited…

It’s a sunny day but cold when we start walking at nine. We’ve just started and see a illuminated sign with a big wave over a car. Clearly a tsunami warning, but we don’t understand the text. Do we need to do something? The cars just pass by, and so do we… The temperature rises (we see a sign indicating 20 °C!) and we take off our coats. The heat magically lures butterflies to show themselves. The road goes up and down, the highest pass 120 m, and there are various tunnels, the longest 690 m. Over the sidewalk automatic lights are turned on and out again when we pass.
A few times we take a rest in one of the new huts which have been erected along the route. Years ago a project has been started to erect many along the henro path. Sometimes they are well made, sometimes not so… We arrive at a rest hut made from two large tents. There is even a cleaning schedule…
In the river we see koi swimming and take pictures. It’s still early when we arrive in Mugi. We enter a bakery and eat some nice sweet buns as well as some salty ones. After that we rest in the folding chairs in front of the shop and we both are overwhelmed by sleep. A while later we pass a small restaurant and order coffee. When one of the guests hears that we are walking the path, she offers the coffee as an osettai. She did the trail herself but did the mountain stretches by car. A last time I sit in the corner of a supermarket and Mels goes hunting for aspirin. The supply in my backpack is gone already…

At half four we arrive at the ryokan. Our host welcomes us extensively. He remembers us and thanks for the postcard (we didn’t send one). We have the same room as last year (10 tatamis, tokonoma and wardrobe, kotatsu and balcony), with a nice bay view! Mels worries slightly about the nearness of the ocean, but our host tells us that we are 14 m above sea level. Food is marvelous again. We spend the time doing our mail and blog because there is wifi again! At last, sending mail is possible for me. Mels struggles uploading, the system has a will of its own. And we get sore bums sitting on those cushions…

Day 17: Whale!
It’s difficult to stop computing because there are so many mails about the disturbing situation that I want to answer… I read potter Euan Craig’s blog who lives in Mashiko, north of Tokyo and who will drive us about to visit many potters. His story about the earthquake moves me enormously. Mels is moved too: ‘I’ve started to love this country…’

It’s not before half eight that we leave for a 17 K walk, further south along route 55. We are at sea level more or less, between 5 en 50 m. When passing a parking, Mels sees a whale. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes, I saw its fountain!’ He tells a female henro, who is resting nearby, of his discovery and the three of us watch and take pictures. After a while we have to conclude that it really stays at the same spot all the time… Must be a rock after all… It’s not whale season now…
After a short while we visit bangai 4, next to route 55. The bangai are the 20 so called unregistered temples, not a part of the official pilgimage, but historically important. Some henros visit the 88 official temples as well as all bangai; the total route is then some 1400 K long.

We go through many tunnels – the longest 638 m with loudly roaring cars and our fleeing shadows – and a few times we can avoid the tunnels by taking the old sea road that winds around the cliffs. Last year we saw a whole monkey family during one of these longcuts, this time we have no such luck. When we leave route 55 for the last time, we return to it unexpectedly and see the little restaurant where we had coffee so nicely last year. Apparently we must have missed the same turn… The lady recognises us and gets the guest book. Yes, there we are, and we write a few words. That there is no way without a heart and that ours hurt so much now… We say goodbye: ja mata rainen…
The temperature is rising more and more, in the afternoon it’s hot and moist. Even just in our T-shirts and henro shirts we get really sweatty. Clouds are gathering at the horizon, but the predicted rain doesn’t come. During the day there are bad smells: it seems like a sewer/sea water mix. It’s really bad and it’s the first time. We have no idea about its origin.
We have lunch in a special corner of a supermarket with sushi, yoghurt and strawberries which we bought there. We can also have ‘hot sand’ and ‘hamburg’ and even french fries, but we are strong today. During our walk I stop regularly to make a picture of a manhole cover – renamed by Mels into womanhole covers (not translatable Dutch wordplay) – which I forgot last year or which I think to have forgotten… In the meantime I am getting interested into old gutters and the like, which are often ingeniously designed.

At quarter past four we arrive at White Beach Hotel in Toyo Town, a nice hotel just behind the beach. We have a room (2 double beds, table, chairs, desk, bathroom, hallway) on the fifth floor with a splendid bay view. An excellent hotel and cheaper than last year’s minshuku where we are not welcome this year. Last year the woman in the minshuku was very nice and very meticulous. She took care of my many blisters after we had arrived and looked after our getting on the right bus to the hospital the next morning. And … Mels gave her a gratitude kiss on both cheeks. And that’s not done in Japan. Shaking hands is weird, although this year many Japanese do (only ours)… Anyway, we suppose that Mels’ kissing incident has caused the problem.
No problem really, because we are very satisfied with the hotel. The host is so helpful to make a few reservations for us and even in a ryokan where we have been refused last year (‘Yes, of course, they speak Japanese, no problem!’). It will be a lot easier this way, because last year we had not only been refused here, but also at the other ryokans nearby. For that reason we had to travel to the next stop by cab…
In the evening we can use the hotel’s wifi. The speed is Ok and now Mels can upload the weblog in a jiffy.

Day 18: Soaking socks

During breakfast we have a sea view. There is still disturbing news: another earthquake in Tokyo (7.0 M), and another tsunami (now 1-2 m), there has been an explosion in reactor 3 and in Tokyo radiation seems to be 40 times normal. We think we are relatively safe on Shikoku. Last year we noticed that a high percentage of the coastline is hidden behind concrete and that everywhere there are signs where to go  in case of a tsunami (with clear drawings which even we understand). Beach and harbor entries can be shut with large sliding doors. Near our hotel there is a high concrete plateau on the beach: a safe spot in case of high water. The word tsunami is of Japanese origin… Japan has a long history of numerous tsunamis and they are well prepared. This time so many people were killed because the earthquake was near to the coast and there was no time for warnings. When in a town or village we hear a melody or big ben sound or siren, often at 6, 12, and 21 hours but it can very well be any other hour… The loudspeakers are there to warn for tsunamis as well. Last year we joked about them: ‘Twelve o’clock or tsunami?’ It’s no joke anymore. Every time we hear the sound we’re startled a bit and look at our watches. But unless there is a massive earthquake at the Shikoku coast we think that the main danger for us is traffic. A large part of our walk is along busy roads and often there is no sidewalk or gutter. We then have to walk on the white line, a dangerous business sometimes with those tunnels and curves…

