Saturday, May 2, 2015

Day 29 -- Last few kilometers and a retrospective.

I took this same selfie on Day 1. This is temple #1.
So as it turns out I only had about 20 more kilometers to go today. The rest of the day was spent selling my bike and waiting for my bus back to Nagoya. The only bus available was a night bus, which is nice because it was cheap, but not nice because I have such a hard time sleeping in vehicles. Whatever though.

Anyway, speaking of cost, it looks like all in all, it cost less than ¥400,000. That’s including the train ride to Shikoku and the bus ride back, and also all of the money I spent in Shikoku including the bike. All in all, I’m kinda really impressed with how little I spent. I feel like if I had walked the whole way it would have been more expensive. I found myself spending about ¥10,000 per day on food and lodging, and if I were walking I think I’d probably hit the 50 day mark easy.

Am I glad I did the pilgrimage? Absolutely. Am I glad it’s over? …Maybe?

It definitely was a tough experience, even on a bicycle, but there’s this overwhelming feeling that I don’t have anything more to do with myself. For the past month I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn, eating breakfast, and then putting in a good 6-8 hours of physical activity. I was usually so tired I’d go to bed around 8 or 9 in the evening, and the cycle repeated the next day. And now… I guess I have free time. I dunno, it’s just a change.

One thing that I am glad about is that I had the opportunity to travel. That’s one thing that I’ve missed over the past three years or so. My work schedule was such that I never really had time for travel but once or twice a year, and usually I didn’t take those opportunities because I was trying to save money and/or I just needed the time to myself to rest. Taking a whole month off to go around and see new places was definitely awesome.

It was also great because it afforded me the opportunity to practice my Japanese. I’m not going to say I got better at Japanese as a result of this experience, but I definitely got more confident, which is just as good. One of my weaknesses in language learning is that the fear that I’ll make a mistake stops me from making an effort to communicate in the first place. It was nice to take the plunge into a situation where I’m forced to sink or swim.

My favorite part of the pilgrimage… It’s tough to pick one. My number one experience was probably the time I got to spend in Matsuyama. Both the castle and the city were huge and beautiful. The people were real friendly and there were lots of parks and recreational areas to hang out in. A close second was the feeling at the beginning of the trip when I realized that I could actually participate in the conversations that were happening at dinnertime in the ryokan.

I also am super psyched about my Nōkyōchō, the book they put stamps and draw intricate sanskrit calligraphy in at each temple. I’m going to keep it forever.

Am I glad about the decisions I made? The bike, overall, was a great idea. But it did close off certain routes to me, especially when it came to mountainous terrain. I’m glad I walked half the pilgrimage so I had the experience of both mountain walking and bike riding.

Would I recommend it to people? Sure. I’d recommend being able to speak at least a little Japanese. I talked to some foreigners along the way and the ones who spoke no Japanese (most of them) said that the trip got a little lonely being unable to communicate with anyone for weeks on end. I can understand that. I’m not exactly the most social person in the world but even I appreciated the opportunities to exchange superficial conversation with strangers every once in a while.

I’d also recommend doing some training beforehand. I just kinda started cold—I had no idea what walking 30k per day actually meant. If I had known that, maybe I would have used a bike from the very beginning. But then again I wouldn’t have had the same experience, so whatever.

Anyway, that’s it, I suppose. My experience on the Shikoku pilgrimage.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Day 28 -- The end is in sight!

Total distance: ~50 km

Today was another easy day. As it turns out I’m going to be done in two more days regardless. Tomorrow I’ll finish up the temples and stay somewhere close to 88, and then the next day I’ll make the trip back to temple number one, completing the cycle.

The road to Shiromineji
For today, though, I have some words or something about some temples.

Temple 81 白峰寺 Shiromineji (7 km)
I was worried about the route I chose today. It was really roundabout and much longer than it probably had to be, but it was also the easiest ascent up the mountain toward Shiromineji. As it turns out I chose a pretty popular route—I saw a bunch of other cyclists on my way up. They were all passing me, of course.

