Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Kuma Kōgen - Kuma Kōgen

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 28.
Temples: #44-45 (Daihōji, Iwayaji).
Distance: 25.7km (827.6km), time spent: 9:49.
Weather: Overcast with some rain in between, heavy rain later.

This was a day that I had been looking forward to for a long time. In another blog about the pilgrimage, I had read that this was the authors favorite path so far and that the views of the surrounding mountains and autumn foliage was simply stunning. Now it is too early to witness the fire of the autumn colours, but nevertheless, the words has given me some pretty high expectations. All the time on my walk up to Kuma Kōgen, I had therefore feared that the views would drown in the rain. In the morning however, there is a tiny hope that my fears may prove wrong, I can barely see the outline of the sun through the clouds above the mountains.

For a short moment there is a tiny hope that the weather will lift, view of the mountains from Kuma Kōgen, the sun visible as an outline through the clouds.

I saw farewell to Violaine, hoping to meet her again later, but there might not be much hope for that. She is leaving for Matsuyama and will stay one day ahead of me, even though we are both starting off from the same place and time today. There is a reason for that.

The sanmon or temple gate of temple #44, Daihōji.

From Kuma Kōgen the path heads further inland to Iwayaji (temple #45), before it makes a return trip to Kuma Kōgen. It therefore makes sense to leave your backpack at the place you are staying at in Kuma Kōgen before going to Iwayaji and back again. There are some alternatives to how you walk this section of the pilgrimage. A visit to Daihōji (temple #44) is the first thing on the plan, though there really is not any fixed order that you have to visit the temples in, so you could visit Iwayaji first if you want to. At the last part of the walk to Iwayaji, the trail goes in a loop, passing by the temple on the way before returning back to the same spot. Some walk just the fastest way to Iwayaji and then returning on the same way, but I want to walk around the loop before heading back to Kuma Kōgen on the Sembontōge-pass.

The Jūichimen Kannon Bosatsu statue at Daihōji.

The walk from Kuma Kōgen up to the firste temple of the day, the first in several days actually, is short but nice. Daihōji, Great Treasure Temple, is a lovely temple rooted in the foothills of the mountains enclosed on all sides by the forest. In the temple gate there is a gigantic pair of sandals made from straw ropes that are called waraji, which are remade every hundred years. I appear to be the first visitor to the temple of the day. And although I enjoy the views and sounds of other henros or visitors chanting or resiting the sutras, it is nice to be able to sit down and listen to the calm and quiet sounds of the temple alone.


Misty views from the forest path after Daihōji.

From Daihōji, I am being led up into the hills above the temple, where I quickly come to the conclusion that I can look long after any sun on the sky. Thankfully it does not rain. After walking over the Tōnomidō-pass, I come to the first place where there is any hope of views, which are nice, but I can imagine they are better when the foliage is burning with autumn. Coming down from the first mountain or hill towards Iwayaji, there is a short interlude on a road passing by some small hamlets.

The path between Daihōji and Iwayaji.

Considering the rainy days prior to this day, I feel lucky to be able to walk the lovely path heading up over the Hacchōzaka Slope in this weather. There has been some rain after I came down to the road, but nothing much to speak of. The walk on this part is beautiful, with views of the surrounding forests and mountains through the trees, with just a few places where I can see that there are people living. At the top of a small ridge, a boar is crossing over the path, someone told me that it is actually boars that are the most dangerous animals you can meet. I stamp my feet extra hard so as to warn it off my coming, if it does not already know. Nothing but quiet around me.

Fudō Myōō at Seriwari Zenjō.

If you walk to Iwayaji the other way, or by vehicle for that matter, you will miss out on this wonderful approach or entry to the temple. The path goes suddenly steep down past several Jizō-statues, with the sounds from the temple coming up from below. The occasional chime from the belltower being the most prominent. I let myself drift away on one of the many sideways taking me to small statues nestled underneath hanging cliffs, climbing on top of small outcrops for an encounter with another statue. They are literally everywhere. Then the fiery eyes of the Fudō Myōō statue at Seriwari Zenjō looks at me. I am the okunoin of Iwayaji. Here there is a path going up to the cliffs above between a very narrow passage, but it is barred off from entrance. Too bad.

