April 14, 2017
We leave Kaiyu Inn rather late, tempted by pancakes, waylaid by conversation. But this is a beautiful, sun-filled day that inspires a lazy attitude to our pilgrim mission. Within minutes we pass alongside the sweeping white sands of Ōki No Hama Beach. Behind us, the pristine white mass of Kaiyu Inn hangs above the turquoise Pacific, slowly disappearing as we make our way down the long arc of sand.
Is it already time for lunch?
By mid-afternoon, we reach our long-awaited destination, Kongōfukuji. This is Temple 38 on our pilgrimage route. It has taken three days and 90-kilometres of trekking to make our way here from Temple 37. On the 88 temple Henro-michi, this is the longest stretch between any two temples.
But the journey is worth it. Here, at the remote tip of Cape Ashizuri lies one of the most beautiful temple complexes. Kongōfukuji was established by Kōbō Daishi in 822 at the behest of Emperor Saga, who also asked Kōbō to carve a statue of Senju Kannon Bosatsu, the temple’s main deity. This eleven-handed Buddhist goddess of compassion and mercy appears in many forms throughout the temple grounds.
The true standout though, is the naturalistic landscape of Kongōfukuji. Pools of still water lie nested in fields of monumental rocks, each precicely positioned to offer perfect views to the various temple buildings – the Main Hall, the Daishi Hall, the bell tower. Paths wind through and around this stylized reflection of Nature, revealing new vistas, more details at every curve. It is a vision of perfection where the natural and the human meet in harmony.
We linger as long as possible in the Kongōfukuji world. But our day has not ended and we still have many kilometres to travel. Back on the highway, we head up the other side of Cape Ashizuri to our night’s accommodation in Tosa-Shimizu. It’s an easy but rushed walk, the final leg to this day’s 29-kilometre trek. But we manage to arrive at Minshuku Seiryu exactly at 6:00 PM, the latest a guest should arrive at a small Japanese inn where the host is preparing dinner for you. Our hosts swiftly usher us to our tatami mat room, then to the baths where we quickly cleanse and soak before heading to our dining space for a full Japanese dinner.
Seiryu has seen better days. The lobby is filled with unused furniture and broken equipment. Corridors are dark with peeling paint everywhere. The dining room, it turns out, is just a spare bedroom. But the food is top-notch and plentiful, the beer flows liberally and our room is a relatively tidy, clean oasis in this faded inn. Thankfully. It has been a long day.