Day 45-57

Day 46: Spying around…
In the morning I can take a shower. We don’t have breakfast until eight and use the rest of the day for odd jobs and finding internet. Mels asks for a shoemaker: his shoes soles had worn even after the first 400 K preparation walks and were repaired before leaving for Japan, but now they have worn considerably again. No schoemaker to be found however; almost everybody uses slippers or tennis shoes. He decides to leave things as they are. ‘only 20 walking days left’, he says. That’s not what I want to hear, it’s too soon…

About noon we go into town, with our laptop and i-pad. First a bit of lunch in a nearby restaurant. The  curry rice proves to be a dirty brown drab with far too much salt. It’s accompanied by cold udon-soup. It’s by far the worst meal we ever had in Japan. Our stomachs complain for the rest of the day. However, in the restaurant we find wifi-signals, two of them open. But not strong enough to receive or send any mails. We go to the library, almost opposite the ryokan. We need to take off our shoes at the entrance. And we need to show our library card before we can use the internet. Of course we don’t have one. However we may apply for one. Mels fills the appropriate form. But he has no Japanese address and applying proves impossible. The man hisses louder and louder. He comes with a pink form. Would Mels please fill that one? We really don’t understand one line of the form. The man’s last resort is just putting us behind the library’s laptop. But… there are conditions: thirty minutes max, no use of our own laptop with the library net cable and no use of an usb-stick. The hissing increases. The library laptop is on a little table next to his desk and I watch the net cable with a dripping mouth. All mails and documents we’d prepared stay just where they were…  We use the laptop to get some information on the Iya-valley on Shikoku that we might want to visit later and when I want to webmail, time is up (even if we are the only visitors). However, because we’re henros the man wants to show an interesting book from the sixties or seventies on the pilgrimage with many b&w pictures and Japanese text. That’s not really why we came…

The town hall doesn’t provide a solution and neither does the post office. Everybody likes to help us, but… And we don’t find a coffee place either. We seat ourselves in a bus stop next to the town hall looking for a wifi signal. No luck. Then my laptop gives up, battery… Back in our room our host has provided some nice cakes. An incentive to brew some green tea. At four we leave for another try with my laptop, because I’ve seen that somehow some mails have been sent while having lunch. We try several benches outside and inside the supermarket next to the restaurant. I even enter the toilet and then proceed with an open laptop through the shopping centre, the bakery, then sitting in front of the doctor’s office, then trying another hallway. People watch us curiously. Finally we leave again and enter the street behind the shopping centre. We find ourselves between houses and little vegetable gardens. On a low wall, facing a vegetable garden, I put my laptop in straw. My legs left and right of a gutter with fast streaming water. We’re getting cold. But my mails disappear into mail heaven…

The tv says that the Japanese government and the  International Atomic Agency have upscaled the nuclear disaster to category 7. Which makes it the worst ever in the history of man…

Day 47: Rocks with wigs
After getting some buns at the baker’s in the shopping centre, we leave at quarter past eight for our visit to temple 44 and 45, a total walk of 22 K. We will return to our ryokan at the end of the day, so we can leave a lot of luggage in our room. Temple 44 is only 1 K from the ryokan, but we have to climb a little. The temple buildings, covering a large area up to high on the mountain slope, create a mystical atmosphere. At the entrance there are enormous sugis, just like at Kõya-san, a 1000 years old. Small stone boddhisattvas are grouped nearby. A pile of stones has been made here and there. Passers-by look for a pebble and add it. ‘I put a pebble somewhere else’, a poem goes.

After our rituals we follow a path up. The pass brings us to the northern route to temple 45, that we took last year. The path goes along rice fields and woods, going up and down. A few K before the temple we take a path that leads to the southern route. It follows a mountain ridge; the highest top is 785 m. We pass deep abysses. Sometimes the rock goes down vertically; a few times we walk over an overhang, nothing down there… The vistas are breathtaking: the surrounding mountains are impressive.
Just before temple 45 we need to descend a lot. Last year we had to climb considerably to this temple from the other side, but now we are a lot higher. The descent leads us along enormous sugis and other trees. They are at least a 1000 years old. They make me think of the giant sequioas in the US. We also pass some small temples and at last we arrive at temple 45, glued under an overhang. When we’re finishing our rituals, a man approaches us. We get a gold brocate osame-fuda each, at the back it’s written that he’s done the pilgrimage a 108 times.

We also go into the pitch dark tunnel in the rock below the main temple building. This time it’s really dark… Outside we eat our lunch sitting on a bench in the sun. War council! Going from temple 44 to temple 45 – a distance of about nine K – took us four hours and now it’s almost two o’clock. Going back, we wanted to take the southern route, but this is 2 K longer and goes through the high mountains all the time. It means climbing a lot. And it means we’re short of time. Therefore we decide to take the northern route back, it’s a bit longer but also easier. And it’s beautiful too, over a narrow road, along pointed, Meteora-like rocks, decorated with wigs of trees and shrubbery, and with a countenance to make an Emmenthal jealous. The soil is like the Dutch northwestern rocky clay, full of river pebbles and boulders. Then we walk over a path through the woods that we have followed this morning. Partially we take route 12, including 2 tunnels, the last one 621 m and without a sidewalk or covered gutter.
At a quarter to six we’re back at the ryokan, and the ofuro is ready. We’re quite tired. Mels isn’t surprised: ‘do you know we did almost the same climbing as during the pilgrim’s hell?’ And I thought it would be an easy day, going to and fro temple 45 without my backpack…

The tsunami has disappeared from the international news; the internet newspapers have no heading for it anymore. Everybody misses the news that another five villages (outside the voluntary evacuation zone!) are compulsorily evacuated because of the leaking reactor. However ‘evacuation’ isn’t the proper word, the inhabitants will never return to their homes…

Day 48: Walking with compassion Already at a quarter past eight we’re sitting between the fields, on a wall, where we received the wifi signal two days ago (it’s fresh in spite of the sun). We’re rapidly sending and receiving a few mails before we start the day’s march. A mail from Swanica, who did prepare an extensive programme for us in Mashiko. She would show us around various ceramicists, together with Euan. She sends the message that breast cancer has been detected. F…. She is in my mind when I walk, just like other people I worry and care about. Like the Japanese victims. Walking with compassion. ‘One path, two people’, is the Shikoku pilgrimage’s slogan. It means that in your thoughts Kukai walks with you. But for me this walk, this slogan has got a new dimension since the disaster. Walking awarely. Walking with compassion. It makes me think of a movie (I forgot the title) that I once saw about the Iberian Peninsula having broken loose from Europe and floating in the direction of the Atlantic. Some start a journey (I don’t remember why) over the peninsula, and various people join them. Sometimes there is joy, sometimes ernestness. But mainly there is a surrealistic atmosphere and a feeling of doom below. This stands for my feelings this time.

