Shikoku, Japan 88 Temples Foot Pilgrimage; Reaching My Lowest Point, Takamatsu City and Visiting Temple 82
I did not sleep well last night.
I was itchy and scratchy, achy and grumpy.
The mosquito bites on my body were itching, and in my mind, I was still battling thorny vines in the dense jungle we faced yesterday.
After breakfast, we thanked our hosts, put on our shoes, strapped on our backpacks,
and headed out.
It wasn’t a glamorous place to stay, just a humble guesthouse along our path, but it was one that gave us a room with air conditioning, where they did our laundry, prepared vegetarian food for us, and gave us a safe place to stay and a good hot shower.
We felt very grateful to them for running a Ryokan that allows pilgrims to rest.
Temple 82 is located on top of a steep mountain.
Because we had spent all day yesterday climbing up and going down this mountain, I was not ready to climb this same mountain again today.
I was too bitten up, and beaten up from the day before, and I needed a break…
I wanted to remember that life was never meant to be a struggle…
The very idea of climbing a steep mountain today made me cringe in hardship, before I even took a single step uphill.
I was also a bit angry with myself, since I had not planned this route very well.
Yesterday, we were already on top of the mountain at temple 81, and only about five kilometers away from temple 82.
We could have walked along the mountain’s ridge-line to temple 82, instead of going downhill for hours all the way to Kokubunji, and today needing to climb up an even higher peak of the mountain, all over again.
This decision added ten kilometers to the normal route, which we would not have needed to do, if I had planned better.
We had the option of going into Takamatsu city by train, and then coming back to climb this mountain on another day, after we had a chance to heal, rest and regain our strength.
Another option was to walk up the mountain following the car road, and to approach it from the sea of Takamatsu City, where the road climbs in a more gradual ascent to the top of the mountain.
But I had reached a low point, and I was not in a mood to climb at all.
The unreasonable side of me was rebelling, and I was unable to tame this little dragon of mine.
I decided that we would walk to the nearby Kokubunji train station, and catch a taxi to temple 82 on top of the mountain.
Then after visiting the temple, we would walk down the mountain on the car road, into Takamatsu city.
So this is what we did.
Kokubunji station was too small to have a taxi stand, but luck was on my side and a taxi was waiting there to pick up another customer.
He called another taxi for us, which came only moments later.
I loaded my backpack into the boot of the taxi and asked him to take us to temple 82.
The driver laughed and sympathized with us about the very hot day, how hard it was to walk for so long, and to climb up such steep mountains.
We reached the temple in only twenty minutes.
It was only a 10 kilometer distance from Kokubunji to Negoroji (temple 82)
When you think of it, walking is very inefficient and slow.
A car can cover 80-100 kilometers in one hour, which would take us four full days of walking and four nights in a hotel or a guesthouse.
But I know that a pilgrimage is NOT about efficiency.
It is a poetic journey.
In fact, it is about the opposite of efficiency and practicality.
It is about symbolism, stories, dreams, visions, spirits appearing in the woods, fantasies and mirages that are imagined…
Memories that need healing and emotions buried inside, that surface only when the “shit hits the ceiling fan,” as the saying goes.
A pilgrimage is about slowing down, diving deep, to discover truths that do not float on the surface of our lives…..
We took our time at the temple, and walked all around it.
It had beautiful old trees.
The name of the prefecture, Kagawa (Fragrant/Incense River), is derived from a river flowing from the root of a tree in the courtyard of this temple.
There is also a thousand-year-old Keyaki (Zelkova) tree.
Now, a sacred Shimenawa even hangs around it.
A Shimenawa is a thick rice straw rope used for worship and ritual purification in the Shinto religion.
On our way down the mountain towards Takamatsu city, we did our best to walk on whatever side of the road offered a little shade.
We met cyclists who were struggling to get up the steep mountain and wished them the power to overcome the challenge, by saying: “Gambatè Kudasai!”
After two hours of walking in the sun, we reached the flat ground of the city below us.
We came upon a little Udon noodle restaurant run by the local community.
They also sold crafts handmade by local people, and used children’s kimonos.
The menu was written on pieces of paper, and everything was in Kanji.
Still, we were able to order Zalu Udon Tsumetai, which are homemade Sanuki cold noddles cooked and served cold with a dipping sauce of soy, grated ginger and spring onions.
It came with a small plate of vegetable tempura.
As we were eating, a couple that had finished eating came over to us.
They pointed to my Henro hat laying by our backpacks, and asked if we were pilgrims doing the whole Shikoku pilgrimage.
We said that we were.
They ask where we’ve been today and where we were headed.
We told them that we just went down the mountain from temple 82 and that we were going next to Takamatsu City.
They said that they were also pilgrims and that they just came down from temple 82 also.
They were doing the whole pilgrimage, only by car and that they were headed towards Ichinomiyaji, temple 83, after lunch.
We wished each other a safe journey and they left.
Soon after, the woman came back and offered us a ride to Ichinomiyaji, (temple 83) with them.
