Day 29-44

Day 29: Men in trees…
The boat won’t leave until quarter past ten and before Ikegami Koji wants to show us his building activities. We descend next to café-restaurant Thira and only then see how big Villa Santorini is. There are several appartements, a jacuzzi and a swimming pool, a fitness room, terraces… After arriving below at the parking we take a path along the heavily wooded slope in the direction of the ocean. There is a large clearing where he has removed part of the rocky slope. It has been stabilised by wire and concrete spray and ‘grotto houses’ will be placed in front and covered with rock. There are several locations he is planning to develop. High in the trees there are some tree huts, which he has made for himself. At the end of the path we descend further, very steeply down the slope. He cuts a stick for me with his large knife. A little later we arrive at a somewhat larger tree hut which is located a little lower. We climb up, one after the other, on a hand made ladder and the three of us sit on the wobbly little platform, about 6 metres above ground. Below the mountain slopes down very steeply. In the ocean far below we see small fishing boats. A buzzard glides past. I can’t remember having ever sat in a tree hut. We sit there for a long time, enjoying the sun, reflecting on life. Ikegami Koji brings us and two other (female) henros to the boat, hidden behind some buidings where people are cleaning fish. The small roofed ferryboat zigzags through the channel and it only stops when halted by a waving person. A comorant takes the air, another one plunges for the deep. A group of seagulls lies bobbing on the water. We sea a large house, surrounded by palm trees on the top of a mountain. A little onward in the lagoon there are many pontoons, often with houses or sheds on them. Everywhere there are men fishing with long rods. Often a boat is moored at the pontoons. The dark green wooded slopes start to change into pink by now. Nature lags behind two weeks this year but by now the cherry blossom starts to show. Sakura!
At quarter past eleven we arrive at Yokonami, at the north side of the lagoon. In a small supermarket we buy some sushi to eat a few K later in a rest hut. The trail goes west again; today 22 K, with a few passes to climb, so we’ll have to get on to arrive in time. At first we walk over narrow roads along rice fields, and some houses. Then we follow a trail over a mountain, the pass at 200 m. The descent is quite difficult; we are very glad that it hasn’t rained, otherwise it would have been almost impossible. In an idyllic narrow valley there is a beautiful old temple in a sea of flowers. Nearby there is a hut full with people having lunch (volunteers? henros?). We wave. Soon we’re back on the macadam and we descend to sea level. In a wider valley we go through an industrial area, cement factories, wood mills and other noisy activities, and full of roads and fly-overs. Here the northern (land) and southern (peninsula) routes come together. We pass a home made rest hut again which we would give the prize for originality: around a tree a little hut has been made that is stacked and choked with knick-knacks, manga-strips, cushions, buntans… and on the wall is a bundle of osame-fudas; ours will be there somewhere…
Over a river seven buzzards are fishing with their claws; a blue heron is chased away. We find trail signs every now and then but it’s clear that we make detours that way. Finally we leave the valley on route 56, through a long tunnel (with luxurious sidewalk). After that there are three other shorter tunnels (without sidewalk). When we eat an icecream at a michi no eki, we consider what to do. There are another ten K to go, including a trail over a 220 m pass. Last year we discovered the trail to be closed by a large concrete dam and we had to make a long detour. And the paths were quite difficult. In two hours we did 1,7 K. Now time is getting short and we have another look at the map: the alternative is a 1 K tunnel, but we’re not sure whether it’s open for hikers. We gamble for the tunnel. Slowly the road goes up again. There is little traffic. There is no sidewalk but sufficient space to walk, on the road as well as in the tunnel. There is a service for walkers who can find reflecting bands in a little cabinet along the road. We have our own and of course a light. Less that a quarter later we’re through. We walk a little further, descending along the main road and entering Taisho (‘fat truth’), where we need to search for ryokan Otani. We arrive at 20 to 6, the owner is already a little anxious. In the bath I admire my feet: red allergy spots (no idea what has caused them) and hot swollen ankles. Today I’ve tried to walk on the inside of my feet as much as possible because of the pain in my lower feet, but this has caused sore ankles.
In the dining room we find the singing henro again. She took the boat already yesterday. A lot later the young woman from the boat arrives. In the dining room we try the ‘English’ button on the remote. It works, but what we hear isn’t very interesting. Later, in our room (12 tatamis with wardrobe/tokonoma, heated table and low chairs) it doesn’t work. But there is (unprotected) wifi somewhere about…

Day 30: Getting used to this?
Hideko Fujita – the singing henro – gives a few large wound dressings to me for my ankles; they also seem to work for swollen limbs. Tonight we’ll see her again in temple 37, where we’ll stay the night. A 22 K walk, with one pass. We leave at quarter past eight and after having left Taisho behind we walk into a long valley. First over narrow macadam roads with almost no traffic. The silence is wonderful. Halfway the valley a large viaduct is being built. After an hour the last houses are behind us and we follow a path that gets steeper and steeper and ends in stairs with enormously high steps. The young woman from the boat goes up with us. At the pass (293 m) the path ends on route 56. We enjoy the view over the long valley that we passed today and the mountains and sea.
After a cup of coffee in the restaurant on the pass we walk along a parallel road through a wide valley and pass houses, gardens and woods. In the cool shadow of trees a row of tens of logs have been put up almost vertically, under an angle, full of mushrooms with dark brown hoods. During the first weeks of our pilgrimage we have seen many such logs at the side of the road, all one metre long and dotted white with a regular pattern. We have understood only shortly that the logs had been tipped with mycelia and discarded after harvest. A system known in Holland too. The parallel road ends at route 56 again. It takes until half past one before we can buy some sushi in a supermarket to have lunch. We eat quickly on a two chair terrace provided by the supermarket. Although we are hot most of the time when climbing, now the wind is too cold to sit longer than necessary. About 2 K before our destination we have another short rest in a rest hut at the parking of a michi no eki (道の駅). Close by a car is parked and inside are a few boys waiting. Suddenly one comes out and gives us a chewing gum each. A little later another one brings us se ome candy. Both grin when addressed in English. We arrive at temple 37 in Kubokawa city (Shimanto) early, at half past three. The last part of our walk we go faster, looking forward to meet the owner and her nice friend again. Last year we had a very good time at this temple. But when we arrive the owner doesn’t recognise us. Even when we tell her that we’re here for the second time. And her friend isn’t there apparently. A pity. Very much so. But the guest house – in the middle of the temple buildings – is as beautiful as last year. Splendidly arranged flowers everywhere with orchids and many other flowers. Our room (15 tatamis, wardrobe and tokonoma) on the first floor has a nice view on the main temple. It was a lovely day to walk. The distance wasn’t too bad and so were the feet. We notice again and again that the distances seem easier, just like the high steps, walking along busy roads and through tunnels. Are we getting used to this?

