Tokushima Temple Walk Day 2: Snowed Out
Read Day 1 here
Originally written December 28, 2013
Temples traveled to: 7-11
I’ll always remember one particular meeting I had when I was studying abroad. It was right before winter break, and during a routine club meeting it unexpectedly started to snow. I remember the president stopping mid-sentence to turn towards the window and investigate, while everyone in the room proceeded to rush to the window and watch the very light snow fall.
I, however, remained in my seat, arms crossed, becoming more ambivalent to the entire charade.
“Wow, it’s so pretty!” the chorus of university students said at once.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve had my lifetime quota of snow,” I countered.
And in a matter of minutes, the snow stopped, melting so fast as to leave no evidence of the event even occurring.
I keep thinking back to that time and recall just how entranced the club members became upon seeing the white fluff. It’s not that snow is rare in the Hyogo area, but it’s still pretty uncommon, at least in the southern part. Snow will fall, melt and be replaced by rain in the proceeding days. But why were they so fascinated by it? Why was that snow so damn interesting? It’s just snow.
In Japanese culture there is a belief when the cherry blossoms bloom in spring, they become even more beautiful because of their quick lifespan. Just as soon as the trees show signs of the blossoms, the wind blows and unclothes the trees of their color. 物の哀れ (mono no aware), or “the pathos of things,” is a feeling tied to the Sakura, in that their beauty and swift passing reminds the viewers of their mortality, and such things should be appreciated for the short time we’re able to see it. Whether the falling of snow also applies under the same “appreciation of life” may be up for debate, but I do think the students captured something similar that day.
Having said that, if today had to be categorized by anything, it would be “snow.” And I had to “appreciate” it the entire day.
After having breakfast at Temple 6, saying my thanks to the staff and heading out, it started to snow pretty hard. Luckily the walk from temples 6 to 7 is an easy one, staying in residential areas exactly like the road from temples 1 to 6. At the entrance to Temple 7, I actually saw a couple that stayed at Temple 6, and we chatted briefly about where we were from and why we were walking (for some reason everyone was too shy at dinner and breakfast, so the questions never came up). They were a couple from Kobe also just wanting to walk to the first 23 during their holiday break. They were really nice, but we parted quickly so they could continue to Temple 8.
The walk to Temples 8 and 9 was fairly uneventful, though it was funny running into other people that stayed at Temple 6 the night before at both of them. Some were more friendly than others, particularly the couple who would always wave to me, but I always made sure to at least give everyone a “good morning/afternoon” or “good luck!” every time I saw them.
At Temple 9, I did have an interesting encounter with the resident stamper(I really could not think of another title to call these people. Are they priests/nuns? A lot of them seemed to be volunteers)as she practiced her English with me. Yesterday, during my encounter with the English teacher, she asked if I ever found people who always wanted to practice their English with me annoying. “Does it ever get to be too much?” she asked. My simple answer was whatever language is easier to convey the feelings I want to express and be understood is the one I’ll use. In the case with the temple stamper, English was just that. I really don’t try shoot down anyone attempting to practice their English (I truly believe that’s half of the reason why I’m here) and, especially for people that are helping me along my journey, it’s the least I can do.
Elevation maps show the road to Temple 10 as the first big vertical climb and, having a backpack as full as mine, it was difficult. What starts off as a steep hill eventually becomes stairs that seem to go straight up, finally reaching the temple grounds. This is where the walking stick really earned its merit. Despite the climb, Temple 10 is fairly large and has a lot of interesting statues and buildings (there is a Pagoda that’s labeled as a World Heritage Site, if I read the sign correctly). It was probably the best and my most favorite of the day.
For lunch, I stopped by a Udon shop (which had an insane amount of advertisements along the pilgrim road) that was about kilometer away from Temple 10. It was right on the road to Temple 11 and since the snow really started to pick up, I figured why not. As I entered the restaurant, I ran into the Kobe couple again! They must be keeping one hell of a pace, even though I thought I was going pretty fast. We chatted a bit again, but they left as my food arrived. Shortly after a chef came out from the back and asked me the questions any pilgrim is bound to hear over and over again.
