April 7, 2017
Kochi was hard to leave behind on this wet, dreary day as we make our way past Temple 31 – Chikurinji – on our way out of town. Just two days ago, we climbed treed slopes to this temple under a blazing sun. Today, the restaurant and overlook at its crest are mired in a grey mist, barely visible. Further on, the equally grey concrete structure of an under-construction highway imposes itself on the quiet landscape of low-hung hills, reflecting its menacing bulk in the glassy surfaces of age-old rice paddies.
As gloomy as the trek may seem, it is brought to life by vivid, saturated colours accented by mysterious clouds of mist rising from the forested hills. Cherry blossoms are now at their best, in full bloom, bright and cheery as we pass under their bows.
We soon reach the base of Temple 32 – Zenjibuji – and climb its steep steps to the temple grounds. The Main Hall and Daishi Hall are tightly huddled in an attractive landscape of rock outcrops. Despite the rain, the site is busy with Henro reciting their sutras.
The temple grounds are 200 metres high, with a view overlooking the wet coastal landscape we have yet to cross. We make our way back down to sea level and follow a string of narrow service roads lined with greenhouses and raised dirt paths, defining the edges of rectangular rice paddies. There’s just enough time for a quick lunch at the counter of a Maranuka chain-style department store before hopping on a free ferry to Nagahama.
From the ferry, it’s a short walk to Sekkeji, Temple 33. Founded as a Shingon temple by Kōbō Daishi in the late 700s, it was converted to the Rinzai (Zen) sect in the 1500s, then fell into disuse before being restored in 1880. This is one of only three Zen temples to be seen along the 88 temple pilgrimage.
The rain finally abates. As often happens, we cross paths with fellow pilgrims, intermittently walking side-by-side as our pace, energy levels and mutual interests merge for a brief time. Today our walk has woven in and around the paths of two Japanese pilgrims. One, nattily dressed in maroon rain pants and jacket, speaks no English and, as we pass her or she passes us, our acknowledgements amount to pleasant smiles and slight bows. The other is quite fluent in English and, after a few brief greetings over the day’s course, our walks finally synchronize betweenTemples 33 and 34. He is a judge in a municipal court in Yokohama, and has taken time off from his work to walk a small portion of the Henro-michi. We talk of life in Canada and life in Japan, comparing notes as we move along.
But Tenemaji, Temple 34 arrives quickly and this is the last we will see of our walking companion. We part ways at a nearby bus stop where he will make his way back to Yokohama and back to his work as judge.
Gail and I finish the day with a two-kilometre walk to a nearby resort, Haruno Spa. It’s late and we’re tired but the spa comforts us with a long, cleansing dip in its hot water baths followed by a good meal of sashimi. It is this one-two punch of the refreshing bath ritual and superb food that makes travel in Japan so special, making the night of each hard day of walking something to look forward to.