Friday, November 3, 2017

Sanbonmatsu - Ryōzenji

Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 44.
Temples: #1 (Ryōzenji).
Distance: 30.2km (1272.0km), time spent: 8:27.
Weather: Nice.

With so many thoughts that goes through ones mind at the end of such a journey, I sometimes find it hard to sleep on the last night, but I slept well. I also feared that I would wake up with a hangover this morning after yesterday evening, but I felt strangely fine when I woke up. It is a fine day as I set forth on the final walk of the pilgrimage, retracing my steps back to where I left the trail yesterday.

Walking next to fields of cosmos flowers are always nice.

The first part of the day is quite uneventful, with the small exception of when I go up into a hill trying to find the Tanokuchi Yakushi shrine, only to find a cemetery. It is overgrown and lost, with fallen trees lying over the tombstones and statues. Then I believe I did not find Tanokuchi Yakushi at all, following waymarks that disappears and leaves me behind in a bewildered state as to where I am. I do not find any path further, or shrine, returning back to the last junction. Uneventful, but not bad. Walking through this calm rural part of the island.

Morning sunrays through the trees.

It does feel somewhat different now, now that I know I am not walking towards any more temples. Of course, I am walking towards Ryōzenji, but since I have already visited that temple, it does not feel the same. Maybe a sort of walking with your purpose resolved. Upon arriving in Hiketa, I decide to check out the antique streets of this seaside town. Here, the walls of the old and traditional soy sauce warehouses are painted red. It would have been a good place to stay, if I had not taken the route through Mizushi Sanzan and Sanbonmatsu (another route bypasses it and goes more directly towards Hiketa).

May or may not be the Tanokuchi Yakushi shrine.

For the final time I walk next to the sea, happy to see the blue color of the water until I will pass over the mountains to Tokushima. One thing I have not written about on my walk around Shikoku so far, is the slightly amusing lotteries the various combinis has had during my time here. With the exception of a few times, I seem to have 'won' something every time (I do guess that the possibility of winning is quite high). The list is quite long, I have won two green teas, a Wonda black coffee, banana and prune biscuits, two vitamin drinks, a large box of instant spaghetti, and more. And here at a 7/11 for my usual latte, I win a spray bottle of pleasure bouquet. I am not sure what I am gonna use that for though, and it weighs a little too, so I give it to the lady behind the counter.

A red painted soy sauce warehouse in Hiketa.

Those who has chosen this way back to Ryōzenji may have believed that it may be a relatively easy walk, but that is not entirely true. From the sea, the route takes to the mountains again up towards the Ōsakatōge-pass. That should be an indication in itself, as ōsaka apparently translates to a large hill. Steep or not, I find it to be another exciting walk. After a lot of meandering through enclosed trees, with views of the forested valleys below and the sea, I arrive at the top of the path. On the way to the top, I had woken up not just one, but three large black snakes from their drowsing in the middle of the path.

The lucky winner of a spray bottle of pleasure bouquet at a 7/11 outside Hiketa.

At the Ōsakatōge-pass, a short detour brings me up to the highest point, where there is a hut and great views of the sea, mountains around and area below with its villages. A good place for the first lunch of the day. Just before I leave, a granddaddy with his granddaughter arrives at the hut. Looking at the map, I can see that the Takamatsu Expressway is going in a tunnel directly underneath the point I am standing at, I wonder how many cars are driving by below my feet while I am standing here.

A view of the sea at the mouth of the Umayado river.

The final decision as to which route to take to Ryōzenji, comes when I am down on a road after the pass. One option goes from here down to Konsenji (#3), but I have not changed my mind and will take the other option, which goes to the first temple without the need to walk on the pilgrimage trail once more. This route follows a lesser road going next to the Betano stream. Now, this is a lost road, with lots of cracks in it. Old leaves lies scattered on the asphalt, with no sign that any cars has passen by in a long time.

The climb up to the Ōsakatōge-pass.

View from the hut at the top of the Ōsakatōge-pass.

I arrive at the road that I will follow almost all the way down to the beginning of my pilgrimage. This will be my second ascent on the walk today, going up to the Utatsugoe-pass. I have a serious internal conflict whether I should climb up to Okunomiya or not, taking the longer and possible much more scenic option. However, I really want to arrive at Ryōzenji in good time for performing the final temple rituals and have time to contemplate my finishing of the pilgrimage at the temple. I am unsure if I have the necessary time available for that route, but it is so tempting.

