Henro Day 3: Refelctions

14 02 2012

First posted at iHenro!

It’s no surprise that I like hiking, so it should also be no surprise that day 3 was one of my favourite days.

The trail from temple 11 to temple 12 is a ‘Henro Korogashi’ which I’ve only seen translated as Pilgrim falls down. I think a better translation would be Pilgrim’s downfall. There are a few points along the pilgrimage which are known as Korogashi, and they are known as that because they are particularly steep or arduous, and day 3 is the first test for any pilgrim.

I’ve spoken to another friend who attempted doing the pilgrimage a few years ago, and day 3 was as far as he got, so I was a little nervous about what to expect. In fact, I was quite ready to pull out if the weather went bad, or it was too difficult to do in trail runners. A funny thing, at temple 11 there is a mini pilgrimage before you start the trail, so if you don’t make it you could just pay your respects at the little shrines circling Fujidera.

Overall, I found my first Korogashi not too bad. None of the mountains were particularly tall, and all the steep areas had stairs. It would still have been nice to have a walking stick though. It was a bit annoying that it wasn’t like a ridge walk, and you had to go all the way up and then all the way down all three peaks. There were also a few people on the trail, not only fellow pilgrims, but also locals out for some exercise.

One thing I love about hiking is being in nature. Japan has really lovely scenery, quite different from what I’m accustomed to in Australia. Day 3 was mostly hiking through cedar forests, which have this mysterious air to them I think. And there were a few bamboo groves along the way as well as a great view of the river basin that I walked across the previous day.

Arriving at Shosanji was a little surreal. It is a very pretty temple, but the contrast between the natural forest on the trail and the not-so-natural scenery at the temple was a little disconcerting. Or maybe it was running into all the bus pilgrim crowds. Shosanji has an interesting story about it’s foundation, apparently a dragon was terrorising the mountain, but was contained in a cave by Kobo Daishi, thus saving the people of the mountain.

My accommodation for the night (Nabeiwa-so) would have to be my favourite place I stayed the whole trip. It was really really lovely, and also probably the best value for money. I think the building was somewhat new, but built in a rustic style, and even smelled of fresh cut wood. There were about 8 Henro staying that night (mostly older retired men, but also one other woman), so dinner in the dining hall was a very lively affair. Oh, and dinner was really yummy, fresh greens, rice, miso, and tempura!

The mix of people I met this day was very interesting. It included a two local men who were out for some morning exercise by hiking the first mountain. A couple of young university students from Kansai doing a few days on trail. A woman from Shizuoka doing the trail a few days at a time. Another man from Tochigi who was planning on doing about 2 weeks. And also an older man who was doing the trail in reverse, and for the 5th time! They say doing the trail in reverse is something like 3 times harder than the regular way.

So, finally, here’s a picture of me, just to show you how I was kitted out. I’m wearing the pilgrim’s white coat, but my little bag of supplies was in my backpack that day. I also ended up wearing my rain jacket under the coat quite frequently as I found it to be a good wind breaker. Apart from that I was wearing just a long sleeve t-shirt, hiking trousers, trail runners and a head sock or cap. Although you can’t see it, my pack looked big, but was only about 6kg, and on the waist strap I have my camera bag. Not going to win any beauty contests with this outfit, but it was really comfortable and functional.





Henro Day 3: Journal

10 02 2012

Originally posted at iHenro!

23 November, 2011, Day Three

  • Walking from 7:30 am to 4pm
  • 1 temple (Shosanji)
  • 17.9 km
  • Staying at Nabeiwa-so (6825 yen including dinner and breakfast)

Made it! I kept telling myself if I got though today I could get through anything! And I did. 17.9 km, 3 mountains, 1 temple (and 12.9 km in 5 and a half hours with breaks – I’m proud!).

Start of the trail at Fujidera

Started out after a quick breakfast of croissants at the hotel then walked back to Fujidera. Started out on the trail around 8 o’clock. To be honest, the mountains weren’t that hard, 600m, 745m and 705m, but three in 5.5 hours was a challenge. And I had a blister (but luckily it’s under my foot and gave me no trouble with a band-aid on).

Kobo Daishi at Joren-an

Kept crossing paths with new people today. And spiders. At Joren-an (the last shrine before Shosanji) there was a lovely statue with a huge cedar tree behind it.

