Tokushima Temple Walk Day 6: High Road
(Editorial Note: Due to a threatening back problem and the continued work on another article, last two week’s posts had to be delayed. But now we continue on!)
Read Day 5 here
Originally written January 1, 2014
Temples traveled to: 18-22
I’m glad Toyoko realized what an amazing elixir orange juice is in the morning. Seriously, nothing is better, besides, well, maybe coffee.
As I downed the sugary drink, I watched all of the New Years celebrations from around the world on the lounge’s TV. I have to say, I almost prefer seeing all the highlights at once. I wasn’t close to any shrines or temples last night anyways.
After getting all packed and checked out, I actually handed a osame-fuda to the same guy who checked me in last night, saying it was to the staff as a thanks (mainly for the discount). He said thank you and was a bit surprised. I guess it’s pretty rare for pilgrims to actually give them cards. He told me the way the the next temple and, like every other day, I started to walk.
From Toyoko, the walk to Temple 18 goes straight through downtown Tokushima and the outskirts of the city. I guess if one is feeling a real craving for civilization or fast food, that would be the time for a last indulgence, but I left too early to appreciate such pleasures.
Even though I was walking through a city, nothing really struck me that it was New Years Day. Maybe everyone hadn’t woke up yet or, more likely, everyone was still hungover. The only appearance of anything special the group of motorcyclists out for a holiday ride, blasting Lady GaGa and AC/DC as they passed.
After a fairly long walk, I finally arrived at Temple 18, which, much like its downtown cousins, is fairly small and subtle. Just like at Temple 9, I had another funny incident when, after asking the woman maintaining the stamp counter directions to the next temple in Japanese, she kept switching between English and Japanese, seeming a bit flustered as to which one she thought I would understand more. I just keep finding it funny at this point.
The path to 19 starts right off of Temple 18’s entrance, going through farms and thick bamboo woods. It’s here that the scenery starts getting a little more rustic again, but 19 itself is right in the middle of a small downtown district, so if there was any time for me to stop and get any supplies it would have been then. When I did arrive at 19, it was packed with people making their New Years prayers. It was interesting to finally see a significant people at a temple, but I guess I had gotten so used to only seeing maybe a couple of other pilgrims and the temple staff that having to work around a crowd to getanywhere was a bit jarring. Or maybe I had just forgotten about all the staring.
However, being in a very terrible mindset, I departed a bit faster than usual and did not stop anywhere for food. Rather, I immediately started heading towards Temple 20; notoriously the first “check of faith” on the trail since it’s another climb up the side of a mountain.
It was when the hills became increasingly steep that I also started to become disturbingly dehydrated. “I’ll just get something at the nearest convenience store!” I told myself, pulling out my map to see there was not one for a very long time. The mountains don’t nearly have the amount of resources as their flatland counterparts, which the lesson I should have learned after Temple 12’s trek.
Just as I was worrying about my livelihood, a car pulled off to the side and stopped a few feet ahead. A woman jumped out, carrying a small plastic bag and approached me. “Happy New Year! Here you go!” and handed me the bag which contained two rice balls, a hot coffee and hot tea. After asking where I was headed and saying Temple 20, she told me to hop in the car and that they’d give me a lift.
I was saved.
Besides spending the rest of their day (and money) at a pachinko parlor, the woman, and her husband who was driving, said they had no other plans and, upon seeing me, thought the least they could do was help a guy out. They did the usual “where are you from and why are you walking” bits, but we got to exchange a few laughs when I talked about my job and the troubles of teaching English in Japan. I’ve found that making a joke of “this is a pen” almost always gets a laugh out of people.
“Hell, most Japanese can’t even understand their own language!” the husband said.
As I ate my newly acquired lunch, I began to wonder if the people of Shikoku always have a stockpile of snacks and beverages in their vehicles, just in case they run into a pilgrim. Whenever I have been offered something, it almost seems instantaneous; as if they had been eagerly waiting to give it. However the guilty part of me always thinks they bought the food for themselves and I was just taking it away from them. But, it’s rude to refuse a gift, especially here. Even with those thoughts, I always made sure to accept anything graciously.