Day 31: Fish ballet
The early morning service is a bloodless affair produced by an aged priest couple. The priest son of the owner is clearly not present (anymore?). It’s bitter cold in the temple and we’re glad when it’s over. After breakfast Mels put new life into my tulip with his knife. His own is still alive, supported by a safety pin. But we care for them, because everybody reacts very enthousiastically to the plastic tulips on our backpacks. ‘Ah, Oranda! Tulipa!’
When we leave at a quarter past eight there is nobody to say goodbye to. A pity. Sometimes things go differently from what one would like to think… We planned a 22 K walk, including some passes. Only a few K later we get hooked by a cake shop. The coffee we need to dream up. Then we walk on steadily. First along route 56, that slowly rolls up and down between the mountain ridges. After the first 290 m pass we take a narrow road and climb another, 300 m pass. The descent is a bit tricky sometimes, like the slippery path over a tunnel when we pass over route 56. While we’re trying to cope, we hear the chittering of the singing and boat henros.
Having descended a bit further we suppose we know why: the next bit is even worse. It’s more like a slide of fine gravel. Sometimes it’s like a vertical steeplechase. To heaven or hell? At last also this path comes to an end and we rest sitting on a slope next to route 56, together with the singing henro, the boat henro and the 70-year old male henro we met yesterday on our way to the temple. The three of them had left almost an hour earlier than we did but missed a turn and had to return… Already at a quarter past eleven we have lunch at the first opportunity because we fear it to be the only one. We have quite a good lunch. A small tv shows the nuclear reactor. Almost three weeks the tv doesn’t show anything else. Mels hears the word ‘meltdown’. Asking the young owner we don’t get any the wiser. Is our Japanese so bad? He changes channels quickly: a zoo where a young seal has been born. Much more fun. The nuclear problem is in our heads all the time, but we can’t resolve it.
We walk along route 56 again and around two have some rest on a little bench. I fall asleep again. Almost at the end of our trip we take a smaller road up and pass a ‘baby tunnel’ into a very idyllic valley. We descend into the inhabited world again. Shortly after we enter Tosa-Saga, a small seaside village. A narrow road takes us along a shed where fish is being cleaned. We ask whether we can take pictures. The ladies laugh and our question causes a little chaos when they prepare to pose as advantageously as they can. When we leave we receive two bags of fish: small, 6-7 cm long ones, to be roasted. They taste like sardines. Delightful! When walking along the river, we see big fishes jumping out of the water. Mating season? We leave the river just before it ends into the sea. A little later – half three – we arrive at our ryokan: Uchida-Ya, just behind the beach. After entering we give our bags of fish to our host. He looks a bit strangely at them – it’s difficult to explain… – but he takes it well: later, at dinner, he has a plate of roasted fish for each of us, with our compliments… This excellent ryokan is next to the old and dirty minshuku we visited last year, and it’s even cheaper. From the spacious (and clean) room (6 tatamis with inner veranda with seat, tokonoma and wardrobe) we have a nice view over the little bay. And there is even wifi. During dinner, like always, the tv is on. There is news about the nuclear power plant. On the internet we have seen in the meantime that – for the umptieth time – there has been an earthquake (6,4M) with tsunami warning in North-East Japan. And that there was probably a (partial) meltdown in the power plant. When telling the other henros, there is little response. They didn’t know yet but apparently they’re not moved. They’re busy talking and laughing. Planning the next stage. There is a new hotel which is not mentioned yet in the guide book! We press the ‘English’ button at seven and have a hard time to hear the tv over all chitchat. Like always there are several experts explaining, in front of schematic drawings of the plant. We hear statements like ‘for all other nuclear plants in Japan new plans for changes have been made, or in preparation’ and ‘drills have been held in all plants how to react in case of a tsunami’, etcetera. And: ‘a partial meltdown has probably occurred’ and ‘the government is taking all necessary measures to ensure returning to safe operation of the plant’. It looks like a kind of puppet show. Very unreal. It’s a strange situation: we are very impressed with what’s happening, whilst the Japanese, next to us as well as on tv, seem not really to pay attention.
Disturbing is the story of a technician, who has been working in the plant for five days. He has been exposed to far too much hours of radiation and was treated badly: 1 blanket for sleeping, almost no food. He looked unhealthy.
On the internet we’ve read that the manager of the nuclear power plant has reported ill some days after the disaster. That’s a possibility: Pulling the blankets over one’s head, not wanting to know and staying there until it’s over…
While working on the internet, a siren sounds. It’s nine o’clock…

Day 32: Escort service
Only at eight thirty we are able to stop internetting and we can start a day’s trip of 25-26 K. We go on west along route 56, that meanders up and down along the rocky coast. We pass bay after bay. On rocks in the sea there are groups of comorants. Sometimes we pass a hamlet. Along the somewhile very busy road there is roadwork being done at several places. Each one is protected by many flagmen who bow to us and wave their flags indicating that we may proceed. A king’s escort.
Around coffee time we see the shed where we had such a heartwarming reception last year. It’s the same dirty tip as before. The same host lady. The same two elderly ladies at the bar. They recognise us and the bar lady shows Mels’ business card: ‘Yakimono!’ This time coffee is given with chocolate sticks and half a banana. They enjoy us being here and Mels tries hard with his little dictionary. The two elderly ladies are sisters and the bar lady the daughter in law of one of them. When we say goodbye she won’t have money. Mother in law’s osettai. ‘Ja mata rainen!’, says Mels.
In a small supermarket we buy some cake and chocolate almonds because a lunch opportunity is uncertain. But we find one anyhow, which also has a dame blanche on offer. I don’t think we’ll lose weight this trip… In a wide bay we see an endlessly long sandy beach with white capped rolling waves. The hot and sunny weather has drawn some surfers into the sea, on the beach some people are having a stroll and children are playing. A few K later route 56 bends inland and this time we leave the main road to walk along less busy roads and paths nearer to the sea. This way we’ll have to do about 3 K more, but this alternative seems quite attractive. First we pass Bios Ogata, a nicely landscaped recreational park just behind the beach. For a time we walk through a fir forest. An almost Dutch landscape; only the dunes aren’t there. Buzzards are sitting on the beach; we see some twenty circling above.
We walk along narrow roads over wooded slopes. On our map this area seemed totally flat with some hills far away but in reality we go up and down all the time. Pass after pass but nice and quiet. The pink cherry blossom shows more and more in th e woods. Finally we are in a long valley with a splendid rice field composition; each one a little lower than the last one. The water surfaces glitter in sunlight. We descend slowly. It’s a long road with a steady and strong headwind.
At last we arrive south of Shimanto at the large river that passes this city and where our minshuku should be. To reach it, we need to go north some 2 K. The first part of the narrow road is very busy and there is no room for pedestrians: the gutter covers are ill fitted and wobbly and we need to step off a lot. An even more difficult stretch follows along a high dyke along the river where we need to walk on the road itself, in the midst of traffic. Just before five we arrive at last at minshuku Tsukishiro. The room has a Western part (with 2 single beds) and a Japanese part (4,5 tatamis with wardrobe). Our dinner is served in the private main room; it has a beautifully decorated tokonoma with little altars. The host lady likes a chat and she doesn’t mind my limited response (nodding, saying ‘ah’ and ‘hai’) and consequently repeating her words (which according to Mels is stimulating communication). She shows her grandmother’s 1910 (Meiji 40) stampbook. With double stamps which means she has done the pilgrimage twice. Very beautiful. And admirable, because at that time there weren’t as many bridges and no macadam roads or tunnels…
In our room we watch tv with the ‘English button’. The nuclear problem drags on, as well as the tv coverage. A little before eight a new earthquake is announced: 6,4M.

