Henro Day 8: June 28

Kiragawa 吉良川Kōnomine-ji 神峰寺
Temples: 25 Kōnomine-ji (神峰寺)
Weather: Sunny
Travel Method:  Walking
Distance: 25 km

My cell’s going to die. That’s my first thought when I wake with it squashed under my shoulder, overheated and drained of the full battery it had last night. I can feel the film of sweat on my face, even though I woke up several times from the breeze that carried increasingly cool air.

I add a mental note to my growing list of henro wisdom: don’t put cell beside you when sleeping. It’s not a problem. I have map and I know where I’m going.

I wriggle around in my tent gathering the things inside (valuables, clothes as pillow, mosquito repellent). Finally, I unzip my mosquito net and stick my feet outside. It’s cool! Wait…no mosquitos?! I feel giddy already.

Daylight sweeps through the sky even though it’s barely 5am, but the sun is lumbering behind the wall of mountains that rise to meet the sea. The tip is Cape Muroto, where I walked from yesterday. Its distance gives me a sense of accomplishment, that a place so far away only took half a day. Even though walking henro usually set out at 5am, I want to hang around until I see sunrise over the hills.

As I’m eating breakfast, a fully-equipped henro charges down the road. I freeze. I’m not ready to chat this early. However, he marches right past me and my bright orange tent. He seems in such a rush.

I, on the other hand, skip across the street to the sea wall and take pictures until the sunlight finally hits my face. My skin dries in minutes, and I take it as a sign to get going before it gets too hot. I gulp down the remaining roasted barley tea from last night’s 2L bottle to lighten my load.

Today’s walking begins with sunshine, blue sky, and clouds. I’ll follow Route 55 along the coast through the towns of Nahari, Tano, and Yasuda before heading up to Konomine-ji, Temple 27. I plan to stay overnight at the temple’s tsuyado, which is free for walking henro. I learned about this lodging the usual henro way: down the grapevine.

Hunting for places to stay is a large part of my henro adventure. In addition to my map with red dotted lines to each temple, I have several lists for ‘nojuku’, camping or free lodgings with entries like ‘Kaifu bus stop’, or ‘Daishido 500m right of the Kaifu Bus Stop’. Those who update them seem confident newcomers will figure it out.

The solid plan today frees me up to enjoy the scenery. Only two hours after starting, I chill beside the sea, jumping between the large boulders, studying the humungous barnacles, and watching swarms of black, Paleozoic Era descendants crawl over the polished rock.

The barnacles in Kochi.
The barnacles in Kochi.

The sun is reaching its highest when I enter Nahari. Finally, the heat gets to me, and I drop my bag beside a tree and plant myself on the sidewalk under its solitary shade.

I need food. I need water. I look inside my plastic grocery bag. Why is this turning out to be so hard?

Reflexively, I also pull out my Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide and scan to see what’s here. Nahari is where the Kochi train line starts. There are enough people to justify its existence, which itself is reassuring. There should be a grocery store. There also an onsen, which means a bath! I really need a bath, or any pampering.

I can probably make the onsen if I rush, but I don’t want to rush. I sit, my brain slow, stuck in indecision. I need food.

Then, I notice someone carrying a grocery bag across the street. Isn’t that a supermarket?!

I grab my bag and head straight for that air condition building I should’ve entered 15 minutes ago. It has food. I’m saved.

Down a few blocks, there’s a Lawson with superglue. The sole of my shoe has been coming off for two days, since Hiwasa. I’m saved again. No more semi-limping.

The rest of the walk through town is long. Despite knowing I am protected by sunscreen, the sun is scorching. I look at the cars racing by. Is anyone going to take pity?

Just then, a car pulling out of a parking lot slows down and a gentleman rolls down his window. ‘Ohenro-san, are you an aruki-henro? Where are you going today?’

‘Temple 27.’ I answer.

‘Konomine-ji? And you’re walking?? Why don’t I give you a ride? It’s so hot!’

It is. I’m tempted. Why not accept his generosity?

But I also decided I’d walk Kochi. ‘I’m fine, thank you. I’d like to walk.’

‘Are you sure?’

Daijyoubudesu.‘ I say more confidently than I feel. I’ll be fine. ‘Thank you very much!’

He leaves saying, ‘Okiosuketekudasai’ – Take care! It is the customary thing for everyone to say to henro. All I can do is bow as he turns out onto the road.

I feel like I’ve passed a test. I don’t need a ride. It seems, I didn’t need that onsen and bath either to restore my spirits. I smile and continue, no less susceptible to the sun, but much less under its sway.

Entering Yasuda Town. Empty streets and weather-worn buildings are common in Kochi.
Entering Yasuda Town. Empty streets and weather-worn buildings are common in Kochi.

By two, I’m almost out of Yasuda. I stop outside of the Nagomi Community Centre for shade. 

Procedure for breaks: decide it’s an ideal spot, take a huge gulp of water, drop backpack (optional), consult 88 Route Guide Book, decide if there’s time to sit, sit (usually reflexive). 

I’m caught gulping by a small lady with coiffed hair and a warm, weather-worn face behind the sliding door. ‘Ohenro-san! Please wait a moment!’

She disappears before I can even greet her. There’s distant rummaging through the open screen door. She probably has food, and I probably need more. There’ll be nothing up at the temple. Apart from my lunch bento, I only got a bag of genpi, a local snack of sugar-coated and deep-fried potato sticks that are perfectly high-calorie, lightweight, and easy-storage.

