Estimated distance walked this day: 10 kms
Cumulative distance walked: 102 kms
After the day before’s mostly sunshine, this day was overcast, with occasional drizzles. We had a relatively easy day planned: take the train to a station near Temple 18, Onzanji, walk a couple of miles, visit the temple, walk a couple of miles, see Temple 19, Tatsueji, walk a mile, take the train back. Easy-peasy. We just needed to get back in time to make an inquiry at the bus station before it closed, plus a couple of in-town errands.
So, off we went. It was a pleasant ramble through the countryside, and then we started to climb up into the hills. I was pleased to catch a henro sticker by a cattle farm, and after passing the sheds, set into a narrow path through a bamboo thicket. By the time we made it to the top of the path at the thicket’s end, we came upon a sign that said that we were on the way to Temple 19. So, we had to back-track through the bamboo to the sheds. There, on our left, was a large pillar stating that this was the grounds of Temple 18, and a smaller sign just beyond directing car traffic one way and pedestrians the other.
This gets to the issue of signage. Generally, the signage is excellent. There are a collection of benevolent societies that put up stickers along nearly every conceivable piece of street furniture: lamp posts, guard rails, etc. They also hang small signs from tree limbs in the mountains. Then, there are the old stone pillars from days of yore that are largely worn to nothing. However, new stone pillars have been erected, and these generally have the temple name and number on them. Then, from time to time, when the path winds through a more difficult route to thread, usually through different farmers’ paths and driveways, a small map may be included.
For our purposes of navigation, though, one of our problems is that quite often the sign will state that we’re in the direction of a particular temple, but of course not just the name of the temple is in Chinese characters, so are the numbers. The characters for 18 simply do not jump out to our Western eyes like the Arabic numerals. When a route has a branch off, and then a double-back, it is easy to miss the turn.
So, anyway, we then hiked up the hill to Onzanji. I thought this was a beautiful temple set into the hill. We then retraced our steps by the cow sheds, through the bamboo, back up the hill, and set out for the next temple. As we walked along the road, we stopped briefly at a shop for a snack. Then we walked, and walked, and walked. Ann stated that it was the longest 2 kms she had ever walked, but there was no sign of the turn-off for Temple 19. Finally, I stopped some young fellow about to get into his truck and asked for help. He must have decided that he would be useless in giving directions, because he ran to the office for his company and a nice lady came out. Well. It turned out that we had not only missed the turn off to Temple 19, we were maybe halfway to Temple 20. With this piece of discouraging news, I asked the next essential question: any place around here to get food? Why yes, over yonder, by the highway, there’s a noodle shop.
Well, while the first piece of news was bad, the second was better. We walked about another half km to the noodle shop and plopped down behind the counter. The sight of us initially produced alarm from the owners and the one or two patrons who were lingering around. However, their fears were assuaged when I started to translate the menu for Ann.
We got two bowls of beef udon (one of two times so far on our trip when I’ve had beef), and I told the story of our woes. They tried to help. Why not just walk on to Temple 20 and spend the night near there? No, our big backpacks were at our hotel in Tokushima. Ok, then, just walk another km to the bus stop and go back to Tokushima that way? No, I semi-howled, we missed the turn, and we still hadn’t visited Temple 19! At this point, the full force of our calamity hit, and they laughed. A couple of cups of coffee and some sweets were brought out, on the house. While we sipped our coffee, Ann and I had to make some decisions. It was now around 2:00, we still needed to not just get to the temple but back into town before things closed. So I prevailed upon the shop owner to call a cab. By the time our coffee was finished, the cab arrived. Of course, it took him a short time down the highway to get there. Money well spent. But for all the trouble it took to get there, the Temple itself was unremarkable. We got our books stamped, waited for the next train, and returned to Tokushima.