It’s been 12 months since I finished my pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. Successful in finishing the 2,300 km “journey”, (I still hate that word….) didn’t mean I found any higher being worthy of worship status.
After a conversation with Tim and Suse about some island in Japan that has a 1200km pilgrimage to 88 Temples, I was madly researching the island of Shikoku. After living in Tokyo for 5 years, Japan is a very special place for our family.
This search for a higher power didn’t involve any priests, just some cool looking monks with shaved heads and dresses. Could I reach Enlightenment? Nirvana?
He who must be obeyed was not keen on my determination to park myself on the trail alone in my tent. With the click of an email, I had a much taller, stronger but not smarter partner in crime, Andy.
With a 6kg backpack carrying my trusty tent, sleeping bag, mat, clothes and everything I thought I needed for 3 weeks, we set off on our adventure.
Pete drove us to the airport at 3:30am for our 6 am flight via Cairns to Osaka. Arriving at Kansai airport at 5pm, we thought we should be able to get the 6:20pm bus to Tokushima… Until we saw the state of the Immigration Hall. Two and a half hours later we were at the front of the queue. That meant we missed the 7:20pm bus as well. The 8:20pm bus would have to do… except there wasn’t an 8:20pm bus. After being at the airport for almost four and a half hours we finally got on the last bus to Shikoku at 9:20pm. Hopefully we should be at our destination just before midnight. Wherever that may be.
We decided to risk being stranded and got off the bus at Naruto Highway instead of Tokushima, which was another 20 mins on the bus. It was the blind leading the blind. Ultimately we needed to get to Bando station near Temple #1. After walking for a few kilometres from where we were abandoned by the bus, we found Naruto Eki (train station), but no trains. It was past midnight. Fortunately for us, there was a cab parked outside the station. I asked “Ikura desu ka?” to Bando and we arrived at Temple 1, just 3,800 yen poorer.
The map showed a park nearby, so we went looking for somewhere to sleep. German Park…. It would have to do. It was after 1 am and we’d been awake for almost 24 hours. The mosquitoes were monstrous, the howling wind didn’t silence the buzzing in my ears. Get used to it Trumper. At least there was a roof to our shelter.
After a big day of travelling, only 3 hours sleep (I prefer to call it 3 hours of mozzie murdering) we were ready to start the road to Enlightenment and whatever the next few weeks threw at us.
Up early, mats and sleeping bags packed away by 6am, we waited for the shop at Temple #1, Ryozenji, to open at 7am. Feeling like total tourists, we bought a Sugegasa (pilgrim hat) for 1500 yen and Nokyocho (stamp book) for 2,000 yen. Nothing like loading yourself up with heavy Henro (pilgrim) gear after being so anal about pack weight.
Off we went looking like two cartoon characters…
Favourite temple of the day was Temple 4 where the Monk stamping our book had lived overseas for 20 years. It was his parent’s temple and he had a duty to come back to help. From what I could understand, if he didn’t, the temple would go back to the authorities? Getting our books stamped cost 300 yen per temple and took some time if we found a bus load of pilgrims when we arrived.
At Temple 10, we chatted to a lovely Japanese man called Katchan who lives near Carmel in California. It was nice to talk to him and understand more about the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. He is in Shikoku to visit his very sick brother.
After visiting 11 temples, having our pilgrimage book signed and stamped at each one and travelling over 50kms on foot, we called it a day. We found a Henro hut after a steep 700 metre hike up over a mountain with a 6 ft 6 inch French guy called Idris inside. No shops, no dinner, just trails and tranquility. We didn’t know it, but that was to be the best accommodation we’d get in the next few weeks…
We had very little in our packs to eat. Shops were 10kms down the mountain, past Temple #12. We could wait till then for food….