Thursday, October 12, 2017

Mihara - Ipponmatsu

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 22.
Temples: #39 (Enkōji).
Distance: 33.2km (652.8km), time spent: 10:10.
Weather: Good.


From Mihara it is all downhill to get to Enkōji, all on road. It is much walking on hard surface on this pilgrimage, another way this path diverges from its Spanish counterpart. Not that you escape walking on roads there either. My feet has paid the price for that, but today they feel better. Which is something you cannot say of the henro-hut named Shimizugawa, it looks just as worn as its namesake above it.

Hamada no tomariya outside Hirata.

Weather wise, there has been some great days lately and today looked likely to follow in the same way. The road down to Hirata provides the henro with some good opportunities for looking down at water. First crossing a bridge over the Kure river, where Umenoki Park gives me another bad conscience for not camping, would have been a far better alternative to where I stayed at too. Then overlooking the Nakasujigawa dam. Although on a road, the walk down is nice.

The temple gate to temple #39, Enkōji.

A henro group chants in unison at Enkōji.

Maybe the first thing you would expect a henro to do when arriving at Hirata would be to go straight to the temple, but I do not. I go straight in the opposite direction. It is that curiosity again. The Lawson Station will not let me leave my backpack behind there, or they misunderstood me. So my backpack stays on for my diversion to some old raised wooden structures some kilometers off the beaten track. From the Meiji period until about 1910, these structures called Hamada no tomariya were used as places young people could spend the night for studying, watching over a village or helping out with preparations for festivals. Only 4 of them remain today, of 180. I would like to see inside it, but the entrance is not open and since they are designated national cultural properties, I of course does not try to do anything irregular.

I pass by a roadsign displaying the direction to the 'Nakasujigawa Comprehensive Development Office of Construction', which must be one of the understatements of the year when it comes to naming an office.

Cute little statue and tiny shrine at the Okunoin of Enkōji.

On the path leading up to temple #39, Enkōji, I see some people moving ahead of me. Finally. I am not alone anymore. They even look like someone I have met before, which is confirmed when I come to the temple. It is my friends from New Caledonia, Didier and Yves, although Julien has had some problems with his feet so has taken the bus today. Another man from that tiny island in the Pacific has joined them, Alain. It is good to meet them again, and I am just as surprised as the previous time.

Okunoin to Enkōji.

Enkōji, the Emitting Light Temple, known for the tale of a turtle with a bell on its back that visited the temple, is another pretty, but not particularly special temple. Several small groups of bus henros are arriving at various intervals and listening to them chanting the sutras in unison is great.

Ornaments at Enkōji.

As the okunoin is close by, I take the short walk to it. Walking past some rice fields I suddenly feel a sharp pinch in my right arm. Paying first little heed to it, I find the small shrine just inside the embrace of the forest. A peaceful spot with the sun illuminating the undergrowth. On the way back again, I take a closer look at a rice straw right where I felt the pinch. Out on the tip of the straw there is a spider, green, not so big, but not so small either. Surely I was not bit by the spider?

The short path from Enkōji and back to the road, passing by what looks like a small marsh.

For the rest of the walk to Sukumo, that is all that occupies my mind. And of course, it is all a little bit silly. As I had got a little bit sunburned earlier, my arm itches a little and I start to think it is due to the spider bite. Everything now gets associated with it. I know about the poisonous snakes here in Japan, but I do not know anything about any spiders. So I wonder if I should go to a hospital or see a doctor. I decide to wait and see, and if I start to feel worse, then, well, I guess I have to seek medical attention.

A curious installation passed by on the way to Sukumo.

Arriving in Sukumo take some of the attention of the bite away from my mind, eating a spaghetti with bacon and cheese outside a convenience store (Lawson). I walk together with the Didier, Yves and Alain from Sukumo. We are all going to the same place, Akebono-sō in Ipponmatsu, but fearing that the hike over the Matsuo-tōge pass will be too hard, they contemplates not going all the way. In a little village after the first walk through the forests and hills after Sukumo, they ask get help from the local villagers to call for a taxi. I continue walking with a lighter heart, as I know I will meet them again later in the day.

The path to the Matsuo-tōge pass.

On the other hand, I feel sorry that they chose not to walk over the pass, as it is the highlight of the day. The path may be steep, but it is rewarding. At a shrine at the top of the pass, Matsuo Daishi that is marked as ruins in the guidebook, I have left Kochi and the Place of Ascetic Training (Shugyō dōjō) behind and entered into Ehime. The Place of Enlightenment (Bodai dōjō). The shrine does not appear to be a ruin though.

Ruins of the Matsuo Daishi shrine.

Inside Matsuo Daishi.

Above the Matsuo-tōge pass there is an observatory marked on the map and getting distracted from the path, I climb up on top of an observation deck that also can function as a small hut. It is a good place to camp too. From the deck there is a great view of the ocean and the bay outside Sukumo. The walk down is really pleasant, with small wooden fences next to the path, while listening to the sound the leaves make when they disappear underneath my shoes.

View from the observatory above the Matsuo-tōge pass.

I am tired when I finally arrive at Akebono-sō, but that is all forgotten when I can lower myself into the hot springs of the onsen. The New Caledonians has of course already arrived and they let me eat dinner together with them in the small restaurant at the onsen. I have to go outside of the restaurant to order, as it is easier to point at the dishes on display outside, I point at the tonkatsu (deep fried pork) with rice and curry.

A nice descent from the Matsuo-tōge pass, with a fence running alongside the path.

After dinner I meet Gil from Korea and Ika who is Japanese, they are just in for a soak in the onsen before heading out to find a place to sleep. They are roughing it out instead of staying at paid accommodations. And the next nights will be really rough too. Checking the weather forecast for the next days, Gil cannot do anything but laugh ironically. The forecast is abysmal. Tomorrow will be quite nice, but then the horizon will turn bleak and black. It will be over a week with rain, some days with heavy rain as well. It is a serious hindrance to my plans also, I need to reconsider them.

Anything can be used to create small shrines, on the road to Ipponmatsu.

Telling the others that I got bit by a spider today, Ika tells me that there are not any poisonous spiders here. That is good news, and although I had gotten it somewhat out of my mind, I can now fully relax. It felt so good to meet familiar people again, and new ones.

My room at Akebono-sō.

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