When we arrived at Temple 20, I gave them my name card and thanks again, and waved them off as they drove back down the windy mountain road. I’m not sure if their act of kindness would bring them any more luck at the parlor, but a part of me wanted it to be true.
Temple 20 honestly doesn’t have much to it, besides the cranes that act as sort of mascots to the grounds, as it’s said Kobo Daishi was greeted by a male and a female crane protecting a statue of the Kannon Bosatsu when he reached the peak. As I was getting my stamp, one of the temple’s staff also gave me a bag of oranges as osettai. Maybe they sensed my hunger or maybe they were taking pity on me since there were no other resources after leaving the temple area.
I did have to start heading towards 21 in a scramble, as I had about 4 hours of sunlight left and another climb up the side of a mountain. The path between the two is almost a complete V shape so, while I do think someone walking would be able to hike to both in a day, I can only imagine it would be very tiring. And, oh, how the walk up to 21 was exhausting enough! But I kept pushing myself, saying that I had conquered 12’s walk and I could most certainly do another.
I finally arrived at Temple 21 around 4:30, which was getting close to sun set and closing time for the temple. Since 21 doesn’t have any lodging, I figured I could test my luck and finally use my tent at a picnic area at the base of the mountain, which conveniently has a rope line running between the two. I decided to take the last ride down, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to walk down the mountain during the sunset.
What I did get to see of 21 today was really interesting: the area is incredibly large with really tall buildings and a large garden. The main halls have also been some of the largest I’ve seen so far. But I had less than 30 minutes to look around, due to the impending departure.
On the way down, one of the rope way employees apparently became interested in me and asked where I was staying for the night. Although I replied with a really unsure tone, they said there was a large hostel called Sowaka at the exit that would certainly have space for me.
And, really, there’s no way to miss it. In fact, Sowaka’s the first building after getting off of the rope way. As I entered, a woman came out and asked if I needed any help, seeing me struggle trying to take off my boots, still wearing my heavy backpack. I looked at the available rooms, which were very decently priced. I opted for the 1500 yen lodging, though 500 more would have given me a futon.
The staff here at Sowaka is really rad and helpful. They gave me some recommendations for places to eat around the area and I was lucky enough to find a family restaurant that was still open. I have already forgotten the name, but I ate one of the best curry dishes of my life there. Just ask around and someone should be able to help.
It’s funny that accepting the car ride almost completely left me devoid of food, but I guess it all worked out in the end. Even then, I got to find a cheap, indoor place to sleep in, even though I have not yet utilized the money I spent on the tent at all.
I have to say I am also really liking the day to day aspect of this trip. I’m not sure how long I’d able to actually do it, but for now it’s something I’m really appreciating. It’s the little choices: sometimes I stop at a random restaurant and purchase a bigger meal; I can sleep in a just a little longer or decide to just sit and enjoy the scenery around me a for a while. Naturally, this kind of freedom is the definition of a vacation, but for some reason it feels a little bit different when doing the walk. Maybe it’s the changing locations, as opposed to the one bed or hotel I’d normally stay at. Maybe it’s the different circumstances. Maybe it taps into something a little more primal or nomadic. I can’t really say I know for sure yet.
Tomorrow is about a 31km walk (7 hours!) and, as it’s shaping up to be, the final day. It’s gonna be a busy one.
I guess if there is anything else to discuss, it would have to be accepting the ride from the couple, wouldn’t it?
Before leaving, I read a lot of opinions about whether or not to accept this form of osettai. In its own way, it is just another form of an offering, but some people disagree with accepting the “pick up.” It goes against the nature of the walk, some say. You don’t really experience the full walk, they say.
In this case, I guess I have to go with what I said earlier: since it’s still osettai, it would be rude to refuse it. Yes, I can understand if someone wants to stick to their guns and walk every single step of the trail, but in keeping the spirit and significance of the offerings, I would say accepting a car ride is on the same level as accepting food or drink. I think the intentions are all the same, so the appreciation should be held to the same regard.
However, on the “walking every step the whole trail” aspect? Well, I’m going to get into that within the next couple of posts.
Next up, the final day. The final temple. The final bits of pain!
Read Day 7 here