It’s past half nine when we can stop internetting to pursue our day’s programme: 24-25 K, south along route 55 again. The road meanders along the sea and wooded slopes. Twice we pass a small village, the first time shortly after we have left. We buy some food at a supermarket because we expect no further opportunity. We see the first blooming magnolia, next to mimosa, camelia, and prunes. They are the first blooming trees…

We have a fenomenal view all day: a rocky coast, many bays, hazy sequences of cliffs in various greys… Many buzzards fly over the slopes, sometimes they hover over the road; we see them regularly on the beach, sitting on a rock or trunk; some other time one is chased away by a raven or other crow. At the river there are white herons and big seagulls, bobbing on the waves. On the rock we find groups of comorants. Along the road there are violets, light blue and very purple ones. Sometimes we see a large group of flowering saponaria. The weather is hot and moist, our shoes need to be drained… Mels has bought toe-socks yesterday and needs to get accustomed. We dry our socks a little… Walking goes well. For the first time I don’t feel my back and our feet aren’t suffering.

During the day, some people chat with us and several times they offer osettai, mainly citrus fruits. We eat them right away, to prevent the extra weight. We are halfway when a mini van stops and the woman gets two Yakult for each of us from the back. A while later, a cyclist stops, a Japanese student, who rides the henro trail on his bike. Pictures! When we stop for a moment, someone in a car gives us directions. We now are 2 oranges heavier… Just before our stop for the night, we pass a poor fisher’s village. The are drying nets everywhere. There are enormous amounts of rubbish. Very pitturesque… many pictures…: houses that fall apart, a corner full of pvc tubes, gardens filled with empty bottles used as scarecrows. We just passed a group of elderly people when a woman chases us with a pair of popped sweet potatoes.

We arrive at half four at ryokan Tokumasu, along route 55, near the sea. We get a sea view room at the second floor (6 tatamis). The meal is delicious and we eat together with six other henros, including the female one we saw earlier on. A Japanese guy two tables away from us seats himself next to us and declares his love to me. The other henros are embarrased and look away. I’m glad Mels doesn’t practice honour revenge… ‘Seven beers’, the son of our host dexlares. The guy takes a few beers more later. Mels’ work and the KLEI magazine are praised but his iPad even more… After dinner we are allowed some internet time on the son’s laptop. We look at the situation at reactor nrs 4, 5 and 6 which seem to be problematic as well. Grandma comes in to say hello, she is 90 years old. She shows a picture of her with Naoto Kan, the current prime minister, who did the henro path in 2006 and visited them, before he became prime minister.

Day 19: Chicken den

At six the television starts to play automatically. Guiltily I get out of bed and into a moist pair of trousers, just taken from the dryer. Outside a splendid sunrise over the sea. When we leave at 7.20, mother, grandmother and son wave as long as they can see us. ‘Come back… next year’, he says. The wind blows us further south and dries my trousers… We have a difficult programme today: 25 K, visiting  temples 24, 25 and 26; the first and last are at  100-150 m high. We will sleep at temple 26. Last year we visited temples 24 and 25 after my first hospital visit for my infected blisters, and I walked on my newly bought slippers. Temple 26 we visited a day later. I experienced those two days as difficult (even without backpack), but this year we combine these two days and add quite some K too…

We walk along route 55 again, mainly along the sea, sometimes over a smaller road through a hamlet or village. When we leave, the wind is a bit cold, but as long as it’s from the back, there is no problem. Soon we zigzag along the cliffs and the wind comes alternating from the right, left, front and back. In the sun it’s hot, but when there are clouds or when we pass trees, it gets cold. Our speed is high, as we can see from the distance marks at the side of the road, about 5 K an hour. At nine we see the first little restaurant open and we get in for a coffee. We get something extra: freshly fried sweet potatoes with our first cup and pieces of fried bread with sugar with the second. After a break of three quarters of an hour we leave again and arrive at the slope of the mountain on which before temple 24 just before eleven. We did 12 K already. Last year we had an excellent lunch here but Mels would like to go up. But we decide not to, because after the temple there might no other opportunity. So a very early lunch… When we leave we receive an osettai: sweet bean pastries.

After lunch we visit the spot where Kukai became enlightened. Next to the grottos where he lived, there now is his enormous statue. Last year it rained cats and dogs, the wind blew the rain horizontally from north to south; now there is sunshine. We are lucky this year, we haven’t seen much rain yet. We take the mountain trail to temple 24 and pass a few more small grottos. At first there are big lotus plants along the trail. Already after three quarters of an hour we arrive at the temple. It’s a wonderful set of buildings with lots of wood carving and a light pink stupa. After our rituals we descend again at the other side of the mountain, over the normal road, which goes down steeply; some of the hairpins reach far out of the mountain side. We have a nice view of Muroto, the town in the lowlands next to the sea, which we have to pass to arrive at the next temples. Before we descend, we put on our coats, because this temple is on the most southeastern cape of Shikoku, and after that we will walk along the southern coast with a fierce headwind. When we walk through the long streets of Muroto, a car halts. Another Australian guy who lives on Shikoku and teaches English. We have a chat.

Just before three – 6 K after the last temple – we arrive at temple 25. I leave my backpack at the bottom of the many stairs and pick it up later. It’s another 4 K to the last temple, but in the meantime we’re really tired and our feet hurt. A last effort – the last 800 m over a beautiful mountain trail, with nice views – and we arrive at five at temple 26. Our room (10 tatamis, inner veranda with soft seats, tokonoma) has a splendid sea view. Far away we see the hairpins we descended earlier today, and deep down lies Muroto. During dinner we meet many people we know. ‘No’, Mels says. ‘that woman we met yesterday at the supermarket is not the same as the one we met when we saw the whale. That’s the other one’. Which other one? Where did we meet the first one? And the third one? The man at the end of the table recognises us too. When did we meet him? Food is sumptuous and very tasteful. I lost a few kilos since we started walking, but I can’t imagine how that would be possible with all this nice food…In the evening I try to type a bit, but I can’t concentrate: the sliding doors are so thin… and next to us is apparently is a room with women. Just like a chicken cot. Sometimes one of our doors opens and a head peeps through. But it doesn’t take much time before snoring can be heard from the surrounding rooms. At night, on the futon which is far too thin,  I feel my vertebrae moving every time I turn…

