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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
April 9, 2017
Today’s walk starts with great promise. After a fine Japanese breakfast, our obliging hostess at Minshuku Micchan loads us into her diminutive car and drives us up the steep winding road to its junction with Highway 47. We don our backpacks and say our goodbyes in a halting mishmash of English, Japanese and hand gestures.
The road is still shrouded in mist, the remnants of yesterday’s rain showers. But the fog soon lifts, revealing a deep blue sky and outstanding views over the Pacific Ocean. It’s not long before we strip down to T-shirts on this hot, humid and now sunny stretch of pavement. It’s a beautiful day for a 30-kilometre walk. Continue reading
With our planned excursions to sakura-viewing locales foiled, we needed to fill our second scheduled day in Kochi with other activities. It was a rain-filled day, so museum visits seemed appropriate.
That morning, we headed off by commuter train to the nearby town of Ino, home of the Japanese Paper Museum. As far back as the early 1980s, I had taken papermaking courses and, later on, I had built several accordion books for my Walk Project using Japanese washi designed for inkjet printing. In fact, the paper I used was manufactured by Awagami Paper, located just outside Tokushima, right here on Shikoku. So the museum was very much a worthwhile visit, with enough English translation to adequately explain the Tosa paper making process. The visit included a hands-on paper making exercise. Both Gail and I walked away with handsome sets of postcard-sized paper…made by us.
The whims of nature threw a huge curve ball in the direction of my careful planning.
I had plotted our entire trip around Japan’s cherry blossom season. I had studied past years’ reports for the best time to see the sakura in full bloom. Flights were arranged so we would arrive here, in Kochi, exactly as the blossoms were at their peak. Plans were in place to take a train from here – the last place we could catch a train before the Henro-michi took us off into the wilderness – to cherry blossom hotspots like Tokushima and Matsayuma, or nearby Kagamino Park.
Gail and I are back to the coastline as we leave Aki. But not before passing some Rube Goldberg contraption of a type that only the Japanese could conceive. Four yellow orbs are suspended from a shiny stainless steel trunk. On the hour, chirpy music emanates from the device and each of the orbs opens to reveal….monkeys.
It’s a good introduction to the odd life that exists on that line straddling ocean and community. Everything suggests threat, from the pounding waves, to the ominous concrete barrier lining the coast, to the half-life of residences, shops and debris in the shadows of those protective walls.
Misono, our frenetic host, was out the door before her guests had finished breakfast. She had a community volunteer flower-planting party to command.
Minshuku Misono was part of the recently-established network of HenroHouse lodgings dotting the 88-temple Henro route. It’s a convenient way to book rooms in advance, using the HenroHouse English-friendly website. I hope it blossoms into a vast network of minshukus and ryokans all along the Henri route.
Not long after leaving Minshuku Misono, we run into our hostess on the main street of Nahari, hard at work directing other volunteers in their effort to beautify the thoroughfare. We say our farewells again.
On our second day of walking, we leave Fuji Business Hotel and Muroto City behind as we make our way along the coastline of Kochi Prefecture. We also leave yesterday’s stormy, wet and cold. Sure, it is cooler than we would wish but the bright overcast is a welcome reprieve.
Soon, we are climbing once more to yet another temple perched high on a hill. It’s a 200-meter climb along the rough trail leading to Konongōchōji, Temple 26. Just enough to build up a sweat. The temple complex is similar to most other hilltop temples, which is to say a suitably welcome reward after a challenging climb. Hardship yields to a sense of peace up here, perhaps the whole point of the pilgrimage promise.