Temples 41, 42, and 43

Estimated distance walked this day:  20 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 255 kms

We originally wanted the inn near Temple 41, because we knew this was going to be a long day of walking with the packs. However, that inn was unavailable, and we were starting from a bit north of Uwajima. I had checked the schedule several times, as these wanman trains in rural areas run so infrequently. We were to get up, walk to a convi to buy lunch, then to the train station. The couple of stops would shave off a little more than 4 kms off the day’s walk — worth it, we thought. This was especially true because the previous day’s haze had turned into a light rain that morning.

We got on the train, rode one stop, and I realized we were on the wrong train. We were heading north, and so I assumed that the train we needed would also be a north-bound train. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately for us, we wanted the south-bound train, which would go two stops in a northeasternly direction, before heading southeast.

When we jumped off the train, I was really beside myself, as the whole day’s plan was torn asunder. It wasn’t just a matter of going back, and then going the right direction on the right train, because the trains run so rarely — it’d be lunch before we started. However, Ann sensibly pointed out that, while we had gotten on the wrong train, it at least did us the favor of getting us a net 2 kms further down the road by the time we walked to the henro trail. So it was not the disaster that I had initially took it to be.

The sight of our originally-desired train station was a welcome one, because I knew we were on the correct path. It was a tromp over flat ground through rice patties to reach Ryukoji, Temple 41. From there, it was more walking along farmers’ fields in the rain, to Butsumokuji, Temple 42. This is a temple where people traditionally pray on the behalf of their companion animals, so I recalled our lost cats, Jasmine and Newt, and wished them the best over the Rainbow Bridge. We then ate our convi lunch under the dry eaves of one of the temple buildings, and watched it drip further.

We then set out again. From Butsumokuji, it was a steady climb up and up. At a henro hut, I found a discarded staff (see previous blog entry), which was helpful for the climb. At one point, the henro guide signs had some lengthy explanations, and me being functionally illiterate, it took a good 100 m of very steep climbing to realize that we had opted for going over the mountain instead of through the tunnel. It was worth the back-track to take the easier route.

Once out of the tunnel, we were back on a narrow mountain trail headed down. As we came down a steep set of stairs at one point, we came to a small temple complex,  with an overnighting henro rest hut. These small mountain temples are usually unmanned, but this one had someone resident. We could see him through the large picture window, his brazier glowing, writing with a traditional brush.

From there, the trail turned to a narrow paved track, which emptied onto a highway. The trudge along the busy road was improved only because it had stopped raining. When we reached the outskirts of Unomachi, I knew we were close. We were just barreling along when an old woman appeared out of nowhere, asking us if we were on the way to Meisekiji. Why yes, we were. Well then, you need to turn right at that last corner. We backtracked, and sure enough, there was a henro sticker telling us about the turn. This was not the only time on our journey when some elderly Japanese was on the street at just the right minute, helping us with some obscure turn. We took off across the rice paddy, went under the expressway, and then began another climb. Ann’s face fell. At this point it was late in the afternoon, and we were racing to get to the temple before it closed. It’s one thing to race, another to race up a hill with a full pack. A sign said that the temple was only 400 meters ahead, but while I found that encouraging, it had the opposite effect on Ann. Finally, I grabbed her pack, and hauled hers and mine up the hill.

We dropped the packs at the bus parking area near a souvenir stand, and started up the stairs to the temple gates. It was a beautiful temple, still sort of drippy from the rain of the day. After we got our books stamped, we asked for directions to the train station from the temple staff. They somewhat discouragingly stated that the best way to the train station was as my map indicated, up further the mountain, through the cemetery, then the Shinto shrine, and then down the hill. We walked back to our packs, and the owner of the souvenir shop gave the same discouraging directions. She drew a little map for me, with details like the location of the station in relation to the post office and city hall.

Well, we had no choice. We slung on the packs, hiked up the stone steps to the temple, climbed above to the cemetery, went past the shrine, walked through the woods, then dropped down to the street, down, down, turned on the highway, went past the post office, and city hall, and there was the station. While we were waiting for the train, I ate two packages of natto. Natto is this bitter fermented soybean concoction that has the sliminess of okra, with the stringiness of melted mozzarella cheese (without being hot). It is, as they say, an acquired taste. But considering how much walking we’d done, and the lateness of the hour, the natto was downright ambroisial.

I called the Sen Guesthouse, our night’s stay, to tell them we’d be late. No problem, and then I got the directions on how to get there: “take the number five street car to the end of the line, find the bathhouse, look for the defunct Doc Supermarket, turn right…” Ay yi yi. When we pulled into Matsuyama, there was no question. We jumped into a cab, and said, “take us to the Sen Guesthouse”. We arrived, checked in, and immediately headed out to get food. Any sort of food. Didn’t matter. We ended up at a yakitoriya, nothing fancy, and had a couple of beers with skewers of grilled chicken, and cabbage. By the time we toddled back to the Sen, we were pasted, and really ready for bed.

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