It’s a brief train and ferry ride from downtown Hiroshima to the small island of Itsukushima, more popularly known as Miyajima or, perhaps, Miyashima. And popular it is. The ten-minute ferry ride is jam-packed with tourists, Westerners like us but primarily Japanese nationals. As we pour off the ferry, there is a sudden realization that this will be far from a tranquil visit. The scene is carnivalesque. Children and adults run about madly. Tame deer follow, hoping for a handout. Unknowingly, we have arrived at Japan’s top tourist site on the first day of Japan’s most popular vacation period, Golden Week. (more…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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.