Around nine we leave for a walk of 18 K, including a pass and visiting one, maybe two temples. A little further on we buy a sushi lunch. We ask whether the Starbuck’s coffee from the cooler might be heated, but that’s no option. We can have a set of instant coffee with carton cups, milk and sugar and prepare it with hot water available in the ATM corner.
Around ten we really get going. First we follow route 33 slowly going up 200 m over a distance of 7 K to a pass of 702 m. On some slopes large amounts of wood are cut and there are a few quarries where whole mountains are cut away. Half way we remove our fleecejacks, and in the meantime are overtaken by two henros. They are very interested. One (he speaks a little English) walks the pilgimage for the third rime; tthe other one did it 205(!) times, mostly by car and two times walking. He started when his father deceased ten years ago. He gives us a gold brocate  osame-fuda each, and at the back the number 205 is printed. We return – a bit timid – a white osame-fuda. And business cards. We will meet again later when taking a rest in a rest hut. A car henro couple joins us. It’s a nice get-together. Mels shows his Japanese lessons on the i-pad.
When we walk again, Mels says: ‘there was a nice atmosphere, no macho fuss.’ What is macho fuss? We hear often other henros boasting how many K they walk each day (Even 40? Applause!) or how many times they did the pilgrimage (giving a gold brocate to someone gives esteem, status, because you show that you did the pilgrimage at least a hundred times). (Female henros we meet this year don’t boast that way.) It more a kind of childish boasting, although we both find it a bit difficult. (It’s not a race, is it? And what is the sense of doing this a 100 or 200 times?) But we both feel what ‘macho fuss’ is: behaviour that puts us or others down.

Shortly after we reach the pass. The road will go the other direction (for us) for about 20 K, and we need to take a path that will take us about 600 m lower in 3 K. A jesus path, it deserves that name because every time I slip over rolling stones, leaves or mossed asphalt, I moan ‘Jezus!’. The view is breathtaking again: deep down is the wide valley where we will be going, surrounded by high mountains, wooded with sugi trees and patched with cherry blossom. It’s silent, we only hear the insects humming and the river flowing deep below us. We have lunch with the two henros we met earlier in a rest hut next to a brook, under flowering cherry trees. One of them (who speaks a little English) says: ‘The nice thing about travelling is meeting other people. I like the company today!’ And that’s how we feel. He lends me his staff, for me to descend easier and quicker with two of them.
I try the staff, but a little later the path doesn’t descend so much anymore and I don’t need it. It’s twice as heavy as mine and I can’t take pictures, drink water or anything… Mels is a sport and takes it temporarily. Other paths take us down into the valley. We see many beautiful old houses made from wood and adobe, with tiled roofs. Interesting in this area are the blackened boards used to close the walls of the houses; apparently singeing is a method of conservation over here.
Next to a house a man stands by a railing along the river. Coffee is almost ready, stools made of logs are there, a wisteria in full bloom is in a pot next to them. We are happy to accept the invitation. His son is a potter too he says. After having finished coffee he says ‘Gambatte!’ We’re not supposed to stay long. We give an osame-fuda each and we wave leaving.

Already before three we arrive at our stay, ryokan Cochin-ya, opposite temple 46. The room is 12,5 tatamis, with wardrobe, (empty and hot) inner veranda, hallway and toilet. After having put our backpacks in the room we leave for a temple visit. It’s a nice, idyllic tempte complex and in the middle stands a tree that is over a 1000 years old. After our rituals we sit on a bench in the sun for a while. What a difference with last year’s pouring rain!
The ryokan has a large shop. Eating an icecream we look around: henro outfits, henro bags, stamp books and rolls, amulets (for any purpose imaginable!) and even a special henro pace counter! Dinner is lively. people tell us that there is a ceramics festival next weekend in Tobe, a Shikoku town famous for its porcelain. Tobe is near temple 46, but in 2-3 days we will be a lot further on and there is no change changing the schedule. We made reservations for the week and don’t want to interrupt our walk, except in emergencies. A pity…

The Japanese news (with English button) is not very cheerful: It may take 2 to 3 months before the cooling problems in the power plant might be solved. In total it will even take 10 years or more to decommission the plants and to get rid of all contamination.
Sarkozy is visiting to support Japan mentally. A French journalist says that the Japanese and French situations have much in common: One of the causes for this disaster, he says, is the strong ties between the government and the energy companies. We ourselves already questioned building a nuclear power plant based on a 8 metre tsunami if you know that 30 metre ones occur? And something else we thought: Why don’t they just cover the thing with concrete? What are they waiting for? Is it because they don’t want to acknowledge that they have failed?
There has been another earthquake today; people have died or are injured.
One of the parties in the Tokyo city council proposes today to switch off vending machines for 4-5 hrs a day during the summer period; 2 vending machines need as much energy as 1 Japanese household. Japan is the top vending machines using country in the world.
Tourism in Japan has decreased 73% since the disaster.
And then there is an item about Chernobyl: this year it’s been 25 years that this occurred, the biggest nuclear disaster until now. On that one concrete was poured 6 months after the fact. But this concrete mantle has not been perfect. Actually it’s eroding. More and more radiation is leaking. A new plan of action has been made… Which will not be executed because of lack of funds…
There is no other news on Japanese tv. Nothing about the Middle East. Some isolationism still exists.