Day 33: With your toes in my armpit
Our host accompanies us to the dyke when we leave at eight for a trip of 20 K. She wants to show us a little shrine that she takes care of. In the middle is a Kukai effigy, surrounded by various boddhisatvas, vases with flowers, a sound dish on a cushion and an incense burner. We light three sticks of incense each and leave our osame-fudas to be attached to the existing bundle. Mels spontaneously starts to recite the heart sutra. Our host is pleased.
We wave for a long time and take a footpath just below the busy road. Our host has given us two bananas and two tins of cold coffee. The latter are horrible and we leave them in the drawer of a vending machine… Another K along the busy road (this time in southern direction) and we pass the – gross – 1,4 K long bridge over the wide, slow Shimanto-gawa. Here and there large concrete slabs have been put into the river bed; along the shore is golden reed. The sun glistens on the water surface; the back shadow of a skiff is hard to be distinguished in the harsh light. A fish jumps out of the water. The misty mountain ridges far away frame the beautiful, wide river valley. At the other side of the river we follow the bank in a southerly direction; sometimes along a parallel road, most of the time along busy route 321, which luckily has a sidewalk. Before the river meets the sea route 321 changes direction inland. Most of the ricefields are still empty this year; many fiekds haven’t even been plowed yet. But here a farmer is planting rice, mechanically on his tractor, with trays of young plants which are stacked at both sides of the steering wheel. The ‘tires’ of the tractor are a kind of spiked wheels to have sufficient grip in the muddy surface.
At a small coffee house a woman sits in the sun, at a picknick table. We’re happy to join. The first terrace we see. Coffee is served with a large glass of coke, a large glass of iced green tea and pieces of buntan. Another henro joins us. She phones for his next reservation at a new hotel at the southern coast near to the next temple (38), a hotel not yet to be found on the map but only on the internet. For the next stay she recommends a ryokan at a beautiful spot at the coast, near the one we have booked already…
If we would return next year however, we could have a free stay at her house! We leave our osame-fudas, as well as a business card. We receive an image of the laughing Buddha. A few K later route 321 follows a 1620 m tunnel, the longest until now. We’re happy there is a sidewalk. A sign says that the tunnel has been made in 1988, but it looks old and worn. There are lights over the road but some of them don’t work. Sometimes it’s pitch dark and I walk into a black emptyness.
At the other side of the tunnel we find an udon eatery. We have done more than half of the trip already and it’s quarter to twelve, so lunchtime. The waitress has a severe cold and it shows in all possible ways. She brings us a bowl of soup each. And a mug of green tea. On her way to our table something falls into my mug and with her finger she takes it out after having put the mugs on our table. We hope the soup is hot eneough to kill all bacteria; we don’t drink the tea and leave quickly… Another time we take a parallel road, when route 321 proceeds at the other side of the river. We see how a small river is put into a concrete bed. After that the narrow road winds along rice fields and we hear the sound of frogs. On dryer land buzzards sit waiting. Another beautiful landscape.
From the river mound route 321 leads us further along the coast, meandering at an altitude of 20-50 m along rocky promontories. We meet some henros, going back from temple 38 which we will visit tomorrow. The shortest route from this temple to the next is along this road, the east coast of the southern peninsula. Many henros do this part by bus (there or back), because the temple is quite in a corner of the island. This is what we did last year when I had my blisters treated for the second time in the Shimanto hospital. And after the visit to the temple we took the route that crosses the middle of the peninsula, over some mountain passes. This time we do differently, and add a few K: to go to temple 38 we take the eastern shore and afterwards we follow the western coast. It’s approximately 26 K longer than the shortest route. But we think it to be very beautiful. A few K before we reach our ryokan a car halts. Our female host for the night. She has to pick up some henros with her car but we may go in. We are sitting and typing in the dining room when she comes in with two henros. ‘Why aren’t yo in the ofuro yet?!’ It’s only three but the bath has been prepared already. Both of us are allowed in. In the tub of (according to Mels’ designer’s eye) 90x60x50 cm we sit like sardines. We do not only fill vending machines, but also bathtubs…
Ryokan Kumomo is situated along route 321, next to the sea, at sea level. Our room (7,5 tatamis) has a heated table and sea view. Our host provides me with a tiny piece of decorated cloth to put under my staff. An osettai for Kukai, who is embodied in my (any) peligrim’s staff. The female henro in the ryokan’s back room has Dutch frieds, Jan and Ria from Pancras; two years ago she visited them. And she walked the camino to Santiago de Compostella, starting at St. Jean in the Pyrenees. Next to us a noisy couple has a room; both with a very audible cold. Mels dedicates himself to translating my blog. He calculated that I wrote 30.000 words until now. ‘do you know you write an article a day???’ At six there are seven of us for dinner. With much biru (beer) and sake. Its getting cosier. Pictures! The joyful host incites the man of the couple to do an act. Especially for the Dutch. We encourage him a bit more with sake. A few little changes and his yukata is fisherman’s gear. He’s going to catch eel. We roll over the tatamis laughing. Something to eat is offered, to accompany the sake. Mels shows his pictures of the old stamp book. Sugoi! The couple excuse themselves for their noisiness. At last the woman with Dutch friends says: ‘Finish.’ We go to bed. It’s just half seven. The room next to us is quiet. Outside the sea roars.

Day 34: Where sea and sky meet
Whether we would stay another 20-30 minutes, our host asks. She has to bring some henros to temple 39 by car. The runny nose couple has left in the meantime; they rose at twenty to five… We leave at quarter to eight, as usual last. We have a 27 K programme (our fellow henros say 28 K), and a visit to temple 38. Route 321 leads us further south, meandering along the mountain slopes at an altitude of 20-50 m. Cars and lorries roar past. The road makes me think of the coastal road to Split in Jugoslavia, at the end of the sixties. The is no room for us really. Cars – lorries mainly – take the inner curve over the white line. Frequently we run to the other side of the road hoping to find a less dangerous trail along the inner or outer curve. Mels is behing me, in curves waving his arms to draw attention. ‘I’m not crazy, I’m an airplane’, I joke, but he isn’t in for a joke now. Anyway he translates my joke into Japanese: ‘Kichigai ja arimasen, hikoki desu…’ (きちがいじゃありません、ひこきです)。。。
At the roadside there is a woman asking us whether we would like some coffee? We’ve only done a few K, but why not? She brings us to a restaurant. We receive coffee and on top of that sweet bean cakes, buntan parts, water and onigiri for later. Payment is out of the question. She has a restaurant, and a minshuku and this way she promotes that. Maybe next year? We leave our osame-fudas thankfully. The onigiri goes with the extensive lunch box we received from the ryokan for free… The day has started sunny and warm and it gets even hotter. Sometimes we take a parallel road. We cross long boards over a narrow river and arrive at a long beach. Walking in the sand is tiring, but my feet like it, even with shoes on. A welcome change for all macadam that is hard through my thin soles. In a rest hut on poles we eat some bananas, cookies, sweets and a Yakult, trying to reduce the weight of our backpacks a bit. In the sea some surfers are having fun. I’s one of the spots where giant turtles leave the sea to lay their eggs, from June to August. It’s sad: on top of all existing dangers for them during this season, every turtle is surrounded by tourists, with torches and pocket lamps at a short distance, during egg laying.
A little later we take a narrow road through a hamlet. A woman is weeding. A man nearby clearly wants to chat. He talks about the tsunami. How terrible it is. That he has cried. He shakes our hands, thankful for the help that Holland is giving. This way we notice every now and then the sadness under the surface, like this morning at breakfast when the female henro (the one with the Dutch friends) made a remark about a friend who lives in the neighborhood of the power plant. She has no idea how she is. The telephone is out of order since the quake three weeks ago…
The help from other countries is very important for the Japanese. Their support shows them that they’re not alone. Every evening tv shows a group of foreigners helping: the American army, Indian rescue workers, the Israeli army that provides a complete, manned field hospital. When passing a small harbour we see at least a hundred buzzards sitting on cables and walls and circling in the air over a fish distribution centre. A small fishing boat has just arrived. The catch is transferred from the hold with a large net onto a large worktop. Tens of silent men are sorting, indifferent to our attention. Sometimes a few small fish are thrown on the quay; the buzzards dive and grab a meal with their claws.
At the other side of the harbour we need to pass a pebble beach, passing garbage and large trunks, washed ashore. A little later we climb up over a path that partially leads over a brook bed; over a wobbly and cracked wooden board we cross a deeper part. We meet several henros, who come back from temple 38. When busy descending a hazardous stretch another henro comes up. He speaks English well. He walks for the second time, now in the opposite direction. That’s quite difficult, because all marks point the other way. Therefore he has land survey maps which are far more detailed than all travel books (which have maps of 1:30.000, 60.000, and 100.000). But he says it’s still difficult. He tells us about his first henro walk, which he made when his friend had died. He took a picture with him and on all beaches he wrote the name of his friend into the sand with his staff. Then he lighted three incense sticks and recited the heart sutra. Wet sand, at the edge of the sea. For it to take his words to the horizon, where sea and sky meet. Nami kanjo, wave prayer.
He gives us his webadress (http://henro.life.coocan.jp/san-nin.htm), where he has published his diary including pictures of the island’s flowers. All in Japanese of course. When giving my business card to him it becomes clear he’s interested in ceramics. He has worked at the Nagoya university, mineralogy. When we will be in Nagoya in May, he would like to drive us around in Seto en Tokoname. So a little puzzle piece finds its place at a hazardous slope on Shikoku. For our trip to that region we still needed an interpreter. We have two contacts over there, but one’s English is bad, the other one (an English potter) doesn’t react. Hide Tabata offers to drive us around in his old car and to show us all interesting ceramics locations. Our trip continues over a trail along fields, lined with thick shrubbery. Then again passing a fairytale like bamboo forest. We expected to follow busy route 321 all day, but we pass one beautiful landscape after the other. In a hamlet we pass an open garage. An elderly woman hits a golfball which disappears under a car. She laughs. Some children run to and fro. A little later a young woman runs after us and hands us two oranges.
We follow the coastal road again. Route 321 has disappeared into the mainland. We now have the narrower and less busy route 27 which has a pedestrian lane most of the time. In the sea comorants and big seagulls are visible on the rocks. Far above we still see buzzards flying. Another henro comes: the young woman whom we saw at the boat a few days ago. We chat and make pictures.
In the next village we see buzzards and ravens – normally mortal enemies – circle above a fish factory. Outside there are stacks of flat metal baskets full of fish heads. On a little bench along route 27 we eat our lunch. With a sea view. Behind us on the mountain slope there are some buzzards watching. Above us in the air there are some more. We leave a bit of food for them. A next path is so bad that we turn around and go back to the main road. The other little paths that follow we discard too. All these paths are quite shorter than the road but take a lot of time. So we choose some more K along the road. Route 27 gets narrower often to only one car’s width and follows a narrow dyke amidst the woods. Regularly we need to wait until there is room for us again.
Suddenly we hear someone calling. The singing henro jumps from a road. She stays there in a ryokan, and wants to say hello to us. She hopes to see us again at temple 40, which is near to where she lives. We have her adress. Kissing is prohibited, so we rub each other’s shoulders.
The last part of route 27, to temple 38, is a narrow, fairytale like road that meanders deep down between the woods, lined with strangely tordated trees. We pass some houses and see an extensive henro ‘villa’, where one can rest or stay the night. It includes a kitchen, stove, tatamis and blankets, little altar, terrace, even a washing machine. The walls are full of osame-fudas of thankful henros. We see this kind of shelter more often (most of the time not as extensive; sometimes only a small empty room): made and supported by volunteers, unmanned, unlocked, anybody can enter and use what’s there.
We arrive at four at beautiful temple 38. Around the pond, new rocks have been put, like stalagmites from grottos. The guest house looks empty and locked. We would have liked to have slept here – like last year – but at the telephone they said to be full. Maybe the overstressed priest whom we spoke last year has derailed even more?
We eat an icecream sitting on a little wall. After the visit to the temple it’s another five K to where we will stay, along route 27 which follows the south coast here. We walk mainly on the narrow parallel road through many hamlets. It may be longer, but a lot nicer. Ryokan Aomisaki is 600 m from the henro trail, uphill… When arriving a little past six, our hosts are waiting for us a bit worriedly. He offers to clean my pilgrim’ staff (the embodiment of Kukai). The ryokan has been recommended by Ikegami Koji, the hotel owner a few days ago, and it’s a excellent choice: tidy and clean. The room is 16 tatamis, with beauty set and chair, wardrobe, hallway, balcony… and a grand view on two bays. Food is nicely decorated, like the sashimi on a heap of rettich flakes with a fish head and tail on top garnished with a red camelia.
We have slow internet with our cable. Standing behind the front desk Mels receives some mails and uploads the blog; my mails take too long, he is sent away because it’s almost nine.
We estimate today’s distance to be some 30 K, including all these extra byways. We both have quite sore feet. I count a third blister on my toes; my right ankle still feels ‘sprained’. And my feet show red dots. I conclude that I must be allergic to two kinds of tape. That’s a pity, because I still have a suitcase full. No preventive taping anymore…