Day 20: Uncertainty
Already before half four in the morning the chicken cot is full of activity. At five we hear a siren in the valley. The service this time is not in the hondo but in a little room. The henros sit on their knees or – the elderly – on a chair. I also get one; Mels sits on his hand made lightweight t-bone that he carries in his backpack all the time. It’s very cold in there and we are all are far too early, except for the priest. During the short service – reciting some sutras and a short sermon – he sits on a pedestal full of little chairs, tables, cushions, books and many candles. It looks really cosy. I just miss the small footpedal-organ (‘the circular saw of faith’, Mels calls it). When leaving for breakfast we see the sun rising big and red above sea and mountains. Mels gets another hotel reservation done and the takyubin for our cases which need to be transported there. Our host gives us a small compass on a key chain, it looks like an eyeball on formaldehyde…

Just before we leave we watch television for some news about the reactor problems and hear that the radiation level has increased again. We noticed during the past days that the Japanese, on tv as well as when we meet them live, seem unmoved, stoic about it. Evacuations are conducted without panic and seem well organised. In Tokyo long queus are waiting for trains that do not leave. A woman shoves snow from the hood of a car to provide water for her toilet. Children as well as adults fold paper cranes and decorate them with good wishes. (People fold origami cranes when someone is ill; at temples one can see bunches of them hanging about.) In the meantime normal life, for those who don’t find themselves in the disaster area…

Today, we have a 21 K programme, walking to onsen Ni Ju San Shi, where we slept last year. Now we made a reservation for two nights, including a day of rest. After our rituals at temple 26, we start descending the mountain trail at eight thirty. The trail goes up and down between fields and houses. Sometimes there is a bunch of flowering annual honesty (what a strage name for a flower that the Dutch call Judas’ penny…). The landscape looks a bit French; only the bamboo, the many citrus trees (often with fruits we don’t know) and the trees with paper bags are unmistakenly Japanese. We saw the latter last year, slopes full of them. The bags are meant to protect the growing fruit against insects.
Just like yesterday we pass beautiful hollow roads surrounded with fairytale trees. Then the trail sharply descends and we need to navigate carefully over its slippery rocks. My new shoes have less grip than last year’s and I’m grateful that it hasn’t rained. Deep down we see a harbour; the many fishing boats seem tiny against the enormously high concrete safety walls. A huge crane is moving enormous concrete elements into the sea; the cars parked nearby seem tiny. After arriving at sea level we follow route 55. Sometimes we take a parallel road through a hamlet or village, like beautiful Kirigawa where nice old houses have been preserved. Once we need to climb a little pass, at 110 m. It’s very cold, even with the sun shining. Often there is a headwind and we need to hide into our coats.

Sometimes we have ‘strange’ conversations again, like we have had during the last couple of weeks: ‘Do we meet those monkeys tomorrow?’ Or: ‘Tomorrow we will have developed quite some blisters…’ and: ‘Will we see that nice restaurant tomorrow or the day after?’ Or, like today: ‘Do we lose our travel book today, around the corner, or tomorrow?’ As if we have developed second sight… At first I didn’t read last year’s dairy, because I wanted to be ‘blank’, but sometimes it’s quite helpfull to know the details, like how difficult it has been, whether there was wifi in a hotel somewhere…

During the day we have three restaurant stops. The firs time we only notice after we have entered that we have had coffee here before. The same sordid fumu-music, the same display with bracelets on a table, the airco at 27 C with eco-position. We know now that the ryokans and restaurants we remember lively are those where we had some real contact with people. In this restaurant personnel is a bit reserved, but when we leave we receive a little bag with those nice chocolats we had with the coffee. I am grateful for the many and long pauses we have this year. Doing the trip for a second time, Mels is not stressed anymore about attaining the daily distance, nor the whole trip, and in most cases he is the one to propose a rest.

At half four we arrive at the onsen. We get the same room as last year (7,5 tatamis, wardrobe, tokonoma, hallway with wash stand and toilet). We are quite tired and our feet hurt inside. Anyway, we walk faster than last year, in spite of (or because…) the longer rests. We noticed before: the distances seem to be shorter. We think that it’s not only our better condition, but also our foreknowledge. And that’s okay. We both love to do this again.

After dinner, I immediately turn in on my three storey futon; Mels watches tv for hours, his little dictionary at hand, hoping to get some more info on the situation. We haven’t had internet for two days and on tv it’s only Japanese. Sometimes there is a short CNN or BBC fragment which might clarify a bit. We see images of lots of foreigners leaving Japan because of the radiation level north of Tokyo. At three minutes past ten there is another earthquake, 5,3 M, just east of Tokyo. There are chimes on tv and Mels can see immediately where and what magnitude it was…

Day 21: Incognito

Our host thinks there is an internet café in Tano so we pack our computers and at nine we leave to have a look. Our henro-shirts stay home for a while. The sun is shining and the temperature is a little higher than yesterday. Nive walking weather! But today is  yasumi for us, a one day holiday. The internet café is easily found after some asking around. Its name is appropriate: Access. They offer even coffee and cake. We sit down and start to unpack. However… there is no internet. Maybe at the library nextdoor, our host suggests. And yes there we can surf, not on our own computers however. There is clearly a wifi router, but the library lady doesn’t know the password…We spend the rest of the day behind the library computers and only for lunch we go back to the café for a while. We start checking the news on the nuclear reactor. After that, we need to answer a lot of mails from family and friends. We visit the site of the Dutch embassy, as my friend Willy suggested. There we find some information that puts us at ease a bit. We register at the embassy to receive the latest  information by mail. The time left we spend on articles and preparing the second half of our trip. It’s well after six when we leave. We suppose it’s closing time, because we are more or less the only people left in the building. The library lady is too polite to throw us out… When leaving, we have a chat with other visitors, a young couple. She has a job in Tokyo – research on handicapped people policies – but came back to her husband on Shikoku because of the current troubling situation. They are the first Japanese we meet who are really upset. They are nice people and they (she mainly) speak a little English. When we tell them where we stay, they start to laugh. We have noticed before that the name of the onsen seems somehow hilarious. They explain: the name means 23 samurai. At the end of the Edo-period, 150 years ago, 23 samurai who lived here set their lord free from prison. The Tosa-government condemned them to death: suicide by their own sord. Well, nothing to laugh about, we think…
It’s already getting dark when we walk back to the onsen, hiding ourselves deep in our coats from the cold. It’s almost full moon. It’s something I miss a little, like I did last year: the evening. Seeing nightfall every now and then. The cry of a lone bird. Traffic speeding home. And then… the deepening of almost tangible darkness. Dinnertime is always early over here and after dinner you are supposed to go to bed. So we are seldomly outside at night. The more I enjoy tonight.