The route going next to the Betano stream (on the return route going directly to Ryōzenji).

In the end, I decide upon leaving Okunomiya to next time (another mental note), but go a short distance on that route to a hut marked on the map. Thankfully the hut provides some great views, where I can see Tokushima in the distance, and the cluster of trees housing Ryōzenji. A good place for the second lunch of the day. At this time, the sky is no longer in a clear blue colour, but has got a pale veil across it.

A small dam next to the road 41.

Now, the realization arrives for real, but it does feel a little bit unreal. There is less than five kilometres left of my pilgrimage. At the Ōasahiko Jinja Shrine there is a gathering of people. A wonderful shrine with a long alley of stone lanterns leading down towards my destination. As the Takamatsu Expressway went underneath me earlier, I now walk underneath it. Then I arrive at a wooden fence, seeing a familiar building on the other side. I take a short moment just standing there, looking at the pagoda of Ryōzenji.

View towards Tokushima from a hut on the path going up to Okunomiya.

Going around the corner, I once again stand outside the templegate of my first temple. 44 days ago I walked out of the very same gate, uncertain and expectant to the adventure lying ahead of me. Now, I return as a way more confident henro, all the temples, experiences, scenery and most of all, the people that I have met, has changed me in a way. A backpack on a bench just inside the templegate looks strangely familiar, and to my joy it belongs to Violaine who I met in Kuma Kōgen many days ago now. I had really not expected to meet her again, since I had not overtaken her until now. It is great to have someone to share the moment of finishing the pilgrimage with. We sit down for a while telling about some of the experiences we had since parted ways in Kuma Kōgen. Good thing I did not climb up to Okunomiya.

Ōasahiko Jinja Shrine.

An alley of stone lanterns.

Ryōzenji is still the modest and charming temple that is was when I left, but now it undergoes some maintenance work. I go through the temple rituals and resites the sutras for a last time on Shikoku. Then I receive my finishing stamp at the nōkyōchō-office. From the store I buy another nōkyōchō-book, one that has some beautiful drawings of the various temples in it. I also buy a book to put the slips of the honzons of each temple in, the japanese guidebook and a stack of osamefudas. Violaine will stay at a nearby minshuku, so here our ways parts again.

Back at Ryōzenji.

Stepping out of the templegate with the pilgrimage behind me is a strange moment. A part of me is of course satisfied that it is finished, but another wants to go on. Being a circular walk, you can do exactly that, there are waymarks going from the temple that you can follow for yet another round of the pilgrimage. I go the other way though, but there is hope, I am not completely finished with my pilgrimage yet. There is a mountain to climb.

Resiting the sutras for the last time on Shikoku. However confident I felt that I had become as a henro, I still needed the book for the sutra reading.

Back again at Bandō, I sit and wait for the train to arrive as dusk settles on the sky. Another henro is also here, having finished today he too. We take the small and atmospheric trainride back to Tokushima, remembering the time I took it the other way. There is some way to walk from the train station to get to my hotel, Grand Vrio. The hotel room all make up for it, it is great, with a nice view of the city from the window and a good sofa to rest in for my weary body.

I have done it, finishing the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage.

Usually, I like to go out and have a modest celebration when I finish a walk, but today I feel tired. I settle for a dinner at the chinese restaurant run by the hotel, so it became an even more modest celebration, not venturing into the city centre for a meal. And since I have such fine views and seating at my hotel room, I feel fine just sitting there with a beer, relaxing and thinking back at my adventure. Still wondering where all the other people and henro I have met are now. I am having my first full rest day tomorrow, it is going to be fine.

<- SanbonmatsuTokushima ->


  1. Really ‘a walk down memory lane’ to read about your last day of the henro. I still remember so well how I arrived back at Ryōzenji. I was sad that it was finished, it took me hours to say goodbye and take the train back to Tokushima.

    And I went back...and again...Shikoku-byō...
    I wonder if you are going again too...

    1. Yes, it was a little bit sad that it was finished (like I said, there was something in me that wanted to just start following the waymarks again).

      I really want to go back, there were so many variants that I wanted to do, and I would like to do it with the bekkaku temples too. Only problem is, there are also so many walks I would like to do in the world.