Estimated distance walked this day: 24 kms
Cumulative distance walked: 324 kms
The next morning, I got up bright and early to hit the trail. The first order of the day was to climb to Temple 60, Yokomineji. For all I knew, this would take most of the day, as the temple is on a mountaintop.
After climbing up on the road, I came to the trailhead. The trail clearly was closed. In an overly-thorough Japanese manner, the map they provided as guidance should all the paths I could not take as well as the correct route, and a plasticized sheet of instructions far over my reading level. While I stood there, puzzling this out, a woman pulls up in a Crown Royal Saloon. As it turned out, she had driven up to the trailhead to fill a dozen four liter bottles with mountain spring water. She told me I could not use the path here (yeah, at least this I could noodle out), and offered to drive me to an alternative trailhead. I helped her fill her bottles, hopped into her car, and she took off. Like many who gave us help along the way, she had done the pilgrimage in the past, and was happy to provide assistance.
As we drove to the other trailhead, I saw groups of pilgrims doing ascetic training with a monk in the lead, as well as recognizing one or two folks that I had met up with previously on the trail, including the man who showed me the temple guardians two days before. Finally, she dropped me off, and I waved goodbye with my thanks. This trailhead was about two kms closer to the temple, so she saved me some steps as well as getting me to a safe way up the hill.
The trail was very steep here, nothing but steps switchbacking through the forest. However, it really didn’t go on for long, and I was up at the temple. Piles of snow were still melting here, even this late in the season. While we were in the forest, there was not much of a view, other than of other temple buildings. I did my prayers and meditations, and then went to the nokyo office. Since the easiest way down was not the way I had just come, but the way with the blocked path, I asked the monk if it was possible to go down that way. He responded that of course it was safe, leaving me scratching my head, but if you can’t trust a monk….
As I left the temple grounds, I could hear the sounding of a conch echoing through the hills. To listen to a conch calling people to prayer is like hearing a shofar. The sound has been the same through the centuries.
Most of the trail through this next section was up and down the ridge line. It was here, on this trail, that I saw my baby snakes. I also heard here lots of other rustling through the leaves, and figured I was best off tapping my stick as I walked along.
The trail also crisscrossed logging roads and powerline maintenance trails as I loped along. Everything was well-marked, but in Japanese. If you didn’t know the characters for “electrical power” you might have gone astray.
Finally, the trail dropped to a crossing, and I opted to continue on what should be the closed trail. And, it wasn’t long before the trail was roped off. But this time, there was a simple sign with an arrow marking the detour. The detour was well-maintained, a series of even switchbacks down the hillside. I stopped at one with a bench, and had lunch, and looked the view.
I came back through Temple 61, Kouonji. The guidebook says that it is known for its modern concrete structures. To me, this temple’s buildings and courtyard had all the charm of a quad at a mediocre Christian college (as the former manager of the Washington Higher Education Facilities Authority, I’ll not mention which one). But the staff was very nice at the nokyo office.
By the time I was back in town, it was still before 2:00, and Ann and I decided that we might as well catch a few more temples while we were in town. It was supposedly only about a kilometer to Kichijoji, Temple 63, but once again we missed the turn. We caught up to a woman henro about our age, Keiko, and she confirmed that we were well on the way to Maejamiji, Temple 64. Rather than go back, we pushed on. Outside Maejamiji, I saw one of the few beggars I’d ever see along the henro path, and gave him one of the oranges that I had received as osettai at some point or another.
After visiting Maejamiji, Keiko confirmed the route down the hill to the train station. Through some miracle, we just made it on to the wanman train. If we had missed this train, we would have had more than an hour’s wait, and would not been able to make it back to Kichijoji before it closed, either on foot or by train. We got off, visited the temple, and then did the 1 km walk back to our inn.
This time they served sukiyaki, and we ate heartily. It was a big day of walking for me, and I was glad to have the food and the rest.