Matsuyama City 松山市
Weather: Sunny with Clouds
Travel Method: Walking + Car
Glorious sleep, oh glorious sleep.
Real henro holiday. Henro-related things: zero. Today is errand day and lunch with a Couchsurfing host.
I drift into the living room, savour the yogurt, cereal, and cut fruits. I step outside onto the covered veranda and my laundry baked dry. Clean. And it will stay clean for at least another day. Even the thought makes me giddy.
I head out in search of a barber to shave my head. In this summer heat, even 2-inches has a noticeable difference. At 9am, nothing is open yet, and all the barbers happen to be closed.
Oh well, I return back to Fujiya and lounge at the veranda, staring into the parking lot. I need to get new shoes. I’ve been hanging on prayers that my runners last me until Matsuyama. Mail 1kg of stuff to Tokushima. Go to he hospital to get my sprained ankle checked.
And explore the city. Matsuyama’s Dogo Onsen was known since the Asuka Period and reportedly visited by Prince Shotoku. It has a castle, and was featured in both the haiku-master Masaoka Shiki’s poems and literary giant Natsume Sōseki’s novel, Botchan.
But the Couchsurfing host, Noriko-san, has arrived. I messaged her weeks ago to ask about staying at her place when I was in Matsuayama, not knowing how far she was from the city itself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good time for her, but she suggested meeting me for lunch instead.
We exchange greetings in the awkward way people who finally meet after many exchanges do. She hands me a pack of ice-tape telling me she bought them ages ago when her husband injured his arm and has no more use for them. I’m touched she thought to bring them. I’d only casually mentioned the sprained ankle to ask her for a hospital recommendation.
I let her in to check out the place, which is an oddity in the neighbourhood. It’s like a small shack compared to the neighbourhood houses with garden pines peaking through the walls. We stand by the doorway, discussing what to do in the morning since it’s too early for lunch. Unsure of her plans, I tell her that I’ll need to do errands in the afternoon so cannot stay too late for lunch.
‘Why don’t we just do all your errands now then?’ She suggests. She basically has fluent English and it’s much faster than me insisting on mangled Japanese.
If she insists! She knows where to go for shoes.
We drive to the main shopping street in Matsuyama, which is an outdoor covered arcade, a typical feature in most Japanese cities. With her help as translator, I have a new pair of runners in half an hour that fits my wide foot-shape and orthotics.
Noriko-san has convinced me to forget the hospital citing both lack of insurance and the lineup. So instead, we drive back to her place in the city of Usa.
It’s a modern, minimalist house in the middle of rice fields. She has to calm the dogs down before letting me in from the kitchen entrance. There are two little ones, and a big one that she says is scared of people and ferocious with strangers. He’s continues barking under the stairway most of the afternoon.
Noriko-san.prepares udon for lunch while I play with the two little dogs and chat. I’m still in awe at her place, which she mentions casually is designed by a friend. It’s bright and minimalist, with all the cupboards masked as walls and drawers seamlessly sliding under the kitchen bar-counter. It couldn’t be more different than her parents’ and grandparents’ houses traditional wooden houses close by.
We talk about concerts, the exchange that she did while in university, her field hockey team, and her favourite Korean pop band. Now, she’s an English teacher. One of the reasons she likes hosting is to meet people from abroad the way she used to in school. But, she laments, enough people come out to Shikoku. It’s isolated without direct flights to other countries – Korea and Shanghai being the only two exceptions.
In no time, lunch is served!
Simple kakeudon with age, seaweed, and spring onions. Cold mugicha for the summer.
Lunch spills into coffee and dessert. I talk a bit about my previous work and describe the other temples along the Ohenro. I show her the photos of places I’ve camped out in, much to her horror. It’s only when she has to teach that we finally come to a stop.
As we’re heading out, she asks,’Why don’t I drive you to Temple 44 and 45? The friend I was telling you about lives up in Kuma Kogen and I want to see the temples too.’
It takes all my self control not to scream a YES!!!!. I made a mistake in my time estimates and will be staying with an AirBnB host in Imabari tomorrow, which is 30+km away from Matsuyama and 100km away from Temple 44 and 45. Even taking a bus to the two temples in the mountains from Matsuyama is a headache. In short, her offer saves me twice over.
We agree on a time tomorrow and she drives me back to Matsuyama before going to her student’s house.
After she drops me off, I wander around the city centre looking for a cafe to relax in. I can easily imagine spending a week here, watching the slant of the sun slowly shift from morning until evening from a cafe. My search for one takes me all through the old university area, into a traditional Japanese sweet shop, past Matsuyama hill with its mix of souvenir shops, established boutiques, and cheap homeware stores. The eclectic mix seems to have a settled into amicable relations, brought together by historically-influenced tourist lamps and red-brick pavement.
I pick up a spare towel for 100 Yen. Such purchases need to be useful enough to justify their weight, and cheap enough to justify being being trashed.
Even though I’ve hung up my henro identity today, a part of me can’t help but plan for tomorrow, when I don it once more. To a henro, things are valued for their utilitarian use. Equally, the meaning of places only register if they offer shelter, food, necessities, wifi, and camping spot. The rest is frivolous. The rest is what makes places special. The rest is what I go after today.
They include the little sweets from the dim shop lost somewhere in between second hand bookstores, grocery stores, and barbers in the university district. There’s the regional crafts shop, where I resist the urge to pick up a towel, small handkerchief, or tie. A mini tourist window-shopping crisis. I make due by walking down the street and picking up some locally printed postcards. Consumer craving satiated, I sit contentedly on a bench in the shopping arcade, snacking.
After that, I go to the supermarket for another grocery shopping spree and indulge in making dinner in Fujiya’s kitchen.
The girl who is minding Fujiya for free room and board is a funny character. She’s very quiet and sits on the porch all day, staring at the parking lot. In the evenings, she lights mosquito incense and continues the staring.
For dinner, she picks up whatever is in the box in the kitchen corner and makes a one-dish meal with it. I tried to get her story when I first arrived, but she answered in single sentences and eventually the conversation died. The gist is that she is travelling around Japan and basically stopping where ever she can find a free place to stay in exchange for some light work, like this place. She arrived only a few days ago, but she doesn’t seem too interested in going out. I wonder what she ponders, sitting there, with the thin trail of smoke rises into the air. Perhaps she’s pondering the meaning of life, like the exiled wandering poets of old. Or perhaps nothing at all, like a puff of smoke.
Anyhow, I go into my room, light my mosquito incense underneath my spread out tent tarp so that it can infuse the smell. It’s a funny contraption, and my tourist-self handing back over to my henro-self can’t help but shake her head in amusement. It’s been a good break.