Day 22: Longnoses

Today we visit temple 27: first we need to follow route 55 to the beginning of the slope towards the temple. It is located at approximately 450 m according to the map in our travel book (632 m according to the text and last year’s travel book) and the total distance is 12-13 K. We hope to leave our backpacks at ryokan Hamayoshi-ya where we will spend the night. We are a bit dubious about the itinerary: last year we had to follow a narrow and very steep road up and we had to move aside quite a lot for passing cars, taxis and little buses. The couple we met at the library told us that they had done a different footpath in January, but they warned for its difficulty. Finally we decide to take last year’s road, because otherwise we have to do quite some more kilometres.
First we spend a lot of time and kilometers in search of money and internet. The ATM’s aren’t open before nine, the library opens at half past. So we continue our path to the hamlet of Yasuda, at the slope of the mountain we want to climb. It’s hot (the weather forecast says 19C!), in spite of thick clouds. In Yasuda we find an ATM and we have a coffee in the local billiards café. It’s only half ten when we arrive at the ryokan and we leave most of our luggage in our room (10 tatamis, wardrobe, tokonoma, greenhouse view). At eleven we start out walk up. We are lucky, traffic is not such a problem, much less than last year. The temperature is nice. We see more henros on foot that last year and soon we meet a clear longnose: a German from Bavaria, in May he will be 70, he has travelled a lot and has many stories. He walks for the second time, like we do. Next year again like we all say. At least half an hour later we say goodbye. A few hundred metres higher we eat our lunch, onigiri from the onsen, in a rest hut, the only one during the climb. Just before the temple there is a shop where we buy an ice cream. We arrive at the temple at one thirty. Another longnose rushes past. He seems quite in a hurry so we don’t talk. I drink a little water from a healing source, next to the statue of Jizo. I know now that he’s not only the boddhisattva (bosatsu) of deceased children, but also of hikers. We climb all stairs at our ease and enjoy the view over the green valley and the far sea. A group of bus henros climbs up in a long white queue, led by a female priest who blows a big seashell. Later, enjoying another icecream below the temple, I notice that I’ve left my staff at the temple stamp office. Up again… After that, we descend rapidly, to arrive back at the ryokan at four.
Mels has been away to the ofuro for some time, when the door behind me opens. ‘Ofuro!’ I’m being summoned to bathe as well… A smallperson’s bath, I’m happy to be the only woman. Next to me, in the men’s bath I hear someone telling a long story in Japanese. Another man murmurs something back. Mels? I hope he has a larger tub…
At dinner we ask some other henros whether the situation at the reactor has become better. The first says yes. The other one no. When Mels explains that it is extremely difficult for foreigners to judge the situation, the henro says: ‘it’s the same for me.’ And of course that’s how it is: who knows how it will be tomorrow, better or worse? We are still surprised how normally life proceeds now. During the day and like now at dinner, we see the other henros laugh, joke, talk… and watch the terrible tsunami images and the reactor silhouets on tv wich are repeated over and over again, and talk and laugh again. The soaps, quizzes and ads have resumed their normal course since two days. We see images of a refugee camp, with tents. One of the large tents contains an ofuro: made from tarpaulin in a metal frame. The entrance shows the typical ofuro half curtain. We see naked men in their make-do ofuro chatting and laughing, as if it’s a normal thing to do. Like they don’t know. But then again, what does one see when watching us? Two henros happily walking along? Not everything shows…
When back in our room, the tv broadcasts the news that there has been another earthquake near the reactor, at 10 to 7: a 6,1M one.

Day 23: コーヒー セット: Koohii setto

We leave early, at a quarter past seven, for a walk of (according to the travel book) 21 K. The sky is cloudy, but the temperature is enjoyable. We walk along route 55 again. An early Sunday with heavy traffic. Many shops are open, but no ATM’s; we would get some more money in the event of a power cut… At eight we see an open restaurant at the seaside and Mels suggests coffee. He really takes it easy this year… Our coffees come with green tea biscuits. Of course there is hot green tea after coffee. A buntan is offered for later. It’s a big yellow citrus fruit. Every slice has to be peeled, and the taste is really nice. Then route 55 again, sometimes over a parallel road through a hamlet. Mels taught me how to count and tell the time in Japanese and tries now to teach me to read a bit, using signs and boards at the side of the road.
Around eleven we reach a bigger city: Aki. The library is open on Sundays and we can internet on the only computer for one hour max. It passes quickly answering mail, uploading the blog and reading the news. Recalculation has shown that the first March 11 earthquake was a 9.0M and the tsunami wasn’t 10 or 12 metres but 23. Without the modern wave breakers it would have been even higher, and the worst in Japanese history. The reactor situation is stable but serious. The Dutch ambassy has ordered jodium tablets for Dutch who stay in Japan. They say however that thyrioid cancer risk for people over 45 has not been scientifically proven but that side effects of the tablets are considerable for this age group. No tables for us then…

At a sushi-take away in Aki we have a sumptuous lunch, with ice cream as a desert. It’s started raining a little. it’s umbrella time because we think it too hot for coats and ponchos. But alas, the rain becomes more serious, so it’s poncho time after all. We enter a small restaurant for a quick coffee. Changing into rain gear becomes so much easier that way. Our host thinks differently however. He opens his special room next to the café. We protest, because we are afraid to damage the tatamis with our wet gear. No problem, he takes our backpacks and winks us to come along. There are comfortable low sofas. He switches the tv on. We take off our shoes and sit down. A few minutes later he arrives with two glasses of water, oshibori (hot, moist cloths to clean one’s hands) and coffee, which is served with an egg. A little later… (hot) onigiri, the rice balls we often get for lunch, and chikuwa, fish paste which has been roasted on a bamboo stick. After our extensive lunch I cannot handle this anymore. Some balls disappear discretely into a plastic bag. And then he appears again, this time with tempura and several sauces. Very nice, I can cope with that… A while later there are big mugs of green tea. When we leave after almost an hour, there are biscuits for us. What a nice man! I take some pictures. Ja mata rainen!