Finally, dripping in sweat, I arrived at Shiromineji. It was very pretty but of course it included tons of stairs.

Temple 82 根香寺 Negoroji (5 km)
Negoroji was even more uphill from Shiromineji. Lots of hilliness, ups and downs… it was a pretty decent workout that early in the morning. And since I was ascending from the west, it wasn’t so hot out yet because the sun was blocked by the rest of the mountain. Score.

I found some trees there that had really pretty red and pink leaves. It looked like it was suddenly autumn. I wonder what causes trees to do that in the springtime?

Temple 83 一宮寺 Ichinomiyaji (11.9 km)
Finally, some downhill! The rest of the trip today was pretty easy after all that mountainous crap in the morning. The roads around Ichinomiyaji brought me through downtown Takamatsu, which was real cool. I like going through urban areas.

The temple itself was one of those inner city temples: not on a mountain, dirt everywhere, tons of people… I got into an English conversation with an old dude who just wanted to practice the language. He used the opportunity to tell me how good his grandson is at English because he’s going to a special English kindergarten. Dude was a pretty proud grandfather.

Temple 84 屋島寺 Yashimaji (13.6 km)
Yashimaji badger statues
Oddly enough, there aren’t any bikeable roads up to the temple. My two options were to use the “driveway”—the road designated for motor vehicles only, or hike up the mountain on foot. I’m absolutely finished with walking long distances these days, so I ended up just parking my bike and taking a bus up the short road to the temple. I feel like that was the best choice.

It was huge, and it had a museum attached to it, but the museum was closed. There were also signs everywhere for an aquarium but I never found it. That’s okay, though. The temple was beautiful on its own. Lots of statues of badgers for some reason.

And that's the day.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Day 27 -- Taking it easy!

Total distance: a very leisurely 65 km

After two days of going super hard, I decided to plan for a particularly easy day. I took my time in the morning and got going at about 8 (but wasn’t I just talking about how nice it is to get started before seven yesterday?), kept a pretty moderate pace throughout the day, and managed to get to my ryokan around 4:30. Total planning success.

Despite the leisurely attitude, I did end up hitting 13 temples today. The temples in Kagawa are really crammed together. The first two, in fact, shared a stamp office.

Temples 68 and 69 観音寺 Kanonji & 神恵院 Jinnein (~1.5 km)
As soon as I stepped onto the temple grounds, there were signs directing you to different parts of the grounds. To the left was temple 68, and to the right was temple 69. Interestingly, even though there were two temples in one place, it still wasn’t a very big area. Still, there were some wonderful gardens and statues and whatnot.

Temple 70 本山寺 Motoyamaji (4.6 km)
I kinda lost my way on the way to 70. When the temples are really far apart it’s pretty easy to figure out which way you’re supposed to go because the map generally says something like “follow route 11 for TWENTY KILOMETERS” but when they’re so close together you have to make lots of twists and turns.

However, it didn’t end up being a problem because Motoyamaji is home to a super tall 5-story pagoda. I saw it from a distance and kinda just ignored the map and rode towards the huge tower and trees. There were signs all over the place talking about how they’re going to start some remodeling construction on it soon, so I guess it was good timing on my part, getting to see it without scaffolding all over the place.

Temple 71 弥谷寺 Iyadaniji (11.4 km)
This was today's helping of stairs. The ride up to the temple base was no picnic, and for the last kilometer or so the road was too steep for my feeble leg muscles to keep up so I walked a lot of it. But when I got there I was greeted with a sign that said I had to climb about 530 stairs to get to the temple proper. Excellent.

So yeah, Iyadaniji was pretty mountainous and wooded. Very pretty though.

Temple 72 曼荼羅寺 Mandaraji (3.7 km)
I approached this one from the top, which right off the bat afforded me an excellent view of the whole temple. It was kinda small but I really liked the layout.

