Shikoku: A Royal Procession

April 10, 2017

We are reluctant to leave the luxurious digs of Kuroshio Honsen. After all, here we are enjoying our Japanese breakfast and, just outside our table-side window, rain pours down over scenic Kure Bay, reducing it to a sorry display of blue-greys. But there are 28 kilometres to cover and we know there’s a reward at the end of this day’s trek.

Rain is no longer our nemesis. It has become more of an unshakable partner. It may not have been invited to our adventure but it adds to the conversation. A ceaseless downpour accompanies us all day. In its shadowless light, bright flowers – yellows, pinks, reds, whites –  glow against a backdrop of muted greens. Rain drops cling to the soft pink and white petals of magnolia blooms. Cherry blossoms, nearing the end of their brief spring performance, tumble to earth under the weight of the steady rain. Clusters of vivid red camellia florets carpet our royal procession along the henro-michi. 

The day starts with a fairly significant climb up the Soemimiza Trail, through forests rendered atmospheric in today’s veil of mist. A sophisticated but steep set of stairs leads us up and around the Kochi Expressway as it slashes a path through the lush mountain terrain. Soon enough we rejoin the sidewalks paralleling Highway 56. By mid-afternoon, we reach Temple 37, Iwamotoji. We’ve been walking at least 57 kilometres – two days – since our last temple and the rain has managed to track us down at both!

Thankfully the temple’s main hall can be entered, a temporary refuge for two soggy henro. Above the usual altar arrangement is a remarkable ceiling. Within its recessed wood coffers are 575 (I’m told) unique paintings. It’s a beautiful display of craftsmanship and artistry, to be sure, but I can’t help thinking that every temple interior also has something remarkable. It is a shame that most are inaccessible but for a glimpse through a small pane of glass.

Ten kilometres further down the highway is Kobushi-no-sato, our refuge for the night. It looks like a forlorn roadside motel on this grey, wet evening but inside we are pampered royally. Staff are all over us with towels as we check in, dripping wet. We briefly settle into our typical Japanese-style room with its tatami mat flooring and sparse furnishings.

After a long, relaxing soak in the public baths, we make our way to the dining room for a spectacular Sawachi feast. It is a gasp-worthy moment as a table-filling platter of mountain and sea delicacies is set down between us. Clams, conches, snails, shrimp, sashimi are all nested in a setting of fresh fruit and vegetable tempura. The glistening head of a snapper springs out of the sea of food. And, perhaps as a nod to our day’s procession down paths carpeted with vibrant spring flowers, our Sawachi platter is swathed in sprays of cherry blossoms.

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