- Saturday 16 November, 2013
- Weather: Sunny, 17⁰C
- Temples: 87-88 (Nagaoji, Okuboji), 40km
- Accommodation: Shiokaze Minshuku, near Hiketa station, ¥3,300
I had a delicious breakfast of agedashi dofu (fried tofu) and yoghurt that I’d bought at the supermarket last night and was at Temple 87 when it opened at 7am. It was a very cold morning and I could see my own breath as I chanted the Heart Sutra at the main hall of the temple.
I left and started the walk to Temple 88 which I had been told would take between 4-5 hours from 87. I was hoping to be faster than this as I still had another 20km to walk after 88 to get to my accommodation for the night, but also wanted to allow an hour at 88 to soak up the atmosphere and reflect on the last 42 days.
After an hour of walking along a road I came across a building with a sign saying ‘Henro Salon’. I had no idea what it could be so I went inside and it was a museum of Henro stuff – maps, photos, information, guest books to sign… A lady approached me and gave me some hot tea and sweets and asked me to sign my name in the guestbook. We were talking about the walk and she asked me if it would be ok if a newspaper journalist could meet me at Temple 88 and interview me for an article about Henros. I said that would be fine then continued on my way.
The path soon turned off the road into the mountains and started getting harder and harder… Of course the walk to the last temple was going to be the hardest walk/climb/Henro Korogashi (fall down) path yet, it was another test – at least that’s how I saw it… The path literally turned into rocks and I was on all fours scrambling over them, trying not to look 750m down to the ground, trying not to slip (no tread left on my shoes) and asking Kobo Daishi to allow me to reach the summit! I had to stop at one point and laugh at the ‘path’ – it was so dangerous. I couldn’t even imagine attempting it in rain, it would be a death trap.
I met a retired couple from Germany on the last section and it felt good to know that there was someone behind me who would hear my screams when I fell and know where my body was!
I made it to the top of Mt Nyotai (lovely views) then had another 1300m down to temple 88. The path down was very busy with day trippers – in fact I had never seen this many people in the mountains or at a temple but it turned out that everyone had come to see the kouyou (autumn maple colours) so temple 88 was crowded!
The journalist was waiting for me at the entrance to the temple and said to just do what I would usually do at the temple and he would follow and take photos then interview me over lunch. I did my thing then went to get my stamp and a certificate of completion of the pilgrimage (I hadn’t known the certificate existed until the lady at the Henro museum in the morning mentioned it). The German couple had arrived so the journalist took photos of the 3 of us in front of the temple then we went for lunch opposite the temple and he asked me tons of questions about the pilgrimage – why I was doing it, what I thought of it, what my impression of Shikoku was… It was all in Japanese and I just hope that I was able to convey the main thing that stood out to me: the kindness and generosity of the people I met – how strangers would invite me into their home, give me money, food, drinks, sweets… Say “good luck” and “take care” as I walked past… I was touched and amazed every day.
But it wasn’t over yet as I now had to walk back to Temple 1 where I started, to give thanks for allowing me to complete the pilgrimage. Then I would go to Koyasan back on Honshu (the main island), the headquarters of the Shingon school of Buddhism that Kobo Daishi founded in 819, for my final stamp and to give thanks to Kobo Daishi himself.
We finished the interview and a little later than planned I headed off the mountain toward my accommodation for the night, 20km away. I knew it was definitely going to be dark by the time I got there so just before it got dark I got my headlamp out, hoping it would work but this time it definitely wouldn’t turn on, even with new batteries. This wasn’t good as the road I was on was busy and small with no footpath. I wrapped the fluorescent bike vest around me and went to plan b which was to use the torch on my phone – it turned out to be the best app I’ve ever purchased! I had 8km of walking in the dark, flashing my torch at every car that came speeding toward me but that 8km lasted a lifetime! I arrived after 7pm and was exhausted; it felt like the longest day of my life!