Eventually she reemerges with bottle tea, snacks, and hand-made trinkets. The two stuffed owls are named ‘Furoro’, and I tie one of them beside my bell on my staff. We have the usual conversation, where I explain that I’m Canadian, but my parents are Chinese, and I’m working in Hong Kong.

Then, she notices my grocery bag. ‘Oh, you already have food…’ She’s disappointed.

‘It’s only snacks, and I’m always hungry and thirsty!’ I don’t want to lose food opportunities! ‘Especially in this heat.’

‘So-da-yo-ne?’ She says. That’s true. ‘Then, please take this!’ She thrusts the bags of snacks at me again. It’s a bit too much to fit, but I fill my bag as best as I can. To prove my point about thirst, I finish my bottle of water that I’d been rationing up until now. Her tea will be essential from this point forward!

My dinner benefactor at the cultural centre.
My dinner benefactor at the cultural centre.

‘It’s another two hours before you reach Konomine-ji,’ she remarks.

‘Really?!’ I thought it was just another three kilometres. ‘I was hoping to finish in an hour.’

‘No, no. That’s impossible. It’s so steep!’ She makes an incline with her forearm.

Then, I should get going! If she’s right, I’ll be cutting close to the temple’s closing time. If this morning’s speedy henro decided to stay at the temple tsuyado, I’ll also have to head all the way back down and find somewhere else. Temples usually have a strict gender segregation rule.

I start my final leg, sailing on the grandma’s goodwill. There isn’t another market, shop, restaurant, or convenience store on the way up. Her dorayaki is better than gold.

Handmade furoro gift.
Handmade furoro gift.

The glow of evening hovers in the rustling vines, the sunlight slowly sliding its way across my tsuyado outer wall. Konomine-ji is as beautiful as Aurelie promised. It’s 4:45pm, and I’m waiting for the temple to close down so I can enter my lodging. I’ve already wiped my arms and legs, and washed some clothes in the public basin around the corner. I’m hoping the formidable sun will dry the clothes some before nightfall.

Henro survival is reduced practical opportunism.

Konomine-ji, Temple 27.
Konomine-ji, Temple 27.

Konomine-ji is an elegant place, with well carved buildings and carefully pruned bushes along the stairways that connect the various sections. It’s famous for its sweet mountain spring water running down the moss-covered rocks into a pool. I gulped down an entire bottle’s worth, with Kannon smiling benignly at me. I trust Bodhisattvas and Buddhas aren’t as uptight as humans are about etiquette in times of need.

Sitting at 500 metres above sea level, it is considered a henro korogashi, a place where a henro ‘falls down’ or nansho, a ‘difficult place’ because the 45-degree climb that extends over a kilometre.

The last henro korogashi I walked was Tairyuu-ji and it feels as distant in time as it does in kilometresWalking every day, time passes quickly, and the few events that occupy them expand in memory.

When the sun slips behind the mountains, I head inside to snack and charge my dead phone. It might be a while before I find another outlet. While it’s not essential, the free Maps.me and Strava apps are useful for locating myself, and recording my daily pace and distance.

The temple tsuyado, a free place for walking pilgrim to stay. This one is a luxury.
The temple tsuyado, a free place for walking pilgrim to stay. This one is a luxury.

The lady who minds the temple shop knocks on the door, which I’ve already locked since I want to sleep. She tells me I shouldn’t lock it or close the curtains before it’s completely dark, so I can save energy by not using a light. She then gives me a list of other instructions. She speaks in a brisk, economical and direct way. A while later, she comes back with a tray with two fresh mochi and a cup of green tea. I suspect she probably knew I didn’t have a proper dinner.

Freshly made mochi.
Freshly made mochi.

Before leaving, she repeats several times, ‘It’s safe here. Don’t worry.’

I take a bite of the mochi. It’s is fresh and aromatic with something floral. I’d like to think I’m a mochi connoisseur, but this one’s especially delicious. 

With the laundry hanging, everything charging, and a slightly fuller belly, I settle down to capture today’s bullet points.

Today is Pride, I realised that across the world, crowds and communities were decorating floats celebrating a type of diversity.  

After starting around 7am this morning, I arrived at Konomineji at 4pm, after climbing over 500m. My cell died this morning. The sole of my shoe was coming off (since Hiwasa), and thankfully I found super glue in the Lawson to fix it a Nahari.

The walk to Nahari is longer than it looks. It feels endless. So did the walk out of Nahari and Tano into Yasuda. Oddly enough, the walk up the mountain that everyone had warned me of was not as bad as I’d anticipated.

Yesterday, I departed from Shishikui with a light step and even after Temple 26, I powered onward to my first camping experience.

Today started in a more bumpy fashion. The straps were eating at my shoulders right after setting off, and I’d mispacked and had to reorganize several times.

I also saw another henro soon after coming out of my tent around 6am. The birds were chirping happily by 4 or so. I never saw the henro again, as I took my time to eat breakfast (2 eggs!), pack, and take photos along the coast.

Today I downed 2000L of liquid – probably just enough to replenish the sweat.

I guess this is why we walk the ohenro. Today as I was walking, I oscillated between thinking that it’ll take forever to even get to Matsumoto, and thinking I had an entire month of adventure in front of me. It seemed if I was going to camp every night, a bit too much. And on the other hand, it seemed like a reduction to a simple life that I wouldn’t mind having for a month – wherever it took me. Today, it took me on top of a mountain to see the sunset, and to stay in the luxury of an entire tatami room to myself. There’s even a table!

Today has been a day of many gifts.

Athena Lam

A content marketing strategist and consultant.

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