Looking down at Iwayaji from the ledge in the cliffs above the hondo.

Iwayaji (#45), Rock Cave Temple, is another nansho-temple, meaning difficult place. With its location underneath the rocks and cliffs it is a marvellous temple. And far more busier than Daihōji was. Here Kōbō Daishi carved a Fudō Myōō statue inside a cave in the cliff, ensuring that the entire mountain needed to be worshipped in order to worship the statue. Only a line of dim light originating from the lanterns in the roof provides you with light when you walk inside the cave. Above the hondo you can climb up to a ledge in the cliff on a ladder, giving you an overview of the templegrounds. A multitude of Jizō-statues are stacked on the path down from the temple.

Iwayaji daishido.

Iwayji hondo.

On the way down from Iwayaji I come in talk with another henro, who tricks me into taking the old and now closed off henro path going alongside the river. Trees and bushes hangs low over the path, littered with dead leaves. At some point, I have to step over some fallen debris from the woods, but the path feels safe and it is fine walking next to the flowing river.

A lantern in the cave at Iwayaji.

There is an impressive number of Jizō-statues on the path down from Iwayaji.

Where a huge and unique rock formation called Furuiwaya Rock stands perched above the path, I sit down on a bench eating my lunch. Tall cliffs on both sides as the path makes it way on a scenic trail through the woods, passing by a shrine (Zentsūzenji) with the rocky formations as its closest neighbours. In the cliff another fiery Fudō Myōō stands glaring at me. A snake slithers across the wet floor of the path. Then I am back at the junction where I left off earlier, contemplating going around again.

Walking on the closed-off path next to the river after Iwayaji.

Heading back on the same road I walked on earlier, the earlier occasional rain stops being occasional. And by the moment I am at the place where the path over the Sembontōge-pass leaves the small road, I wonder if it is such a good idea to walk over that pass. There is a grey wall looking to come my way, bringing with it rain aplenty. I venture up anyway, with the surface soon turning wet and soggy to walk on. At one stretch, a line of empty beer cans are hung up, forming a weird sort of fence. In the guidebook there is a warning that it is easy to get lost at one point after having passed over Sembontōge. And it is easy to see why, as there appear to be some lumbering done here, not to mention that the posts trying to tell you where to go are confusing. I find the correct way, luckily, and now in heavy rain can continue down towards Kuma Kōgen. Did I dislike the walk over the pass? No, it was both cool and mysterious, but wet.

Zentsūzenji shrine near Furuiwaya Rock with a Fudō Myōō statue in the cliffs behind.

The sky is so dark when I walk into Kuma Kōgen again, suddenly standing face to face with Osata again, not expecting to see him again. Although I have taken the place of Violaine and he mine, I am now one day ahead of him. It was good to see him again. I also bump into a young German couple who also visited the same temples as I did today. Originally I had wanted to retrieve my backpack and walk some further afterwards, but I find no motivation for doing that in this downpour. My backpack stands where I left it at Omogo Ryokan, but there is no sight of the landlady. I get a room at the Petit Hotel instead.

A fence of beer cans guides you up on the path towards the Sembontōge-pass.


This is the fifth consecutive day where it has been raining at one point during the day, I am starting to grow a little bit tired of it. Ehime sounds more and more like Ame in my mind. The good sideeffect of this is that I appreciate the evenings after the walk even more. Today eating a good tonkatsu dinner at the restaurant, before relaxing at my room while listening to the rain outside the window. I should not complain though, the majority of the rain came at the last part of the walk today. It was a great walk, although having walked about 26km today, I have not come any further from Kuma Kogen at all, I am back where I started.

Descent through rain from the Sembontōge-pass to Kuma Kōgen.

<- Kuma KōgenIshiteji ->

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Uchiko - Kuma Kōgen

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 27.
Temples: None.
Distance: 37.2km (801.9km), time spent: 10:05.
Weather: Rain.

Weather today should come as no surprise, it is going to rain. The pilgrimage trail is now heading towards the inland of Shikoku, towards the two temples located closest to the middle of the island. With the exception of these two (#44-45) and those in the first days of my walk (those close to #12), most temples are located relatively close to the sea. I guess it is the proximity to where people live that determines the location of the temples, and the centre of Shikoku seems to be less densely populated.

