Shikoku Day 4

We have just finished day 4 of the Shikoku pilgrimage… and the route has brought us back to Tokushima-City.   Spending one night in a nice hotel tonight before heading back into the fields and mountains tomorrow.  5 days ago this seemed like  a small town.  After 4 days on pilgrimage, this now feels like a busy city.

The first day began, of course, at Temple 1.  We were lucky to meet a fellow walking henro on the way there.  (“Henro” is the name of people who are doing the Shikoku pilgrimage).  He instructed us in the normal temple etiquette, and served as our guide for most of day 1.   On day one we visited 6 temples… which took us on a 10 mile walk through rice fields and small villages.   It felt longer than 10 miles due to my 15 pound backpack… and the heat. 

I’d packed for late November and expected cool weather now.  Instead it has been sunny and hot- and we had no shade all of day 1.  

We finished day 1 at Temple 6, where we spent the night.   The temple served us vegetarian dinner.. and it had an onsen!  (An onsen is a Japanese natural hot spring bath- they are fantastic!).  We attended some chanting by the temple’s monks that evening and slept very well.

We awoke at 6am on day 2 and began another long walk through villages and rice fields.   By the end of the day, our feet were aching from pounding asphalt all day.   However, I felt better as I dropped 5 pounds from my pack (shipped 5 pounds of unneeded stuff back to Tomoe’s place.  I thought I had packed only the bare minimum necessary… but its hard not to overpack!  After you carry everything for a day or two, you quickly discover what’s really necessary and what isn’t!

Near the end of day two we got closer to the mountains and the landscape was uplifting…. lush green mountains ahead of us,… a clear river…  and trees!  We finished the day at Temple 11– nestled right at the bottom of the mountains- a beautiful temple bathed in crisp mountain air.   After visiting the temple we found a guest house.. borrowed their bicycles, got some food,.. then visited the town’s local onsen (hot spring spa).   We’d done nearly 15 miles(15km) and the hot water helped loosen and relax our muscles.  Once again we were in bed by 9pm.

Day 3- into the moutains.   Immediately the trail from Temple 11 climbed sharply.  In minutes “civilization” was left behind and we were climbing, climbing, climbing through cedar forests.  This was the first true “wilderness” of the pilgrimage.   Physically, it was a tough day– 6 straight hours of climbing– up, up, and up.  We were drenched in sweat.  At rest points, we frequently met walking henro (pilgrims) that we had met at our previous guest house.  A cameraderie quickly develops among the walking henro… the shared adventure and struggle connects you.

The last hour of the climb to Temple 12 was brutal… a very steep climb on very tired legs.  But the reward was great.. a magnificent wooden temple complex perched on a moutain top with sheer drops on 3 sides.   The views of the mountains and the wooded valley below were stunning.  We lingered a long time at this temple.. resting our legs and enjoying the tranquility and spectacular views. 

We then re-entered the forest and descended for an hour to a tiny wooded village in the mountains.. and found our guest house.  No onsen at this one, but they had a hot bath (normal water, not a natural hot spring) which still felt fantastic.   We were in bed by 9:30pm….

…and awoke at 6:30.  After a quick breakfast, we were off again.  Our legs ached IN THE MORNING for the first time… which made the hour of climbing we had to do even tougher.  Still, we were happy to be in the woods and plodded along without complaint.   After roughly 2 hours we began a slow and steady descent and left the wilderness behind… making our way through small wooded villages– towards a small river in the valley below.   We again met many of the same henro along the way.  

When we reached the valley floor, the path followed the river east… and thus began the long part of our day… making our way along the river…. leaving behind the mountains and woods.   We again emerged into rice fields, and the villages grew larger and larger as the day progressed.

We walked a total of 19 miles (22km).  We missed the mountains… but did meet several very welcoming and kind people as we went through the villages.   We visited Temples 13-17.   By Temple 17, we had re-entered Tokushima-City.  We decided to come into the city center to enjoy a nice hotel and some decent restaurant choices.  We chose our hotel carefully– it has, of course, an onsen!    I just finished soaking my aching feet, legs, and shoulders for an hour and am feeling much better.   

Tomorrow, we return to the trail again.   My body is tired, but my mind is already clearer. 

May all beings be free from suffering… May all beings be happy..!