Temple 73 出釈迦寺 Shusshakaji (0.4 km)
That tour bus I kept meeting yesterday had just arrived at Shusshakaji by the time I got there. Everyone on the tour now notices me, and they even invited me to chant with them, which was a good opportunity to test how well I memorized the heart sutra. I can do a little more than half of it from memory at this point, which I consider a pretty decent accomplishment for how little work I’ve been putting into it. I need to buckle down and learn the rest of it by heart.

This one was pretty high up on a hill, and it had a pretty fantastic view of the surrounding city. Enjoyed it.

Temple 74 甲山寺 Kōyamaji (2.7 km)
I’m sure glad I took a bunch of pictures. All these tiny temples being so close to each other makes it really hard to differentiate them in my memory.

This one had a lot of stairs too, but they weren’t consecutive so it didn’t seem as bad as Iyadaniji.

Temple 75 善通寺 Zentsūji (1.6 km)
This one was absolutely enormous. It had two entrances, one with a huge stone bridge arcing over a small stream, lots of shops and goodies, and tons of people. I don’t think the majority of them were doing the pilgrimage, but I guess when you’re Buddhist and you live close to a big temple and it’s a Sunday afternoon it’s a good time for a stroll through the temple grounds.

Temple 76 金蔵寺 Konzōji (3.6 km)
On the way to Konzōji I stopped at CoCo Ichiban, my favorite curry restaurant, because spicy curry always energizes me, and it was feeling like a pretty lazy day. I was really tired, too, for some reason. Not exhausted, but sleepy. Yawning all the time, etc. I wonder if that’s just what happens when you spend all your time in the sun.

Speaking of, I totally understand why everyone says not to do the pilgrimage during the summer months. Over the past few days it’s been pretty summery, with little-to-no cloud cover the whole time. Luckily, since it’s still only April (though only barely) the mornings are quite chilly, which is great for when I’m cycling long distances. I can’t imagine having to deal with crushing heat all day.

Temple 76 was really expansive. Not a ton of buildings, just a lot of wide open space. It also didn’t have any grass. I wonder if that’s just to save money on caretakers or if there’s some other reason. I don’t think it’s a Buddhist temple thing—some of the temples have grass growing all over them.

Temple 77 道隆寺 Dōryūji (4.1 km)
There were pigeons all over this temple. That’s all I really remember of it.

Temple 78 郷照寺 Gōshōji (7.4 km)
No grass, no dirt, but tons of gravel. This one was up on a hill too, so I had another nice view of the city. Met the bus group again. They must have stopped for lunch as well. 

Temple 79 天皇寺 Tennōji (5.7 km)
This one had a lot of wild plant life and a lot of statues. Fun fact: did you know that when there are two statues on either side of a thing, the left one has its mouth closed and the right one has its mouth open? True story. It’s really fun noticing that whenever you look at the statues here.

Temple 80 国分寺 Kokubunji (6.7 km)
Last one of the day. By this time I was super tired and pretty pumped to get to the ryokan and call it a day.

Still, the temple itself was quite nice. Reminded me more of a park than a temple. Lots of trees and walking paths. By this time in the day it was pretty late. About 4:30. All temples close at 5PM so I timed that one real well.

Then I went back to the ryokan and hit the hay.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Day 26 -- Endurance training, part 2

Total distance: 97.09, a lot more than it should have been. Still, a record.

I got up early and was out and on the road before 7:00. Today was the first day I’ve done that in forever.

Getting the day started early is so refreshing. I absolutely love it. If I had a nickel for every time I reminded myself of that fact I’d have... well, at least 4 or 5 nickels at this point.

Temple 65 三角寺 Sankakuji (~42 km)
This was a long haul. About halfway through I stopped for breakfast at a Sunkus (that’s a convenience store for those not in the know), ate it on a bench outside, left my wallet sitting in the open, and biked a good 5k further before I realized it was missing. I biked back and thank goodness it was there still. Japan is a very safe country.

Sankakuji had a road leading up to it (unlike yesterday’s Yokomineji), but it was still quite an incline. I did end up walking my bike quite a large portion of the road. Of course I made up for the time lost coming down. Mountains are fun on the downslope.

