Estimated distance walked this day: 14 kms
Cumulative distance walked: 50 kms
The next morning we rose, ate at the hotel breakfast buffet, stopped at a convenience store to buy bento items, and did a quick walk to one of the few Zen temples on the route, Fujiidera. It was raining lightly. I really liked the statue of Amida Buddha they have there. But to be honest, my mind was less focused on the spiritual, and more on the daunting hike up to Shosanji, Temple #12.
We set out. The trail was nearly continual stone steps, up, up, up. It would be less steep, with a well-maintained trail, then more steps. At about the 400 meter level, after climbing 300 meters, there was a spring, where we made an offering to Jizo, who protects travelers. Another km down the trail, and another 100 meters up, and we were at Chodo-an, a small mountain temple. The rain had turned to swirling mist. We met a man, Shimizu-san, who was engaged in the pilgrimage in memory of his recently deceased mother. He was using the handle of her hoe as his pilgrim’s staff. Three more kms, and we were at 650 meters. We then had a quick drop down stone steps to Ryusuianji, another small mountain temple, close to the intersection with the road. A few had gathered there, having driven up that far.
After another km, and another 100 m up, we took a break. Ann really was not doing well. After some conversation, we returned to Ryusuianji, out of hopes that someone there might be pressing on to Shosanji, and we could hitch a ride.
Unfortunately, all the people who had been there an hour earlier were gone, and there was no sign of anyone else coming. I flagged down a car, and the driver encouraged us to walk to Highway 31, which he assured us would be full of cars.
Highway 31 looked to be about 3 kms away, and we decided to take his advice. The sun broke out, the forest was beautiful, and at first the decision appeared to be good. Certainly, for the next 90 minutes or so that we walked on the road we never saw another person, driving or not, such that I was glad I wasn’t at Ryusuianji, waiting for a non-existent car. Still, it was more like 5 kms to Highway 31, and when we got there, it scarcely looked any busier than the narrow mountain track we were just on.
Trafffic was sparse, and nearly all of it was headed back to Yoshinogawa, where our day had started. I was really beginning to despair, when a car stopped a little ways ahead and put on its flashers. Yes, they would be happy to take us to Shosanji. The contents of their tiny car was rearranged, and Ann and I crammed in the back. I was so grateful I was fighting back tears.
They drove us eight kms or so along the beautiful Akui River. Then, they stopped to buy us coffees. No, they would not dream of repayment. The little car struggled up the steep road to Shosanji, repeatedly over-heating from carrying the weight of all of us plus our packs. and forcing them to stop the car. The driver was a 42 year old resident of Toshigawa, the nearby big city; she was driving with her 60 year old mother, who had completed the pilgrimage in her past. When we got to the final intersection of the road with the trail, they parked the car and then walked with us up the final vertical climb to the temple. Then, we gave them a present, omiage from Seattle, for their unbelievable kindness. Ann and I bowed at the temple gates, about two hours past when we thought we would be there, in gratitude for having arrived at last.
We were late, but only 10 minutes past supper time. We tucked into an extensive vegan meal — plus they brought us a large Kirin to split between us. It was icy outside at this high elevation, with heaps of melting snow piled up around the property. But we were warmed first by our kotatsu and braizier, and then by our steeping in a Japanese bath. Since there was little to do otherwise, and we were exhausted physically and emotionally by our ordeal, we fell asleep early.