Shosanji (No. 12)

Shosanji temple itself was lovely, up amongst the cedars. Stayed there for an hour of so before heading to the lodgings for tonight – Nabeiwa-so. On the way I was stopped at a shop and invited to have some coffee and persimmon as osettai. There I met another pilgrim from Tochigi. Most pilgrims seem to be retired men!

The lodge itself is beautiful. New looking yet traditional and rustic with exposed beams and a lovely cedar smell.

Sign marking Henro Korogashi

So my first henro korogashi challenge is past! Only one more in Tokushima. Looking forward to a good sleep and some flat ground tomorrow!

By the way, I’m in the Cosmos room 😀





Henro Day 2: Reflections

6 02 2012

First posted on iHenro!

Kirihataji (No. 10)

Day two was so much better than day one. And that was mainly because I had a lot more interaction with people. I seemed to keep running into the same people over and over. If someone was at a temple as I was arriving, I would generally see them at the next temple too, the same with people who were arriving as I was leaving. So we would all say ‘hello’ and give a few words of encouragement. Even the bus henro, because sometimes it would take the same amount of time to walk between the two temples as it would take to drive.

This was also the first day that I realised my guide-book (Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide, 1600 yen on Amazon.co.jp), despite being an excellent book, was occasionally lacking in accuracy. The road maps in some areas don’t show all the details, so it can get a little confusing (like trying to find your hotel). However, in terms of the route, there are stickers and path markers everywhere marking the path, so I never got lost. (And some really cute stickers! I wish I could have bought some for myself)

Before starting out I practically had no plans as to how many days I would do, and where I would stay, etc. I wasn’t even sure how far I could walk in one day. Everything I had read recommended doing between 20 and 30 km a day, but I didn’t know if I was physically fit enough. After day 2 I pretty much decided that 25 km was probably the max I could handle, but that was mainly because doing the trip in November only gave you limited daylight hours to walk. The sun would just be rising as I left, and would set about 430, so it was getting dark around 4.

Jurakuji (No. 7) and Shukubo (on right)

Choosing where to stay was the next factor that I had to plan for. I went to the Information Centre in Tokushima and asked for some recommendations on accommodations, and the girl there said that staying in Shukubo (Temple lodgings) would probably get me through Tokushima alright. I didn’t actually, but at temple 7 I saw my first Shukubo. Next time I will probably give it a try. Ringing up the night before and booking accommodation worked fine for me, but I don’t think it would be such a good idea during peak seasons.

Kumadaiji (No. 8)

Also saw a few interesting and random things on day two. Temple 8 was my first ‘what the?’ moment. The gate for the temple was about 500m away from the actual temple, which was a bit unusual. It was sort of sitting alone in the middle of nowhere. Also saw a house like that, just surrounded by rice fields. I guess they have space for that in Tokushima.

The last leg of the journey was really interesting, and the longest of the day. Basically you had to cross from one side of the plain to the other, so you could actually see the prior temple from close to temple 11. The plain is intersected by the Yoshino river, which is the widest river in Shikoku I believe. It wasn’t all flowing water, and even had rice fields in the middle of it, but it took something like an hour to cross! On the other side was where I met my volunteer guide, and he walked with me for about an hour and a half explaining things to me. It was nice to have someone to chat to.

Yoshino River with Kirihataji (No. 10) in the distance

He was a little confused as to why I didn’t stay closer to temple 11 that night, but I was happy with my decision to stay in town. If it started raining the next day I wasn’t going to attempt to climb to temple 12. The trail to temple 12 was steep in parts, and I was only wearing trail runners, so I didn’t want to risk climbing in the rain. Also, since I was close by to a convenience store, I could buy myself some lunch to take up the mountain with me. Most days I would have great breakfasts and dinners, but for lunches I mostly relied on calorie mate, chocolate and mandarins. Not the best, but it worked for me.

The one thing I regret about day 2 is not buying a staff near temple 10. In terms of pilgrim attire I wasn’t all ‘decked out’. I only had a hakui (white vest), bag, nameslips, stampbook, incense and candles. I didn’t buy a staff initially, but thinking of day three’s hike I decided I should get one at temple 11. Little did I know that there were no shops nearby temple 11. I still managed to survive though.





Henro Day 2: Journal

3 02 2012

Originally posted on iHenro!

