Estimated distance walked this day: 15 kms
Cumulative distance walked: 294 kms
When we arrived at our inn the night before, we told our inn keeper of our plan to take the bus off the mountain the following day. She thought that was pretty funny, because the next day was a national holiday (and we knew this — this was part of the reason why Matsuyama was so booked up) and therefore, duh, the little bus we planned to take doesn’t run on holidays! Yay!
It didn’t matter what our original plan was for this day was, then — we were just going to do our best to figure it out. The worst case scenario was sleeping in a henro hut or the train station, and surely we could do better than that.
Our first step was to leave the area of Temple 45. Since there was no immediate bus, we would hike out. We would use the road. It was a little longer, but a lot flatter, and easy to navigate. We woke up early, had a hardy breakfast right at 6:00 am, and headed out.
The ground was still damp from rains during the night, but the weather was on the path to clear and sunny, so the rain had stopped before we hit the road. Since it was very early on a holiday, traffic was light. At one point, as we were climbing up, out of the river valley, we saw a wild monkey run across the road — the closest we ever got to one on our journey.
The 1.7 km Tonomido tunnel at the top was the longest, and frankly, the scariest tunnel of the pilgrimage. I tied my red bandanna to the end of my pilgrim staff, and waved it as we walked through, to help motorists see us. A logging truck came through just as other traffic was coming the opposite direction, and I flattened myself against the tunnel wall as a precaution. Yikes.
We made it to a bus stop in time to catch a bus that was running on a holiday, after about 10 kms of walking. This was at about 10:20 or so in the morning. So it took us about three hours to hike out. Could have been worse.
As we came out of the mountains, I finally got mobile phone reception, and started calling places to stay. Everything was booked solid for the holiday weekend, and I was really starting to fear that we would be sleeping in the train station. Then, I saw in the guidebook that there was an inn directly across from Temple 53. Well, why not call? Sure enough, unlike 99% apparently of all other accommodations, they had a vacancy.
With this worry out of the way, we picked up our things from the Matsuyama coin locker, and took the wanman train out to Enmyoji, Temple 53. We found the inn first, and quietly dropped the heavy packs there. Then we visited the temple, a small one. Supposedly, it has a statue of Mary, disguised as Kannon, which could be used as a focus of worship by crypto-Christians, but we never found this statue.
We then walked out to Temple 52, Taisanji. For a temple with its name, “Big Mountain Temple”, it’s really just on a hill. Just some steps up, and you’re there. Many temples have a theme of helping with fertility and easing childbirth, but this particular temple has the opposite. If you don’t want to get pregnant, you are supposed to leave a needle at the temple. Now, if you do want to get pregnant, you are to pick up a needle left by someone who didn’t want to have a baby, and you are supposed to use this needle to sew yourself a pair of underpants. No joke. Since my chance of pregnancy at this point is pretty much nil either way, I did nothing with needles there.
We walked back to the Uematsu family’s inn, and they had photos up of their own pilgrimage, and it really gave the impression that serving henro was their business. They set up the green tea and snacks, and once again we got to enjoy the hospitality of staying at a small inn like this. It wasn’t a huge walking day — just about 16 kms all told, but it was nice to be welcomed. The rest of the evening was hot baths, dinner, and an early bedtime.