1. Where are you from?
2. Why are you walking?
3. Where are you staying tonight?
As I answered the third saying I was looking for free lodging, the chef pulled a map out of his pocket and circled a bathhouse close to Temple 11 called Kamo no Yu, saying they had a “zenkonyado,” or free lodging for pilgrims. I had actually read about the bathhouse during my initial planning, but it was good to hear some confirmation. I gave my thanks, paid and headed back out, facing the snow storm that was started to pick up again. Needless to say the meal I had was pretty good, so I’d definitely recommend the place. I’ve totally forgot the name, but it’s honestly really hard to miss.
After getting to Temple 11, I headed for Kamo no Yu, which is the opposite way from 11 on road 240. When I arrived, I asked the front desk if they had any available lodging, when the man working working the front pulled out some paper and asked me to fill in my information. Easy! Another employee came out to show me the hut, which has electricity, toilet and washers/dryers available. The bathhouse is in a town full of supply stores and restaurants too, so for anyone walking I would absolutely recommend this as a place to stay if wanting free lodging.
Actually, staying right next to a bathhouse is an obvious plus as well, as it’s easy to miss a chance to bathe if one isn’t strategic with the roads they take. Getting into the bath was the usual, awkward experience, trying to find a place around the groups of men gossiping about the locals and their work, but everyone became curious and helpful once word got around I was a pilgrim and was staying there. One man asked me what my plan is for tomorrow, and after telling him it’s basically walking to Temple 12, he warned me about the thin, slippery roads and to watch out for Ino shishi, or wild boar(we’ll definitely talk about both of these in the next post). I kept reassuring him I would be fine and despite anything I may face ahead, I’m really driven to continue the pilgrimage. “That’s being young, I guess,” he replied, sighing.
Day 2 was another easy day, with the stairs to Temple 10 being the only “real” challenge. Day 2 was where the soreness and pain really started to hit, though.
I found the placement/tightness of the straps on my backpack to have a big impact on my shoulders. For day 1 and 2, I had it so tight that the straps where hugging my collarbone and found it really strained the muscles near my neck. For the rest of the trip I relaxed the straps to have them rest more on my shoulders and overlap my armpits more, and it greatly decreased the strain. It’s a bit hard to textualize, but here’s some photos for reference. Try with your own backpack! The weight on the shoulders between the two placements are night and day.
Also making sure the majority of the weight went to my waist also really helped the back/shoulder pain, so make sure to buy a good backpack that has a waist strap.
Day two was also the day I started to feel pain in my right foot, specifically the bone/tendon to my big toe. Buying aspirin did relieve the pain a bit, but even as I write this I can still feel it a bit. The toe socks also really seemed to avoid blisters, except for my pinky toes (both sides) which got the worst of it. I found the number one cure for blisters to be relaxing in the baths for as long as possible, to rest both my legs and feet and shrink/relieve the pain of the blisters. Even more reason to try to find a bathhouse every day.
As far as the shack at Kamo no Yu, while I would still recommend it, “shabby” would be a very apt word for it. It REALLY became cold at night, but since I went prepared with multiple sweatshirts, long-johns and a good sleeping bag, I was fine, but anything less would have left me very chilly. I can only imagine the hotbox it becomes in the summer.
The staff at Kamo no Yu were more than helpful and they actually have a rental bike pilgrims can use to get to the stores around the town. Get anything you need for the road going to Temple 12 while you are there, because there is NOTHING when you are up in the mountains/for a majority of the road going down. Aspirin, the Japanese version of icey/hot pads, food for the next day, whatever. Get it now, because you don’t want to be S.O.L. when you’re hiking to Temple 12. I cannot stress this enough.
Despite all the snow I had to endure on Day 2, it was the only day where it decided to fall. I found myself laughing at times when the snow covered every inch of my body, but looking back it was moments like that I really appreciate. I was able to see the statues and buildings in a way many walkers don’t get to experience, and the scenery was simply magical. Looking back, and thinking about “mono no aware” I am able to see it in a whole other light. There is another Japanese phrase 一期一会 (ichigo, ichie) which translates to “a once in a lifetime experience.” I feel this phrase also has a close resemblance to the ideas of “mono no aware.” There will only that day I walked, that day that particular snow fell, that day I got to meet the couple and residents of each temple, and that day I got to experience it all. As much as one should stop and smell the roses, one should stop and watch the snow fall from time to time too.
Day 2 Lodging
Kamo no Yu 鴨の湯
On road 240
Rental bicycle, electricity, washer/dryer available and discount on entry to bath
Lodging only available for one night
Next up, Day 3 and the walk to Temple 12: easily the hardest hike I have ever experienced.
Read Day 3 here