Day 35: Flirting with bus drivers… The day starts hot again. When leaving at eight our hosts wave. We received onigiri for lunch. There are about 22-23 K for us along the southern coast, first a little north, then west. We climb up to get back to the henro trail and walk on mountain trails, narrow roads and pass an enchanting forest of tordated trees. The mountain trails have been uprooted by wild boars sometimes. Their pervasive scent is still in the air.
Then we follow route 27 again, high along the coast. Again and again we pass beautiful small bays with beaches, lined with wooded slopes; the sea shows a myriad of colours: sea green, azure blue, pastel blue, grey blue, deep blue… Sometimes we pass small harbours, at sea level again. At ten we see Shimizu lying at the other side of the bay. We know from last year that the bay has an intricate form and that it will take many K yet before we will have a bridge to the other side. Much quicker than expected we arrive, around then thirty, specifically at the restaurant where we had such a lovely lunch last year. We don’t pay attention to a sign at the entrance and ask whether there is any coffee. There is, although we learn later that the restaurant opens at eleven. After a second cup (with cookies and cake) we (I) are not able to resist the katsuo tataki for lunch: slices of raw, just singed tuna with onion rings, slices of raw garlic and minced chives, the lot in rice vinegar. No sooner than half past twelve we pack our gear. We only have to pay for lunch; the rest is osettai. While passing Shimizu, we watch each bus driver carefully. Last year we had a ride with a very nice one and we would like to say hello to him again. Since Shimanto we have been waving and nodding to every bus. Sometimes one reduced speed, thinking we might want to hop on… Shimizu is probably the last stop on his route, but we don’t see him again.
However we meet a henro who has made the pilgrimage into his life’s meaning. He pushes a little car with all of his possessions. Mels asks if it’s all right to take a picture and whether he walks every year. ‘All year’, he answers. We see – and hear – the elections cars. White gloved hands wave through open car windows. We wave back enthousiastically. After Shimizu we follow route 321 again, mostly along the coast. It’s hot, very hot. Mels’ cap and my pilgrim’s hat are not really sufficient; in spite of all creams our cheeks and noses get more and more red. Mels unfolds his brolly. A few K before our hotel we rest a little in a windy rest hut near a michi no eki. The rest huts are based on the Japanse follies near many houses. Often they are nicely designed, but most of the time open at all sides. There is a lot of wind over here, so it gets too cold soon. A pity! We proceed after a short while. On the sidewalk we chat with a couple with a huge black and white Dane, a giant dog, our noses are almost on the same level. ‘Born in the USA!’, the lady says in perfect English. They lived in the US for 20 years. Her husband also lived in Delft and Makkum; he collects ceramics. Doesn’t speak English (or Dutch) however.
And then we arrive early – three thirty – at hotel Orenji (Orange), where we stayed last year too. The owner recornises us. We get the same room ‘en suite’ (2×8 tatamis with wardrobe and tokonoma, inner veranda with chairs, balcony, one bathroom with wash unit, one bathroom with shower and private ofuro, hallway with toilet, bay view between houses. Internet is possible with a cable from the office, even in the lounge. Food is very good again, although less decoratively made than last year. We talk a lot. Since the disaster, three weeks ago, we ask ourselves what we might do to help. Direct help is no option. I think the help from various countries by sending army batallions (field hospitals and the like) is best for the actual needs. Money of course is collected. As an (barely speaking Japanese) individual or as a ceramics magazine we might barely add to that. For weeks anyhow it’s been quite difficult for us to know what has been happening up north. We had some very positive reactions from Japanese to the fact that we stayed. It gave them a moral support. At present there is by mail a call for support to Japanese potters who live around the affected area of the power plant, which is still not under control. The call is to offer a place to work somewhere in the world. There is another idea, to organise an exhibition of Japanese ceramics of potters in the affected area. We think that this will interfere too much with the existing plans. On top of that, those ceramicists will have lost their work, as well as their workshop and kilns etc. Moreover, the European attention for this disaster will be short lived, whereas organising an exhibition will take a long time. But what is a sensible kind of action??? In between the clouds
White of plum and cherry pink
Deep black tsunami (Jon de Jong – Oranda Jin, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, www.orandajin.com)

Day 36: Under water
A day off, hot sun, a bay nearby at the other side of the road… But first laundry. No dryer. Mels hangs our laundry outside, just next to the hotel’s entrance – and takes a picture. We lunch at the other side of the road and walk along the bay, where beautiful rock forms are to be found: long slices, next to each other; cheeses with holes along the shore. A concrete path in between (alas!). A little further is a futuristic building in the water. Last year we didn’t have time, now however we want to visit Seaworld. A few meters under sea level we watch through the round portholes to (enormous quantities) of fish, swimming past us, waving corals and sea urchins, accompanied of nice music. We’re not that far below the surface; the rays of the sun reach the bottom. The fish are moved sideways by the moving water. Clouds of little air bubbles go past. We stay for a long time. Fascinating and relaxing.
The trip with a glass bottomed boat is discouraged: the sea is too high. After an icecream we visit the other maritime museum instead. In the middle it has a big two floor high aquarium. Around that there are many smaller ones with the stragest of fishes, corals, lobsters, jelly fish, sea horses… One aquarium is full of reptile like fish who crawl through tubes and over one another. I’m glad there is glass between me and them. The museum however has a sad side: inprisoned animals… I like Seaworld better, where one may watch wild fish.

