Tokushima Temple Walk Day 5: Taxi Driver
Read Day 4 here
Originally written December 31, 2013
Temples traveled to: Only #17
After sleeping for about 12 hours, Gunma-chan and I woke up and took our time releasing ourselves from the warmth of our blankets. Finally deciding to rid of our sloth, Gunma-chan said she was going to head out to walk around a bit. Not too soon after, I heard the mutterings of “Gaijin” downstairs and knew that was probably my cue to make an introduction.
Gunma-chan had run into the owner of Sakae Taxi, a shorter man in his forties with the beginnings of grey hair and a permanent smile on his face. After introducing myself, he ordered to grab my wallet and said we’d be heading out as soon as possible for breakfast. Ken-chan, as he would later be called, was a man with no sense of hesitation.
We hopped into his Mercedes Benz and began to drive around the streets of Tokushima. Ken-chan did the usual “basic information” questioning that I was used to at this point.
“What’s your name?” he asked
“My name is Kyle.”
“…Hokkaido, was it? So where are you from, Hokkaido?”
I couldn’t help but laugh a bit, but I still answered. “I’m from America, but I live on Awaji Island now.”
“Awaji, huh? I’m guessing all you eat is onions then, right?”
“I guess I do eat them quite a bit…”
He continued to question Gunma-chan and I (which, he also started calling her), when he stopped by a beach to show us where local seaweed was grown. He told us to get a little bit closer to the water, began to lean over, stuck his finger in the water and proceeded to put it in his mouth. “Ah, it’s especially salty today. Great for seaweed!” he said. He began to wave to us to also try the water. We stared at each other for a bit, to which he eventually countered, “Common, try it! It’s fine!” Doing as we were told, we also stuck our fingers in and tasted it. The water was, well…it was salty.
“Great! Let’s keep going. I’ve got to pick up a friend,”Ken-chan said, running back to his car.
We drove to what looked like a mattress store, when a bald, portly man waved and got into the car.
“I see you have a lot of friends today, Ken-chan,” he said.
“Yeah, this is Gunma-chan and Hokkaido. They’re both pilgrims staying at the shop.”
I was still unsure about a name that wasn’t even close to resembling mine, but at that point I really had no choice in the matter.
We drove all the way back to Naruto, near Temple 1, and stopped at one of the only cafes that was open. “This place has got great bread,” Ken-chan assured us.
As we entered the German-styled café/bakery, which was surprisingly busy, Ken-chan started to walk around the premises. When he found an open table, he called the nearest waiter, pointed, and said “It’s OK to sit here, right?”
We ordered our food and drank the complementary coffee, during which Ken-chan asked the two of us how our journeys were going. We both complained about the road to Temple 12, talked about how we had met at Sudachi-kan and all the different food we had during the trip.
Ken-chan then interrupted, still sticking to the subject of food. “The salt here in Naruto is really famous, you know. Or was it the sugar?” He turned to the bald man and asked.
“I believe it’s Naruto salt,” the bald man replied.
Ken-chan then turned to two women sitting at a table next to us, who were in the middle of a conversation. “Hey, uh, excuse me. I just have a quick question,” he asked.
Not responding, he asked just a little bit louder, when they finally noticed and turned to him.
“Yeah, hey, so, I was just checking. Naruto salt is really famous right?”
The women chatted for a bit and agreed.
Ken-chan talked with the women a bit more and decided his point was made. “Ok, great. I was just checking,” and turned back to us.
It was then I noticed something odd happening. As Ken-chan was talking to us about how great Naruto salt was, the women at the other table started to lean in, still wanting to participate in our conversation. Even when the subject of salt changed, they still turned their heads our way, seeming to want to be added in our discussions.
As the conversation drifted from topic to topic (and my name changing from Hokkaido to Cairo because Egyptian current events was brought up), he spoke about all the kinds of people that have come his hostel and pulled out a white business card. “Check this out,” he said.
While Ken-chan said he had to take a test to get it, the card was certification that he was a official contributor to the Shikoku pilgrimage. “Not a lot of people actually have this,” he said, as he put the card back in his wallet.
I was now just fully realizing who I was with. Someone who was not only infamous on the internet for his hospitality and charm, but highly respected on the actual trail as well. A man who would break down the invisible societal barriers people make at restaurants just to make sure he was right about something. A man who would also, at the end of our meal, wrap a leftover piece of bread in a napkin and put it in his coat pocket because (I’m quoting here) “I paid for it.” He would also pay for everyone’s meal, before we even realized it or could add in any words of protest. A real charismatic saint, if there ever was one.
Ken-chan would then drive us to the various parks and beaches around Naruto, showing us the scenic coves and ports. At one point, we went to a beach right by the bridge connecting Shikoku and Awaji. I have to say, it was a bit weird to looking back at my new home. It took fives days to get to Sakae Taxi’s hostel, and less than an hour to be right by the bridge back home. I started to really think about who I had met and what I had seen thus far. I started to appreciate it more.
Ken-chan eventually brought us back to the taxi building and said to enjoy the rest of our day. I went out shortly afterwards for lunch and picked up a bottle of Umeshu and dried squid as a thank you and New Year’s gift. When I returned, I gave it to him along with my deepest thanks. He told me to wait a minute, grabbed and apple from his office and handed it to me along with his business card. “Let’s meet on Awaji sometime, Cairo. I’ll be around when the cherry blossoms bloom. On that island, they’re simply the best.” We parted with a firm handshake, expressions of gratitude and New Years wishes. He kept on the same smile, as he always did.
It was a short walk to Temple 17 and after doing the usual business, I headed to the Toyoko Inn in downtown Tokushima where I would stay for the New Years night. The front desk receptionist actually said they had a secret Henro discount and lowered the cost by 1500 yen, which was a pleasant surprise. Now having some extra cash, I went out and bought a couple of beers and some ice cream and consumed it all while I watched the traditional “get slapped in the ass if you laugh” New Year’s TV show.
Tomorrow’s going to be long, so I think I’m going to call it an early night. The New Year is going to happen regardless if I’m up at midnight or not.
There’s not much to reflect here, but needless to say, if someone takes refuge at Sakae Taxi, I highly recommend trying to meet Ken-chan. He’s a hilarious man who knows more about the Naruto/Tokushima area more than anyone else I’ve ever met. You can also at least say you’ve met a legend.
Day 5 Lodging
1-5, Ryogoku-honcho, Tokushima city, Tokushima
A five minute walk from the JR Tokushima station
Normally 5980 yen/night with breakfast, but come in wearing a henro costume and you’ll get a discount
Check out 9:00 a.m.
Next up, Temples 18 to 22, with another unexpected car ride from unexpected saviors.
Read Day 6 here