Sunday, 25 March 2018


Tuesday morning we catch the bus from Namba bus terminal to Tokushima. An accident on the Expressway out of Osaka means we sit for an hour in traffic out the outskirts of the city but finally we find ourselves gazing down at the whirlpools that swirl under the Great Naruto Bridge which connects Shikoku to Honshu via Awaji-shima Island. The bus deposits us at a parking area above Bando town, the location of the first temple, Ryozenji. It has started raining and it is - surprisingly for the end of March - freezing cold. Today we need to buy our pilgrim attire – clothes which will mark us out as pilgrims and - more importantly perhaps - mark our transition from tourists to pilgrims (henro) in our own minds. This means that I will have to stop swearing at Mick and be all calmness and serenity for the next 10 weeks or so and instead swear oaths of another kind – to not complain and accept that hardships we encounter on the route are part of our ascetic training or personal growth. Lets see how that works out…

Although there are shops at the first temple to buy these clothes, the last time we were here Mick particularly liked the jackets which were sold at Temple 6, Anrakuji, so we decide to head there, stay overnight and return to Ryozenji in the morning to start our walk. This involves a short train and bus journey, but we had done it before so didn’t think it would be a problem. But at Bando station we watch in dismay from the wrong platform as the train pulls in and out again. Dejected, we plod over the to the correct platform and wait half an hour for the next train.

At Itano we need to change to a bus but when we leave the station in the pouring rain we cannot see the bus stop anywhere. We ask someone and he suggests a taxi but we are reluctant to give in. We are already feeling fed up. This was not how we imagined our first day.

Then a woman joins the conversation. She and the man talk together in Japanese and we can’t follow what they are saying but then she turns to us and says that there is no bus for a while. “Come to my house and have some tea and then I will drive you there.” She has two children with her and we demur at first, saying we don’t want to take up her time. She says it is no trouble. It turns out that Yuka and her children live in Kamkura and that her husband is from Kent and they are here visiting her folks. After tea and biscuits Yuka and her daughter walk us over to the bus stop which is on the other side of the train station – we would never have found it – to show us where to get off when we return tomorrow to start our walk from Temple 1.

Yuka looks concerned when she drops us at the carpark at Temple 6. The rain is belting down now. There is a large shelter here which we knew about before and which is perfect for camping. We assure her that we will be fine and wave as they drive away. Her kindness has cheered us up immensely and reminds us that this is one of the reasons we have returned to walk this walk, this so difficult walk, for a second time. We set up camp and settle down for the night under the shelter, glad we are not camping outside as the rain continues to pour down outside.

Shelter near Temple 6

The following morning we return to Temple 1. It is still raining but we must get started. We visit Temples 1, 2 and 3 and at each one we light a candle each and three sticks of incense and place a nameslip and donation in the box. We reach Temple 4 and I suddenly realise that I no longer have the camera with me. We retrace our steps back a kilometre to a rest hut to retrieve it. By the time we have visited Temple 5 it is getting dark. It is still raining and we are relieved to return to our carpark shelter at Temple 6 for a second night.

At shop at Temple 1, Ryozenji

A wet start

At Ryozenji, Temple 1

Konsenji, Temple 3

Thursday is a little better, showers rather than constant rain as we cross the plain which divides the two mountain ranges to the north and south.

At Jurakuji, Temple 7

We stop at the little Udon-ya opposite Temple 9, Horinji, at lunchtime. The woman who runs it looks like she has been serving udon to pilgrims here since forever. The udon comes in a large bamboo bowl for us to dish out ourselves and is delicious.

Happy face after udon

Udon-ya at Temple 9, Horinji
Tonight we are hoping to stay at free lodgings at Kamonoyu onsen (Japanese hot bath), not too far from Temple 11. We spend too long in McDonalds chatting to three curious schoolchildren and by the time we arrive at 8pm the accommodation is full. However the woman at the onsen tells us we are welcome to sleep in the carpark provided we are out of the way of cars manoeuvering in the dark. This sounded good to us too, so we set up the tent in a corner near the hedge and head into the onsen for a much needed wash and hot soak.

In the morning the rain has passed and although the night had been bitterly cold, today dawns bright with not a cloud in the sharp blue sky. It is half past six and the other pilgrims are getting up and preparing to depart. The next temple, Shosanji, is situated high in the mountains at over 700 metres and not only that, to get there you have to climb two other peaks of 600 and 700 metres before reaching the temple on the third peak. Carrying 10kg backpacks we knew this would take us all day and with the temperatures being so low we wanted to descend the other side before setting up camp for the night rather than end up camping high in the mountain. An early start is essential.

