近海る (Kin Kairu)

JET, Japan, Journalism and other J words

Tokushima Temple Walk Day 1: Easy Street

It happened! I’m back! And alive!

For the next couple of days/weeks, I’ll be presenting my day-to-day writings of the Tokushima 23, which I traveled from December 27, 2013 to January 2, 2014. The following will be my daily diary entries, which I will present in their original form as much as I can and add in some final comments about the day retrospectively. Let’s get to it!

Originally written Friday December 27, 2013

Temples traveled to: 1-6

So, riddle me this: across an entire country where bathroom towels/drying appliances seem to not exist, how is it at EVERY TEMPLE I go, they have cloths provided in the bathrooms? Every single one! And they’re not dirty whatsoever! Everyone else should really follow their example.

This morning started out a bit weird. I was debating between driving to Temple 1 and worrying about parking or taking the bus, which would put me three hours behind when I wanted to start. I ended up deciding to drive, leaving fate to where I could park. After getting to the city of Naruto, I was very fortunate to have an employee at a nearby Lawson’s offer me to park in their lot, saying it was totally OK to park there for a week. I guess this was my “osettai,” or the gift giving to pilgrims, depending on how you look at it.

I was originally really worried about showing up too early at Temple 1 and having to wait to buy my final required items, but honestly there are enough henro shops along the first five to where I would have been fine. If I “really” needed anything, it would be available right down the road. I bought my final stuff at the same store in front of Temple 1 where I bought the guidebooks and, once again, the staff was more than helpful.

This is where I’m going to have to insert my opinion about the henro garb. As I’ve discussed previously, many of the pieces were very important, mainly the Hakui (white shirt), Kongotsue (walking stick), Osame-fuda (name cards. EXTREMELY IMPORTANT) and Fudabasami (bag to carry your candles, incense and other prayer needs), but I’m going to go against the flow and say the Sugegasa (straw hat) was more trouble than it’s worth. I wore it for the majority of the walk from Temples 1-3, but the wind was so strong that the hat kept moving and my head was too big for the thing to fit properly. I ended up tying it to my backpack and letting it just hang on there. In the end, the importance of all of these items is to identify yourself as a pilgrim. I’d say, if you at least have the white shirt and walking stick, you should be fine. If you’re a foreigner walking you’ll stand out enough as it is.

I’m sure to the first temple’s staff I looked scared shitless. I just kind of wandered around the temple grounds, looking at the buildings and attempting the prayer process I had read about earlier. Even when I went to go get my first stamp, I sort of stumbled in awkwardly, not really sure what to do, but they knew full well what I wanted. After getting my book inked and ready to go, I left Temple 1 and quickly reminded myself of the advice I had read during my prep: ‘Once you start, drop all worries and let the road take you. It doesn’t matter anymore.’

Fountain at Temple 2.  In the colored map, the Tokushima 23 are located in the orange section.

Fountain at Temple 2. In the colored map, the Tokushima 23 are located in the orange section.

All of the temples have been really interesting so far, as well as very large (except Temple 4). I’m guessing it’s because of all the money they rake in from the hundreds of thousands of people that travel to them every year, but, seriously, many of them clearly make lots of money. It is very cool to see the splendor of it all, though. Seeing the elaborate statues, buildings and layouts of the temples really makes it feel like you’re seeing something impacting and places that have been around for much, much longer than I have.

Kobo Daishi statue at Temple 5

Kobo Daishi statue at Temple 5

At Temple 5 I got to see the ‘500 Englightened Ones’ statues, which I think might be open because of the 1200 anniversary, though I’m not really sure. Either way, while they were interesting, I also thought they were absolutely creepy. Maybe it’s just a case of the uncanny valley or maybe I kept thinking of the scene in Gantz when the characters go to a temple and the statues come alive and try to kill them. Needless to say, the statues just looked like they were about to jump out at me.

I haven’t gotten as many stares from locals as I thought I would, but maybe because so many foreigners have done the walk it’s not so rare to see a whitey in white pilgrim clothes. There was a really cute girl at Temple 2 (IF READING, CALL ME) that kept staring, but I just bowed and continued on my way. It’s only been kids that have said the loud and awkward ‘HELLO,’ as they always do. I did meet a guy at Temple 3, who had a bit of an accent I had to work around, who said he had a foreigner friend who was also an English teacher and she was working with him on his own language skills. He also gave me some pretty solid advice regarding free places to stay(we’ll get to this later)and which roads to take. He and his teacher friend actually found me later on the road to Temple 4 and gave my first official ‘osettai’! The teacher was from Washington state and taught in the Naruto area, but not through JET. We talked briefly about the job and our qualms with daily life in Japan, and they parted me with a can of cider. An older man also stopped me at one point to chat briefly about who I was and why I decided to walk. People seem curious, but always in a positive light.

I think one of my biggest mistakes today was not eating enough. Since I had woken up at 5 a.m., I had a really early breakfast, but didn’t have anything resembling a lunch until around 2 p.m. The moment I started eating my stomach physically hurt, to the point I honestly thought I got food poisoning. My body was probably wondering where all the carbs were.

I’m staying at Temple 6 tonight, which actually seemed to be a really good call. My legs, shoulders and toes all hurt quite a bit and it started raining hard around 6 p.m. I’m really hoping tomorrow is dry.

Pond at the entrance of Temple 6

Pond at the entrance of Temple 6

Temple 6’s hostel is really nice. It’s really well kept together and has a really ‘new’ feel to it all. It’s a shame the main bath was closed, though (which I guess this Temple is really known for? Reportedly Kobo Daishi ‘built’ it). I awkwardly fumbled around [the hostel] as well, but the staff is really friendly and helpful. The food here is also excellent.

My backpack is honestly waaaay too heavy, even when I took out a few things before I left my car. Hopefully I’ll be alright.

Day 1 was one of the easiest days and I think would be for anyone starting to walk. The road from 1-6 is entirely on a flat highway/street of some sort and the walk to Temple 4 was only hard because it seemed a bit out of the way. You essentially hit Temple 5 and have to head straight North to get to it and then turn right back around the way you came.

Again, the temple hostel was really nice and I would really recommend anyone traveling to try a temple stay at least once. I think Temple 6 is a really good place to stop, because for the first couple of days the body is going to get tired a lot faster and you really don’t want to overextend yourself before the walk to Temple 12 (OH, WE’LL GET TO THAT). And, no matter what, you’re not going to avoid blisters, which I ignorantly thought I would my first day. I’ll get to avoiding those in a shorter, upcoming post, though.

I’m going to follow the format of Turner Wright and also include the information of locations I stayed at every night (his series of posts on his temple travels in Tokushima were also incredibly helpful). I will say now (and as I have in previous posts) that every single place I called was totally capable of understanding my Japanese and many of them had basic understandings of English.

Temple #6
Anrakuji (安楽寺)
¥6500/night with meals
Dinner at 6:00 PM
Breakfast at 6:30 AM
No morning services offered
Bath includes an onsen

So that’s Day 1! Next up, Day 2, with my writings on Temples 7-11! Snow Snow Snow!

Read Day 2 here

For more background on the walk you can view my writing on it here or visit the website Shikoku Henro Trail which includes great overview, history, temple information and tips for the road.


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