November 22, 2011, Day Two

  • Walking from 7:45 am to 4 pm
  • 6 temples (Anrakuji, Jurakuji, Kumadanji, Horinji, Kirihataji, and Fujidera)
  • 23.8 km
  • staying at Access Business Hotel (5,500 yen including breakfast)

A much better day today. Breakfast was early at the minshuku, and it was (partly) raw egg. Which they kindly cooked for me.

Anrakuji (No. 6)

They also gave us all a 5 yen piece (shiny) and some matches, which came in handy today. And then they drove us to the next temple! I can’t decide if that’s cheating or not, but considering the majority of people bus the whole thing and they encourage people to do it any way they want, I guess it’s okay.

Horinji (No. 9)

Today I went to temple 6 to 11. I kept running into the same people along the way, with 3 guys who were amazed at how fast I was going (not that fast really) and kept asking if I was running it. I also had a weird Oji-san talk to me at temple 7. I didn’t understand half of what he said.

Buddhas in Bibs

Between 10 and 11 had a volunteer guide latch on to me. Interesting guy. 65 and just out for a 30km stroll. Showed me the dragon on the ceiling at number 11 and pointed out that Japanese dragons only have 3 claws vs. Chinese, which have 5. He also pretty much walked me to the hotel. Except the last crucial 50 meters in which I managed to get hopelessly lost. It was hiding behind a convenience store.

Kobo Daishi at Fujidera (No. 11)

Smallest hotel I’ve ever stayed in too. More the size of a motel, but definitely a business hotel. Cold water in the shower though. 😦

Maccas for dinner (meh), did some washing, repacked bag, sent some e-mails. Oh, forgot to mention Tokushima kinda smells. Lots and lots of cows living in sheds.

Little worried about tomorrow – rain and my first Henro Kogoroshi.





Henro Day 1: Reflections

30 01 2012

Gold Buddha statues

(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.

Bussokuseki

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 😛

Main Hall

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.

Daishi Hall

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.

Persimmon

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.

Fudo Myoo





Henro Day 1: Journal

27 01 2012

(Original Post from iHenro!)

Hello folks! Just a few house-keeping notes before I get into the good stuff. I’m going to write two posts about everyday on the pilgrimage. First will be a Journal post, which will be a copy of the journal I kept along the way on the hike, and following each of those will be a Reflections post with my thoughts as I go along re-reading what I wrote, and any extra photos I want to share.

So, without further ado…

Tally ho!

November 21, 2011, Day One

  • travelling from 7 am to 3pm
  • 5 temples (Ryosenji, Gokurakuji, Kosenji, Dainichiji and Jisoji)
  • 17.8 km
  • 6920 yen on Pilgrim attire
  • staying at Kotobuki Minshuku (6825 yen including dinner and breakfast)

So, had to leave the hotel at 6:45 to catch the 7:00 train (Tokushima Station to Bando Station). No complementary breakfast for me.

Walking from the station to the first temple I was quizzed by a very cute 5th grade girl. Seems she as a foreign English teacher with blue eyes too.

Rosenji (No. 1)

At Ryosenji straight away I was approached by a fellow Henro who explained how to do everything. He was very helpful and even gave me his business card so I can phone him if I have any problems. His name is Uemura-san.

Gokurakuji (No. 2)

The first 2 temples were seen to pretty quickly. Between 3 and 4 I met an American woman who was just finishing her trek. Said it was more difficult than she thought it would be, but also more rewarding than she ever imagined. Stopped for lunch at a shrine just after Kosenji, onigiri from family mart (quite possibly a mistake as it didn’t agree with me later).

Dainichiji (No. 4)

At Dainichiji I was given some osettai – tissues and a hankie, which will come in use. Was starting to get tired so I walked quickly to the last temple and then to my minshuku by 3. A little early, but I’m tired~ Looking forward to a bath and dinner!

Room at Kotobuki Minshuku

Not sure if i really want to do this, it’s really lonely and a little boring. However I’ll stick it out until Tokushima city again and see how I feel about it from there.

Being all by yourself is actually really scary, in that you have to learn to live with yourself. And I don’t cope with boredom very well. It’s been a long time since I had free time and I really don’t know how to relax. Maybe that’s a good reason to do this all. To learn how to do all of the above.

Just taking it step by step.

Going to try planning tomorrow a little now….