This way we walk in a relaxing way, but in the meantime it’s half past two and we need to do 10 more K… In our new red ponchos with built-in hunchback we look a bit weird… For sometime we follow busy route 55, and we appreciate the parallel cycling road that follows. Nice and quiet, it goes through the woods. Some of these kilometres we walk along an enormous amount of trash as we often see here on Shikoku. Half rotten matrasses, old gear, half bicycles, lopsided cages, stacks of wood, overgrown boats, an endless tip at both sides… There are small cots and normal houses and parked cars in the middle of all this. The path then follows the beach and we leave the trash behind. On the beach we see boats full of found stuff. Here and there a fisherman tries his luck. On a barren tree two big buzzards look over the sea. A grey, desolate world, the line between water and sky dissolving.
Around four we go back to route 55, for orientation. We should be there by now to judge by the distance indicators along the road. In the next hamlet we go back to sea again but we’re not there yet. We arrive at route 55 again and only in the next hamlet we find our stop: ryokan Sumiyoshi-so in Konan, where we stayed last year (same room, 10 tatamis). It’s a quarter past five and we are tired. We must have done 23-24 K instead of 21 as indicated in our travel book. We both have cramps in feet and legs. After removing my socks I discover an allergic reaction. My feet are full of little itching bumps. It might have been the new toe-socks that we bought about a week ago. Mels only wore them for 2-3 days and after that he was quite satisfied with his normal socks and inlays. I still love toe-socks but might have to try other alternatives…

At dinner – in the dining room with a nice view on a small harbour, lighttower and the sea, by now a big dark void – we meet four other henros whem we had met before, two men and two women. we are all chatting a lot and we learn some new words. And new dishes like noresore, ‘baby sea eel’. We talk about the disaster. They tell us that it is very difficult for them but that the morale of the Japanese is very good. It gives them strength. Finally one of the women sings a beautiful Kukai song, that she sings every year on Mount Kōya. We listen attentively. Very special.

Day 24: Only one climb…

Today we have a 24,6 K programme (according to Mels; 26 K according to our tablemates…), visiting temples 28 and 29. We will spend the night in Rainbow Hokusei, near temple 30, in north Kochi. At twenty to eight when we leave it’s cloudy. Far away, in the valleys black clouds gather. A single one has a fantastic form: an enormous wave like on Japanese prints. It towers over the far mountains. Rain has been predicted but for the time being it’s dry. We take the path parallel to route 55. Over here it’s a bit further from the sea. After a few K we discover that (according to our schedule) we have done exactly 300 K; a quarter of the whole trek. Walking deep between two steep mountain slopes we hear frogs to our left and right. They sit in little holes in the wall that reverbates their quacking into an imposing roar. Walking is difficult: legs and feet are stiff and painfull and I transpire enormously, in spite of the fresh wind. It must have been yesterday’s long walk… It’s almost 10 and we’re near temple 28 when we find a coffee place. After that, walking is a lot easier.
Before we reach Kochi we leave route 55 to walk north on smaller roads. A van with an elderly couple stops in the middle of busy traffic and they call us: do we want a lift? This kind of offer has been made sometimes in the past weeks and we have always turned them down politely (except for the one time going to the ryokan that was far from our route). We prefer to walk. He tries to convince us and drives at our speed for some time (other traffic politely goes out of his way), but to no avail. At last we wave goodbye. Temple 28 is situated on a slope and we need to climb a bit. We stay for a short while and walk down again. The van passes again and we wave enthousiastically, but we walk on…
Kochi is a big city at Shikoku’s south coast. In different parts of the city there are temples that are part of the pilgrimage. Last year we stayed in one hotel for several nights and visited them from there. So we didn’t have to carry our backpacks but needed to do quite some extra K, partly by train. This year we walk from temple to temple and spend the night in a ryokan or hotel. We walk from temple 28 around the north east of Koch to temple 29, over narrow roads and trails through the countryside. Going over a narrow slippery path it starts to rain, harder and harder. We go faster because soon there should be a rest hut and changing is a lot easier with a bench and roof. But the hut is full of people. The wink us and make some room. Six women and three men sit around an oil stove in the middle. One of the men is a priest. Henros? No, just people from the neighborhood who give osettais to passing walking henros. It’s cosy. We get coffee and cake, an umeboshi (sour plum) and lots of buntan parts. An unexpected and nice surprise, not only because of the rain but also because we haven’t seen any lunch restaurant. The rice balls are a bit too much today… We give osame-fuda’s, write in the guest book, give our business cards (‘ah, yakimono!’, ceramics!) and take pictures. When we leave, we forget to put our ponchos on. Rain has ceased to fall. Saying goodbye is difficult and they wave for a long time. Even before we arrive at the next temple, the heavy bag with buntan parts we got is empty.
Just before arriving at temple 29, walking over narrow paths between ricefields, we hear the hooting of the van again. We wave back. At the temple, there is little cherry blossom, whereas last year it hung like waterfalls. Annual honesty is blooming extensively under the trees. After our rituals we take a short rest on a bench. We have done 19 K and we’re a bit tired. Mels has taken off his shoes and socks because he suspects a blister developing. Anothe buntan is eaten. The man from the van arrives at the bench and starts laughing and pointing at Mels’ feet. Yes, that’s the result if one does not accept a lift… It starts to rain a little, not enough for an umbrella. Another 7 K to go. We go around further Kochi over narrow roads and paths. Along a river. Over a bridge. Along a river again. Another bridge. It’s a little longer still… And finally we come to the conclusion that there are also two low mountain passes we need to climb. On the first one we rest a bit in a rest hut, also to assemble courage for the second one. Just after five we arrive at our ryokan. Apparently we have rented an appartment. With kitchen, desk, sofa, bathroom, toilet and washroom. And cheap. Sleeping on futons however. We have a nice view over Kochi over a big graveyard…
In the restaurant we meet two henros from the last ryokan. At the wall, there is a large Keukenhof poster. After dinner we can internet on our computer with a little cable… In the meantime our host has left the premises. We’re lucky that the lady is still there, doing the dishes. We get some maps and keychains from her. At nine she switches off the lights and without a word she leaves. We hear a car driving away. We go too and work a bit on the blog in our room.