Day 49: A bag full of gold brocate  Our programme says 17 K, visiting temples 47 to 51. When we leave at 10 to 8, it’s cloudy. Along temple 46 we follow the pilgrim’s route, through rice and other fields, some houses here and there. Now and then we see flowering koolzaad fields. there is silence. Temple 47 is only one K further on. A kawai (cute) temple, with Matsuyama in the background, Shikoku’s largest city, lying in the lowlands along the sea. On the temple terrain we find two small buildings with tunnels. One depicts hell. There are disturbing paintings on its walls. The path below is made of sharp upright stones, the hell flames. The other tunnel is of course heaven. I didn’t know buddhism knew heaven and hell? Under the main temple building there is a catacomb like space with thousands of sitting Buddha(?) statuettes.
From temple 47 we walk more and more into town. We pass various other temples, Shinto and Buddhist bangai. In front of a house we see a whole inner garden full of tall cacti. No walking about there any more… Here an there we see almost fully grown ricefields. Early rice?At temple 48 we rest a bit on a bench next to the gate, by a haiku mailbox. On our way to temple 49 we pass a wide river bed. No trace of any water. Has it been that dry recently? At the other side there is a large golf course. Some men hit their golfballs on small green patches totally fenced off with netting. One of them recognises us: we met yesterday! The couple in the rest hut? We pass a hospital. Behind a window there is a face. We wave. The world of the healthy and that of the ill. Two separated worlds…
A little later there is a restaurant. Net & coffee it says. And yes, with a password we have wifi. At last we can upload the blog. For this afternoon rain is forecast but forget all about it. We stay for one and a half hours, combining coffee and lunch break. When we leave, one of the employees gives us a small bag of cookies each. And they wave us goodbye in a friendly way.
Slowly we enter the city of Matsuyama. For a long time we follow a busy two lane road without any pedestrian facilities. Not nice at all. Just before temple 49 a man stops us. He has a long story in Japanese. The only thing we understand is that Kukai’s statue has disappeared from the temple. He continuously repeats the story, but after a few times we bid goodbye. Between the temple buildings weeping cherry trees are blooming in full colour. At the main temple a woman gives me a gold brocate osame-fuda; it says 114 times on the reverse side. She calls another woman who gives a gold coloured one. I give business cards. The man we met earlier on joins us. With a tin of beer in his hand. Drunk, apparently. He shows us around the temple buildings to prove that the statue is really not there; we try to stay polite and say goodbye again. But when we’re reciting the heart sutra he comes again and disturbs us. We wave him away and adamantly proceed. He goes to a side temple and sits on the steps, waiting. We’re happy when we find him disappeared when we return from the stamp office. To reach temple 50 we need to climb a bit. The sun peeks through the clouds more and more and it starts to get a bit warmer, with a thick atmosphere. The rain doesn’t come. From the temple we have a nice view on Matsuyama. There are blooming cherry trees in many shades of pink and white on both sides along the lane to the entrance. Really there are blooming cherries wherever I look, it’s a genuine spring feast.
Just before temple 51 we pass a river, and we see normal carps swimming as well as brightly coloured koi. I reach out with my hand over the water. Immediately there is a lot of movement. The fish clearly are accustomed to being fed.Temple 51 is the strangest temple complex we ever saw in Japan and this time we discover even more. Up to the gate there is a roofed gallery. Left and right there are souvenir booths. To enter the gallery, one has to cross a tiny, rounded bridge and to stumble over some boulders. The merchants offer their ware fanatically, something we didn’t come across yet on  Shikoku. Having past the gate, there is a beautiful pagoda which is said to contain bones of Buddha, and a nice old building where henro products are sold and where we find the stamp office. Its roofed gallery has large red Chinese paper lamps. Between pagoda and stamp office we see large wooden racks containing thousands of garlands made from folded paper cranes. Behind, a path leads over a rounded bridge to a small museum with some temple treasures – statues and masks, paintings, a carrying chair and a small temple that can be carried in a procession – and an inner garden with large sculptures showing scenes of a battle, an ascetic life and an erotic get together. Maybe Buddha’s life? Opposite the gate building there are various temple buildings, some with beautiful paintings, and some strange contraptions with long, wooden sculptures that look as if they could have been bought at an exotic shop. And we’re surprised to find a tunnel in the mountain at the back. We explore. The narrow tunnel – max 2 people wide – proves to be hundreds of yards long. There is a little light here and there. Every few yards there is a small sculpture, sometimes a large one of a few metres tall. We arrive at the other end of the mountain. In front of the exit is a strangely formed rock. Nearby tall sculptures stand about. And there is a derelict garden. And even more sculptures. Very strange ones, like one showing a human figure with a low elephant’s head. There is black bamboo too (black stems), which we’ve seen several times in Japan. In the back of the garden we see a large gold globe-like pavillion, held up by enormous golden lions. Inside there are more tall wooden sculptures, with red pluche settees. When back on the temple grounds and having finished our rituals we go to the left side of the gate. The wide path has been raked in spiral circles. A little further on I see a large rectangular building with many strange architectural elements and large Thai texts. Opposite there is some kind of open air theatre with large elephant decors. The temple complex has atmosphere but is strange and one asks himself about the fantasies of the abbot…
It’s only a few K to our stay, walking along a busy two lane road. We arrive at Dogo Onsen, the oldest public bath in Japan, 3000 years old. In front of the beautiful old building teher are many people in yukata. One group in blue-white, another in dark and light green, a third in yellow shades, depending on the hotel where they stay. Every hotel has its own colours. They all hold a tiny basket to take personal belongings along to the onsen. I ask a group of men in yukata to pose for a picture. No problem whatsoever. We walk along to our hotel through the mall opposite the onsen. It’s nice to have our hotel to be in this lively area, we say to each other. But we’re not there yet… and get into the red light district, along neons like ‘Sexy Gals Theater’ and men in suits who are trying to lure car drivers into their establishments. But Business Hotel Sakura – where we arrive at half past five – proves to be a serious hotel. The room has one double bed, desk, toilet, bathroom, wash unit and hallway. No wifi however.
At night we have dinner opposite Dogon Onsen – beautifully lit, higher up a room, lit in red, with a large drum, and on top of the building a large white swan – and stroll through the malls for some time. Various shops offer large collections of Tobe ceramics: mainly thick white porcelain with blue designs. Some tea bowls are about 250 euros. We’re not very interested. Near the old train station – a beautiful Victorian wooden vuilding – we find a coffeehouse that doesn’t offer cappuccino, but coffee with whipped milk. From our hotel window on the fifth floor we have a nice view over lit Matsuyama.

