Shikoku Japan, 88 Temples Foot Pilgrimage – The Last Temples, Numbers 87 and 88, And Meeting The Men Who Walk With The Same Shoes
I was very grateful to see that all the mosquito bites that I had gotten while walking through the bush a few days ago, have disappeared without a trace.
My arms, legs and face do not even show the remnants of any bite marks, as if they had never happened.
I have been a bit nervous about the walk from Temple 87 to Temple 88, Ōkuboji, The Temple of the Large Hollow.
Not because of any difficulty in climbing a mountain, since we have climbed so many mountains on this pilgrimage, but because of the heatwave that has gripped Shikoku since the beginning of July.
The heat index, which is a combination of the humidity level and the temperature, was over 105 degrees, and the city looked covered in a thick haze, even early in the morning as I opened the curtains in our room.
It has been so hot in the past few days, that my fully charged iPhone has lost its charge within three hours of my walking outdoors in the heat.
After a few hours of walking in the sun, we have been starting to get dizzy, and my vision has been blurred.
Nagaoji Temple, number 87, is located south of Sanuki City on a flat stretch of road in the small town of Nagao.
From there, there are three routes to get to the mountaintop temple, Ōkuboji- Temple 88.
There are two walking trails which traverse the mountains, and there is a longer car road, which has a gradual ascent and descent but is about 4 kilometers longer.
As we have often seen on this pilgrimage, most Japanese Henros follow the roads.
It is along the roads that you get restaurants and cafes, vending machines for cold drinks, and rest areas with places to sit down, eat ice cream and places that sell farmers market produce.
The hardcore foreign pilgrims all walk on the trails, and camp along the trails as well.
Until halfway through our pilgrimage, we also walked ONLY on the footpaths.
We occasionally saw a fabulous small place to eat, with homemade noodles or some other local cooking, but we could not reach it, because we were walking on the other side of the trail with a wide river or guarded train tracks, separating us from those goodies.
Then, later on in our pilgrimage, we started choosing the trail on which to walk much more carefully.
It has become the difference between an enjoyable walk and a hard and tiring one with never enough water or food, because there is only a certain amount of water you can carry with you.
Walking along the car road means that we will have the chance of finding vending machines with water, or a cafe or a place to eat.
We left our backpacks at our hotel in Takamatsu, and decided to do the walk only one way.
This means that we will either walk from temple 87 to 88 and then take the bus and a train back to our hotel in Takamatsu, or take the bus to temple 88 and then walk the route backwards.
At the bus depot in Nagao, two friendly girls who work at a small travel agency located at the entrance, suggested that we take the bus to temple 88.
They were not happy about our desire to walk back, saying that it was just too hot this time of the year, and that almost nobody was walking as a result.
The last bus from Ōkuboji (temple 88) back to Nagao, was at 15:50, and if we were to walk towards the temple, we would almost certainly NOT have enough time to walk there, to enjoy the temple, get our pilgrim’s book signed, celebrate our success and be on that last bus back.
Since it did not seem likely that we had the time to do all that, we took the bus there and decided to walk back, take our time and make it back to Takamatsu whenever we will.
After all, we were not staying in a Ryokan where they want you there for dinner at a certain time, we were staying at a hotel and we can have dinner at any time.
At the foot of temple 88, there are a few Udon restaurants and places to buy pilgrim’s gear.
Many pilgrims start the pilgrimage at temple 88 and walk backwards, towards temple #1.
I bought two additional pilgrim’s books which are lined with 88 pages of rice paper, just like the book we have been collecting our stamps in, to give as gifts to my mother and sister when we visit them in Los Angeles.
My mother and sister both like to paint and draw, and I thought it would be a good gift to use as a drawing book, with the first and last stamps collected from ancient temples, and the middle is empty, a blank canvas for them to fill as they wish…
It will be filled with their own life journey as they see fit……
Jules adds: “We walked slowly around Ōkuboji, allowing the significance of the moment of reaching this final temple to sink in.
We noticed that there are a large number of walking sticks that previous O’Henros have left, each paying 1000 yen ($10) for the privilege of giving their walking sticks a permanent home near the Hondo.
The temple itself is a beautiful temple, nestled in an old growth forest, with many sculptures around the grounds.
After we chanted the Heart Sutra, lit incense, and left our Osama-fudas, we went back down the stairs before beginning to make our way back.”
We met a Japanese man who spoke very good English, and engaged us in a friendly conversation.
He told us that he had walked in the past only one section of the pilgrimage, and now, only two months after his retirement, he had just successfully walked another section of the pilgrimage.
He said that he was 62 years young and that he had had a long career as a chemical engineer.
He said that he visited New Zealand when he had lived in Sydney, Australia for years. He also lived in Portland, Oregon, helping build factories there that manufactured MDF boards for commercial and residential construction.
As we were chatting, he suddenly noticed that he and Jules were wearing the exact same Merrell trail shoes.
He said that he had worn out his shoe laces and replaced them with red ones, but otherwise it was the exact same shoe.
This has been more than a coincidence.
We have now met during this pilgrimage two men who walked with EXACTLY the same shoes that Jules has.
I was also wearing Merrell shoes, but I have met no other woman who wore my exact shoes.
In fact, I have met so few women who walked the whole pilgrimage.
Most of the pilgrims who walked the whole route, were men in their mid sixties, looking to redefine themselves as powerful men, and not as men who had retired from their lifelong careers.
Walking in the same shoes, have always been used in poetic metaphors.
Here we are, walking 1200 kilometers around a mountainous island in Japan, and we have met already TWO pilgrims, both about the same age as Jules, both with very different life stories, but both representing aspects of the psychology of Jules’ mind.