The Uchikoza Theater in Uchiko.

Finding motivation to wake up is not always easy when you know that the moment you start walking, you will be back in the chilly embrace of the rain. At this Henro House, there are not any meals included, but in the morning I find out that the hostess has kindly made some hot soup for me and provided me with some riceballs and a sweet bread. That is so sweet.

Hachiman Shrine in Uchiko.

Uchiko Antique Street.

Uchiko appear to be a small town that has several interesting places to look at if you arrive early enough. I arrived late, so I have to do my sightseeing in the morning instead, after leaving Yamamomo Henro House for Kuma Kōgen. Not time to visit a show, but I take a look at the old Uchikoza Theater, which features a stage that can support the Kabuki style theater. Not located directly on the path, but just a short walk away, I find the Uchiko Antique Street dating from several hundred years ago, a well-preserved merchant street that people still live in. Briefly looking at the Takahashi Residence from the outside, the home of an old merchant that was one of the founders of one of the most known breweries in Japan (I do not remember which), before finally replacing my tourist suit with my henro suit again.

Alongside the Oda river.

From Uchiko I set about on the long walk up to Kuma Kōgen, just the name of the place is giving me the vibe of being a remote and desolate place. It does not take long time before the trail finds its place alongside the Oda river, following its curves and bends as it flows down the valley. Where the route goes through the tunnels, I go the small and nearly overgrowing country roads around instead. Located on both sides of the valley and river are tiny hamlets and farms, all nestled underneath the hillsides. This is such an atmospheric walk that I am forgetting the rain.

Myooji temple in Ōse.

The 'hidden' shrine above the Myooji temple.

In the small village of Ōse, I come across an ancient-looking temple called Myooji. At the back of the temple there is a staircase that leads away up into the hills, how far up does it go? That I do not know, but I know that I have to go up. Not counting all the wet stairs I climb, I get to a small shrine tucked away behind two tall stones forming some sort of gate. Cool, I love these micro-adventures my curiosity takes me on.

Sometimes you come across these kind of homes on the pilgrimage, homes of local artists or sculpturers perhaps. A cheerful sight when the sky is anything but.

I have a feeling of venturing deeper and deeper into a hidden kingdom surrounded by misty mountains, in which I will find the next temples inside, Daihōji and Iwayaji. The road is following the undulating valley as the mountainsides seems to be closing in on me. There has been several good places that can be used to stay at for henros today, two of them a Daishidō or small shrine. The Uchiko henro-hut is also good for an overnight stay, if you do not mind its openness, it comes with a shower too.

The road going ever further into the misty mountains towards temple #44 (Daihōji) and #45 (Iwayaji).

Changing from Oda river to Tado river, I head up into a valley that appear to be less populated. I had wanted to visit the okunoin of #51 (Ishiteji, which is quite far from here actually) and Gongenyama, but my eagerness to walk further yesterday has made that impossible. If I go that way, I will for sure arrive too late at my ryokan in Kuma Kōgen. Keeping my curiosity on a leash, I find the small regional road 42. It disappears into the misty mountains, taking me with it, not knowing where it will lead me to.

Regional road 42.

After walking for some while, having enjoyed the quiet country road next to a little river, and passing by some remote villages where I wonder how the people there makes their living; I do not enjoy the lack of waymarkers. The little road that I have been walking on has becoming narrower and I start to wonder if I have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Actually, I cannot remember seeing any waymarker since I took off from road 379. Also, my waterbottle is empty, thanks to my own stupidness when I forgot to fill it up before it was too late. My salvation comes at a shrine, where a blessed little waymarker is just visible beneath the wooden torii. I surmise it to be Mishima Jinja and here I also find water.

The path up to the Shimosakabatōge pass.

View of the clouds from the Shimosakabatōge pass.