Day 50: Waving to Maria
It’s clouded when we leave at eight. Today 22-23 K and visiting two temples. Mostly we will walk through Matsuyama, west first, then north. People say hello to us often or wave from afar. Even in a city of half a million inhabitants! On top of a 4-5-floor building, near a church, there is a large, white statue of Maria. Mels waves in her direction. But her back faces us. Instead, a passing bus with women wave back… so many Marias!After one and a half K we find a bakery with a coffee corner. No wifi. We stay however for an hour and breakfast on various interesting buns. Outside there is a cherry blossom rain. The wind makes the petals move. Here and there we se the pavement covered with a coat of fallen petals; they also float on the rivers like moving thin rafts.
For a time we go on the sidewalk of a busy four lane road. Along industry, large stores and some houses. We have been walking north for some time when at a crossing we see a sign with road numbers. It becomes clear that we have gone too far north, near temple 53, and we still have to visit temple 52, west of 53. It’s strange, because we have seen the henro path signs recently, directing us stright on…
We cut west, along narrow roads, rice and other fields. Some houses every now and then. In a little lake small heads bob up from the water: tortoises, alarmed by our walking by. Next to a little shed and orange orchard, there is a couple sitting along the road. They signal us to take oranges from a crate. We give osame-fudas. And take pictures. She laughs joyfully. Nice people. We wave. Just before temple 52 we need to climb yet. And after the gate the road goes up even more and leads to… stairs. A windy temple complex. I’m off to the toilet when Mels chats with another walking henro. A sports teacher at a highschool in the disaster area. An unsecure future. He walks, in spite of or because of?When descending again we stop at a small tea garden. There is no lunch available, just coffee and cookies. It’s very cosy with the other visitors, amongst them two car henros, and both women who run the garden. The aged woman and her daughter are very kind. When they hear that we’re interested in ceramics, the daughter opens the inner veranda. It’s a little shop with clothing, bags and ceramics. I buy a small coaster (8 euros!), made from the same material as the rooftiles in Japan: matt black and sintered.
Over a two lane road we proceed east again for a visit to temple 53. Walking we eat some cakelike bread, not to lose time having lunch. In a river I see tortoises again, sunbathing on rocks in the river. The road leads us through an industrial area with concrete factories and other large plants. All at once a chestnut coloured Japanese marten speeds over the road and disappears in the high grass. At temple 53 we have a short rest on a bench. It’s three and we need to do another 11 K. I remember that last year the last part of this day was difficult, walking over a covered gutter with dilapidated cover plates and going up and down because of all the entrances to houses and factories. ‘But last year we had to do another eight K to our stay’, Mels says. ‘That’s why we were so tired at the end of the day. I now selected a ryokan which is a lot nearer. And this time we walk a different route, along the sea.’ I’m grateful.
From temple 53 the busy road leads along the sea again, this time Shikokus northwestern coast. For a long time directly along the shore, at an altitude of about 10 m. On the water a thick coat of brown seaweed is floating. A blue heron is wetting its feet. Sometimes a comorant or seagull flies along. In the misty distance there are islands to be seen, and small and large boats. The noise of their engines is barely audible. It’s a beautiful day, along that coast. The road now changes direction away from the sea, along shipyards and other industry, sometimes a  restaurant or hotel, later more and more along houses. Going is difficult. All the time we need to step or jump over rims, maladjusted covers, holes and gutters. And that while keeping a clear eye on busy traffic. It’s an art not to fall, and at the same time wanting to say hello to everybody. Buddha may have many faces, today there are as many pitfalls on our way to Enlightenment!
The kilometres pass by (very slowly), and we get the impression we’ve seen this before. It goes up and down, along many, many entrances, manoeuvring over all those rocked cover plates. We take another icecream at a supermarket. (I’m almost fed up with them by now…) No bench in sight, so we walk on or stand against a fence. ‘As soon as the road goes left and immediately right again, we have arrived’, Mels says. Wasn’t it like that last year? The road is endless. Are the kilometres in the travel book right? And yes, slowly we conclude that we chose the same stay as last year. I moan, because I remember having to go up two stairs in the ryokan. We’re very tired  – probably mainly because of the continuous attentiveness – and our feet hurt quite a bit; my shoulder too, since my fall a few days earlier. At the supermarket a boy sits on his moped waiting for his friends. He grins: ‘Good luck!’ And puts his hand up into the air. That gives some more energy!At five we’re there: ryokan Ota-ya (fat ricefield). The front is decorated with white chinese paper lanterns. Our host recognises us and gives us the same room: two single beds, a chair and table, bathroom with toilet. After Mels has asked for wifi, we get the password as well as a computer table and matching chair for the laptop.
At dinner we meet two female walking henros, one of them saw us before: those backpackers wit tulip, in the resting space next to the stamp office at temple 12. She tells us that she had had her foot treated in hospital and will go home tomorrow. The other woman walks the 88-trail, and includes the bangai temples. She finishes at Otakiji, bangai nr. 20, because – she says – that’s one category higher than temple nr. 1. She also has a story about temple 36, being hit by a tsunami, but that would have happened the day before we were there. we didn’t notice anything. We don’t understand…