Both of the men we have met are world travelers.
One had hitchhiked all over North America and Mexico for two years, had been all over the world and lived his entire life as a pilgrim, looking for exciting experiences as well as soul enriching truths.
This man had little money, but somehow he managed to have a very exciting life.
We met him again at a Ryokan that we spent the night.
He had paid to use their shower and bath.
We saw his shoes outside the door of the Ofuro bath, when we went to do the laundry, but he did not stay the night at the guesthouse.
He must have negotiated a special rate, to only use their shower and bath.
The other man who walked with the same shoes as Jules, was a successful businessman who told us that he loves to drink and that he drinks every night.
He also told us that he was happy that his sons are grown up now, and that he no longer needs to pay for their higher education.
He told us that he has been all over Asia and that Thailand is Heaven for men who love women and who have money, and he admittedly loves both.
Then he told us that even though he has lived all over the world, he has never taken his family with him.
His family always stayed in Japan.
When we asked him if he was divorced, he said: “NO! NO! I am married and my Japanese wife is a very good wife!”
I have benefited from this pilgrimage tremendously, and I am SO happy that we have done it, but I always had a sensation that I was doing this for Jules….
That he needed to do this pilgrimage and to come here.
I always felt that Jules needed to have the experience and to learn in his real flesh and bones, all the lessons that only a long distance walking pilgrimage can teach a man.
Why did we meet those two pilgrims who were walking in Jules’ shoes?
What lessons were presented to us, and why did the Universe bring us together to meet these men?
Maybe we will get the answers to those questions, later down the road of life….
On our hot walk back, we stopped at the “O’Henro Salon.”
It is actually a museum dedicated to the centuries-long tradition of walking pilgrims in Shikoku.
The lady at the O’Henro Salon was very friendly to us.
She hand wrote a certification of completion for us, filling in our names and countries.
The salon also has a fabulous exhibition of past O’Henro-San (pilgrim) photos, clothing, stamp books, osama-fudas and other old artifacts.
We saw a photograph of a man who walked the entire pilgrimage 280 times over the course of 45 years.
I took the opportunity to enlist the help of the woman at the museum, who clearly was not too busy, since there are currently very few walking Henros completing the pilgrimage.
Most are traveling by bus, car, or even motor homes!
At each temple we visited, they stamped our pilgrim book and also gave us two slips of paper.
One of the papers has a print of the temple’s deity on it and the other has a Kanji Character of the temple’s name.
At the beginning of our pilgrimage, we had not marked which paper we got from which temple, but just put them in an envelope.
Later we wised up, and decided to mark each print with the temple’s number so we could later put them in an album.
We bought that album at temple 88, but we needed to match the temples with dozens of deities whose name and Kanji Characters we did not recognize.
We spread our book and printed papers all over her table, and she numbered each one for us and helped us to put them in our album.
It took more than an hour, but the museum was air conditioned and she was not too busy.
The many bus O’Henros sometimes stop to enjoy the museum, but they do not get a hand written certificate and a O’Henro pin with a tiny red walking pilgrim on it.
We were glad that we had a chance to enjoy the O’Henro Salon.
It really gave us a very good feeling about what we had just accomplished.
It was way past lunchtime, so we had missed lunch, but we continued to walk towards Nagao.
We stopped at a small building where an old lady runs a Cafe from her living room.
We asked for a toast and iced coffees with milk and honey.
In most of the rural cafes we have visited, they give you artificial creamers and not real milk, and they NEVER sweeten their iced coffee with honey.
Instead they use gum syrup, which is like liquid sugar that instantly blends into the iced coffee.
She looked at us with amazement as we added milk and honey to our ice coffee.
“Does EVERYONE in America drink coffee this way, with milk and honey?,” she asked us in Japanese, with astonishment.
“Yes!” I said in a confident voice, “Everyone drinks coffee with honey!”
I do not know why I said it…. Perhaps I was a bit out of my mind….perhaps it was the heat….Perhaps I was trying to start a new global trend of getting rid of gum syrup….
We walked farther from Nagao into Takamatsu.
On an exceptionally sunny and hot part of the road, we passed by a nice couple who were entering a restaurant.
We said hello to them and kept on walking in the heat like two dizzy zombies.
Moments later they called us to stop and ran after us, giving us an Osettai gift of two cold bottles of Coca Cola.
We normally do not drink sugary sodas, but we normally do not walk for 1200 kilometers on a pilgrimage…. So we bowed in gratitude and drank the Cokes like thirsty, dying men on a mission in a hot desert.
It was after dark when we arrived in Takamatsu.
We stopped at a small Nepali restaurant for dinner, which, for some reason, has a giant yellow teacup attached to its roof as decorative advertising.
They served us very delicious Nan Bread, three different vegetable curries and a veg Biryani, and all tasted wonderful.
When we left, we chatted with the owner and the chef.
He had never heard of the Shikoku pilgrimage, but a Japanese woman who dined there with her son, congratulated us on finishing the hard pilgrimage.
But we have not officially finished.
We need to close the circle of our journey by returning back to temple #1, from which we began two months ago.
We plan to take the train there tomorrow.
Day 59 (July 6th 2016)
Our Location On The Earth:
Ōkuboji – 34°11′28.91″N 134°12′24.74″E
T87. Nagaoji (長尾寺) –Temple of the Long Tail
T88. Ōkuboji (大窪寺) –Temple of the Large Hollow
Overnight at JR Clement Hotel in Takamatsu City
Active walking 4:10 hours
Active day 9 hours
Walking grand total: 1191 km