Temple 66 雲辺寺 Unpenji (~24 km)
So. Unpenji. The highest temple of the pilgrimage.

There were two routes. One, a walking-only route accompanied by a small service road going about halfway up, approached the temple from the south in a straight line north from Sankakuji. It was intensely steep and required an equally arduous trip down the north side of the mountain.

The other route, moving west along the coastline to the north face of the mountain, culminated in a short ascent to the Unpenji Ropeway. I think you can probably guess which one I chose.

The ropeway was a lot of fun (even though I was a little freaked out over the heights), and it moved faster than I had anticipated. That was nice.

The temple itself was huge and included what I’m sure were hundreds of unique statues of bald men holding animal friends in their laps. I’m not sure what the story behind those statues was; I took a picture of a number of signs in Japanese but haven’t gotten around to actually reading them yet. My book wasn’t any help.

Still, it was a great temple. One of my favorites.

Temple 67 大興寺 Daikōji (7.6 km)

I biked down from the ropeway base after riding it back down from the temple. The next (and last for the day) temple was a fairly close ride and it was only 3:30 so I had a bunch of time.

Still, the road was twisty so at one point I had to stop and check my map. An old lady and her two grandchildren ran out to have a conversation with me. The older boy asked me how, if I’m from America, how did I get my bicycle all the way to Japan? The younger girl was pretty shy and didn’t say much. The grandmother bought me some juice and I gave the kids some American coins, a dime and a penny. I don’t know if they care at all about foreign currency but it was the only thing I had on me that was even remotely giftable.

The temple was nice. As it turns out I had been following a pretty large tour group in a bus all day. I’m much slower than a bus (obviously) but the logistical things they had to deal with slowed them down enough that we were going at about the same pace all day. It was very interesting. They found great joy in teaching me a bunch about some of the more esoteric tidbits of knowledge of the temples we were in.

Anyway, then it was another 7.5 km to the hotel and that’s about it. Bam.

Day 25 -- Endurance training

Total distance: 60 km, including a mountain climb on foot

Nine temples today. And I arrived at the ninth one with exactly 3 minutes to spare before they closed, according to my bike’s clock thingy.

Temple 56 泰山寺 Taisanji (2.8 km)
This temple was very close. I actually had to go back and forth a bit before I found it. Not only was it very small, but there is an unrelated shrine right next to it that is much bigger.

Temple 57 栄福寺 Eifukuji (3 km)
This was a pretty small one too. When you’ve seen 56 temples in Shikoku, the 57th tends to follow a certain pattern. Don’t have a whole bunch to say about this one.

Temple 58 仙遊寺 Sanyūji (2.9 km)
This one was a little mountainous. It had a pretty large number of stairs, but unlike the majority of the mountain path stairs I’ve encountered, these seemed to be spaced so that a regular person’s walking pace would match with the stairs pretty well. Hooray.

Sanyūji was pretty forested. I like temples like that.

Temple 59 国分寺 Kokubunji (7.2 km)
This one wasn’t very foresty or mountainy at all. It was mostly just a bunch of dirt at the top of a set of stairs. But there was a pretty cool welcome mat someone had made of this temple’s location on Shikoku. So that was pretty cool.

Temple 60 横峰寺 Yokomineji (25.2 km + 4 km walking)
Oh boy. This one.

So there’s not really a rideable path up to the temple from the direction I wanted to go from, so I took a road that would get me pretty close and walked the remaining (extremely steep) 4k up to the top of the mountain. It was kinda amazing though. As much as I hate extended periods of walking, this mountain hike really energized me. There were parts where the stairs were spaced too far apart (as usual) and I was just inspired to run up them.

Of course, my pack was lighter now than it was when I was walking the first two weeks, but I also like to think that this whole experience has been some pretty successful endurance training.

That’s not to mention, of course, that the scenery was just fantastic on the way up. I met an older-looking woman coming down as I was ascending who told me she hikes up and down the mountain twice a week. I told her just once was enough for me, but she said that once you’ve done it a few times, it gets a lot easier. She said you begin to notice all the small things in the path because you start to get used to how it goes. I guess she had a good point. Do something enough and it becomes easier because it’s not as daunting once you understand the finer points of it.