Day 51: Joyfull
We remember well how good the food was in this ryokan, but we don’t remember how dirty it was… At night I try not to touch the wall with all those dripping trails and in the morning I consciously avoid the shower wall which is covered with mould from bottom to ceiling. And on top of all that it’s been one of the most expensive stays…At half past seven I Skypephone Swanica. We talk about Mashiko, the pottery village north of Tokyo that has been heavily damaged by the earthquake. Almost at the end of our journey we will visit the village and talk about how we might help.
At half past nine we leave for a 20 K trek, first further north and later east, along Shikokus northern shore. We’re taking a low pass to cut off a promontory and after passing a housed area – with coffee that comes with a slice of orange and a boiled egg – we arrive at the sea again, now walking along busy route 196, with a proper sidewalk most of the time. There is a fresh sea breeze and we have to push ourselves forward. There is foam on the waves. We now walk along the Japanese Inner Sea, busy with ship traffic, between Honshu and Shikoku. From afar, Honshus endless mountain chains make it look like an uninhabited island. We have lunch in a restaurant at sea, just like last year. Every now and then a comorant flies by, sometimes some seagulls. We see more buzzards as well.
We’re glad when walking through a housed area again, although there is still a strong headwind. Kikuma is known for its roof tile factories. We walk along the narrow streets, hoping to have a look at a factory in use. But it’s Sunday today and there is nothing going on. Everywhere are pallets with stacked tiles and displays of product ranges. We discover that the clay they use is pink after firing and that a matt black sintering slip is used. We enter a harbour area with large shipyards, an enormous oil refinery and little villages, dwarfed by the large cranes in the back. At half past four we arrive at Hotel New Sugano in Onishi. The room has 2 wide single beds, chair and bathroom. Our nice lady host recommends the large ofuro, we can use it together. And for the umptieth time this trip we sit doubled up in the tub together. But the hotel is clean and inexpensive… There is no food included, so we need to walk back half a K for steak and fries at Joyfull, a kind of Japanese McDonalds, but each dish’s calories are indicated on the menu. It’s a busy family restaurant with many many children. After the meal we walk back under the full moon. Good for the calories …
We’re quite tired – struggling against the wind, but also because all day’s traffic noise – but not as much as yesterday…

Day 52: Mama-san
Rain has been forecast and during breakfast there is some but when we leave at eight, it’s dry again. Our host gives us two little towels each. And she waves us goodbye. We have 16 K to do, visiting 5 temples,  each about 3 K apart, and we will sleep in the last one. The path will cross the area of Imabari town, to the east and south-east, but also to a large extent wooded slopes and rice fields. It’s an easy programme, and – just like any day – we take time to chat. Like at the first temple – 54 – with a 87 year old man; he comes here every day, notwithstanding the many uneven steps. In the stamp office the monk shows us a nice wooden sculpture: two tiny tortoises on a base of dark polished wood. Petrified wood, he tells us. He gives us a small piece of the wood. In the booth next to the office we ask for a plastic cover for my straw hat, because mine was blown away yesterday by the strong wind. They don’t have it, but they offer us two oranges. We eat them while chatting.
On our way to the next temple we need to go over a hill, and cross a cemetary, slowly into the next valley. Just before the hilltop we hear a thunderstorm approaching. A coffeehouse would be nice, but the area isn’t like that… Before reaching the other end of the cemetary, rain starts to fall heavily. We take refuge under the first overhanging shed roof we encounter. Opposite a woman just comes home and asks us in. There is a loud thunder when we pass the door to the garden and into the house. She provides us with cushions to sit on, so we don’t need to take our shoes off and can sit in the hallway, at the shoe/slipper border. A little later there is coffee. Cosy! We give miniature Delft blue clogs and business cards. When we leave it’s almost dry again.Last year, temple 55 was being renovated. The monk in the stamp office tells us that the inauguration has been last November. Outside the main temple building there is a picture show on the reconstruction. An elderly monk – whom we met last year – gives us a little cake each, and a German book about the trail. Would we like to write a few words in it? The whole book is full of names of foreigners who walked the pilgrimage, amongst them several Dutch. Of course we put our names in.
A little rain continues to fall, but I don’t like to put up my brolly; it will increase the pain in my shoulder. All at once I hear someone shouting behind me. A man is gesticulating and hurries toward me, with an umbrella. I point at mine, hanging from my backpack, but that doesn’t impress him. So now I walk with an umbrella over my head anyway. Resistance is futile…At temple 56 we have a rest on a bench near the stamp office. We eat our stock of cookies and sweets that we have accumulated during the last days. It’s a bit cold now but we’re glad there is little wind. The monk stamps our books; to his left and right there are tiny white dogs, each on a cushion. Just like the watchdogs at the entrances of Shinto temples. We leave waving.
Along a more busy road we find a lunch restaurant at last. Our female host comes to have a chat. She appreciates very much what we’re doing. We show our travel book and she decides to explain to us how to go to the next temple. Mels says that it’s not necessary, we know how. Doesn’t matter. ‘They damn well take over all the time’, says Mels. ‘Just like your mother?’, I ask him. Almost two hours later – in the meantime we’re teaching her Dutch – we urge her that we need to leave. We rearrange our gear a bit, because for the first time since a long time we need to put our coats on. She comes with two small towels. ‘Ichi go, ichi e’ she has written on them: a unique moment of being together. Thanks. She stands waving for a long time. Soon we arrive at temple 57. In a nearby shop I find a plastic cover for my hat and then we leave for the last bit today. It’s stopped raining by now and the sun starts shining. That makes for a difference in temperature. First we walk along rice fields and later on we follow the path through the woods and along some dammed lakes with beautiful shores in ochre shades. We need to climb a few hundred metres to the next temple. When the path crosses the normal road, a car stops. A man with a large, oldfashioned camera gets out. May he take our picture? Of course. He would like some background flowers, but they aren’t there, so we’re standing in front of a henro sign. Shortly after the path stops and we need to follow the normal road further up. A car halts. A man we saw at the last temple runs after us and gives us a big mandarin and 500 yen. A little further on, the man with the camera is there again. There are many flowering bushes here, so he would like to take some more pictures with this nice background. First we stand in front of a blooming red camelia, later before purple azaleas, so common on these slopes.
Shortly after we arrive at the temple gate and we need to climb up steeply through an idyllic narrow valley. Along the path is a gurgling brook. There are rododendrons everywhere, some are starting to flower, and green Japanese maples, with their soft green leaves and reddish buttons. And very old trees, very impressive. At a quarter to five we arrive at the main temple. We do our rituals and go to the guest house. In front of its entrance we see a weeping cherry tree, in full bloom. The view of the Japanese Inner Sea and the bridges between Shikoku and Honshu, is a bit hampered by the clouds. We have the same room as last year: 12 tatamis with hallway and wardrobe/tokonoma. And a view… We will stay for two night, so our suitcases have arrived as well. The dining room flows over; there is a group of bus henros as well. We join the table with other walking henros and the bus drivers. In the evening a group of adults and children train karate, led by the abbot.

