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.

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