Day 37: Flexible kilometres
A little more internet… Only at quarter past nine we leave for a 22,5 K walk, after having tried several times to instruct the old lady at the ryokan to send our suitcases to the hotel where we will stay in 9-10 days. We don’t trust the situation and we don’t get a receipt either…
We move forward along the south coast following route 321, where we find a sidewalk most of the time. The thin hazy clouds hide the sun a bit and this results in an agreeable temperature. The day of rest has been good. I have put my book into the suitcase and Mels has taken my water bottle. That means less problems with my feet. The road meanders along the slopes, going up and down from sea level to about 80-100 m. We pass many tunnels, some longer ones (twice 600-700 m, twice 1 K). Around two tunnels there are old coastal roads, but these have been blocked by landslides. Ikegami Koji, the hotel owner, told us that the local mountains are quite crumbly: when digging for his grotto appartments the slope caved in time and again. We are happy to see a sidewalk in every tunnel and little traffic.
Sometimes we pass a harbour, where fishermen are mending their nets. Near the coast many fishing boats can be seen (single line fishing for bonito); at the horizon larger ships are visible. On rocks in the sea are comorants; the rock tops are white with shit. Along the rocky beaches we see some snorkeling in the water, and people collecting things from the beach (shells? seaweed?).
We proceed well and when after an hour we have done 6 K already, Mels’ stress level subsides, which had increased because of our late departure. We have a coffee at the only roadside restaurant along this coast. And at 12 we have lunch on the hotel’s onigiri in a high, windy (again) rest hut with sea view. We did half the day’s trip already. In a village a bit further along the road matt white squids are hanging from clotheslines, drying, pegged with bamboo sticks. In little stalls women are cleaning and cutting them. Small pieces are roasted on a grate. We’re offered some. Behind us a bus stops. The driver asks where we are heading. That far? He offers a lift. Laughing we decline. It’s not that far… 1-2 K later route 321 bends inland and we follow a narrower road along the coast. In a hamlet we need to choose: taking a longer asphalt road or a mountain trail. There is a man standing at a brook full of Koi fish. He is frienly walking along with us to show the way on the trail. After following a steep concrete path we arrive at a less steep trail. The man points at tanuki (raccoon) signs: a piece of hide, a heap of shit. When the path crosses an asphalt road, he gives the advice to take the latter. A little later we see why: the trail is totally derelict.
We walk this road for a long time, along wooded slopes. A car passes seldomly. It’ silent. Only birds can be heard: a nightingale, a buzzard’s call, the ‘I-don’t-know-how-to-stop-bird’ and many others. And at brooks quacking frogs. Sometimes we smell animals but don’t see them. A few drops of rain are falling but it doesn’t really start raining. At the entrance of a temple there are beautiful small white irisses with yellow purple hearts.
Our stay is off the normal henro route and it means that we need to take a narrow trail a little nearer to the coast. It’s very beautiful and leads through the woods. Sometimes we pass thick ferns, even taller than we are. And there is the sea every now and then. When at the highest point, we take a little rest on a log. Deep down is the bay. Near the coast are many rocky islands, large and small. Then the trail descends to the next valley. A derelict path too. We climb several landslides; one or two times the trail itself has disappeared into the deep and we need to press ourselves to the rock wall, holding roots and the like. And then the trail ends abruptly… in a dry brook bed, near the sea. We balance over the large boulders until we reach the sea. There is a red arrow to the right on a boulder. It points at a pebble beach. But first there are many, many boulders to be crossed. Here and there are pieces of coral. Having reached better footing we see a small road higher up. To reach that, we need to cross another boulder field; moreover, the road is a few metres higher on a concrete base. Without real mountaineer’s shoes it’s almost impossible. One wrong step may well result in a broken ankle or knee. But at last we reach the concrete base and struggle along it, over boulders, dead branches and garbage until we find a way up.
We have no idea where we are. Our map is 1:100.000 and doesn’t show too many details. We follow the road into the valley. More and more we see houses and farms. In a field a couple is cutting vegetables. When we ask them where to find the hotel, they tell us that it’s another 2 ½ hours walk and after they’ll have finished they can give us a lift. We decline; they must be mistaken, it can’t be that far anymore… In the next hamlet we ask again and are shown de route, up the mountain. After the pass a little bus stops: the couple whom we had asked for the hotel. The offer a lift again, but we decline politely. We arrive in a harbour and ask again: another 300-400 m left and after that 3-4 K. The left turn is on another pass… We descend to the next seaside, idyllic with strangely formed rocks near the harbour entrance. The road starts climbing again. There is a natural tunnel through the rocky island just in front of the coast, made by the force of sea water. We take many pictures, although it now starts rainig seriously. In the next coastal village we ask again. The man points up the mountain. On the top… To be rached by following the road around it…
At the other side of the mountain we find the road to the hotel: 700 metres up… Finally, at six we’re there: Hotel Bell Reef in Otsuki, the most expensive hotel during our journey. The rooms are outside the hotel, and can be reached by roofed passages. Our room (2 single beds, desk, chairs and table, bathroom, toilet) has a nice balcony (with seats) with a bay view. It’s a pity we’re here such a short while… We estimate to have done at least 30 K today, a lot more than we thought. Later there is news (with the ‘English button’): a program about the camps. There are still 160.000 people there. The situation is very bad (sanitary, food, cold). Every day about 20 people die. We can follow the English version now and the news gets far more real…

Day 38: In cauda venenum (The venom is in the tail)…
We tried to make a reservation for the coming night in the temple 39 guesthouse, but they are closed because of holidays (in the middle of the henro season???). Therefore we have made one in a nearby minshuku. But… the person at the phone said that it was very far what we wanted to walk in one day. It makes us doubt, after yesterday’s adventures. Are the maps correct? Or is there a hidden dimension in the area that doubles distances somehow?
We leave at a quarter to nine (breakfast only starts at half past seven…) for (as we think) a 26 K trip: inland; first north. It rained all night, but now we’re glad it’s dry. After the 700 m down, the narrow asphalt road goes up again. There is very little traffic. Everywhere we hear birds singing and frogs quacking. The roads gets more and more wide and busy and leads us over a few passes before reaching route 321 that heads north here, coming from the east. In a little over one hour we’ve done 3 K to get to route 321. It’s more time than we’d hoped for, but less than we’d feared… Along busy route 321 we go further north. Sometimes we find a sidewalk, but most of the time there is only a covered gutter with untrustworthy, run down cover plates. Traffic roars past. Tens of concrete lorries and other building material vehicles pass us. Aparently there is some cement factory nearby. It’s not our favourite section…
We have a rest a few times in a michi no eki and have lunch in a restaurant. Shortly before the seaside city of Sukumo we reach the sea again. From Sukumo, at the Shikoku west coast, we follow route 56 eastward for a 6-7 K to visit temple 39. Tomorrow we will walk back the same way to go further north from Sukumo on.
Walking is good, as is our planning. Shortly before four it’s only 2 K to the temple and the nearby minshuku. A narrow road brings us into a side valley. But the last part goes up again over a mountain trail. Not on the map, our memories are blank (but last year we came from the other side…), it’s a beautiful path however that goes up and down along the mountain slopes. Shortly after 5 we arrive, with a Japanese woman henro, at minshuku Shima-Ya. The room (12 tatamis, beauty set in the tokonoma) is in an adjacent buiding. At one side is a beautiful garden with loud frogs. In the ofuro – where she shows her blisters enthousiastically – and also at dinner the English speaking woman proves to be a easily laughing one, who taught herself English with tapes from a 100-yen-shop. Not bad! And we reached half of our pilgrimage K today. Not bad either! On tv we hear that the power plant is going to flush 11.500 tons of radioactive water into the sea…