Day 53: There is time
At five already the whole house is like a merry-go-round, because at six the service in the temple will start. When we enter, the hondo (main hall, 本堂) is packed with two rows of bus henros, all on their knees. After a cosy chat – the abbot has us join in – the service starts. The bus group’s old leader admonishes everybody to come forward to take his or her part in the ceremony – sprinkling some incense powder on the glowing charcoal – which soon causes the hall to look like an ant-hill. After sutra reciting there is a sermon that takes until seven. A western looking woman joins in the back for some time and makes some pictures, but we get no chance to speak to her; before the end of the sermon she has disappeared.At breakfast one of the other walking henros tells us that he has seen us before: on April 2nd in hotel Orenji (Orange). He checked his diary. Our daily distances are shorter than his, but he goes back to his home in Tokyo after every 4-5 days walking. A woman taps me on my shoulder. She walks too, but for difficult parts she joins a busgroup: cheap and easy she says.
The view is dramatical. During the night it has been raining hard but now the sun shines. Large clouds drift by; where the sun peeps through there are glittering silvery patches on the surface of the sea. Our day off is spent with the usual odd jobs: laundry, making new reservations, mail, tax forms, new KLEI website… There is wifi, but no password… How is that called, virtual internet?We remember that there must be a woodkiln somewhere and we ask for it after breakfast. A while later the local potter is waiting for us and we’re shown around the kilns behind the temple buildings extensively. Under a roof there is a (relatively small) noborigama (a Japanse multichamber kiln) – which is filled with pots one or two times a year and fired on fir in about seven hours – and a very small woodkiln. In his workshop we find – to our surprise – a large, modern gas kiln. He takes us to another woodkiln, where they produce charcoal, for kitchen use. His home is traditional and he shows us the fireplace where the charcoal is used, for heating the house and the kettle.
The abbot, the monks and all sorts of other people are busy all day in the guest house. All rooms need to be cleaned and dinner has to be prepared. There is a coffee break, sitting on the hallway floor, and we’re invited. The abbot tells us that he has built the noborigama himself. He sculpts; his bronzes are displayed in the dining room and there is a life size female nude in the stairway. The 89 year old woman and the young girl who were so nice last year aren’t there. We ask about them. The old lady turns out to be his mother. He tells us that she made all ceiling paintings in the main hall and that she travelled around the world in three months last year, on her own. Just like last year it shows how nicely people treat one another here. ‘This temple has a warm and loving heart’, we tell the abbot. He praises our ‘slow’ pilgrimage, which gives time for experiences and meetings. ‘You have time…’, the young female monk next to me says. Mels asks her what she does all day, being a monk trainee – meditating, for instance? – and she answers: ‘I would like to meditate, but there isn’t enough time. I need to work and after I’m too tired…’
Back in our room Mels reads the English-/Japanese book that the young monk lent us: a Q&A-list about Buddhism. About the 8 hot and the 8 cold hells. Lively described tortures. Heaven consists of endless Buddha lessons and lies Buddha worlds to the west. Hmmmm…About twelve we eat some rice balls and miso soup in a cold dining room. All windows in the building are open all day to air well, and it’s quite cold. Halfway the afternoon there is heavy rain and afterwards a gorgeous rainbow over the Seto Sea. At four I’m called for the ofuro. Mels isn’t allowed to join and both of us are checked: me being in the tub, Mels being in our room…
Dinner is at six, again in the cold dining area. Outside it’s very windy. We hear the whistling sound and the bamboo sways to and fro in front of the large windows. In the background we see heavy, dark clouds against a yellowy green evening sky. It’s not as crowded like yesterday. There are some walking henros at our table. Very lively. Mels jokes in Japanese – about ‘ame to mame’ (rain and blisters; the characterisation of last year’s pilgrimage) – and explains why we walk the trail. ‘Kokoro no heiwa (peace of heart)’, he says. When an elderly walking henro asks us whether we are Christian or Buddhist, Mels demonstrates the answer with his chopsticks: we select from each bowl what we like. We order a second bottle of sake, but we are last again: at a quarter to seven the two of us are sitting in an empty dining room, except for one walking henro who is drawing a string through his enormous blister. We treat him with a cup of sake.