Further up, the small road is getting thinner and thinner, before it almost seemlessly blends into a wooden path heading up into the misty hills and mountains. Time is flowing away with the clouds, the clock has already passed three when I walk up on a beautiful undulating path towards the Shimosakabatōge pass. At the pass I have my head in the clouds, with the valley disappearing out of sight, small hilltops barely visible from time to time. And although time looks to have stood still at the Katsuragi Jinja, the clock is over four when I come to a nice resting hut (it has a clock too).

At Hiwatatō pass.

The final walk before I get to Kuma Kōgen is another mysterious walk over a pass through deep forest. It starts off in the exact same manner as earlier, on a narrowing road before heading off into the wooden embrace on a distinct path. Small shrines and idols watches over my steps, the vegetation is sometimes dense, sometimes open. At the Hiwatatō pass, I am at the highest point of the walk, not very high up really, at 790m. Leaving the pass with its Danjiri Rock, I walk past trees that are bent in strange ways, it is as if you are looking at them through a glass.

Bent trees after the Hiwatatō pass, like looking at straight trees through a glass.

Needless to say, but I say it anyway, I arrive a little bit later at my accommodation than I should. Thirty minutes off. No one at Omogo Ryokan when I walk in the door, but after a short while the hostess appears. Not in a good mood by the look of her. Guessing it is because I arrived later than what is considered polite, I know nothing else than pointing at my wrist (indicating a watch) and saying 'gomen nasai'. There is another henro at the ryokan too, the first I have met throughout the whole day. Violaine is from Belgium, but she is one day ahead of me, coming back from temple #44 and #45 today. She also arrived late. So, the hostess has two gaijins at the place that both arrived too late and in addition does not speak Japanese. The hot bath does feel great anyway.

A Jizō statue next to a small creek.

Eager for company, I ask Violaine if she wants to eat dinner together with me, and gladly she accepts. She has got a tip of a good place to eat, but it is closed, so we go to the restaurant at the Petit Hotel instead. It is great seeing someone else again and she is really nice company. Quite good food too.

Weather forgiving was it a good day today. I kind of enjoyed walking up this undulating valley, even underneath the not very cheerful sky. Both place- and timewise this day felt quite far away from the early days.

Kuma Kōgen.

<- UchikoKuma Kōgen ->

Monday, October 16, 2017

Uwa - Uchiko

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 26.
Temples: None.
Distance: 33.1km (764.7km), time spent: 9:49.
Weather: Rain, apparently a typhoon.

On my breakfast-plate in the morning I find a small sealed package. It is nattō, a dish that I had hoped to escape being served when I came here to Japan. Nattō is fermented soybeans and listed as one of the most acquired tastes you can get in this country. Being a wimp when it comes to try out special dishes like this, I leave the sealed package alone. Hopefully my excuse is polite enough, the people at the place only gives a heartingly laugh when I bring it up.

I say farewell to Julien and the other New Caledonians, who seems amazed that I am actually walking today. Well, a 'little' rain has not stopped me before. Actually, I have heard it is a typhoon, probably the same as yesterday. Though, even if it is raining when I set out through the streets of Uwa, it does not appear to be heavier than yesterday. Being monday, there is a lot of schoolkids out walking or cycling at the same time as this henro.

At the top of the pass above the Tosaka tunnel.

I let my eyes feast on the hills and mountains which the clouds seems to try to tear apart. You can say much about walking in the rain and so, missing out on views that stretches far away into the horizon, but I have always liked the view of clouds drifting through trees, tearing and wearing at them. This is what takes up most of my time walking in the rain after Uwa. Surprisingly, there are three henros suddenly appearing in front of me, all heads slightly bent.

Walking through a misty and mystical forest.

Placed alongside the road, with undergrowth probably growing ever higher around it for each year, I see a container of some sort. Looking to hide a secret, I cannot do anything but brushing my way through the vegetation to enter the tiny confines of the container. Inside there is a porn dvd vending machine. No dvds left and apparently out of order. Probably for the best. I wonder if any henro has made a secret purchase though, hoping to escape the eyes of others, kind of doubt it.

Small shrine in the forest, at Nittensha.

I catch up with the three henros that was in front of me at the curious structure of the Hijikawa Genryūnosato henro-hut. French people, looking like they want to keep to themselves, they are also contenders for the available places at where I plan to spend the night. From the hut, you have two options to choose from. Either go through the Tosaka tunnel and follow the road. Or venture into the forest, taking the mysterious path.