Day 25: Hilly day…

The other walking henros giggle when we tell at breakfast where we go today: Hotel Katsuurahama, southwest of Kochi. Last year we have taken the ferry to cross the wide river and we slept in a ryokan which in the meantime has closed. From the ferry we saw the high bridge and were quite glad that we didn’t have to use it. This year however we need to, in order to reach the luxurious hotel. It means more K as well as two extra climbs: the bridge first and then to the hotel, which is located on a hill. ‘That’s called “enlarging your scope”’, Mels says to me later with a smile… There are 17 K (we think…) to be done, with a visit to temples 30, 31 and 32. Our female host however interprets my gestures correctly and hands over the internet cable. Her colleague keeps on bringing coffee until we leave for our appartment at eight thirty to get ready for departure. The sun shines and it’s hot, presumably a lot more than the predicted 18 degrees. Within half an hour we are well under way to  temple 30, close by. For the second time we’re able to go to the wrong temple: just like last year we go to the adjacent shinto one. Later, seeing a layout map we understand why. The shinto part is enormously big and the small buddhist one finds itself somewhere in the middle.
From temple 30 we go south, into Kochi. We pass an industrial area and later ricefields followed by housed areas. Just before the mountain slope in front of temple 31 we pass a river. From the bridge we see tens of turtles swimming in the water or resting on debris. We climb at least a 100 m over a very narrow path. The slopes are covered with blooming prunes. A sea of snow white bloom. Cherry blossom is late this year and the Sakura feast (cherry blossom feast) will be after we have left Kochi. Countless other trees are blooming however. At the top of the mountain we pass a large botanical garden that covers several mountains. We enjoy looking around very much and take pictures. On a far away slope we see a large colony of white herons. It can be recognised by the many dead trees, which have succumbed to the large amounts of heron shit. The last valley we cross shows an exhibition of Dutch spring plants. A sea of tulips, lupines and other flowers. Dishes with tulips float in a big pond. We find icecream and a bench in the sun, with a valley view… There are many frogs in the pond, giving a concert. We’re not in a hurry at all, because our programme is not too bad…
Temple 31 is just behind the botanical garden, and can be reached climbing many stairs. After our visit we have lunch at the restaurant at the other side of the street. We meet the young henro, who stayed at Rainbow Hokusei, there again. Yesterday evening he has been picked up by our female host because he would be late for dinner. This morning she brought him back to the same spot again to resume his walk. Yesterday he was straggling and today it’s no better in spite of a shiatsu treatment. Sprained ankle. We warn him for the path down from temple 31. Last year we considered it very dangerous because of its slippery stones. After yesterday’s rain it will be even worse we think. He decides, just like us, to take the normal road. It means a few extra K. Once down we walk along a river for some time. The sun has disappeared but the temperature is still agreeable.
We rest a while in a big lakeside hut. A woman, passing on her bike starts chatting with us. She invites us for coffee but her home is in the other direction. It’s a pity, we would have liked going with her. We need to go on because the afternoon is almost gone… She is visibly sorry too, she would like to give something and in her bag she finds a nice matchbox that she gives to me. I give my meishi (business card).
To reach temple 32 we need to climb a little under 100 m. Mels proposes a mountain path. ‘I remember it to be easy’, he says to convince me. I don’t remember anything. But apparently we both have suppressed something because the path proves to be quite difficult. At last we arrive at the temple gate. Leaving the stamp office we meet the nice woman again. This time with a thermos with coffee. We sit under the roof next to the stamp office and she unpacks her bag: tray, posh procelain cups and saucers, silver spoons, coffee of course, sugar and milk, cakes and of course… 2 oshibori, little hot and wet towels to clean one’s hands. And the inevitable camera. We enjoy. For a long time we sit there and chat. Pictures are made. We give her a small present, little Delft Blue clogs from Holland. I get another box of matches. We hug saying goodbye. Only later, after climbing the many stairs to the main temple I realise that we don’t even know her name…
Temple 32 has to do with children. Jizo is prominently present, surrounded by little children who, just like him, wear a little napkin and a little hat against the cold. At these temples we even find napkins hanging around totally worn stones showing no image of a boddhisattva or anything else anymore. These too are well clad against the cold, with knitted hoods. Some have a small bag hanging at their sides. Tanuki – a kind of raccoon with enormous balls – is also to be found everywhere. And many offerings for children, last year I even saw a kitkat. In an indentation of a rock I see the tiny statuette of a baby. It touches me. I feel sadness not having had any children. I don’t even have an unborn child to mourn…
The temple is situated at a sensational spot with a fantastic coastal view. I thought Kochi was entirely at the coast but the road we will take later goes through a harbour area and agricultural fields. Far away, at the other side of the river estuary we see a large buiding on a hill. It must be the hotel where we will spend the night. It seems so far away… Just after four we leave for the last 4 K. But alas, there is a small miscalculation. It’s at least 6 K. And the bridge is really something. At both sides of the busy two lane road therebis a narrow elevated sidewalk. Sometimes we need to squeeze ourselves to the railing when a truck is passing. I notice that my tiredness disappears with effort because I need a lot of concentration to stay safe. We see the hotel hill getting taller and more pointed with every step. Will there be an elevator?
Just after six we reach the hotel. And what a reward… The room (8 tatamis, wardrobe, inside veranda with chairs stoeltjes, hallway with washbasin and toilet) has a splendid view over the coast and ocean. Food is sumptuous. There is wifi in the lounge. At last we can internet with our own computers! When we go back to our room after a few hours (all personnel has left at nine sharp…), the salmon moon is full behind our window. A nearby lighttower throws its shine around. Deep down there is a coarse barking. Sea lions?