Day 39: Chopchop!
There is a scale in the hallway and before leaving we weigh our backpacks and other gear: 9 Kg backpack and 1,5 Kg purse for Mels and 7 Kg backpack and 3 Kg bags for myself; until 2 days ago I had another 2-3 Kg extra in by backpack before I got rid of my book and water bottles. All in all quite a lot… Today we have a 26,5 K schedule to temple 40, where we will stay (but at temple 39 it’s indicated on two boards to be 27 and 29 K respectively). We leave early (quarter past seven) and first do our rituals at temple 39. After that we walk the same route we did yesterday back to route 56. It’s rush hour; the road is one long traffic jam. We reach Sukumo before nine. From here we will follow the westcoast further north. We ask someone about a library, because we want to internet, but it doesn’t open until ten. That means waiting in a nearby café. I need to do the KLEI May issue proof, and when working on my netbook I see an open wifi available. Very handy, the next two hours I’m doing the proof and answering mails; Mels is less happy, because his i-pad seldomly sees a wifi-signal…
At the bar some women are sitting. We apologise for having to work, and everybody is understanding. The tv is on; the umptieth day of the leaking power plant. At the bar there is a discussion about the safety of fish and other food. One of the women returns after a short leave, with a plastic bag. An osettai for us: a bag of chocolate cakes, two packs of fruit jelly and sweet oranges. A little later the host comes with a plastic bag too: onigiri! That’s very handy, because we expect not to encounter any resaurants today after leaving the city. When it gets eleven o’clock Mels is getting a bit stressed: we need to cross a mountain area and we have to be at the temple before five, because last years we experienced that after that time there was nobody present anymore. I promise to walk as fast as I can… When we pay, the coffee was 20 euros for six cups. Expensive, but a normal price over here. And it doesn’t taste as bad anymore as when we started our trip… After a few K we pass the hotel where we slept last year. Then we go into the mountains, sometimes over asphalt or concrete roads, most of the time over mountain trails, through woods and along citrus orchards. We go from valley to valley; every now and then there is a small hamlet. The last pass is also the highest: about 300 m. (last year we thought it was more…) The temperature goes up in the course of the day. In the sun it’s very hot, but the wind has a fresh undertone and that makes it agreeable. The bamboo forest moans in the wind. I walk up the mountain like an express train (as promised), but approaching the top the speed subsides anyway… About 400 m before the pass we have lunch on a sunny bench where we can see the sea far away. Another henro joins us. He has big problems with his feet. Walking so fast I hope to underline my wish for longer breaks: the longer the breaks, the speedier I walk. But Mels thinks my speed warrants longer day marches… And, enthousiastically like he is, he proposes not – like last year – to follow route 56 to temple 40, but to cross the mountains north of this road too. Not a good idea. I’m quite tired now. And we have to be at the temple before five… After the pass the trail is wide and it descends slowly, easy to walk. We both sprain our ankles a little but not seriously. Soon we arrive at wider asphalt road and at route 56 again, now boasting a splendid sidewalk. The road is not so busy anymore. We see more and more flowering cherry trees. They give a whitening hue to the mountain slopes, mixing into the pink brown of young leaves. Most of the cherries are along the road, flowering splendidly. It’s almost four when we arrive at Ainan, but it takes a while to go to the temple. After two tunnels (600 and 530 m), we rest for a short while sitting on a railing, because we’re tired and the last time we saw benches was at the mountain pass. Our feet are hurting, the ankles mostly… But before five we arrive at the temple. At the gate a woman is collecting coins and she can help us getting into the guesthouse (room: 10 tatamis, with tokonoma and wardrobe). We’re the only guests, just like last year. We had expected to see the singing henro here again because she lives near this temple. She isn’t there and hasn’t left a message.
After a short rest we get into our outside slippers to walk to the riverside restaurant, where we were last year. When returning to the temple, we hear something under the bridge: someone reciting sutras. There is a small tent next to one of the bridge’s pillars and a little car next to it. The wandering henro? We think he doesn’t want to be disturbed but stay for a while, listening. The evening sky is colouring transparently. Around our feet small frogs hop around. Mosquitos dance in the air by our heads. We get a pastry in the shop at the corner and eat them in fron of the tv. Sakura is approaching. Time and again the blooming trees are shown, people drinking sake and sitting on blue tarpaulins – shoes neatly outside – under them. At eight the light in the corridor is switched off and the front door is locked. We’re happy to have made it in time… Today we walked a lot faster than last year: then it took us 7,5 hours; now it’s been less than 6 (having done 6-7 K already, because our stay was further away!) We’re both quite tired, but so we were last year. I haven’t felt so healthy in over ten years!

Day 40: Déjà vu
We skip morning service; the lady yesterday couldn’t give us information. Early in the morning Mels switches the water heater on for us to have a shower (strictly forbidden! No morning showers allowed in Japan!). To see later that there is a camera in the hallway… Before we leave we put everything in its original position to cover our tracks. When doing the rituals at the temple we meet the nice woman again who helped us with our reservations last year. She recognises us. A warm contact. Ja mata rainen! Just outside the temple gate is a begging henro. After breakfast in a restaurant a few K later (2x breakfast for a total of 9 euro; unlimited coffee is inclusive; strange prices, because normally a cup of coffee is 4-5 euro…), we follow the route. There are 27 K today, if we want to do the mountain trails. Last year we followed route 56 however, a few K longer but a lot easier. We postpone the decision until later. Route 56 has an excellent sidewalk and traffic is slower now. Walking is a lot slower than yesterday. Our feet and bones are still tired. And it’s been very hot from the start. Anyway, we do 5 K an hour as Mels calculates by the road marks. The road goes up and down along the mountainous landscape. At the side of the road we see a shed where skins of wild boar are drying; a few skins are wrapped around short logs as if they were stuffed animals, a whole family of boar.
Every now and then we see a glimpse of the sea. Starting at ten thirty route 56 is along the sea all the time and the road goes up and down along the slopes. The water is azure blue and the surface looks ironed. In the far away haziness is Kyushyu, the big island south of Honshu. Closer by there are lots of small islands. Fishing boats cruise along the coast and just in front of the shore large surfaces are being used for pearl and yellow fin snapper farming.
At eleven we visit the same little restaurant as last year. The shy and friendly couple recognise us. Again we receive a little bag of sea salt each. We decide to take the mountain trail. It’s too hot. Following route 56 we have the sea wind and there are restaurants and vending machines for water refills. Next to the car tunnel there is a 900 m one for cyclists and pedestrians. A white, almost endless tube, making me think of the description in Pim van Lommel’s book of near death experiences. Far away, at the end of the tunnel a figure appears. God? No, two cycling children are coming near. ‘Konnichi wa!’, they say when they cycle past. And then an enormous blast behind us. Alarmed we look back thinking the boys have been setting off something. But they are as alarmed as we are and jump off their bikes. One of them has a sprung tire. After a very nice lunch in a restaurant opposite a splendid park (a pond full of small turtles), we take a narrow parallel road through a pearl farming village. A welcome change. When passing another village along route 56 a little later – we are now about 20 K north of Ainan – we see a woman at the side of the road. She jumps up and down and waves both arms. We look at each other surprisedly. ‘not for us’, Mels says soberly, ‘she looks past us.’ But there is nobody behind us. Coming nearer we recognise her: the singing henro!!! There has been a misunderstanding: she thought that we would be at temple 40 two days later. Incidentally she saw us when passing in her car. She jumps up and down in distress and beats Mels on his shoulder. I join in to show that I’m sorry too, because she doesn’t speak more than ten words of English and I little more Japanese… A restaurant or bench isn’t nearby. But she wants really to do something and gives us two 1000 yen bills to buy something nice, and a bag of three oranges. We go towards her husband who has parked the car. Mels suggests to have dinner together tomorrow, which would be nice because at the next ryokan we have no dinner included. They can’t make it however. ‘Ja mata rainen!’, is the only thing left to us. We take a few pictures, and then some more. And rub each other’s shoulders. And for a very long time they wave us goodbye. We receive four large oranges from a citrus merchant. Everything goes into Mels’ ‘trunk’: the lower part of his backpack. He almost collapses under all osettai. In a little park, at the edge of a pond with ducks and koi, we eat some of it, but they aren’t very good. The ducks don’t like them either, so we donate them to the stone saint at the side of the road. A whole stack of them… We’re quite tired now (I am mainly), but we’re not there yet… A few times we take narrow roads along idyllic rivers, bordered by rows of snowwhite cherry trees. Beautiful! Over a valley tens of buzzards are circling. And at last we reach the wide river where the ryokan should be where we will spend the night. Ducks with silver bodies and rust brown heads with white spots are floating in the slowly flowing water. Just before six we arrive at ryokan Yoshinoya in Tsushima, a suburb of Uwajima. The room is 12 (small) tatamis. The friendly owner, who speaks a little English is our company for dinner. We’re the only guests. He likes us to be here and we like to have a chat. ‘Please, come next year again’, he says. The dining room has been decorated in a cosy way. Formerly it has been a pub, now renovated with a higher floor and nylon tatamis. Difficult to tell apart from real ones. The benches along the wall are, after the floor has been lifted, some 10 cm high and sit well. He has old ‘tearoom’-music left, like he calls it: I’m pleased he plays The Beatles for the rest of the evening. He prints the wheather forecast for us and shows his own henro-stamp books. He visited the temples by car, some of them 39 times! The pages are red of the stamp ink. We drink a beer together. And another few. He appreciates me drinking along. ‘I like strong women!’ We ask whether he’s married. No, but if I want to stay, I would be quite welcome. Mels doesn’t agree… We chat for a long time and finally he shows us his music room. He plays classical and electrical guitar (and sings as well!), has no band for the time being, but for us he gives a short performance: Eric Clapton blues.