The remains of Fudakake Daishidō.

With trees that has mist glued to them, I make my way up into the hills. Many forget that when it is raining, the forests really takes on a much more serene mood. With the clouds drifting between the trees, it all gets more mystical too. In this context, the walk is great. I feel Japanese mythical beings moving around and looking at me all around. Maybe an Ushioni, or an Amaburakosagi. Nittensha looks like a makeshift hut, unfinished or in decay. I come to Fudakake Daishidō, which definitely is in decay, it is a temple ruin. It is both sad and mesmerising at the same time, haunting. What happened to this place?

Approaching the outskirts of Ōzu, an European-looking castle, a shrine in the trees on top of a hill, ricefields with ricestraws hanging out to dry (now getting wet).

I get more views of clouds tangled up in the trees when I have joined the main road again. At a vending machine place, I meet a Japanese henro and we sit down talking for a while. This is the third time he is walking around Shikoku, but now he has to go slower than usual, he has got some problems with his knees. He tells me that he felt it was too dangerous to go over on the forest path and so had walked through the tunnel, but to me it was not so. Even with the rain, the path felt good to walk on. The most difficult part was actually the walk on the road down from Fudakake Daishidō. Two other henros are walking by, I am sure I have seen them somewhere before.

A row of small shrines at Ōzu Jinja.

The rain is my sole companion all the way to Ōzu, past a European looking castle that looks strangely out of touch. Near Garyū Sansō, a house built in a local architectural style with a traditional Japanese garden, I stop and stare at a chimney-like structure. At the top of the chimney there is a lamp, in the form of a tiny shrine. On the top of the hill behind it is one of the most interesting and better kept Shinto shrines that I have visited so far, Ōzu Jinja. I refuse to count the number of stairs that I climbed to get up to it. I should have visited the Garyū Sansō too, but my mind is probably too soaked, so off I go through the antique Ohanahan Street instead. No period-piece television filming today.

I remember where I saw the two henros walking past me at the vending machine cafe earlier, they were also at Akebono-sō.

The lantern at the foot of the stairs leading up to Ōzu Jinja.

It is not far away from the centre of Ōzu that I have in mind staying for the night. At the tsuyado of Toyogahashi (bangai #8). Walking through the streets of Ōzu and crossing the bridge over the river, I feel eager to continue. It is too early to quit. Despite the weather. Despite the things to do in Ōzu. I look over the Hiji-kawa river to Ōzu Castle. Tempted to visit it. Behind are the mountains engulfed in a chilly battle with the rainclouds. Deviating from the path, I locate a 7/11 where I seek shelter for the rain and buys myself a proper lunch. In this weather, I am up for everything, I go for a pasta bolognese which they heat up for me. Making the final decision to keep going, I get the staff to book an accommodation for me in Uchiko, some 12.5km away.

Streets of Ōzu.

At Toyogahashi, I can already see the wet clothes and raingear of the french henros hanging outside. I am certain it would have been space enough for me in the free accommodation there as well, but that matters little now. I am more interested in what I find underneath the bridge. It is from this temple that the custom of not tapping the kongōzue (the pilgrim staff) on a bridge originates from. Underneath the bridge, there is a small shrine to commemorate that Kōbō Daishi had to spend one night here. Several carved figures of Kūkai sleeping is found here, one even with a blanket wrapped around it. Since he was sleeping under the bridge, you should not tap the staff so not to wake him up. I try to be as quiet as I can when I am there.

Ōzu Castle and besieged mountains.

While walking out of Ōzu I discover that there is a three-storied pagoda set in a garden on the opposite side of the valley. Again time is forgotten and uncared for. Politely declining another generous offer of driving me to my accommodation, she also did not say the magic word 'osettai', I hurry across the fields feeling another pang of guilt. It is a lovely small garden with a little waterfall and pond, above it is the nice pagoda. However, it appear to be a very new construction, both the garden and the pagoda, with the area surrounding it far from finished.

Statue of Kōbō Daishi sleeping underneath a blanket.