And then she gave me an orange. It was delicious.

Still, when I got to the top, I was drenched in sweat. It’s probably the hardest I had worked up to this point.

Temple 61 光音寺 Kōonji (9.3 km)
Walked back down the same way I had come, picked up my bike, and flew down the mountain in a brake-burning blur. The road was quite steep, you see. It was almost 4:00 at this point, so I only had about an hour to see three more temples.

The first one was Kōonji. When I got here, I had no idea I had actually arrived at the temple. It was completely different from the 60 temples I had seen before it. Looked kinda like a college campus. Big modern-style building with concrete all over the place. Very interesting.

Temple 62 宝寿寺 Hōjuji (1.4 km)
It was getting pretty late in the day, and all the high school kids were walking home from school clubs. The only word high schoolers know to say to foreigners is ‘HALLO’ so I got that a lot. I asked a group of high school girls where Hōjuji was and they were super juiced that they were able to help a foreigner find a place.

There were lots of gardens in this temple. Very green place. I enjoyed it.

Temple 63 吉祥寺 Kichijōji (1.5 km)
This one was mostly gravel. Not too much to say about this one. There was a really cool statue of a dragon on the hand-washing area.

Temple 64 前神寺 Maegamiji (3.1 km)
Luckily, I didn’t get lost on the way to this one and made it there with only a few minutes to spare.

The main hall was under construction here, so everyone was directed to the secondary hall to do all the rituals and whatnot. Still, it was a really cool-looking place.

Hotel (2.6 km)
I arrived at the hotel well after 5. Generally minshuku and ryokan don’t like you arriving after 5, but since it was a hotel (and that term ended up being a pretty loose one) I was safe. I planned it that way, actually. I figured (correctly) that a bunch of mountain walking would slow me down.

At the same hotel, as it turns out, was the same lady I met on day one. She was still walking, though at a ridiculous pace. I mean, she must have been walking at waaaay over 30km per day, which would have actually probably killed me. I mean 20-30km per day seriously rendered my joints completely unusable, and here she is walking upwards of 35.

Whatever, though. People who can do that win the long-distance walking medal. I’m not doing the pilgrimage as some feat of strength. I know I’m unfit to walk huge distances. The bike allows me to stop and actually enjoy my trip. I’ll take that any day.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Day 24 -- Having a bike is fantastic

Total distance: ~60 km

Today was a real good day.

Matsuyama Castle 松山城
I started off biking a short distance into the greater downtown area, parking my bike in a municipal lot, and hiking up the ginormous mountain in the middle of the city towards the castle. I figured I’d spend a half hour there and then hit the road towards the next temple.

What I did not expect is that Matsuyama temple is absolutely ginormous. It dwarfs the castles in Okazaki and Nagoya—while the castle proper is just about as big as the one in Nagoya, Matsuyama Castle has a lot of the surrounding armaments still in tact as well. I kinda blended in (as well as a foreigner can ‘blend in’ in Japan) with a tour group as they were getting near the castle. Fascinating stuff.

I bought a ticket and went inside, and like Okazaki and Nagoya castles, there was a museum inside. All of the signs and explanations were translated into English, which is just fantastic. The Japanese explanations are often super hard to read and understand because they use lots of high-level characters.

Anyway. That was a great experience. Then I went back down the mountain to my bike and set off towards temple 52.

Temple 52 太山寺 Taisanji (8.5 km)
This one wasn’t so far away, but I’m not that great at navigating city streets so I got turned around a few times. There were so many bicycles on the streets! Mostly high school kids going to class, but there were a good number of adults going to their jobs too. I dare say there were more bicycles on the road at this time of day than there were cars.

The temple itself was tucked out of the way a bit and was pretty quiet and peaceful. I liked it.

Temple 53 円明寺 Enmyōji (3.6 km)
Another close one. I don’t have much to say about this temple, but the ride over to it was pretty scenic.

