(Original Post from iHenro!)
Firstly, I want to say that even though I only did about a week on pilgrimage, I am so happy that I went and I’m really looking forward to going again. Secondly, I want to apologize, I have the feeling that my Journal entries are all a bit whiney. Before going on the pilgrimage my life had been about 17 weeks of non stop study and work. I literally only had a couple of free hours per week. And I’m not exaggerating. So, I had actually forgotten how to do nothing. Really.
One of the best things about the walk was re-learning how to do nothing. I was very unsure for the first couple of days about whether or not I would have the want and drive to actually continue until I had finished the Tokushima portion of the walk. As I wrote, If I wasn’t enjoying myself I was going to stop once I made it to Tokushima city (early day 4), because frankly, at that point in time I felt that my time wasn’t worth spending if I wasn’t doing something constructive or enjoyable. I was amazed at how bored I was those first few days. But eventually I found it quite meditative, just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, watching where I was going, and enjoying the scenery.
So my initial impression of Tokushima was that it really wasn’t different to anywhere else in Japan. Although I lived in Tokyo, I had been to ‘the countryside’ plenty of times. I thought that Tokushima would be more remote than it was, but in reality it was just like suburbia in other areas, but maybe a little more spread out and laid back. Oh, and cows (in sheds, not open fields). And a little smelly. Sorry Tokushima.
I did find the people to be more friendly than Tokyoites. A lot more people were willing to engage in conversation with strangers, and no one assumed that I couldn’t speak a little Japanese, which was refreshing. However I’m unsure whether that was indicative of people from Shikoku, or the fact that you seem to have a bond with every other Henro on the trail. Sure you might be doing it alone, but we are all in the same boat, so we should all help each other out.
The little girl talking to me on her way to school really did surprise me, as I’ve found the majority of Japanese kids to be pretty shy. I’m sure it helped that she had a foreign teacher, so she wasn’t as wary of foreigners. But she was very sweet. Didn’t seem to realise that in Australia we also speak English 😛
The other Henro I met at the first temple was a real help to me. I got to the first temple pretty early and there was no one around. I wasn’t even sure where to buy my gear (coat, stamp book, candles and incense), but eventually I was able to find the store. I had read in my guide-book the procedure to follow at the temple, but once you get there it all sort of disappears from your mind. So while I was standing there a bit lost Uemura-san approached me and pointed out which hall was the Main Hall, the Daishi Hall, and what prayers were appropriate. Uemura-san I think was a car-Henro, but this pilgrimage was his 8th time! He even had an official name badge and red name slips. I think if he hadn’t spoken to me there would have been a high chance of me turning around and going back. I hate to admit it, but new places are very much out of my comfort zone. So I was pushing myself in that respect all week.
The temples on Day One weren’t spectacular, but I really love the esthetic of Japanese Buddhism. So it was all the little things that caught my eyes, like carvings, statues, and rooftops. And that was really the same for the walk. I’ve seen heaps of countryside in Japan, so pretty houses and gardens are what I stopped to look at. As well as rice fields, flowers and fruit trees. It was late Autumn so unfortunately the Autumn colors weren’t so good, but it was also Hachiya persimmon season. I saw these everywhere, and I couldn’t figure out why people were hanging them up outside their houses. I later found out that they are too bitter to eat fresh, and must be peeled and left out to sweeten. And once they are sweetened they taste so good.
It was also mandarin orange season, so each night most of my accommodations would serve either that or persimmon for dessert. Dinners were very elaborate affairs, all kaiseki ryori, which means you had many little plates of different things. That first night the main dish was beef nabe (one pot stew), but for the life of me I can’t remember if there was anything else. Breakfast was very standard in most places as well, being rice, miso soup and fish. Most places actually gave you a raw egg which you would crack over your rice, but I can’t really stomach that first thing in the morning. The first minshuku was really great in that they asked if I would like my egg cooked.
That first minshuku was a bit of a shock. Not that I expected five-star quality, but it was a bit…. old. I would have to say that out of all the places I stayed, it was the worst value for money. But it was warm and comfortable, and provided snacks and tea, so I’m not complaining.
The first thing I would do once getting to my accommodations would be to sit down and have some tea and a rice cracker before writing my journal. And that didn’t change for much of the week, minus a few days when I had to take an early bath or something. It was a bit difficult for me to adjust to having a bath in the evening, and not a morning shower, but it was very refreshing after walking all day. After dinner I would ring and book my next day’s accommodation, read a little (I took my kindle with me) and then get an early night. Most days I was up by 6 and then back out on the road by 7. It was a simple routine, but enjoyable in its simplicity. In fact, in regards to the whole week, I would say it was very meditative. Which considering it was a pilgrimage… was to be expected.