The shrine underneath the bridge at Toyogahashi.

I arrive tired and quite wet in Uchiko, after the last part of the walk took me away from the busy road through quiet and pleasant countryside. The place the staff at the 7/11 found for me is a Henro House, a sort of a project for providing places to stay for the henros. My place is called Yamamomo. At first it appear to be no one there and I have no phone number to call (forgot to get it). As I am walking with Kōbō Daishi, fate intervenes and a messenger appears with a parcel for the owners. They live in the house next door.

A pagoda above a lovely little garden outside Ōzu.

As the only guest, the owners take me on a tour of the premises, meticulously describing everything to me, including how to turn on and off a lightswitch. But they are nice and welcoming, and the place looks very nice and tidy. There is a combini a short walk away and uneager to go much around searching for a proper restaurant, I just buy what I need for dinner and the evening there. The place has everything I need for cooking or heating up the dinner. Best of all, a really good chair to relax in after all my chores are finished.

Bird and fish at a small pond before Uchiko.

When it rains here, it truly rains. And although I feel miserable thinking about that I am just at the beginning of a long period with bad weather, I feel strangely content and satisfied with this day. I hope the Ushioni or the Amaburakosagi hasn't followed me from the misty forests and are looking at me through the windows from the rain outside.

The interior of Henro House Yamamomo.

<- UwaKuma Kōgen ->

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Uwajima - Uwa

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 25.
Temples: #41-43 (Ryūkōji, Butsumokuji, Meisekiji).
Distance: 26.9km (731.6km), time spent: 10:39.
Weather: Rain most of the day.

The streets of Uwajima are wet when I walk through them in the morning, and they are just as quiet and empty of people as last evening, the only change being light and not dark outside. I humour myself at a place that appears to be a karaoke and tea place, truly an unusual combination (from what I know about karaoke joints). Today I remove the jima from Uwajima and walks to Uwa. Thankfully, I have three temples to visit today, offering some consolation for the miserable weather.

At the foot of the temple, Ryūkōin.

With the hills and mountains surrounding Uwajima wrapped in rainclouds, I say farewell to Ryūkōin, climbing once again up the stairs to the bangai temple. The walk out of Uwajima is a walk from little rain to an ever increasing downpour. I see no other henros out walking. Today my mood is not good when I walk on the long way through the valley out of Uwajima, and it certainly does not improve when I get drenched by a passing truck. Some of them drives really crazy and appears to take no care of the people walking next to the road, sending a wave of filthy water all over me including my face. Not my most henro-inspired moment, but I turn around and bow to the truck, saying 'arigatō gozaimasu'. I do not know why I am in such a bad temper today.

I try to improve my mood by drinking a neon green soda called Suntory Pop at the Uwajima henro-hut, I do not feel that the synthetic taste helps a lot. The hut has ample space to sleep in if needed, the disadvantage being next to the road.

The path over the small pass to Tafukuin.

It is funny then how things suddenly improve, even though nothing particulary happens that should make it so, but my mood do brighten up. And by the time I cross over the short wooden path, which is kind of grumpy due to the rain, passing by the indistinct Tafukuin shrine, my feet feels lighter again. A cup of hot coffee that I get at the nearby Lawson Station is of course a welcome boon to the day. This alternative route continues on a quiet sideroad in the middle of fields, with clouds that otherwise would have been mountains surrounding me.

A microshrine at Inari Jinja.

Looking out from temple #41, Ryūkōji.

All is forgotten when I come to temple #41, Ryūkōji (Dragon's Ray Temple), the domain of a 'rice god'. As always so far, I feel relaxed when I am at a temple. A humble temple set in the forest that shares the temple grounds with Inari Jinja, Ryūkōji was founded by Kōbō Daishi after he met an old white-haired man carrying rice, convinced that the man was Inari-myōjin (a 'rice god'). At the Inari Jinja (shrine) there is another of the fascinating shrines within a shrine buildings. If you wonder how it is to conduct the temple rituals while it is raining, I can tell you that it mostly is no problem, when you are resiting the sutras you usually stand underneath the temple roof of the hondo and daishido.


The small path after Ryūkōji going through a soaked forest.