Temple 54 延命寺 Enmeiji (37 km)
And we come to the reason why I’m so glad I have a bicycle. The road to this next temple was long, flat, and not that interesting. Sure, it was along the coastline, which was cool and the breeze was refreshing, but if I had walked it it would have taken me two days of flat highway walking. I would have been bored out of my skull.

The bike creates a nice pace through stretches of the path like this.

Temple 55 南光坊 Nankōbō (~? km)
On the way to Nankōbō I stopped at Coco Curry House for some excellent extra spicy curry. That place is awesome for two main reasons. One, they allow you to order exactly what kind of curry you want, down to each individual topping you want; and two, you can order some really, really spicy curry there. Really spicy.

Nankōbō was interestingly laid out. The temple was actually bisected by a road, which was cool. The dude in the stamp office was real nice, too.

Day 25 is going to be a pretty brutal day. Big mountain to climb. Lots of ground to cover.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Day 23 -- A rollercoaster ride to my new favorite Shikoku city

Total distance: ~60 km

Today I arrived in Matsuyama City. As it turns out, there are a ton of temples in this city. I haven’t seen this many temples in a day since Day 1.

Temple 45 岩屋寺 Iwayaji (~10 km)
As you may recall, temple number 45 was a round trip from where I stayed last night. Originally I was planning on making the trip out and back yesterday, but because the road was so terrible I figured I wasn’t going to be able to make it in time. Since I didn’t get to go yesterday, I went today.

Turns out, that was a good idea. Even if I had gotten there in an hour (which would have been difficult in and of itself), there are a ton of stairs leading up to the temple, too. Because, you know, ancient Buddhists and mountain temples.

This one was pretty cool. It was actually built into a cliff face, which is kinda unique.

Temple 46 浄瑠璃寺 Jōruriji (~30 km)
Temple 45 was the last temple on the mountain, so to get to number 46 it was a long road downward.

This was maybe the best experience of the entire trip so far. Since the road was meant for general traffic, including big trucks, the incline was shallow enough that I didn’t really have to use my brakes much at all. I just cruised down the mountain at about 30-40 kph, winding down with the enormous city of Matsuyama in the background.

I took one picture. I could have taken a million but I don’t think pictures do the trip very much justice.

When I got to the temple, it felt very quaint. It was mostly forested, and for some reason there weren’t so many people there so it was pretty quiet. I got into a conversation with the lady in the stamp office and she gave me an enormous orange and a banana.

All in all, it was a great welcome to the city

Temple 47 八坂寺 Yasakaji (~0.9 km)
The next temple was extremely close. It was small too, but had less of a foresty feel to it. It had paved sidewalks and whatnot, and included a lot more stairs. 

As I was leaving, someone gave me two mikan. I considered stopping at the next rest area and making a Carmen Miranda hat with all the fruit osettai I was getting.

Temple 48 西琳寺 Sairinji (~4.6 km)
On the way to the temple, I stopped for a second to get my bearings and make sure I was going the right way. There was a family doing a ton of yardwork in their huge yard nearby. Suddenly, the grandpa fellow of the family cals out and asks me if I need help, in English. I said I was fine, and he then offered to teach me a shortcut to the next temple. He explained it in pretty excellent English, too.

A shot from inside Jōnofuchi Park
It was really cool because his kids and grandkids were looking on with pretty stunned faces. I bet they don’t get to hear their grandpa tearing it up in English very often.

Next to the temple was a shrine called Jōnofuchi surrounded by a small but very pretty park. I had a little extra time so I walked around a took a bunch of pictures and stuff.

Temple 49 浄土寺 Jōdoji (~3.1 km)
This was a pretty big temple. As I was walking around it, there was this little kid, maybe 2 or 3 years old, yelling the Japanese word for ‘big’ — ‘ookii’, but saying it weird and slangy so it sounded like he was yelling ‘okay’ over and over again. It took me just slightly too long to realize he was saying ‘big’, not ‘okay’, so when he ran to me and yelled ‘ookaaaaay’ I gave him a thumbs up and said ‘okay!'