I thanked her but refused, saying that today we were only planning to go to our hotel in Takamatsu, and that we would be walking to temple 83 tomorrow.
A part of me wanted so much to accept their ride….
How easy it would be to be done in a single hour….
But luckily I didn’t follow this inner whim.
Despite our tiredness, itchiness to finish and to be done, we must honor the long pilgrimage we have walked so far, and compose ourselves again and finish with grace and on foot.
We are so near the end…only six more temples to go and then back to temple #1, to close the circle.
We left the little udon place where we had enjoyed the noodles very much, and walked farther into the city center.
In the Aeon Mall, there was a Starbucks Cafe.
We stopped to have iced coffees and rest from the strong heat.
I think we stayed there for two hours.
We had no other plans for today, beside checking into our hotel, taking long showers, doing our laundry and finding a place to have dinner.
During a long pilgrimage, you find out things about yourself that you would never have discovered, had you not put yourself to the test.
Walking in extreme conditions every day, climbing up and down mountains and roaming without much rest, is a real test.
To my chagrin, l was discovering things about myself that I was not so happy to see…
On one hand, I found out that I am stronger than I thought I was, more capable, resourceful, reliable, cheerful, optimistic and very persistent, but I also found out that I am vain, self conscious, insecure and even jealous….
This has been a real surprise to me.
I never feel jealousy.
I have such a fabulous life, a great and healthy body, a good mind, plenty of talent, a loving and adventurous partner, whom do I have to be jealous of?
But as we sat in the air conditioned Aeon Mall at the Starbucks Cafe, I truly felt jealous of the women who passed by me.
They seemed so clean, perfumed, well rested, dressed in relaxed clean clothing, and did not look anywhere near as exerted as I felt……
None of them were full of scratches, nor covered in mosquito bites…..
Their hairdos were so perfect…
They did not put themselves through the test of walking for months and needing to ration their water on unbearably hot days, or to walk with a heavy backpack….
In the toilet, I saw a mother and her young daughter dressed in identical black mini dresses, both wearing high heels.
The dresses were hemmed with flowers at the bottom, and the heels were so high, that it looked like they would have had to struggle just to walk from the parking lot to the mall entrance.
They looked like Barbie dolls, with smooth skin and baby faces.
I looked at their most impractical outfits and felt jealousy.
“How wonderful it must be to be so baby-like and dreamy, as to spend Sunday morning dressing up in front of the mirror in identical mini dresses, just to go to the mall….”
I thought to myself.
Other people passed me by, looking so rested and well dressed,
They smelled so clean and so flowery, while I was feeling so self-conscious and smelling of a day of hard walking in the sun.
We tried to cheer ourselves up by doing some research online, about places to dive in the Philippines.
We looked at exclusive diving resorts in Palawan and other small islands, but nothing seemed as appealing as going home after the pilgrimage is over.
Home….is there such a place?
Or is it just another figment of my imagination?…
Going home seems like the MOST appealing thing to do after the pilgrimage is over.
We needed to get out of there and go to our hotel, take showers and rest a bit.
We’ve booked the Takamatsu JR Clement hotel for the time we plan to be in the area, to walk the temples in this region.
We splurged for the Japanese-style suite which has Western style soft beds.
The beds are very comfortable and they face the Takamatsu Harbor, where the ferry boats sail to the nearby islands scattered around the Seto Inland Sea.
The Japanese-style suite has a nice aesthetic, with tatami mats and wood floors, a patio with seating, a low dining table, a private Ofuro and lots of space.
That night we ate dinner in a Japanese restaurant near the hotel, and talked about our schedule for the next few days.
Both of us are eager to be done with the walking….
Here is a little bit about Temple 82 – Negoroji – The Temple of the Fragrant Root:
The temple was founded by Kōbō Daishi before his trip to China in the year 804.
Most of the temple was destroyed by fire in the 16th century.
This temple is located on Mount Aomine on the same plateau as temple 81.
The plateau is called Goshiki Dai (The Plateau of Five Colors), because it consists of five differently colored mountain peaks, symbolizing The Five Wisdom Buddhas.
It is known as a Sangaku Temple, or a Remote Mountain Temple, that is not located in a lively city. It is hard to get to, and is intended to be a place for mediation and for self reflection.
This temple has 10,000 images of Kannon Buddhas on both sides of the main hall.
There is a large statue of Ushi-oni (the Ox Demon) to the left of the main gate.
Legend states that in the 16th century, a demon animal with an ox head and the body of a fox appeared frequently on this plateau and scared the local people.
A samurai named Kurando Yamada, who was an archery expert, shot the demon, cut off its head, and brought the horns to the temple.
The people prayed for the soul of the Ushi-Oni to be released and later, they built a statue of the Ushi-Oni on the temple grounds.
Day 56 (July 3rd 2016)
Our Location On The Earth:
T82. Negoroji (根香寺) –Temple of the Fragrant Root
Overnight at JR Clement Hotel in Takamatsu City
Active walking 3:40 hours
Active day 6 hours
Walking grand total: 1145 km