A small atmospheric path, with the sounds of water dripping all around me, leads through the forest after the temple. The ground is slippery. Rice fields, small settlements and cloudy mountains awaits me. Then Kōbō Daishi stands looking at me through the nice temple gate of Butsumokuji, temple #42, The Temple of Buddha's Tree. More pilgrims here, though it is far from busy, I met only three at Ryūkōji. This temple is also a testament to the extreme throwing skills of Kōbō Daishi, not only had he thrown a vajra from China, he had also thrown a hōshu (a Mani jewel). While riding a cow near Butsumokuji, he found the hōshu in an old camphor tree. Like Ryūkōji, this temple is also a modest one, the rain falling from the sky now is anything but. Dedicated to animal husbandry it is no wonder the amount of offerings and idols of animals I find at the altars. I like it here, which come to no surprise.

Ricefields, small settlements and cloudy mountains on the walk between Ryūkōji and Butsumokuji.

The trail crosses over another mountain today, over the Hanaga-tōge pass, which I look forward to. Though with this rain, I do anticipate some henro-korogashi on the way. It looks quietly violent up there today. At the resthut where I eat my lunch, I can walk no further. Not on the path leading up and over the pass at least, it is blocked by a signpost saying that the path is closed. As there is a marked alternative going through the Tanaga-tunnel, I feel that I cannot disobey the closure, as opposed to what I did when I hiked the Baekdu Daegan in South-Korea some years ago. Maybe not so smart to do it either, looking up at where the path goes from the road, it appear to be the victim of some landslides.

Kōbō Daishi looking at me through the temple gate of Butsumokuji.


I keep looking for views, why I even do this in this weather is a good question, so I walk for a while down the road after the tunnel. All the views I get are the same, the hills and forests ravaged by the clouds. The winding and mysterious path leading down from the mountain is all to my liking, but it leads me to a long walk through another valley drenched by water. I still wonder where all the other henros are? Holed up in their accommodations due to the weather. Am I the only one out walking? That cannot be.

Staircases leads the way up to an unknown and mysterious temple.

For the last part of the walk to temple #43, Meisekiji (Brilliant Stone Temple), there is such a multitude of routes to choose from that I am unsure of which I ended up walking. I have no idea why there are so many alternative routes, has each route a different meaning, history or symbolism attached to it? Before the temple there is a restaurant and temple shop where I can leave my backpack while I go conducting my rituals in the downpour. Another peaceful temple set in the confines of a forest.

Ravaged mountainsides.

The descent from Hanaga.

Finished with my resitings, I stand at the top of the staircase leading up to the main temple buildings, looking down at the sturdy-looking temple gate. There a group of disabled henros are showing their respects and sutra-resiting, although they arrived by bus, it is inspiring to see them take on a pilgrimage like this. The downside to it is that me and other henros has to wait in line at the nōkyōchō-office for the single munk having a huge stack of nōkyōchō-books to go through. This is by no means the group of disabled henros fault, but sometimes you wish that there was one line for the groups and one for the solitary henros. Light is now dwindling and I know that I have still some more walk to do before I finish this day. I have to retrace my steps on the forest path leaving the temple as my lens cap found out it was a good idea to drop to the ground, but it is quite a pleasant walk, so no grudges there.

At Michibiki Daishi.


Now, it does feel good to arrive at my place for the night, Business Hotel Matsu-ya, the ryokan with the same name and with a star in the guidebook was closed this day. To my joy, New Caledonia is at the hotel also. Unsure for a very short time, but then I recognize Didier that has shaved since last time I saw them three days ago. We go out for dinner together, finding an italian place called Materiale Da Qui. The food is near excellent, especially after such a rainy walk. As the bad weather will continue, they have decided to take the bus to Matsuyama tomorrow. That probably mean I will not be seeing them again.

Emperor of his own tiny island, this statue stands guarding at the entrance to Uwa from the forest path after Meisekiji.

The weather brought me on an emotional rollercoaster of a sort today, but at the end of the day, I feel quite satisfied. Of course, when the day ends in a good way, it makes you remember it in a more positive way too.

Dinner with the New Caledonians, Julien, Alain, Didier, Yves and me.

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