He thought this was the greatest thing ever and started saying ‘okay’ over and over again, until his mom dragged him away.

Temple 50 繁多寺 Hantaji (~1.8 km)
This temple was small but the middle of it was very open, so you could see the whole temple as you walked through the gates. That was kinda nice. Lots of times there are twists and turns and whatnot that kinda hide the buildings from you.

The little kid’s family was apparently doing the pilgrimage too, by car, and it just so happens that they arrived slightly after I did. The kid recognized me and instantly started yelling ‘okay’ again, in an attempt to communicate with me. I said ‘hello’ to him, but he replied with ‘okay’, as if to correct me. His horrified mother carted him off.

Temple 51 石手寺 Ishiteji (~2.8 km)
The big red pagoda
This temple was enormous. It’s located in a fairly urban location, but it’s difficult to tell when the shops end and the temple begins. Within the temple grounds there were stalls selling fried mochi and all sorts of seafood snacks.

There was a big red pagoda in the middle of this temple, which kinda stood out from all the traditional Japanese-style architecture I'd been seeing up to that point. I have the feeling it might be some other form of Buddhism. Something from India, maybe? There was a sign outside of it written in a language I can’t read for the life of me so it’s entirely possible it was Hindi.

The kid arrived shortly after and started yelling ‘okay’ again. This temple was crowded with people so they started trying to correct him, telling him to say ‘hello’ to foreigners, not ‘okay’, but the kid was having absolutely none of it.

I left, got some food at the fancy-sounding “K’s Cafe” (some kind of weird attempt at being fancy by the convenience store Circle K) and went to my hotel. Well, it's called a hotel, but it's kinda halfway between a hotel and a kinda lazy Ryokan. 

The stores in stalls leading up to temple 51
That was a lot of writing. For day 23 I’m gonna include Matsuyama Castle in the itinerary.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Day 22 -- Just because cars can use them...

Distance traveled: ~50 km (but a good half of that was walking over a mountain)

I’m bushed.

Temples 44 and 45 are fairly close to each other (well, about 10k apart), and the way the routes work out you have to backtrack a bunch after 45 back to 44 and then continue on from there. I booked a place near 44 with the intention of maybe going to 45 and back after checking in.

Temple 44 大宝寺 Daihōji (~50 km)
So as I’m planning my route in the morning I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding walking paths. The map is usually quite consistent in labeling which roads are suitable for cars and which ones aren’t. What I didn’t forsee is that a good 5-10k of the mountain climb, while suitable for cars (I guess) could really be described better as a gravel driveway rather than a road, which means I had to push my bike over a mountain without any opportunities to ride it, even on the downhill portions.

It was absolutely exhausting and I was worried for my tires the whole way through, since they’re not really meant for that sort of road. Luckily, I think they came out unscathed.

I got to the place I’m staying just before 4 o’clock, so I relaxed for a bit, and then decided to ride out to 44 and back because it’s seriously only about 5 minutes away by bicycle. I didn’t go to 45 though.

Daihōji was nice. Felt a little old and run-down, which I always like in a temple. The lady in the stamp office seemed to be so unenthused with her job. She could not tear herself away from her cell phone line conversation, even as she had the brush in hand to draw in my book.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that I bought a little notebook today to keep track of the strange thoughts that go through my head. I actually brought one from day one, but it went through the wash sometime near the beginning of the trip and I never bothered to get another one. But now I’m back. I just use it to write about things I wonder about.

For example, Daihōji was started by a group of hunter brothers who found a statue of Jūichimen Kannon Bosatsu in the woods and decided to build a temple around it. But there’s absolutely no way that they made the temple in its current form. All of these temples I’m going to have the same sort of architectural style and very high levels of craftsmanship.

So… I wonder what the original temple looked like. I mean, did they put any effort into it at all? To build a big temple it seems like you would have to dedicate years of your already pretty short life to do it. It’s not like they had construction equipment or anything. And they’re hunters, not carpenters.