Day 26: Exploded corn

There is soft bird chirping in the hallways. No real birds, but loudspeaker ones. After breakfast, restaurant personnel redirects us to a sunny spot in the back, with a nice view. We internet for a long time and drink coffee. When sitting on our own veranda, a buzzard circles just in front, searching for prey. The sea is like a mirror. Down below on the beach there are already people about. A parasol waves in the wind. We don’t depart until quarter past nine to do 17 K, visiting temples 33 and 34. We rapidly descend, along the main road first and after that zigzagging through the village next to the bridge, a bit more west. It’s a sunny day but the wind is a bit fresh sometimes. In a tiny supermarket we buy water and icecream and ask for directions. The aged lady owner draws us a map and gives us some bananas. Soon after we reach temple 33. Then we go west, mostly through an agricultural area, sometimes a hamlet. Around noon we see a booth with popcorn, poprice and popsoy. The man puts the ingredients in a rectangular cage (an old one to catch rodents?), attaches some gear and causes an enormous explosion. We are startled but the corn has been popped… We buy a bag for the road.
A little later we arrive at temple 34, but first there is a good lunch in the restaurant nextdoor. The young lady owner recognises us: the toge (clay) people. The naked, containerlike room has been decorated in a homely way with cushions, pictures of flowers, animals and countless other kitschy things. She also framed the osame-fudas received from henros. Mels’ meishi is there too. Before leaving we take pictures. On the wall next to our table was a poem that seems to be my own during this trip:When I saw your back.It seems a pastel drawingWhen I saw the sun.It’s shiny on my head.Dream, your smiling face is bright.
We arrive at three thirty in our hotel, Business Inn Tosa in Tosa City, where we slept last year as well. We don’t recognise the lady at the front desk. The room is western style : 2 single beds, chairs, table, desk, hallway with washbasin and bath/shower. Time to wash socks. A small machine ‘laundry’ down in the street. And soaking in the tub. I fall asleep five times. It’s six thirty when I get out.
When dining the the first floor restaurant we notice that there is no real contact with the servants. No reaction to our tries to speak Japanese. Even when we tell them that we were here last year, no reaction. There is no interest, even though their service is good. We are gaijin (foreigners) whichever way you look at it. Aliens. During dinner we discuss the differences between the city and rural areas. Contact with people disappears when we enter cities. Is it the same in Holland or have we had more exchange? We both notice that also we are more reluctant to say konnichi wa in town. One doesn’t want to become a Crocodile Dundee in New York… Shikokus risée…
Anyway, Shikoku changed me. Last year I have (and that goes for both of us) tried to say good day to everyone I met, to make contact, sometimes to chat. Even with drivers in cars. Waving. With people who seemed to be locked in themselves. And everytime we saw people open up. With a wide grin. Since our last trip I look everybody I meet in the street, in a restaurant or elsewhere, in the face. Everytime there is a chance for contact. For meaning.
After dinner we go to the hotel lounge to do some internetting. We chose this hotel for its wifi after all. But at nine the lady owner comes in and throws us out…

Day 27: You have a call…

Mother we know from last year, she is the hotel’s owner. A strong personality. Mels now calls her ‘the general’. Last year she corrected us when we came down for breakfast a few minutes late and without asking mixed a raw egg through our rice. The raw egg is customary. For us there is no need… But she could be very nice too: she gave us coffee and buntan when we stayed a long time to internet in the lounge before leaving last year.This time we are served by the lady whom we saw at the front desk yesterday. We are surprised when she asks whether the egg should be mixed through our rice. A bit panicky we say no and ask whether it can be cooked instead. She takes both eggs and we hear an  enormous laughter in the kitchen. Apparently Mother is there too… Chatting with her a little later we tell her about our plans to stay in Japan for a month after our pilgrimage to research Japanese ceramics. She tells us that she has made some ceramics herself and shows a few old cups and a teapot from Bizen, one of the six old kilns in Japan. Spontaneously she gives us the little teapot. When we asked if we could order a coffee – would be nice while internetting…  – it becomes clear that there is none, but Mother proposes to have a coffee in a café two streets away. She phones there and invites us: ‘Osettai!’ The café is on the way to temple 35. I leave my backpack in the hotel, because we will pass there again when going to nr. 36. In the café there are a few men drinking coffee. We take a seat. Mother (we still don’t know her name…) has brought cookies and an enormous buntan which she peels for us. We stay for a long time, although we have quite a programme for today (a 18 K walk with various hills and a visit to temple 35 and 36). Mels has a job keeping up with her rapid Japanese. Repeating her words, looking them up sometimes… She is 70 (looks like 50!), there is no husband (divorced? widow?), has 2 children who do not work in the hotel, and she will visit temple 38 in a few days’ time. Maybe we’ll meet? And yes, the raw egg she remembered and it caused the laughter in the kitchen…
It’s cold when we leave the café just before 10 and hurry towards temple 35. First leaving the city, walking along rice fields and finally up a mountain path to arrive at the 200 m high temple. Many women are working, cleaning and weeding. Here and there we chat. Just before we finish our descent we meet the woman who sang a song for us during dinner a few days ago. A nice get together. In the hotel we get my backpack and nextdoor we buy some buns in a luxury breadshop (haven’t seen it last year…) in order not to lose time over lunch. We want to visit temple 36 before closing time (5) and to do that we need to walk 11 K and pass another hill. We go south, not paying any attention to all restaurants and rest huts. However, when a man gets from his bike, waits for us and starts a chat we take our time. He is a fisherman, 63 years of age, no wife (‘not necessary’), who taught himself English with radio and tv. He respects Mels’ Japanese, we his English.
The temple as well as our hotel are situated on a peninsula that we can reach over a long bridge. But first another mountain. To prevent going through a tunnel, we climb over a 202 m pass. When starting to go up, I feel a fierce pain in my right foot. As if two bones touch. We take a short rest but we need to plod on. I try to walk on the inside of my feet to prevent further pain. I lean on my staff heavily and that way we reach the pass. Knees and ankles are protesting. The view is fantastic however. Far away we see the bridge we need to pass and our hotel. Along the beautiful path there are blooming azaleas and wild violets. During our descent through a beautiful narrow vally, along a brook with countless waterfalls we pass a spot where rocks and earth have come down. A man is cleaning up. At the bottom of the path we find, just like last year, a little rack with coat hangers. Everything for the tired henro!
Once down we find our way better than last year because of a handwritten sign on a post. My foot is a lot better. Soon we arrive at the bridge that connects the peninsula to the mainland. I’m happy that it’s not as high as the one a few days ago and we find a welcome and luxurious sidewalk next to the road. At four we arrive at the temple 36 stamp office, below all those stairs we will have to climb to the other temple buildings. After getting our stamps we climb up and after doing our rituals we take the path further up the mountain and to the road to our hotel. The last part of the path has partially fallen down and my foot lets itself to be known. But I succeed and at half five we arrive at hotel Kokumin Shukushta Tosa. We slept there last year and really wanted to go back: a first class hotel at the best location we ever have seen. Before we enter, we enjoy the view for some time. Far away, on another mountain top we see the hotel where we slept two nights ago. Further away there are many more bays, in misty greys. Along all these we have been walking during the past days.
We are still at the front desk when the nice (English speaking) hotel manager we met last year enters with a henro whom he picked up with his car at the temple. He welcomes us joyfully and tells us that he has been waiting for us at the temple bottom stairs, expecting us to come down again and not knowing that we would find the little path up… We booked two nights to have one resting day and because we planned my 4-weekly perfusion tomorrow. The hotel manager offers us to show us around the region tomorrow afternoon. He shows an information folder about the 2009 400-year trade relationship between the Netherlands and Japan in 2009: a brochure about the Netherlands, a map of Amsterdam and a booklet about interesting Japanese subjects including an article about a house that has won the 2009 INAX-prize, an important Japanese design award. He would like to show the house to us as it is not too far from the hotel.
In our room (6 tatamis with hallway and wardrobe, inner veranda with seats and wash unit) we enjoy the view again. Mels hurries to the ofuro. Later, at dinner, the manager comes to our table with a telephone in his hand. We have a call! A voice asks – in Dutch – whether we are stranded. A call from Holland? Is it the Dutch ambassy? No, it’s the owner of the INAX-house, a Dutchman who is married to a Japanese woman. We are invited to have tea with them tomorrow afternoon. Later, when internetting in the lounge the hotel manager shows us his hotel building plans. He is the owner of the hotel. Originally it was a provincial project but that didn’t work. When it was put up for sale 10 years ago, he was afraid that it would be lost to the henros, because nobody wanted to buy. Originally he wanted to retire and travel but he accepted the challenge. He turned it into a profitable hotel and next to the main building he added a separate building in Greek style. He was on Santorini four times and visited all hotels over there. This inspired him to base the building on Greek elements. Much of the work has been done by himself and even that inspired him: after work I would like to take my ofuro here… And so he constructed outside ofuros from where one can view the sea and the coast while soaking. Now he has new plans: white, organically formed appartements which find themselves halfway in the mountain. Self made from the local, pink rock.

