Walking a pilgrimage can be a solitary activity. Gail and I have each other for company, but many travel solo. On occasion our paths mesh for just a moment, loosely intertwining on the trail or at a temple. We exchange pleasantries as best we can, considering we speak only English and they, with few exceptions, are Japanese and speak only Japanese. The 88-temple route is, after all, a pilgrimage deeply engrained in Japanese history and culture. This is their pilgrimage and we are the Western interlopers.
But there are growing numbers of foreigners plying this path. Just as we discovered the Henro-michi back home, so too have any number of other foreign nationals. We have met pilgrims from the United States, Australia, China, France and the Netherlands.
Today, our route will cross paths with Simon from Germany. (more…)
Tsushimachō Iwamatsu can be thought of as a suburb of Uwajima. Today’s brief 15-kilometre walk, which takes us from the former to the latter, follows a busy road lined with a non-stop collage of roadside shops and big-box sheds. It’s a utilitarian stretch of car-based enterprises typical of a North American exurban strip. Yet, here in Japan, it is an entertaining journey.
It all seems so familiar, yet exotic. Gas stations, pachinko palaces, auto dealerships, barber shops, 100-yen stores and fishmongers draw our attention as we make our way downtown. We meet a fellow long-distance walker from the Netherlands. Where? At a Lawson’s, of course. Our walk ends, appropriately, at a another Lawson convenience store, this one huddled alongside the lobby of the Uwajima Orient Hotel. (more…)
The next two days will see us walking down the very same highway we sped along by bus yesterday. Then, it took a little over an hour to be whisked to Uwajima. Today’s 28-kilometre walk – 5 hours of solid walking at a brisk pace – will only get us part of the way there.
So why walk? Why not just take the bus? Today’s trek speaks to those questions.
As slow as two-footed locomotion may be, there is an intensity to the experience where every step can reveal something new. A chance to look up, down and around, to catch aromas from someone cooking as we pass by, to hear all kinds of sounds – to reflect – minute-by-minute. (more…)
Today is a rest day. Free of hours-long walking. A chance to visit local sites. And to eat, of course.
Unfortunately, Ainan Town does not seem to offer much in the way of nearby sightseeing opportunities. So we hop on a bus and head east, down the coast to the larger and more promising city of Uwajima. 72 minutes later, we arrive at the train station in the heart of a much more bustling metropolis.
It’s still early morning. Castles, gardens and temples beckon. But I am immediately waylaid by the site of a Lawson convenience store. (more…)
A slight drizzle accompanies our way out of Sukumo. Light enough to pack our rain coats away, letting the cool dew dampen our clothes and drip off the brows of our conical hats.
We head inland, away from the sea and up into the hills, following small roads and forest trails, cutting our way through dense fog. Out of the hazy white emerge splashes of vibrant colour. Wild rhododendron hang above us. Flourishes of red, yellow, white blossoms line our path. We pass through small hill villages and orchards of buntan, a large bright yellow citrus fruit, similar-looking to grapefruit. The pungent scent of Japanese onions comes and goes like the mist. (more…)
If yesterday’s walk was 6 kilometre’s too long – due to a lack of available lodgings along the way – today’s walk would be that much shorter. Just a 19-kilometre stroll to our pre-booked hotel in Sukumo.
Gail and I survived Shimuzugawa-sō, our strange bunkhouse-in-the-woods. In fact, we slept well that night and ate a hearty breakfast this morning. Our smiling, elderly host makes a daylight appearance and waves good-bye as we head down the road on this overcast, misty morning.
Mid-morning, we arrive at Enkōji, Temple 39 on the Henro-michi. The temple was founded in 724 and restored by Kōbō Daishi in 795. Nestled on the pleasant grounds of Enkōji is the typical bell tower, where pilgrims ring a gong to announce their arrival to Kōbō Daishi. In this case, the massive bronze gong has its own story. (more…)
The hosts at Seiryu, our well-worn lodging in Tosa-Shimizu, sent us off for the day with a wonderful Japanese breakfast. A good thing considering this will be a long 39-kilometre day of walking.
We will be traversing a particularly remote part of Shikoku. Accommodations are both rare and well-booked. Tonight’s accommodation took perseverance to secure and required the assistance of an English-speaking women at the tourist information centre, way back in Kochi City.
We watched intently and hopefully as she phoned various minshuku and ryokan lodgings near our preferred destination, Mihari Village. We listened to the lengthy, rapid fire Japanese conversations, not knowing what was being said until, ultimately, she would disconnect and, with a sad shake of her head, say “so sorry…” It took several calls, several long discussions before the host at Shimuzugawa-sō found room for us. (more…)