Pilgrim Falls Down

I’m out the door of the guesthouse by seven and on my way to Sako Station to catch a train to Awa-Kawashima and pick up where I left off yesterday.  It’s going to be a big one – the stretch between temples eleven and twelve has a reputation as being challenging, so much so that a monk at temple four warned me that my hefty pack was going to be a major problem on this drag.  I’ve paid for an extra night at my guesthouse and left my full pack there, just taking out my day pack.  This segment is called the Henro-Korogashi, which according to another blog I checked out beforehand means “Pilgrim Falls Down”.

I miss my train by two minutes so I’m hanging out at the station for the better part of an hour.  Once I finally arrive it’s about four kilometres to temple 11, Fujiidera.  I swerve off the route to grab some breakfast at a Family Mart convenience store and see a couple of white folks walk past sporting the conical Henro hats.  Before long I’ve caught back up to them and we introduce ourselves, they’re Gerard and Soskia (sp?) from the Netherlands, they’re doing the route in a similar manner to myself – not rushing, doing the whole route in about eight weeks.  They’re also not doing the religious thing, just doing it for the walk.  Soskia insists that I take a big handful of candies, they were given a huge bag by a passing motorist just before I ran into them.

Fujiidera is pretty similar to several of the previous temples:


The Dutch are taking longer doing the ritual stuff at the temple so I shake their hands and wish them luck, sure we’ll cross paths again at some point in the next two months.  Mostly I’m worried about making it to the bus stop on the far side of temple twelve before the last bus runs and it’s already 10:30, no time for dilly-dallying.  I jump onto the dirt trail that runs out of the back of Fujiidera and head up the mountain.


Wew, that gets a sweat going but so far so good.  I reach a vista with a distance sign indicating I’ve only travelled about 700 metres, but judging by the topo map in my guidebook it looks like I’m at about 150 metres elevation already – the main peak of this walk is at about 750, so that’s a decent start.


The footing gets a little bit worse up ahead – it’s not as steep but it’s a lot of uneven rocks with dead, wet leaves covering them.  Have to kind of watch what I’m doing here.


There are a ton of these little statues along the trail, each with a coin dish in front of them.  I’ve got a fistful of 1-yen coins jingling away in my pockets with each step so I start flipping one into each as I go by.


The trail levels out a bit and it’s starting to warm up, I de-layer.  This is actually pretty nice.  I filled up my bag with snacks at the Family Mart so I take a moment to look out over the trees below and shove a hard-boiled egg in my mouth hole.


The trail begins to climb and it’s cold again.  I can see my breath.  I start sucking on the candies Soskia gave me earlier.  The footing alternates between nice, level dirt and more treacherously greasy rocks.



My legs are feeling it.  I’m really glad I didn’t bring my full ~22 kg pack as I probably wouldn’t have made it this far.  At the 3.2 km mark I reach Chodo-An, a small shrine.  This isn’t one of the 88 temples, just a small shrine – there are three of them on the way to temple 12.  I’d already sucked back about 1 litre of my 2 litres of water so I was hoping there’d be running water here – my map shows a bathroom but it turns out to be an outhouse, no water to be had.  I sit down for a few moments to give the legs a rest but it’s really pretty cold – I’m at 400+ metres elevation by now – so I don’t stick around long.


Coming around a corner I see a flash of something running up the hillside, about the size of a large dog.  Wild boar maybe?  Definitely wasn’t a deer, not sure what else it could have been.  I scan around but can’t catch another glimpse of it, just hear it running away through the brush.


The dirt trail starts to turn more to mud at this point.  There are also some downhill sections.


3.3 km to the next shrine, Ryusui-An.  The trail is generally pretty good here, the sun comes back out and the birds are chirping.



As I’m approaching it there’s a steep decline via slippery switchbacks, rocky but covered in dead leaves.  I’ve got my hands out and trying to grab on to trees and the side of the switchbacks where possible but I have to move slowly, I slip twice nonetheless.


There’s no one at the shrine but there is running water so I refill my water bottle.


It’s another uphill section to the next shrine, Joren-An.  I run into the first person I’ve seen on the trail so far, a young Japanese guy who isn’t decked out like a pilgrim, he seems surprised to see me but we just nod and walk past each other.  This section starts out easy, almost looks like someone’s driveway, but before long turns to switchbacks through cedar forests.  The surface is fine but it’s steep and I have to stop to take a breather every two or three minutes.  Eventually I make it, lay back on a bench, kick off my boots and socks and let the dogs breath.


Joren-An is the last shrine before temple twelve, Shosanji.  There’s another decline down to 400 metres then one final steep section back up to 700+.  I rub my thighs a bit then get to it.  I think I’m on pace to make the bus back to Tokushima but I’m not really sure.


2:10 pm.  I cut through this tiny village, the 400-ish metre point, cut through an orchard, over a bridge and begin up the final incline before temple twelve.


This section is the ugliest so far – a few parts like the one above are just rocks covered in tree detritus and I put my gloves on so I can grab onto rocks on the way up.  I almost slip twice before catching myself, then a loose rock kicks out on me and I do take a bit of a spill.  I catch myself with my left leg and nothing’s broken but my already-questionable left knee feels a bit more questionable.  It doesn’t hurt but it feels numb and unusual – it’ll hurt later.  This section goes on for almost a kilometre before I see a sign saying it’s only 1.0 km to the temple, and it’s all gravy from this point.


Shosanji is nice – the monk in the nokyo-cho office is all smiles and super friendly, even though he speaks no English we spend a few minutes talking with hand gestures.  I smash back a coffee from a vending machine and try to take advantage of a swing set but my butt’s too big to fit in the swings.


The 12 kilometres of the Henro-Korogashi thankfully wasn’t as brutal as I’d been afraid of, especially as I’ve still got 7+ more kilometres to cover to reach the bus stop in Yorii-naka, but like I said earlier I’m really glad I didn’t try it with my full pack.  Timewise I’m still looking okay for the bus as well – the guidebook says the Henro-Korobashi take 4-6 hours for the average person so I was thinking I’d take 6-ish but looking at my watch I’ve covered it in the surprisingly average time of 4 hours and 45 minutes.

The drop down to Yorii-naka is a really nice walk – the sun is coming out more and more as the day is ending – but I don’t really take many pics as I’m conscious of time and conscious of keeping both hands free, the trail being exceptionally slippery here – this is the first section that apparently deserves a warning sign:


Eventually the trail turns onto a little country road and into a village.  I’ve got 3.5 km to go and from the bus schedule in the guidebook (which I hope is accurate) almost two and a half hours, so I ease up a bit and take another coffee break.  I relax and take it easy on this final easy bit.


The road is narrow and goes around sharp corners, there are mirrors up to see oncoming traffic and to check your grooming:


I reach Yorii-naka and find the bus stop.  I confirm with an elderly lady walking by that I’m in the right place for the bus to Tokushima and kick up my feet as the sun is going down.

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