Estimated distance walked this day: 10 kms
Cumulative distance walked: 279 kms
At this point we were doing temples far out of order, but no worries. With the big festival at the Onsen, plus it being a holiday weekend, accommodations were really scarce in Matsuyama. At first we had hoped to stay at the hot springs resort between Temple 44 and 45, but it was booked up too. We had the owner of the Sen Guesthouse, Nori, put in a plea with the owner of a small inn near 45. I overheard the conversation, and at this point, my Japanese was good enough that I could get the general tenor of the conversation. First, it was no, I don’t want to deal with foreigners. Nori wore her down. These were henro. Walking henro. They will eat Japanese food. They can use chopsticks. They will be okay with a Japanese style bath. They will not wear their boots on the tatami mats, and will be okay with sleeping on futon. One of them speaks some basic Japanese. As each objection was met, we finally got the okay. We were set.
We got up early, and took the streetcar from the Sen to the Matsuyama station, and pulled out a big black trash bag and stuffed it in the coin locker. All we were taking was enough to do an overnight, so while we were carrying our backpacks, we just had the bare essentials, plus lunch.
We then caught a bus. It was raining lightly. After the bus headed out to the countryside, it then wound up a steep mountainside. We rose up into the mists.
At the top was the town of Kuma. We stopped in a small supermarket directly opposite the small bus station, and got food for a picnic lunch. We then walked about a km to Temple 44, Daihoji. This is a forest temple, backed into the trees, and very peaceful. Like so many temples in the mountains, it was fifty million stone steps (ok, that’s an exaggeration, but only a small one) to get to the main hall, but it was worth it.
From the back of Daihoji, we took a trail leading into the trees. There were warning signs posted, but my Japanese was only good enough to know that we were being warned, not what the hazard was. It was a pretty trail, but on the downhill side, we found what the hazard was. The trail was partially washed out due to logging in the area. We carefully threaded our way through the washout, and continued down the hill.
We stopped at one rest hut, where the trail joined the road, and I got a hot coffee from a vending machine, and slurped it down. We walked about another km or so, and came to another rest hut, and decided to eat lunch there. Better to eat under shelter, and a rest hut in the hand is worth one maybe indicated later on the map.
We were then in a river valley, and the trail had us mostly traipse through farmers’ fields along the river, while the road paralleled the other side of the river bank. Then it was up a long rise, and down the other side, picking up a new creek on the downhill side. It had stopped raining, but the trail was still muddy and wet, and took some caution.
We hit a fork in the road, and had a decision to make. Either we would go up, into the mountains, and then drop down behind the temple through the back, or continue to follow the creek to the main road, and then climb back up the last half km or so to the temple.
Since Ann wanted the flatter, latter path, and the route was very well marked, we split up. We would rendezvous at Temple 45, Iwayaji.
I set off, and it was a tough climb up from the fork. My reading of the map is about 200 meters gain over .6 kms. A 33% grade, right? At the top, the trail I was on crossed with another standard hiking trail in the mountains, and I used the spot to take a break, have a small snack and drink a lot of water.
The trail then ran along the ridgetop. I think I took some pictures, but what it mostly looked like was endless forested hills, in all directions.
After reaching the summit at 785 m, it was then a gradual drop, and then a steep drop. Down, down, rocky stairs slick with rain. As I came down, I could see a small devotional area and rest hut, a common sight close to a mountain temple. I was carefully picking my way down the steps, doing my best to focus which foot was going where, when I looked up…
…and gave a cry of surprise…
Set in a huge niche in the rock wall opposite, was a 8m? 10m? tall sculpture of Acala. He was holding his flaming sword of transcendent wisdom.
The whole thing was a set-up, and I fell into it perfectly. You don’t see the figure as you come down the trail until you’re nearly upon it, but once you look up…it’s clearly designed to startle someone potentially into an enlightenment experience.
I continued threading my way down the slope, and then gazed up at the figure from the bottom.
From there, it was more steps down, until I reached the back gates of the temple. I then dropped down, looking to set my bags at the nokyo office. Who should I see coming up the other way, was Ann, just arriving from the other direction. Perfect timing.
This whole temple is really quite remarkable, as it is set into caves on the side of the mountain. I went into several small devotional areas inside the smaller caves. I also set aside my usual fear of heights and climbed up this rather terrifying ladder to get to an upper cave where they had a small Jizo. I am not sure it was really worth the way up or down, but I didn’t fall off, so there’s that.
After a thorough exploration of all the niches and caves, having done our prayers and meditations, and getting our books stamped, we then headed down.
For Ann this was a reprise of her route, and I got to see the .7 kms of steps she came up. We passed by masses of Jizo statues. It felt like an endless staircase winding through the forest.
At the bottom we were at the road, and now it was time to find our inn. We were a little early, but no harm. Mrs. Kadota ushered us in, and we were shown our room. It was right by the river, and with the window open a crack (I don’t care how safe those room heaters are supposed to be, I like the window open a crack just in case of carbon monoxide leakage), you could hear the river rushing by the back of the home. It was really quite pretty, despite the still gloomy weather.
Mrs. Kadota spoke with a broad Shikoku accent, and it was clear that she found us, two gaijin henro, to be an enormous novelty. She wanted to make us eat all kinds of small but pungent Japanese foods, like umeboshi and natto, just to see if we could do it. She was also a good cook in her own right, and made us a fine dinner. After all the mountain hiking and the rain, after a ton of good food and a hot Japanese bath, we were snug in our warm futons that night, listening to the babble of the river.