I bet the original temple was a shabby lean-to with a statue in it. I’d like to have a time machine to go back in time and see how these temples changed over time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Day 21 -- Revenge of the weather

Total distance: ~57 km (with some mountains)

The weather was absolutely ridiculous today. If it were raining all day at least there would have been some consistency and I could have gotten used to it. But instead all day it was alternating between torrential downpour and absolutely nothing, so it was an exercise in finding emergency shelter when it started to rain all day.

Still, it was an okay day. I saw three temples, but I didn’t really take that many pictures.

Temple 41 龍光寺 Ryūkōji (~10 km)
This temple was pretty small, but it looked nice. According to my book, this temple is a popular one for people praying for an abundant harvest, or for success in their businesses. I wonder how many people know that. I also wonder what they do when they want to pray for something that they don’t have a temple for close by. Do they just pray for it at this temple because it’s convenient? Road trip?

Temple 42 佛木寺 Butsumokuji (3.5 km)
I didn’t stay long at this temple. The rain was coming down particularly hard at this point so I didn’t really have much time to stick around.

Temple 43 明石寺 Meisekiji (14 km)
Some trees and stuff inside Meisekiji
This one was my favorite of the day. It was tucked away on top of a very wooded hill, so there were trees everywhere. The temple itself didn’t have very many buildings in it, but they were spread out so it felt very open. My book translates the name of this temple as ‘Daybreak and Stone’, which is a really cool name. 

Traveled a bit more (down a mountain, wheeeeeee) and here I am. Day 22 looks like it’s going to be a nice one. No rain. Yay.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Days 19 and 20 -- Goodbye Kōchi, Hello Ehime

Day 19
Total distance, according to my bike’s trip meter: 80 km
What the total distance should have been, according to my book: 60 km

Most of day 19 was backtracking. About half of the trip was scheduled to be that way. The other half just happened to be backtracking because I took a wrong turn and continued down that path for a good 10 km before realizing I was going the wrong way.

Temple 39 延光寺 Enkōji (50 km)
The majority of the path was through farmland. Particularly, rice farmland. I took a few pictures here and there, but honestly nothing happened until I hit temple 39. Pretty though.

A garden inside Enkōji
At temple 39 (the last temple in Kōchi, by the way) I met a guy from the Netherlands who was camping out the entire time. I’ve always been pretty impressed by the people doing that. First of all, it’s tough for me to even imagine finding shelter, and secondly carrying all your camping equipment with you as you walk must be heavy as hell. I mean, my equipment is heavy and I’m not camping. Though I am dragging a laptop along with me.

Still though, even if I replaced my laptop with camping equipment I’m sure my ankles and knees would be in a similar situation. And I figure I’ll take this opportunity to state that I’m still very glad I bought the bike.

I stayed at a business hotel near temple 39. But I did not write a blog update.

Day 20
Total distance: ~63 km

I think I’m going to up my goal kilometerage to 60 per day. Sometimes, like on day 18, there’s plenty to do, but sometimes, like yesterday and today, there’s just not a whole lot more than riding a bike down a nondescript highway for five hours.

The weather was supposed to be rainy, according to the weather report, but it turned out to be not so bad. A few cloudbursts here and there, but they cleared up pretty quickly.

Temple 40 観自在寺 Kanjisaiji (21 km)
I got to the town this temple was in pretty quickly, but I couldn’t actually find the temple itself. A friendly girl saw that I was a bit lost and walked to the temple with me. She got me a little good luck charm, so I gave her a Pennsylvania state quarter.

Uwajima Castle (~40 km)
Uwajima castle
The rest of the trip was as you would expect. A bunch of country roads through rice fields.

When I finally got to Uwajima, it was pretty amazing how urban the whole place was. That having been said, the coolest part of Uwajima is definitely the castle. I had been planning to spend a bunch of time there, so it’s the first thing I looked for when I got into the city.

It’s a fairly small (smaller than Okazaki castle) structure on an enormous mountain in the middle of the downtown area. It has a great view at the top. Really enjoyed it.

Anyway, that’s about it. Now I have to plan my next day. Peace.