Day 28: A perfect day

A little later than planned we leave for the hospital in Tosa, near our last hotel, for my perfusion. From the car we see the singing henro walking by. We go through the tunnel, but the rest of the route we know. In the river are rows of white herons. When returning we see the singing henro again, now in the opposite direction. Presumably she will take the land trail instead of the path over the peninsula. We drink a cup of coffee with Yoshitake Tamaoka who especially flew over from Tokyo to organise my perfusion, and his colleague, regional manager, who drove us to and fro. A lunch together must wait until next time, as Yoshitake has another appointment. He tells us about the earthquake and his wife’s and his anxiety, not being able to phone their two children at school. And about mineral water, the batteries and the toilet paper wich are sold out in Tokyo… We talk about his visit to the Netherlands, in july, when we will show Holland to him. We have two gifts for him: a book with tourist information about Holland and ‘In Europe’ by Geert Mak, both in English.When preparing to have lunch in Thira, the Santorini-like café-restaurant, Ikegami Koji, the hotel owner, invites us to have lunch together. Osettai. Pumpkin soup, souvlaki with tzatziki and olive oil, a salad with Greek feta and finally ice cream and Greek yoghurt with Greek honey. All Greek ingredients have been imported. In completely Greek surroundings and with Greek background music. And what a view! We have a good time. The hotel manager tells us about his travels, to Thailand, Myanmar, West-Irian, China, Mexico and many other countries. Trekking with a backpack, sometimes an organised tour, but always in search for minorities. ‘Minorities give colour to society’, he says. Once he left an organised trip halfway to have such a contact. ‘I need only two gestures if people don’t speak English,’ he tells us, ‘a sleeping and an eating gesture. For the men I always take sigarettes and small bottles of whisky. For the women I buy a chicken or something similar.’ He donates to them too, like to a school at the border of Thailand and Myanmar. And micro credits. The ‘pig-bank’ he calls it, because this way a family can buy a pig, rear it and sell it again, in order to send their son to school. He is a special person. If anybody would like to buy his hotel… He would like to free some time to read and travel more…After lunch Ikegami Koji changes into working gear to repair a leaking bathroom. A little later he is back again to drive to Dolf van Graas and his wife Fumika Kuninori in the INAX-house in Sakawa, about 40 K north. The welcome us with green tea and tasty cakes. We talk for hours and they show us around extensively in their lovely house and large garden. There is a strong wind outside: ‘Haru ichi ban’, says Ikegami Koji. ‘The wind that brings spring. Tomorrow weather will be better.’ Dolf gives us a splendid tip: there is a button on the remote to change tv into English at the 7 and 9 o’clock news. Unknown by the Japanese. And very useful for us in case of disasters… During the evening Ikegami Koji – after having served dinner in the restaurant – phones for our next week’s reservations. (‘of course, they speak Japanese!’) He negotiates a rebate for us at the next expensive hotel… and has another tip: in old times pilgrims used to take the boat parallel to the peninsula and proceed by land again at the end. He says this is the original henro-route: ‘so it’s allowed!’ For us it would be a far better option to better balance the daily distances, because of the lack of hotels we would have to walk too long distances otherwise. We didn’t know why all those henros went back to the mainland after their visit to temple 36… Tomorrow he will bring us to the boat by car… Finally we drink a cup of coffee together in the lounge. We have a small gift for him: a glass ball with old Dutch images. In september he will come with his lady friend to France to visit us; he can fit it into his busy travel schedule. After coffee he changes into working gear again. Some work to be done in the garden…

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