Day 41: Cat’s piss
‘Fight! Fight!’, our host says when Mels comes down. We heard the word yesterday from a cycling boy. Maybe an (inaccurate) translation into English of a Japanese greeting? We ask our host to do a few reservations for us. Three times it’s not OK – the temple 41 guesthouse is closed, one hotel proves to be a love-hotel and another one says no too – but in the end everything works out. We use his internet with a cable for a while and leave at a quarter to ten for a relatively easy programme: 18 K north, along route 56. A few days ago I found a third brand of tape in my suitcase and now I taped my right ankle and it works well. After a few minutes however our host passes us, on his bike. ‘Roomkey!’ We apologise profusely… Only a little later Mels is stopped by a pastry shop and I join him. The lacking coffee we drink in the next restaurant. We’re very relaxed today…
A man jumps from a car and gives us two lemons – ‘these must be citrus fruit unknown to us, there are so many kinds over here’, Mels says, convinced as he is that someone will not give real lemons… – and the coffee restaurant people give us a plastic bag with onigiri and two oranges. Mels’ trunk is full again…
A long tunnel follows: 1710 m! There is a good sidewalk along the two lane road but the tunnel is very busy. The inside is tiled up to two metres high, the tiles have ever been white, now they are grey with dust and at the top they are black with soot. The entrance at the other side cannot be seen, there is a bend just before. Roaring cars pass us from both sides all the time. The grooved road surface gives an extra shrieking effect. Garbage is blown up around us by the vortexes. Yesterday, in the cycling tunnel, we thought to be in heaven, today it looks more like Mordor. Endless… At the end our ears are deaf… At a supermarket we buy a tempura-gamba and an icecream and eat our oranges at a bus stop (the lemons were real lemons after all…). We’re not very hungry; the onigiri stay in the trunk.
Now we walk slowly into Uwajima, a larger city where our next stay is. At one of the many barbers Mels wants to have a haircut. A handsome lady just opens the door. Inside it’s a dirty mess. In the small room is a bike and two white cats. Cat pee stink is prevalent. From a side room an aged lady appears. She takes care of Mels. He gets an extensive treatment. The works. He lies in a chair under a small blanket, his head on a stack of towels. Shampooing and cutting, face including forehead, neck front and back shaving, hot towels around the face, another cut, more hot towels around his face, another shave … and finally a firm massage. She is 82 years old, she tells us. Still very forceful. In the meantime I sit on a little bench watching tv and typing. Over an hour later Mels is set free, after having been dusted with a floor duster. She asks our names and we give them on osame-fudas. She’s not cheap, this lady: 27 euros, over twice last year’s price… It’s four o’clock now. We walk into the city, sometimes along little rivers, sometimes zigzagging along narrow streets. We pass a workshop where a woman is seaming tatami mats with a special machine. Heavy work: the rice straw mats are attached to a five centimetre thick frame – layers of raw straw, nylon etc. – and after that seamed. We walk in and take some pictures.
At five, one K before our stay, we buy some toesocks and eat fries at the local McDonalds, because there will be no meal at ryokan Henro Yado Moyai. When we arrive there short before six, we are welcomed by a nice young man. There is something to eat anyway in the kitchen (with a lovely welcoming note) and there is beer in the fridge; for more food we need to go out. It’s very clean and tidy (for a change!). We even get two rooms (6 tatamis each) and the rotan chairs are allowed on the mats.

Day 42: In the clouds
In the morning there is an unexpected breakfast: hot onigiri and soup, all for free. This was by far the cheapest night until now and it was very good indeed. We say goodbye and both give an osame-fuda. When outside, a lady appears from the neighbouring house with a box full of doughnuts, in many colours and tastes. It’s the young man’s mother. We don’t know if the whole box is meant for us, so we choose one each. So I’m standing with two doughnuts in my hands (and my staff and brolly), whilst Mels tries to tie his shoes. A young woman sees the problem and arrives with a paper bag for the doughnuts and we get a few more chucked in. We eat them walking in the rain. Our dark red ponchos are sprinkled with powder sugar. For some time, we follow route 57 north to leave Uwajima. Today says 22 K, visiting temples 41 and 42. The road goes up and down through the mountainous landscape and after a last, higher pass, we descend into a wide valley. Temple 41 lies in the middle on a small mountain. The rain varies and walking is not easy; our ponchos go up or down by the wind and the sprays of passing lorries wettens us considerably. When having done the rituals at temple 41, we see a longnose. A Japanese woman tries to explain something to him: he should wash his hands before ringing the bell. He has, but doesn’t speak a word of Japanese… He is French, from Grenoble. After retiring he walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostella, and walking met a Japanese guy who told him about the henro trail, and now he’s here, doing the trail, partly walking, partly with public transport. ‘Every day is a surprise’, he says. And that’s exactly what we say to each other! He has heard about us, from the Nagoya guy, and also about a German and an Italian who walk the trail, but we are the first non-Japanese he meets. He gives us a good tip: Canadian David Moreton, who did the English version of the travelbook, lives in Tokushima and likes to have guests. We didn’t know he lived there, but we would like to say hello after our tour. During our conversation a woman comes to tell us that we need to wash our hands and what the sequence of the rituals is. But Mels clarifies to her in Japanese that we know how to do things. And then another woman comes to tell us that we need to do the rituals and then leave. What? Many henros stay for a while on a bench to rest… We say goodbye and Mels and I go to the stamp office. We have no luck, a guide has just arrived with a large stack of bus henro books and rolls to be stamped. Normally walking henros have priority but this man is very stressed and doesn’t give way. The whole small office is full of drying rolls and books, even the only bench is occupied. We wait… with our backpacks on, supporting ourselves leaning against the wall, together with other walkers who have arrived, until it’s our turn.
Outside the office we rest a bit on a wet bench, and then we have to proceed. First the hill behind the temple – over a very slippery trail – then an asphalt road again to the next temple. At temple 42 we are corrected again: a woman says we’re not allowed to ring the large bell; no idea why. When at the other temple buildings we hear other henros ring the bell… After doing the rituals we eat on a bench, just outside rain’s reach, those onigiri we received yesterday. When leaving the temple, I ring the bell anyway. But a young motorbike henro tells us that it’s not how it should be done. We know, ringing the bell when leaving brings misfortune, but then, we want a second chance… After temple 42 we follow the valley and then have to cross the mountains. Along a narrow mountain path that largely coincides with a stream, we climb up to about 450 m altitude. For a long time we struggle along in the narrow bed that has been worn in the rocks; the little stream flows down through the path. We see some sugis with foam coming from their bark. Do they contain soap agents? Then we try to keep ourselves up on a very narrow and busy road. Busses, lorries, everything roars past. From the valley clouds climb up. Shortly after the road passes a tunnel, about 600-700 m long. The tunnel may be avoided by taking the path over the mountain, but that’s 2 K longer and probably quite slippery presently. These weather conditions make us decide to choose the tunnel. However, it has no sidewalk and traffic is barely able to pass one another. Most of the illumination doesn’t work and so we walk in the dark often. Not very pleasant. Mels waves his torch. We’re glad when we have passed.
After the tunnel there is a steep path down, but we choose to stay on the road, it’s about 1½-2 K longer, but a little safer. The road goes down pleasantly to the next valley, with many curves. Deep down we see an increasing amount of clouds coming up from the valleys. Below us the slopes are covered with large amounts of trash, slope after slope. When almost in the valley we walk in a terrible stench for a long time. A large industry, probably a cattle destruction one, produces stinking black smoke from short chimneys. In the valley we walk along a wider two lane road. Shortly before Uwa, where we will stay the night, we follow a parallel road through a small hamlet. At a rest hut I remove my poncho. Our clothes are soaking wet, in spite of the (expensive! and heavy!) poncho’s and I want to try to dry my clothes in the wind during the last few K. I think the rain has stopped, but it starts again. An elderly woman brings us five oranges. We eat three right away. And then she comes with two mugs of coffee. Tremendous, the first coffee of the day! Shortly after – just before five – we arrive – me adamantly without having put on my poncho – at Business Hotel Matsu Ya in Uwa. A room with 2 double beds, bench, chair and tiny bathroom. No food. An hour later we walk to a river bank re
staurant for tasty sashimi and… sakura ice cream! Our host tells us that today is Buddha’s birthday. Is that why everybody wanted us to do things properly?

