kobo daishi

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: Osettai

April 15, 2017

The hosts at Seiryu, our well-worn lodging in Tosa-Shimizu, sent us off for the day with a wonderful Japanese breakfast. A good thing considering this will be a long 39-kilometre day of walking.

We will be traversing a particularly remote part of Shikoku. Accommodations are both rare and well-booked. Tonight’s accommodation took perseverance to secure and required the assistance of an English-speaking women at the tourist information centre, way back in Kochi City.

We watched intently and hopefully as she phoned various minshuku and ryokan lodgings near our preferred destination, Mihari Village. We listened to the lengthy, rapid fire Japanese conversations, not knowing what was being said until, ultimately, she would disconnect and, with a sad shake of her head, say “so sorry…” It took several calls, several long discussions before the host at Shimuzugawa-sō found room for us. (more…)

Shikoku: Kongōfukuji

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. (more…)

Shikoku: Minshuku Micchan

April 8, 2017

It would be a hard day.

We knew this before setting off from Haruna Spa. Comfortable beds, refreshing hot baths, filling meals are all fine reasons to spend the night here. But it is off the henro path and, at the outset, adds two kilometres to this day’s trek. We had originally planned to stay the night at Tosa City, five kilometres further on. But no rooms were available so we had to choose the spa as an earlier stop. That’s an extra seven kilometres, stretching today’s walk into the thirty-kilometre range.

When we do reach Tosa City, another reality sets in. The usually reliable trail signage is now vague or non-existent. We soon lose the path as we make our way through town to Kiyotakji, Temple 35. More time, more footsteps are added to this day’s ever-lengthening journey.

After a modest climb, Kiyotakji rewards us with its fine setting of temple structures tightly clustered around the rocky terrain. It’s another wet day but, up here, the morning fog adds a layer of mystery to the scene. A large bronze statue of Kōbō Daishi looms, enshrouded by mist. A tracery of flimsy limbs laden with soft pink cherry blossoms cross the light grey backdrop of trees and temples. (more…)