Tokushima Temple Walk Day 4: City Hunter
Read Day 3 here
Originally written December 30, 2013
Temples traveled to: 13-16
Breakfast started really early this morning, but, much like last night, I was given enough to feed a small army. At least I had the excuse that my body needed the calories.
Before I headed out, the couple asked for a photo of me and Gunma-chan to add to their collection, which we were more than happy to oblige. Gunma-chan and I also exchanged our contact info, even though we weren’t sure if we were going to see each other again. “Contact me if you ever come to Gunma,” she said as she handed over her white name slip.
The old lady parted us with a packed lunch of riceballs and candy, while the old man gave a hearty handshake and his best wishes. The road today would be long, more than anything else, so both were equally welcomed.
While the walk to Temple 13 is mostly concentrated along a highway, that’s not to dismiss the beauty all around: the flowing rivers, the deep forests and tall mountains; the random assortment of birds that cloud the sky and glimpses of deer off in the distance made it all the better. Listening to some folk music really set the mood too, I must say. (I was introduced to a group shortly before the trip called Mother Falcon, who was perfect to listen to in that environment. Maybe it’s something about listening to an orchestra in the middle of a forest, but it added more sweet icing to the cake. I highly recommend checking them out).
A couple of hours into the walk, a car passed by me and quickly parked a couple feet ahead. I wasn’t necessarily sure why the car had stopped, but a woman came out and started jogging towards me. She handed over a bottle of green tea and said “Be careful! It’s cold out today!” and began to run back towards her car. I told her to wait, knowing full well this was a form of osettai (gift giving to pilgrims), so I could give her one of my name cards. Rather, she quickly waved me off and continued to jog towards her car. It wasn’t until I raised my voice and said I really wanted to give her my card that she eventually stopped, seeming almost reluctant at the fact. I filled out the slip and gave it to her, along with my deepest thanks. She told me to take care again and sped off as fast as she stopped.
This wasn’t the first time I had run into issues giving a name card. The man I met on Day 1 at Temple 3 and an older woman at a random temple I stopped at on the way to Temple 10 were also very hesitant on receiving the card. But doing so is a very important part of the charity ritual, as it symbolizes the gift giver becoming an essential part of your pilgrimage and providing evidence of their kindness. Much like the couple at Sudachi-kan who gave more than I paid for, these people have no obligation to give anything, so the least one can do is give them some white paper karma. Perhaps it’s just getting past the Japanese tendency to refuse anything that’s being offered, but I would say be really aggressive when trying to give osame-fuda. It’s rude enough to decline any form of osettai, so I believe one should be just as adamant the other way around.
After finally getting out of the mountains, with all evidence behind the opposite direction, the road starts turning into residential districts, with larger schools, buildings and tourist offerings. Vending machines and grocery stores become plenty in case of the need of food and drink. Very nice, locally run pilgrim huts also start popping up, some with stocked fridges of oranges and cold water. Looking at all of it was odd considering a couple of hours before I was in the thick of the woods. Some may find this change unwanted, but I was sucking in the comfort of finally walking on flat roads.
Since the road to 13 is so long, I found myself doing a New Year’s countdown of sorts. As the signs became more prevalent and the “kilometers till” became smaller, I was regaining energy and trying harder to fight the soreness in my legs and feet. But, when I finally arrived at Temple 13, a similar feeling of what happened to me at Temple 12 reemerged: all of my agony and frustration was washed away. I even raised my arms in triumph, with my walking stick standing tall as I approached the temple gate.
For as much achievement I felt arriving at Temple 13, there’s really not much to the area itself. In fact, it was one of the smallest temples I’ve seen so far(Temple 16 being a close second). It does have lodging for any pilgrim that might be completely wiped after the walk from 12.
Immediately across the street is a fairly large Shinto shrine which used to connected, but was separated when Buddhism was heavily persecuted during the Meiji era. While not as large, it has been interesting seeing all the “mini” shrines at various temples-with tori gate, foxes and all. Even then, thinking back to the rituals one does at a shrine and temples, they’re not all that different, but makes sense because of their interconnected history in old Japan. It’s definitely a topic I want to delve more into if I ever get the chance.
Walking to Temples 14, 15 and 16 was largely uneventful, as the distance between them becomes shorter and shorter. The sounds of traffic and people also start to become louder as the famed temples once again begin sit on the sides of roads, just as the first eight did. This is not to undermine the temples themselves: Temple 14 was particularly extravagant with the natural rock “stairs” leading to the main hall, but the lavishness of them is significantly lessened leading up to the city. Temple 15 is probably the best (worst?) example of this, as many of its buildings are under heavy construction (a blog post I read written seven years ago also mentioned the renovation…).