I turn over and go back to sleep.

An hour later we get up and make a coffee on our little stove, warming our numb cold fingers on the metal cups of hot liquid. Finally, we make the journey to Temple 11, Fujiidera, set into the foot of the mountains. A coach party of pilgrims arrive while we are there, the first of the day. Among them is the head monk from Temple 51 at Matsuyama and he asks us to stay at his accommodation in the temple when we get there. We say that we will.

The trail to Temple 12 leaves from the back of Fujiidera. A fit looking Japanese man joins us. I try and guess his age, I reckon he is about 65, but he clearly thinks nothing of the climb. He tells us he is training for a walk in Nepal by climbing this mountain every day. He soon leaves us behind as we plod up the hill carrying our heavy packs.

The trail from Fujiidera

Exchanging details with another pilgrim

Delightful walking through the forest 
A welcome flat section...

We come across him a couple of hours later. He is sitting on a log in a clearing, cooking food in a frying pan. It is all organic vegetarian food from his own farm he tells us. He is joined by a couple of friends, a man and a woman of a similar age. We sit down and they share their fruit with us. It is delicious. ‘This is the kudzu lounge,’ he tells us, pointing to a sign behind us. (Kudzu is the vine that grows here, he explained.)

Cooking up at the kudzu lounge

We could have lounged there for another hour but now time is, of course, against us. The path takes us relentlessly up and down again

The final climb is the hardest, or so it feels, the last of six henro korogashi or ‘pilgrim fall down’ sections and it is with a sense of achievement that we finally reach the lantern-lined path into the temple. It is quiet here and the sound of our feet crunching on the gravel as we walk around the grounds echoes and rebounds.

The views across the mountains are magnificent, a series of green, pine covered peaks and away in the distance, Tokushima and the sea. It has been an exhausting climb but we are gratified when a man from a group of Western tourists who we had spoken to a while back tells us he is impressed with our level of fitness in climbing up here with our heavy packs. Maybe we are capable of doing this walk after all.

Arriving at Shosanji, Temple 12

Initially, going down is not as pleasant at it could have been - it is so steep my toes are crushed painfully against the front of my boots. We decide to revert to the winding but slightly less steep road rather than stay on the steeper forest trails and as we near the bottom the gradient becomes shallower and easier on the feet.

We are heading for another onsen, about 8km father along the road. By the time we arrive, once again we are walking in the dark and it is late, around 7.45. The onsen has a sign on the door saying they close at 8.00. There will be no hot bath this evening. We try to remember our pilgrim oath not to complain when things don’t go our way but we are British and it isn’t easy. Complaining is what we do, after all, it’s how we roll. In truth we know it was our own fault. Tomorrow, we vow, we will get up early.

We camp in the park opposite the onsen. We are next to a river and still 150 metres above sea level. The night is the coldest yet and we shiver all night in our summer sleeping bags. In the morning a frost covers the grass and wooden benches when we blearily come round and make a coffee at 06.30. Soon Mick is chattering away, something about James Bond and I beg him to be quiet for half an hour. To his credit he shuts up without further comment for a full 10 minutes.

The day is spent walking the 15km back into Tokushima . On the way, the cherry blossom is just coming into bloom and looks beautiful. We sit for a while, watching the cormorants spreading their wings and warming up in the morning sunlight. While we are there a car draws up and a man gets out and brings us two cans of cold drinks. 'Osettai' he says, bowing, before jumping back into his car and driving away. Osettai is one of the many fine things about this walk. Gifts from strangers which boost morale and give us a warm feeling inside. It is with renewed energy that we resume our walk alongside the highway.

Route 21 into Tokushima

Henro rest hut just before Dainichiji, Temple 13

We visit the 5 temples on the outskirts of the city, numbers 13 to 17.

Bell Tower at Temple 14, Jorakuji

By the time we reach the last one, Idoji, it is six o’clock and all the pilgrims have gone. There is a well here, the legend is that Kukai dug the well in one night with his staff and that if you make a wish on a specific day then that wish will come true. The guidebook doesn’t say which day though. I make a wish anyway.

The well at Idoji
We have walked for four days. After camping in a park overnight, in the morning of Day 5 we walk the last 5km into Tokushima. We have walked around 90km since we started out and today we intend today to have a rest.

Our route so far

1 comment:

  1. Great reading, lots of experiences already! And you're a natural storyteller. Hope the weather warms up a bit for you soon.