Day 43: A surprise every day…  
In the little shop at the stairs to temple 43 we have breakfast on a cup of coffee and a few cookies. We have to go 26 K today, visiting one temple, but at the hotel there is no breakfast (anymore?) when we leave at half eight. We get a bag with two oranges and some cookies as an osettai however. So we walk to the temple a few K further, hoping for breakfast on our way, but no such luck… At the little shop at the stairs we see an aged Japanese guy. Is he the same who showed us where to go last year? We’re not sure. He doesn’t recognise us either, even when we tell him that we’re here a second time. He likes chatting anyway, even in Russian if need be… 
After doing our rituals at the temple we need to climb further up the mountain over a path leading to a pass and down again into the next valley. Just before taking the path, a man asks with interest where we’re from. He is impressed by the answer and gives us a few coins as an osettai. The path over the mountain is wide and viable, in spite of yesterday’s rain. Slowly we walk into the next valley. Everywhere there are cherry blossoms. In the valley’s village we pass beautiful old streets. A henro we meet – 71 years of age – likes to take some pictures of us. We pose in front of a house with a beautiful garden. The owner just opens the door. The house is a ryokan. A pity we didn’t book there for last night we both think. ‘But you slept in my hotel’, the man says, who apparently owns the business hotel where we slept as well. A next time we certainly will sleep over here! ‘Ja mata rainen!’, and we say goodbye.
At a luxury bread shop we buy some rolls and eat them walking. We go on different narrow roads parallel to route 56. A car stops just in front, a man jumps out and gives us two bottles of water. Very welcome, because the temperature is rising. When we return to  route 56 at last, it becomes clear that we only did  6-7 K in three hours. The kilometres are very flexible today… (Only much later we discover that we did at least 1-2 K more in the beautiful village.) We’re both quite tired and decide to have lunch in the first restaurant that we see, just before twelve. My laptop sees a wifi signal, and I’m able to react on the second KLEI May issue proof. Mels’ i-pad doesn’t see anything… We stay there for at least an hour, but sending more than two mails is impossible – even on my laptop. After every rest Mels has a lot of knee pain. We both need some time to get going. But the extra burden of oranges is too much this time and we decide to offer them to a roadside saint statue. Me too, I’m heavy with the extra water, but I want to save it yet. When making a picture of a manhole lid, a woman passes by and greets me. I wave back and don’t see a bump. During the whole walk we’re concentrated all the time on the three feet distance in front of our feet, more than on the landscape, not only on slippery mountain trails full of rocks and stones, but also on the normal roads where bumps, gutters, uneven asphalt and wobbly cover plates over the gutters are a real risk. Every now and then I have anxious visions of terrible falls. But only a tiny distraction proves disastrous. The heavy backpack makes me fall to the front. On my hands and mainly my head, onto the raw asphalt. I see stars for a while. Many of my parts hurt a lot – ankles, knees, hands and wrists but jugular, nose and eye most – but I think nothing has broken and I don’t have a concussion. We put some desinfecting ointment on my bleeding jugular and – because there is now bench to tremble down – walk on. Miraculously my camera has no scratch.
A short while later we follow route 56 again, which passes a tunnel one and a half K later. Our time has become short today, so we decide to take the tunnel and not the mountain trail over the pass. But the tunnel is 1117 m long and has no sidewalk. We each take a reflecting strip from the dispenser at the tunnel entrance and use our torches – me in my left hand which has in the meantime become quite stiff – and walk over the gutter covers next to the two lane road. It’s a fearful enterprise, walking in these tunnels: one driver not paying attention is enough, we have no way to go…  After the tunnel there is a splendid view over the valley down below and the surrounding mountains. The last few days we have climbed up to an altitude of about 400-500 m. From here route 56 goes down very slowly, until arriving at Ozu, a larger city in a wide valley. High above the river we see the little tea house in the beautiful garden that we visited last year. In Ozu we pass some beautiful streets (Ohanahan-street), which are used as film locations. A few moments later we pass the river; far away on a hill we can see the beautiful Ozu castle, surrounded by blooming cherry trees. Then again we follow busy  route 56, passing Ozu, some time along an industrial area until we arrive at ryokan Furusato, where we spent the night last year too. The owner is waiting for us outside, because in the meantime it’s six o’clock. We join the table right away. Another longnose is present: Michael, American and musician, who has lived in Japan for 3½ years and who speaks  Japanese quite well. Last year he started the pilgrimage, after his dad had passed away, but didn’t finish. This year he started again from Kochi. He heard already about the Hollanders: ‘did you see the Hollanders yet?’ ‘did you see the Hollanders yet?’ It is a joyful evening with two other Japanese henros at our table. At eight we need to go. The owner has prepared our ofuro… The room is 12 tatamis. We go to bed right away (on futons). Everything hurts. ‘You shouldn’t have rung the bell when leaving yesterday’, says Mels.

Day 44: On our lips 
It’s misty when we leave at eight but soon the sun gets stronger and the temperature higher. My wrist is a lot better. 27 K are scheduled with sightseeing in Uchiko, a beautiful old town. Last year we left the pilgrim trail after ryokan Furusato and visited the temples up to 51 in the area from a hotel in Matsuyama. During the coming days we will pass partially unknown territory. We leave Ozu in an eastern direction, along route 56. After having left the city and its industry behind, we immediately walk along parallel roads in the midst of a more and more mountainous landscape. There are cherry trees blooming everywhere, in many hues of pink and white. Sometimes there is the hard yellow of the forsythia or the white, pink, purple or red of the magnolia. The Japanese maple starts to unfold its leaves in shades of red and green. Along the road we find sumptuously flowering koolzaad, sometimes mixed with purple annual honesty and blue vinca. There are butterflies everywhere, in many colours and sizes.
We leave the road and follow a splendid path for some time, through woods and along a moor. We see traces of boar on the path regularly. When – together with two Japanese henros – walking into a housed area again, no trail mark is to be found anymore. After asking about we find the path again. We arrive in Uchiko, a city that has become rich by production of paper (washi) and wax (made brom the berries of the wax tree), and that has well preserved merchant houses from the 18th and 19th century. One of the henros accompanies us to the other end of the city to show us the famous Kabuki-theatre. We take our time to have a look inside and afterwards we visit many other houses and gardens. (Take shoes off, put them on, take them off, put them on…) At a restaurant we have a quick lunch (pilav with chopsticks!), because time is getting short. It’s already one and we only have four hours for the ‘last’ 20 K if we want to. arrive before five. But first another stroll through the beautiful streets. A man approaches us. He is a teacher and lived in Utrecht for three years: ‘Goedemiddag!’ After finding our way in the complicated road system around the city, we arrive at our trail again. Less than four hours left…  The sun is hot, but we get on well. We follow route 379 to the east; the roads goes up and down slowly but gradually goes up, into the mountain landscape. It takes us along a rapid river, along beautiful valleys. Four times there is a tunnel, always with a sidewalk. We pass several other villages. Uchiko may be famous for its beautiful houses and has become a touristic hotspot, but these other villages also boast many beautiful old houses. It’s clearly a prosperous area. Along the road we see also a modern house, based on two old silos, a very nice combination of modern and old. When having a short rest in the middle of a hamlet, a woman brings us two big oranges. Alas, they are inedible…  The last part follows narrow and sometimes busy route 380, along a side river, going up all the time. The sun has disappeared from the valley and a mountain chill flows down. The last few K we almost walk on our lips. I get a vision of a worried ryokan owner who starts a search for us. A car stops. A couple asks us where we will stay for the night. The woman halts two passing women; they accompany us the last few hundred metres; it’s not far anymore… It’s quarter past six when we arrive at ryokan Fuji-ya in Oda, also a nice old building (a 100 years old, the daughter tells us later) full of beautiful ornaments. The room is 8 (big) tatamis, the front room 4 tatamis, and there is a tokonoma with splendid objects and a wardrobe. In the middle of the building there is a garden, with a lot or rubbish piled up and where a poor lonely little dog has its living space. When Mels comes back from the ofuro, he recommends me to skip the bath: dirty water and a cold shower, accessible only over two very steep stairs with high, slippery steps, without a handrail. Not for me today, I’m tired as it is. But… we will only be called for dinner when if becomes clear that both of us have bathed… So Mels walks down again, switches on the shower for some time and returns. Then the telephone rings: dinner is served…

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