Shikoku Day Two: Electric Boogaloo

For the second day in a row I wake up before 6 am under a pile of heavy blankets in a guesthouse in Tokushima.  I could sleep some more but I’ve got a lot to do, so I jump out and get at it.

Bob, the guesthouse owner, is already up so I let him know I’d like to stay another couple of days.  After studying the guidebook maps last night it looks like the first few days of walking really just loop around Tokushima, so rather than drag my gear around, try to camp at elevation and freeze my nuts off, or roll the dice with some other place, it just makes more sense to come back here each night.

With that sorted I move onto the next order of business, the Heart Sutra.  This is pretty key to the whole walk and although I’ve been faking the whole prayer thing up till now I figure I should try to be less of a dick and at least make an effort.  It feels kind of greasy to me though, like eating dinner at a friend’s parents’ house with half a mouth full of mashed potatoes when it dawns on you everyone else is saying grace so you put your hands together and fake it and smoosh the potatoes back and forth with your tongue.  Better to be a polite crypto-atheist I suppose, plus if I run into another temple like #4 yesterday they may not stamp my book if they know I’m completely full of shit.  I find an English translation online and scribble it onto two dog-eared shreds of paper ripped out of a notebook while sucking back two huge cups of coffee.

I head out – it’s just before 8 am.  I’m glad I’m not bringing my full pack; I felt fine last night but this morning I kind of feel beat to shit.  My left knee is a bit wonky especially, gotta remember to go easy on it.

To get back where I left off yesterday, the bus stop just before temple #6, I go to the opposite side of the road where I returned to Tokushima yesterday afternoon.  Nothing’s in English but when a bus comes in five minutes I just jump on it, surely this will work out fine.  Five minutes into the ride and it doesn’t quite look right but I realize I’ve got my guidebook – with Japanese-labelled maps – so I speak to the driver and point to where I’m going and he gives me the universal hands-crossed-in-an-X sign that means “You’re fucked buddy”.  I try to jump off and he stops me and says a bunch of things I don’t understand except “Tokushima Station”, which he says while drawing a circle in the air with his finger.  I guess this bus loops around to there and he wants me to stay on, so I do.

A half hour later we get there and as everyone else piles out he stops me again.  Okaay…  He then drives the bus to the other side of the station, jumps out and beckons for me to follow.  He leads me to an info desk thing and explains where I want to go to the info desk guy, who gives me the time and bus number I need in English.  Nice!  At this point I still haven’t paid for the first bus ride – in Shikoku you pay when you get off the bus, based on the number of stops since you got on – but when I try to pay the driver he refuses to take my money.  Really helpful guy, I thank him profusely and shake his hand and he seems thoroughly embarrassed.

It’s 9 am when I get on the next bus.  I’ve burnt 3 hours and am actually further away from the start point than I was when I woke up.  It does pull over at the bus station I initially went to, as well.  When I get to my starting point it’s past 10.

The sky and grey and there’s a bit of drizzle in the air, enough to put my rain jacket on but not so much that I need my hood up.  Before long I pass the entrance to temple #6 (Anrakuji), visited it yesterday, and it’s less than a mile to temple #7, Jurakuji.

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I give the old reading-the-sutra thing a try.  Next to the temple is a statue of Jizo Bosatsu which according to my guidebook is believed to cure eye problems.  May not be able to see it in the pic but it’s got some googly eyes going on.

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There’s also a collection of 70 statues in front; the guidebook says it’s a memorial to aborted children.  Yeesh.

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It’s probably a good 40-50 minute walk to the next temple, Kumadaniji, but it takes me more like a little over an hour as I’m daydreaming, miss my turn and walk off into nowhere.  No, I’m not contemplating spiritual or mystical matters, but after seeing some sweet older sports cars that never made it to North America I started thinking about Gran Turismo for the PS1 and how rad Japanese cars from the late 80s and early 90s were.  Deep stuff.

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I’m not really sure why but I like this temple a lot – maybe it’s because there are very few people around.

Along with the Heart Sutra, two other parts of the decorum I’m trying today are bowing at the entryways of the temple and ritually cleaning my hands using these ladles, usually adjacent to the entries:

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It’s a quick two kilometre run to temple number nine, Horinji.  I’m still around homes – by no means would I call this “countryside” – but they’re more spaced out now, with fields and ponds separating them.

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Horinji is a bit underwhelming.  My guidebook tells me that people come here to pray for a cure to their leg ailments, which just reminds me that my knee hurts.  At this point it also starts raining heavily enough that I need to throw my hood up.

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Heading out of Horinji it’s about 12:30 so I check the guidebook for food nearby.  There’s a little place directly across from the temple but I give it a glance and it looks like eats that I don’t understand so I veer off-track towards a 7/11 for simple things like fried chicken and peanuts.  When I get there it’s shutdown so I keep walking on this main road westward, in the general direction of the next temple but not on the official trail, in hopes I’ll find something else.  I come across a place with spaghetti on display out front, when I sit down the waitress hands me a menu all in Japanese so I have to drag her out front to point to the spaghetti and even then there’s some confusion, but it eventually comes out (importantly seafood-free) with Tabasco sauce and parmesan on the side.  For $6 it’s fucking awesome.

I eventually work my way back onto the track as it starts gaining elevation into the hills.  These signs start popping up here and there:

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This is the Mamushi, aka the Japanese Pit Viper. Two to three thousand people are bit each year and if you get bit, expect a week’s stay in the hospital followed by several months of treatment, unless you’re one of the 10 or so people who die each year.

A long set of stairs (about 350 by my rough count) leads to temple #10, Kirihataji.

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The most remarkable part of this temple was the woman inscribing nokyo-chos in the office – she was tiny and ancient.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a person over the age of 100 but she looked like she was.

It’s 2:30 by this point and it’s close to a 10 km walk to temple #11.  More importantly, if I go there I’ll just have to backtrack to get to a train station – and I’ll have to walk past it again tomorrow anyways, so I decide to do half of the trail there today then swerve off when I hit the rail line.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it yet but around this time it strikes me again how friendly everyone is.  Walking through a small town at least 80% of people nod and say konichiwa and smile, even though it’s cold and raining and generally miserable out.  I’ve had a crush on Japan since my first time here and it’s getting stronger on this trip.

I pass out of town, cross a couple rivers, through some farms and into another small town.

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Right before I reach the train station a little pickup truck with an older couple in it pull over and the man rolls down his window.  I can’t understand what he’s saying but he points to the back of the truck as he does so – I assume he’s offering me a ride so I decline politely and say the name of the train station – it’s less than half a kilometre away.  He repeats himself and now I understand him – he’s saying “umbrella” and there’s an umbrella behind him, he wants me to take it.  Again I decline and smile, tugging on the hood of my rain jacket.  “Umbrella!”  “No, no, thank you.”  “Umbrella!”  “No, arigato, it’s okay.”  This repeats five or six times until he smiles and waves and drives away.  I know it’s supposed to be rude to decline anything from people while walking this trail but I really didn’t want to take his umbrella for a 500 metre walk – and I don’t need to be carrying anything else around, my pack is heavy enough as it is.

I reach Awa-Kawashima Station and a few minutes later I jump on a train back to Tokushima.  On the official trail I knocked off 16 or 17 km today – did a bit over 20 in total – so an easy day in all, but I’m fine with taking it easy because I’m dreading tomorrow and the “Henro-korogashi”, supposedly a very challenging dirt section of trail between temples 11 and 12.  Even without my full pack I’m afraid it might break me.

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