April 16, 2017
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. It is said that, in the 11th Enki period (about 950) a small red turtle (shyakki) carried the gong on its back, up from the sea and to the mountainside temple. Since then, the mountain has been known as Shyakkizan.
We may be retracing the route of that red turtle as we make our way back down to the oceanside town of Sukumo. It’s only noontime, a little early to check into our hotel, so we head over to the tourist office in the train station where an English-speaking agent helps us make a reservation for an upcoming sleepover. Fascinated by the Westerners in Henro garb, he sets us up front of a few Sukumo tourist posters to take our picture. No doubt we’ll be the star attraction on Sukumo’s website or part of a Powerpoint presentation at some Japanese tourism convention.
We ask him about recommended lunch spots but, sheepishly, steer him away from tempura and sashimi and towards a nearby Mos Burgers. Mos, an acronym for mountain, ocean, sun, is the second largest fast food chain in Japan and, it seems, well-loved by its Japanese patrons. We discovered Mos several days ago and delighted in the melding of Western and Japanese fast food cuisine. It turns out that our tourist agent is a Mos fan, too. He happily sends us down the road to burger heaven, Japanese-style.
Our hotel stands at the edge of this small city, on a busy thoroughfare alongside an assortment of concrete industrial buildings. Hotel Avan Sukumo fits right in. It’s new. It looks tidy. But the exterior is a rationalist (read: severe) checkerboard of square windows set in walls of unadorned concrete. So it is with much of the larger-scaled Japanese architecture we have seen on the island. There is a get-it-done-already quality that contrasts with the low-lying residential architecture replete with traditionally-inspired statuary, tile roofs and wood panels.
It’s an afternoon for goofing off. We head down the street to a nearby cake shop, a sparkling display of wildly coloured treats with fillings unknown to Westerners. We pick a few with our eyes and watch as our server carefully packages our modest purchase. First a decorative box, then a cold-pack, next our desserts and finally a showy bag sealed with the bakery’s label. We don’t know what it will taste like but we do know it is beautiful.
We move next door to the bookstore. It is all-Japanese, as most are, but still fascinating with a vast collection of manga, pocket books, magazines and stationery. More remarkable is that a city of 21,000 can support such a large bookstore. Remarkable to Canadians, at least, who can only watch as our own bookstores shrink and disappear. Yet, here in Japan, bookstores are everywhere and flourishing.
The day ends at a modest roadside restaurant near our hotel. The place is comfortable and the food good. It’s just not Mos.