As it started to turn dark, I knew it was time to time some shelter for the night. There was one infamous place that I had read about over and over again, and the couple at Sudachi-kan highly recommended I stay if I needed a somewhere to stay. Not too far from Temple 16 is a innocent place called Sakae Taxi, which advertises free lodging for pilgrims with henro mannequins at the entrance. A woman answered at the main office when I asked if they had any lodging and she quickly pointed in two directions and said “go up the stairs and you’ll find the room. Toilet’s by the office and the bath is at the bottom of the stairs. Have a good night!” Her trustworthiness certainly surprised me, but I guess not everyone just shows up with a walking stick and white clothes and asks for sanctuary.
I really was not expecting such a nice place for a free resting area: two rooms, AC/Heater, TV, plenty of snacks and enough blankets, pillows and futons for as many people that could fit. Even more striking are the name tags of all different colors, Buddhist drawings and letters of thanks to the staff completely covering the entrance room. This place had history, and the writing was literally on the walls.
After going out to dinner at a nearby Udon shop, I returned to find Gunma-chan relaxing and watching TV. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” I jokingly said. She laughed and said she guessed it was me after seeing the a familiar backpack left in the room. With no other plans for the night, we decided to buy a few cheap beers, watch crappy TV and chat about mindless things. It turned out Gunma-chan studied abroad in Washington state when she was in high school, so we reminisced about American food we couldn’t have, issues with learning English in Japan and other things. It was nice to finally have a chance to sit down and shoot the shit with a fellow walker, as encounters with other pilgrims (including the Kobe couple) on the road and at temples were very brief. A part of me didn’t want it to end, but our bodies had other plans as we both started to pass out and decided to call it a night.
Day 4 was just the relaxed paced day I needed after the hike to Temple 12. Fortunately I didn’t run into any issues and it was nice to actually know I was going to see a bit more than previous days.
What I did found interesting was the change in my reaction whenever I would arrive at temples. As I wrote earlier, I was more than excited when I finally came across one after so long, but the feeling did not rise again when they came in quick succession. When I finally showed up to Temples 12 and 13, I felt urges of “Praise Buddha and Daishi, I made it!” It is a pretty incredible feeling finally reaching a temple when doubts flood the mind the entire way there, but I guess that makes those achievements all the more special.
Day 4 was also the day I started noticing my acceptance to the whole pilgrimage. I became more comfortable with the rituals at the temples, I started to really appreciate and know the names of the different Bodhisattvas on the grounds and stopping to pray just a little bit longer. I also noticed that I was, at times, actually talking to my walking stick. After my outbursts on the mountain, I actually started to feel guilty every time my walking stick would fall into a grate in the road or hit something unexpected. “Sorry, Kobo!” I would say, without thinking about it, and then immediately question myself as to why. I also made sure to give a little more and pray a little harder at the Daishi halls in forgiveness. Everything just became so recognizable to where I could feel myself really understand the pilgrimage, Buddhism and how it all connected. Considering Tokushima is the “Dojo of Awakening,” I guess it only makes sense.
But by far the most amazing thing was looking at the name-covered walls at Sakae Taxi. I failed to mention it earlier, but the free lodging at Kamo no Yu also had the building completely covered in name slips. Every pilgrim hut I’ve come across has at least a couple stuck on the walls, but each one also had a journal that passing pilgrims could write in. Drawings, statements of good luck and reports of good places to eat, among other things, absolutely filled the journal’s pages. There’s something a bit magical looking at all the names and places in Japan or countries people came from and imagining they all arrived at the exact same place, maybe had a few drinks in the same seats and shared a few laughs in the same fervor. They too had the same assertion that they were participating in something larger than themselves, and wrote their stories in the public journal or placed a name tag on the wall to say “I was here and I have made it this far.”
And it’s that feeling I think a lot of people strive for in life. Now being able to say that I am a part of the “henro community,” I think it certainly touches that feeling to some capacity.
Day 4 Lodging
Taken from another blog: “Along Route 6. Ask around, everyone knows it.”
In the next installment: Gunma-chan and I meet the owner of Sakae Taxi, the famed Ken-chan, as he brings us on a Tokushima New Year’s Eve adventure.
Read day 5 here