Shikoku: Last Steps

April 22, 2017

Today’s walk will be bittersweet. An easy 20 kilometers from now we will reach Ōzu, the endpoint of our springtime walk along the Henro-michi.

After a good Japanese-style breakfast, Gail and I set off from Matsu-ya, our business hotel in Unomachi. Budget-conscious Simon has foregone the expense of a hotel meal and is already on his way to his morning fast food fix at a Lawson’s convenience store.

The pilgrimage route takes us down the quiet streets of Unomachi, then Uwa. Or so we think. There is little definition, few clear boundaries and, it seems, no signage to tell us when we leave one community and enter another. But that is not unusual here on Shikoku. Streets just flow like a river from town to town, merge into rice paddies and cross forested valley floors, only to re-emerge in another community.  (more…)

Shikoku: Three Temples and an Izakaya

April 21, 2017

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…)

Shikoku: Uwajima Exotica

April 20, 2017

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…)

Shikoku: Why We Walk

April 19, 2017

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…)

Shikoku: A Day in Uwajima

April 18, 2017

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…)

Shikoku: Temples

April 17, 2017

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…)

Shikoku: In Praise of Mos

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. (more…)