Saturday, October 7, 2017

Susaki - Iwamotoji

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 17.
Temples: #37 (Iwamotoji).
Distance: 31.9km (486.4km), time spent: 9:50.
Weather: Overcast, then better later in the day.

I started walking today without a breakfast, but not for a long distance. After 3 to 4 kilometers, I come to the small village of Awa, where I make use of the familiar sight of a Lawson Station to provide me with the first meal of the day. Which I eat sitting on the Awa Seaside overlooking Susaki Bay. It is not raining, but there is a mournful and melancholic look to the weather and sea this morning. A lone fisherman is standing out on the pier. I feel peaceful, even with the sound of the waves trying to reach me from below.

View of Susaki Bay in the morning from Awa Seaside.

From Awa it is mountain trail time again. This time it is the Yakezaka-tōge pass that the route will take me over. It begins slowly for the first kilometer, then it quickly escalates. To a steep climb on a path that initially looks like it has never been walked on before, almost. Why do I sometimes get the feeling of being the only one walking on these trails? It is like the other walkers are tiptoeing through, gently letting the vegetation grow unhindered, leaving the path almost in its pristine form.

The path over the Yakezaka-tōge pass, precarious at times.

The walk over the Yakezaka-tōge pass is all forest and no views, parts of the path looking destroyed by landslides. I had read somewhere that it was adviced to take the road instead of this path if it was raining, that makes sense when I walk on it. Luckily for me, it does not rain.

A curious henro hut on the way to Naka-tosa, but a nice place to take a rest in (or maybe spend a night).

I have yet another pass to climb over today, but before that climb there is a less interesting walk towards Naka-tosa. So far, I had seen no other henros all day, but further up the road, I can see two figures in sedgehats and white vests moving. Along the way, I pass by a hut or zenkonyado that someone has put up. A nice place to rest, as there are good chairs to sit on in it. It has furniture for spending the night, and several books and magazines to read.

A Henro waymarker on a stone.

At Naka-tosa, the henromichi presents you with an option. Either take the Ōsaka trail or the Soemimizu trail. The Ōsaka trail goes low down in the valley at first, before a steep ascent carries your tired feet up to the Nanako-tōge pass where the trails join forces again. For the Soemimizu option, you will start the climb a lot sooner and going higher up than the other trail, before descending down to the Nanako-tōge pass. Or if you are unable to make a decision, just take the road instead.

A line of signboards on display at the beginning of the Soemimizu Henro Trail, I wonder what they are saying.

Going low when I can go high is usually not my style, I head for the Soemimizu trail. That decision soon sees me sweating up a steep path, even with the stairs that I have to walk on for aid. I am actually glad that the sun is not shining. Although this path goes in the shade between the trees and is a pleasant walk. On the way over, an opportunity for views presents itself by a short walk off the trodden path through the trees. A black snake slithers across the path before I come to the Nanako-tōge pass, where there are views towards the sea and a gas station that it is a long time since has been in use.

The Soemimizu Henro Trail.

View off the trodden path of the Soemimizu Hentro Trail.

It is time for a rest, and near a shrine called Tsubaki Shokudō I find a resthut, where there is another henro apparently busy with something. His name is Tomohiro Ikemoto and he makes a sort of origami grasshoppers made of bamboo leaves. They are really cool. He makes one for me and gives me a piece of paper with instructions on how to make it. We talk for a while and agrees to keep company the rest of the way to Iwamotoji (#37). Tomohiro-san works as a teacher and lives in a small town between Nara and Kyoto.

Nanako-tōge pass, where you can get a view of the ocean.

With all the walking alone that I have done, is it nice to finally walk together with someone again, and he is a pleasant walking companion. In Niida we find an Omotenashi station for henros, omotenashi means hospitality, where a supporter of the pilgrimage serves us coffe with some biscuits and cakes together with a henro couple. He is familiar with Tomoyoshi Kubo, whom I met earlier on my walk (day five). From Niida we have to hurry a little to reach the temple before the nōkyōchō office closes its door, Tomohiro-san is leading on with me working hard to keep up.

Tomohiro-san with his origami bamboo grasshopper.

A closer look at the origami bamboo grasshopper.

We make it to Iwamotoji (#37, Rocky Root Temple) in time, together with the blue sky. This temple has five main deities (honzon) and comes with a popular saying about these: Fudō to avoid evil influence, Kannon for good luck, Jizō cares for children, Amida for the future life, Yakushi to overcome evil. It also comes with a painting of Marylin Monroe in the roof of the hondo (along with other paintings). Johan and Kaja is at the temple, they are staying at the shukubō there. I also tried to book a place, but it was no rooms left when I called. I talk briefly to Mike from Hawaii, who is walking a part of the pilgrimage.

Tomohiro-san and the kind owner of the Omotenashi Station in Niida.

Before I go to my lodgings, Maruka Ryokan, I visit two old Shinto shrines my curious eyes fell upon on the way through Shimanto Town (there is also a Shimanto City). One looks worn and dilapidated and cannot be in much use, sadly in a way. Faces I have met before are staying at Maruka also, among them Kobayashi and Ujeda.


The Sanmon of Iwamotoji in the evening.

In the evening there is a concert at Iwamotoji, a female Japanese singer who has walked the pilgrimage and goes under the artistic name of Songbird. In one song she sings out all the names of the temples I have visited and will visit later. I sit together with Johan, Kaja and Tomohiro. It is nice, but there are very few attending the concert. Maybe most others are too tired. On the way back, I go past a karaoke bar, with the songs or rather sounds coming from within nowhere near as nice. In what looks like a bar, I stop for a beer, to the surprise of all the guests.

Concert at Iwamotoji.

So, to summarize, quite the diverse day. With two mountain paths to pass over. For me however, the highlight was meeting Tomohiro-san. You can talk a lot of all the views and scenery that you see, but sometimes in the end it is still the people that you meet that are the reward of the day. This is the biggest difference from the Camino Frances so far, on that pilgrimage I met far more people. Tomorrow is unknown to me.

Details from the roof of the hondo of Iwamotoji, Marylin Monroe at the bottom.

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