Simply joy is mine

If I but slow my pace

Danaan Parry

Day 54: No towels today
We have a 23 K programme today, visiting one temple. We don’t leave before half past eight, because after service in the temple and breakfast we need to repack and send our suitcases. The whole team wave us goodbye. The abbot tells us that he tries to get the  Shikoku pilgrimage on the Unesco World Heritage List like people are doing for the Santiago de Compostella Camino. ‘Come again’, all say. And us: ‘Ja mata rainen!’We descend slowly through the beautiful valley, enjoying the nice trees, plants and sculptures. We then take the other path down, to the next valley. Everywhere are blooming azaleas. Sometimes we halt to watch the view over the Seto Sea and the large bridges. It’s a sunny day and soon we take our coats off, but getting more into the lowlands the clouds get thicker. It stays dry however. We enter the city area of Imabari. We have a coffee in the same (expensive) coffee house as last year, with its silent but nice owner. One K further on is temple 59, and nearby is the towel embroidery workshop. Last year each of us received a towel with a text we could choose: Fu do shin, no path without a heart. The past days Mels has been thinking what to choose this time. ‘Ichi go, ichi e’ he has decided yesterday: a unique moment of being together. But the factory is closed today so we need to keep it for another moment…
At the temple a walking henro is singing sutras. Beautiful voice. He had waved at us before when we had coffee: a Japanese with a little beard and flamboyant hat; a rarity – and at the stamp office we have a chat. He tells us that he walks for the sixteenth time. Most of the time he camps and if need be he stays in a ryokan. We daren’t ask whether he has wife or home… At the lunch restaurant along the way we meet him again. We hear him asking what would be available as ‘service’.Shortly after we pass a lacquer workshop. Behind the spacious exhibition room there are several small workshops, from one side visible to the vistors through large windows. A young man is applying lacquer to a bowl. There isn’t much to be seen: it’s a slow proces, applying many layers. We walk through hilly country and enter the next low area. High in the air there are some buzzards again. On the pass we see the mountain range at the other side of the plains: the 2000 metre high summits still covered with snow. That’s where we go tomorrow…
Our stay is at the other side of the plains and the mountains are seemingly near but we need another three hours to reach the ryokan, walking along rice fields (where the rice is high already), industry (with the umptieth concrete factory) and the housed area of Saijo. The sun has reappeared and the  temperature is rising again. On a bench in front of a supermarket we eat an icecream. Next to us, two deaf women are having a conversation using sign language. They’re having enormous fun together. When we leave, they wave us goodbye.A few times we get diverted by henro trail signs into dead ends to Shinto temples. Apparently a volunteer who likes side trips has been working hard… At a quarter to five we already arrive at ryokan Sakaeya, where we have stayed last year. We get the same room: 6 tatamis with wardrobe and tokonoma. At six we have dinner with two henros whom we met in the last ryokan.

Day 55: Longing for Shikoku
In spite of our plans we don’t get up until half past five. We have to do 24,5 K, first climbing 800-900 metres to visit temple 60 and to descend afterwards to the same valley, visiting another one or two temples and walking to our stay. Last year we had such heavy rain that we didn’t dare descending on foot. Now it’s dry. But the distance is longer, because we have heard that the guest house at temple 61 is closed so we needed to book a nearby ryokan at a few K further away. My backpack and a part of the contents of Mels’ will be transported to the next ryokan by our host. Osettai!
It’s very quiet in Saijo when we leave at 10 to 7. The sun is shining and it soon gets hot. On our way to the mountains we pass another henro. He tells us that he walked the Camino to Santiago five years ago from St.Jean in the Pyrenees; he does the henro-michi now for the second or third time. He liked the Camino better: a beautiful route he says. More beautiful than Shikoku. We don’t understand why: better roads, nicer views or beautiful because it’s ‘strange’ like we regard Shikoku?In the meantime we shop in a supermarket to buy lunch for later, and at half past eight we arrive at the mountain road that goes up between two ridges. We’re happily surprised when after a quarter of an hour we find the only restaurant along this road open (closed Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Behind the window is a tiny car. A car??? The owner loves the Subaru 360. He put an 46-year old one in: the Ladybird. And named the restaurant after it: ten tou mushi (点とう虫, insect with points, or ladybird).
Outside the restaurant we meet the henro again whom we saw yesterday at the temple (with beard and hat; we now call him the Laughing Buddha). For some time we walk along together and sit at the rest hut at the beginning of the trail to temple 60. I ask him anyway: No, he has no house. Comes from the Hiroshima area originally. And why he walks the same path sixteen times? He says it’s difficult to explain. Longing for Shikoku, he calls it: heartbreak, homesick. We tell him that last year at the end of the walk we were very emotional. And that we considered walking on. And back in Holland we still wanted to go back to Shikoku. So yes, we understand longing for Shikoku very well…While talking we watch the crowd at the spot where the brook passes the road. This water is said to be healing. Cars ride to and fro. Large quantities of bottles and jerrycans are being filled. There is even a small trailer full of plastic containers.
Along the brook we climb up the mountain trail. Last year this was no fun, with rain pouring down on us, for some time we even had to plod on in the stream itself, it seemed. Now we walk in an idyllic valley. The path crosses the brook regularly, most of the time over sturdy bridges but sometimes over a seemingly improvised log contraption. It takes us one and a half hour to get to the temple. After our rituals we quickly eat lunch and start descending. First over a wide, slowly descending path, then along the road, but the larger distance over a narrow mountain trail that sometimes descends rapidly and then meanders along the slopes and over ridges. A few times the path goes up again to cross a pass. At the side of the trail a couple is picknicking. They live nearby and now walk up to the temple, the fifth time this year. They give us a sweet tomato each. The view of the sugi covered hills is very special. Far away we see the high snowwhite summits. After the last pass there is the plains, with the sea in the distance. Just next to the path is a snake, with a yellow design, lying in the sun. It hides quickly between the rocks. The last part of the descent is tiring: the path goes steeply down all the time and there is a lot of rubble. In the end our knees hurt and wobble.
It’s not so far to temple 61 anymore. A van stops and from its window two tins of coffee appear. It’s a pity, cold coffee – like sold everywhere over here – and we find it disgusting… We later donate them to a statue. Shortly after we arrive at the temple. We are welcomed nicely, they recognise us. We have the impression that the guest house is not closed at all, but we have made reservations elsewhere, so we say goodbye. At five we arrive at ryokan Komatsu (small fir). We see many henros we met before, including the Laughing Buddha. He distributes golden osame-fudas. Dinner provides surprises: The main course is a kind of fondue with meat and vegetables. And there is  ‘meat sashimi’: slices of raw meat with wasabi and soy sauce. A henro whom we have seen several days in a row, has another surprise for us: he asked our host to give us some special rice balls, to be cooked in the fondue. A delicacy, they say. It’s a bit tacky and without any taste. But we’re able to swallow them  enthousiastically.The room is 6 tatamis, with tokonoma. The ofuro is occupied until after dinner. When we get the offer (= order) to use it together, Mels dedicates himself to creating an alibi. He goes there, doesn’t give the ½-person bath that has been used by ten people by now a second glance, loudly takes its cover off, talks to himself – we know by now that we’re constantly being checked… – and takes a short shower. I’m gratefully staying behind in our room, taking advantage of the open wifi that my laptop has found.
On the internet – Japan Times – the following can be read: As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, there have been 408 aftershocks with a magnitude of 5.0 and above, 68 registering 6.0 and higher and five at the 7.0 level or higher, according to the Meteorological Agency, which does not count aftershocks smaller than those with a magnitude of 5.0.

