Temples 55, 54, 56, 57, 58

Estimated distance walked this day:  13 kms

Cumulative distance walked: 307 kms

When I made the reservation the previous day for our night’s stay, I also made a reservation for the next night. I used this free brochure I picked up that had, with its many ads, some useful information about each temple’s layout. This hotel advertised as being near Temple 59. Since I was so relieved to find some place that had a vacancy during the holiday weekend, I didn’t check to see exactly where it was until I hung up. It was near Temple 59, our goal for the day, if you were driving, but not really for a walking pilgrim. No worries, I thought, we’ll just use the train to get there.

So we set off on the train to Imabari, where this large cluster of temples was located. Since Nankobo, Temple 55, was close to the train station, we started there first. Imabari was a “cyclist’s Mecca” according to the tourist brochures, and with a sunny, clear day on a holiday weekend, we saw lots of Real Cyclists ™ there, with padded bike shorts, helmets, and fancy road bikes.

Nankobo, like many temples, had burned to the ground at least once in its history. Usually the fires destroying temples took place during the Warring States period, but this temple, being located in an urban center of a manufacturing and port city, most recently was destroyed in what the Japanese call the Pacific War, and what we call World War II. The temple court yard was turned into a parking lot, which solves some problems for the temple, but decreases its charm. There was a boy, maybe aged about eight or nine, playing at the koi pond in front of the temple, with no apparent adult nearby. Since we were given so many hard candies along the way as osettai, we had an enormous stash of these, so I gave him one while I was waiting for Ann. I guess they don’t teach kids not to take candies from strangers.

Then we had a walk that seemed to be a lot longer than the supposed 3.8 kms that it was supposed to be. Navigation was just that much harder because we were working backwards. The road up to Enmeiji, Temple 54, had little shops selling snacks, religious knick-knacks and charms, and famous (at least in Japan) Imabari towels.

After visiting the temple, we were working it sort of cross country, not on the pilgrim route in any direction, cutting over to try to reach Taisanji, Temple 56. At this point, it was lunch time, but none of the local noodle shops were particularly compelling. We ended up going to the convi, a Circle K, and buying a picnic style lunch. We then ate it at a bench at a tiny park under the expressway, which was about as charming as it sounds. Someone stopped her car while we were sitting there, and gave us oranges — maybe because we looked like a couple derelicts, as much as we looked like pilgrims.

Then we walked a little further on this busy highway, and came around and up to Taisanji, Temple 56. At this temple, the temple guardian spirit sculptures are very old, and considered to be a National Treasure. A Japanese walking pilgrim, the usual retired gentleman, showed me where they had stashed them, as they were too old and valuable to have in their usual positions at the temple gates. They were behind glass inside the temple offices. I appreciate them being available for general viewing, as many temple treasures are often only displayed at certain days of the year. This temple also was the first that I remember cherry blossoms being out. From here on out, depending on elevation, latitude, and species, we’d be seeing the cherry trees in bloom.

It was then over the flat farmers’ fields, across a river, and we were at Eifukuji, Temple 57. This was a pleasant temple set against a hill, with the different buildings at different levels. For a place named Good Luck Temple, I must note that it has burnt to the ground several times, and was deserted for nearly a century. Or maybe that’s what luck is about — the ability to bounce back after many trials. Hmmm….

From there, Ann pointed to a roof we could see at the top of a big hill nearby, a mountain, nearly, and joked that was our next temple. It turned out not to be a joke. The walk was on a trail alongside a little lake for a bit, and I could hear what could have been snakes slithering away in the grass as I tapped my pilgrim’s staff along the path.

As an aside, we saw a lot of signs on the henro trail when we were off-road, warning us against snakes, and pit vipers specifically. On the entire pilgrimage, I saw only two snakes, and they were small — they looked like baby snakes to me. Maybe they hatch in the spring, who knows. But along with those two snakes, I probably saw at least three dozen lizards. So, if there were little slithery noises in the grass, I am choosing to believe that these unseen creatures were harmless lizards. Just sayin’

Ok, so after we left the lake, it was a serious climb up. There were 33 statues of Kannon on the way. Then we were at Senryuji, Temple 58. According to Temple lore, the main building was constructed by a woman, who piously prostrated herself in prayer at each cutting of her saw. It’s rare enough for any temple to have any credit made to a female, so perhaps there’s a grain of truth to this legend.

As we made our way down the trail from the temple, the late afternoon was slanting golden beams through the trees. We finally got far enough down that I got cell phone reception, and I made a call to our hotel, telling them that we’d be late coming in. The guy answering the phone said he had no record of our reservation, plus, they were full.

Ok, so you can imagine. It’s a holiday weekend. Everything in central Imabari is booked, I know, because I called all those places before, and was thrilled to get the place that I did, even if it really wasn’t near Temple 59 (and it was clear we weren’t going to make it to Temple 59 this day, for sure.) I’m sitting on the edge of a rice paddy, at 5:15 pm, and our feet are falling off, because we’ve done a lot, and I mean, a lot, of walking that day. I open up the guide book, which has a two page map spread, showing the locations of Temples 57, 58, and 59. Over this two page spread, ie, for miles around, there is only one, count ’em one, only one place listed, Hotel Cosmo.

I call the Hotel Cosmo. Sure, they have a vacancy. Non-smoking twin? No problem! We walk on the pilgrim path until it intersects with Highway 196. We tromp along the busy road, until we reach the Hotel Cosmo. It’s not a palace, but we don’t need a palace — we just need a bed. It’s not expensive, and it’s clean. No Wi-Fi, but they do have a computer in the lobby that guests can use. Considering we were facing potential disaster, this was all mighty fine. After dinner in their little cafe (I had a Hamburg Set, which was sort of a hamburger with gravy, rice, and a green salad), I put up a blog post, had a nice hot shower, and went to bed.

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