Day 56: Yukkuri
Today we ant to walk 25-26 K east, mainly through the housed area of Saijo an later Niihama, most of the time on roads parallel to route 11. But we start visiting three temples which are all near this road. For temple 62 we need to go back half a K. The Laughing Buddha told us that the stamp office here opens only from 8 to 4, so yesterday at the end of our walk we didn’t bother to go there. To the next temple it’s only 1,5 K east and another 3,5 K further on is temple 64. At all three temples we meet the same group of bus henros. That’s what we’ve experienced more often: if temples are 3,5 K or less apart, we easily go as fast as they do… Which always leads to mutual laughing and waving enthousiastically. At the last temple we meet the Laughing Buddha again and the henro who gave us the rice balls yesterday evening. They had left the ryokan 1 to 1½ hours earlier than we (after the 6 o’clock breakfast we had been taking advantage of wifi for two hours…), but apparently our speed on the flat is higher than most Japanese henros. (In the mountains that’s not the case at all…) We walk along for some time, but soon we speed up and leave them behind.
When we follow – after the last temple – the narrow  parallel roads, we leave the enormously busy route 11 behind. We walked along very busy roads for so many days, not only having to constantly be attentive to traffic, but also only being able to communicate by shouting very loudly. This is really a lot better! The route goes sometimes through housed areas and then again through ricefields. All day we see the high mountain ridge where we walked yesterday at our right hand side, and now it’s covered in heavy clouds. In the afternoon we have a bit of rain, but the temperature is still agreeable. It’s a relaxing day: we’re going at our ease (yukkuri!), because the fatigue caused by yesterday’s trip is still in our legs, however we’re doing well and are making a good time. We take two breaks at a Joyfull along route 11. And already at half four we arrive at our stay: hotel Misora. The nice owner recognises us. It’a a western room: 2 single beds with chair and stool, and a complete bathroom. And wifi. In the evening we have dinner again in the riverside restaurant.

Dag 57: Yes, they day is ready
After a sleepness night caused by painfull feet I need to rise anyway at five to seven for the seven o’clock breakfast… It has rained all night and when we see on tv that rain should be over by twelve, we don’t hurry to leave. First a bit of internet… And when we are standing at last at a quarter past nine under the roof at the hotel’s entrance, we need so much time adjusting all our rain gear that it’s almost dry when we really go our way. The nice hotel manager shakes our hands – ‘Ja mata rainen!’ – and stays outside waving for a long time, even until we’re half way the long bridge over the river. The rest of the day is dry, in spite of the forecast. We walk further east, about 25-26 K, mainly along roads parallel to route 11. In the beginning we pass low hills, woods and rice fields, sometimes houses. The heavy clouds now hide the high mountains but the near hills seem very romantic: between the massive dark green of the sugi trees there are the lighter shades of bamboo and and new tree leaves. The cherries are clearly visible: the last white blossom mingles with the new and frail redgreen leaves. Here and there the eye is struck by the red of blooming azaleas. In between garlands of white clouds move slowly. And everywhere is the sound of water: last night’s rain has accumulated in countless small and larger streams, all nicely clad in concrete.
In a (on purpose) delapidated restaurant along route 11 we have coffee and cake. And for a lunch restaurant we go back to the main road, as well as for a hasty toilet visit, when lunch seems to have it’s own will… This way we zigzag sometimes north, sometimes south of route 11, with varying effectiveness going east. We’re still lucky as far as weather is concerned: during lunch there is quite a lot of rain, but when we leave it’s almost dry again. An later the sun shines from time to time and it gets warmer. It’s very humid and we transpire enormously.At our right the high mountains slowly reappear from under the cloud blanket. In the course of the afternoon we reach the housed area of Shikoku Chuo and far away we see the Seto Sea again. Heavy industry is already visible, and our stay will be near it: Business Hotel Mild. Around four we take another coffee at a coffee house along route 11, because we’re both tired, and suffer from foot and neck pain. (what an empathic behaviour!) I drink my first cappuccino since we arrived on Shikoku. (and tasty!)
At a quarter to six we arrive at hotel Mild, and the reception is nice. The whole team recognises us from last year. ‘And we have the same room for you!’ That’s one of the things we like about Japan. It’s just like coming home. At dinner at six the dining area is full of a group noisy bushenros. Outside a thunderstorm starts to rage. The strong wind throws the rain against the large windows. In between tv, laughing and stories around us that totally escape us we talk about evolution and intelligent design, triggered by what we see on the tv-screen: Japanese scientists who present bones of a newly found species. ‘Looking for solutions is inherent in matter’, Mels says, and we both agree. But we talk mainly about the walk. Why we do this people ask often, but what does it really do to us? We both experience kokoro no heiwa, heart’s peace sometimes. But often during walking our heads churn the same way as always: about the past, the future, things to be done etc. Whoa, what does a trip like this to a person… it’s still a difficult question… As is the question whether one should have a certain frame of mind to do it. Or whether one should have a certain objective. Or not… Is no reason the best one? What is the meaning? The meaning one gives himself, just like life? Neale Donald Walsch writes in ‘Home With God’ that one experiences after death what one expects to: the expectation of hell gives a hell experience, etc. Until one understands that there is a choice… That the time between thought and creation after death is shorter than before. It makes me think of captain Janeway who in an Voyager episode tries to save one of her crew members by having a conversation with the Elders, the Higher Beings on that planet. She is convinced that she needs to pass all kinds of tests before she can speak to them and so one test follows the other until she understands that these are only her own expectations…
At night in our room (2 single beds, desk, bathroom) there is cable internet. During the thunderstorm I write my diary and Mels is translating. ‘Yes, the day is ready’, he says when having translated another day. I can read my book snugly in bed, because the suitcases are there again. We stay for three nights  in hotel Mild, because on Monday I will receive my perfusion again.

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