Iyo-wake (伊予和気) → Imabari City (今治市)
Temples: 52 Taisan-ji (太山寺), 53 Enmyō-ji (圓明寺), 54 Enmei-ji (延命寺), 55 Nankōbō (南光坊), 56 Taisan-ji (泰山寺)
Travel Method: Walking + Train + Walking
Distance: 23.6km (+33km)
Night is longest just before dawn. I grab another shirt to complete the makeshift blanket.
At 5:30, as a yellow glow appears on the horizon, I get up for the last time. Unable to find a suitable nojuku spot, I ended up at a Family Mart close to Temple 53. I spent the remainder of the night flipping between magazines indoors, and napping outside with the mosquitos.
Even though it’s not open yet, I go to Temple 53 to do my prayers. I want to make the best use of the cooler morning. I like walking through the early morning streets, something working life doesn’t afford.
After lighting the incense, I look for a statue of Mary disguised as Kanon. In a time when Christianity was outlawed, this was one of the few places that Christians could worship in secret. It remains a little-known fact, one of the sub-narratives of Japan’s history. I dedicate this one to a pastor.
As I finish, a monk comes in, rings the temple bell, filling the empty courtyard with a resounding ‘ommmmmm’. It is part of the ritual to ring the bells where possible, which creates a mesmerising full-hollow sound. In these temples, no matter who you are, you are entitled to announce your arrival, to declare yourself through this sound echoing the origin, end, and eternity.
After watching the monk enter the Main Hall, light the shrine, and begin his chants, I head out to Temple 52. It’s a straight walk through countryside, past a historical town, and up a shaded hill. At the end, there’s a waterfall and shrine to Kanon in a dark corner under the stairs leading to the gate. At the top is an open courtyard, still empty.
I light my incense to a night-owl friend who seems quite proud of pulling all-nighters before deadlines. I light my incense at the Daishi Hall for someone I’ve not seen in almost a decade and probably doesn’t remember me. The things that made us click came bundled with what made us clash, but even if drifting was inevitable, I often think about how to tell her I learned a lot. After years of thinking, I still haven’t found a way to say it.
There are so many people like her, people that have difficulty forgiving for precisely the lesson I’m grateful for. Do I only dedicate to people who matter now? How do I honour those who helped me get here?
After all the thinking and mental preparation, the act itself was rather straight forward. Switch the lighter, angle the incense, bow three times, place the sticks. It takes 30 seconds. Having crossed the bridge, I can look back and see the steps that were so hard before: to forgive, to make an effort, to wish someone well, a wish that they will never know about, and will never thank you for.
I think the remainder of this pilgrimage is about making peace. I can no longer avoid these people. Rather, I can no longer avoid my judgements. Nor can I avoid my desire to wish them well. I might not have the chance to ever thank them in person, but at least this is a chance for me to articulate it.
Then, it’s a long walk through the urban sprawl of Shikoku’s western coast. This side of the island has an unbroken strip of townships and factories, linked by a steady flow of cars. A lot of concrete.
It’s so early, but the sun is already horrendous. I stop a Lawson in town to get breakfast. I eat it in a park with a new rest hut. I should’ve just walked here last night instead of prowling around the same few streets. I could’ve at least slept. It wasn’t meant to be.
Today, I’ll walk as far as I can, then take the train to Imabari. Now, I’m right beside the sea, blue and tranquil, so I can see several feet down. It’s pristine blue sky, but a still sea feels eerie. I realise why: I’m used to Kochi’s thrashing waves, but this is the Seto Inland Sea.
I go through more townships. I walk past a hotel with washed out walls, an empty entrance, a massive lobby of tacky glass. It’s seen better days.
Eventually, I see an obaa-san walking down the street and cover her with my umbrella. She accepts the gesture and we chat since she’s on the way for me. Her actions are delicate, too composed for these parts. When I ask, she reveals she’s from Kansai.
A man stops his car to give me candy o-settai and asks we’re walking together. She quickly corrects him. Flustered, I don’t give him an osamefuda buried in my bag and she chides me after he leaves. After that, she tells me to put the sweets away. An endearing obaa-san.
When she enters her clinic, I double back to the train station. The heat has beaten past my umbrella and sedge hat. I’m taking the train from to Onishi and walk the remaining 4 kilometers to Enmei-ji.
The train ride is way too short. Not a long enough nap, even though I’m 20 kilometres closer now.
I alight onto the platform. It’s insanely hot. Ungodly. Hot. The heat makes the town desolate. I stop at a Co-op supermarket for lunch, finish it quickly on a shaded bench outside. Another henro drops his bags down. He basically has three: a massive main one on a frame, two dangling behind, and reflective shields draped over everything. He takes a while to get the contraption on and off. Two umbrellas are tied to the sides. I’ve read about the walking henro who wander Shikoku, round and round, never leaving the henro-no-michi. He must be one of them?
After he’s done shopping, he storms off. I follow soon after, like following a silver, bobbing lightbulb. The cars become more numerous, the landscape more concrete, more yellow, more faded. There are no mountains, no sea.
I get lost going to Enmei-ji. It feels like I’ll die of heat stroke among these quaint homes at ends on a hill. Eventually, an obaa-san points me in the right direction.
The Main Hall is behind scaffolding, being restored, so I make due with the Daishi Hall. The wooden statues behind the sheets are several stories high. I take a break at the stamp office with its comfy platform. I’m charging my overheated, battery-drained phone. I take off my shoes and let my feet dry off from the sweat. I like it here. The people are nice.
It’s more concrete, heat-warped highway. Then, a turn into quiet fields, but no less hot. That’s where I find Temple 56, the temple with the furomatsu, the undying pine, that Kukai planted. Even the temple dirt is sun-bleached, cake-yellow. But the office buildings are open, spacious, elegant. I make my prayers and poke around. This temple, like many in Ehime Prefecture, has a lake with a mini-temple in the middle, a mysterious aesthetic. The legendary pine is surprisingly squat, but radiates a tenacious green.
Finally, onto my AirBnB place, recommended by a Kyoto farmer I’d helped in June. I will drop off my bags there en route to Temple 55 on the other side of town.
After crossing the highway and getting into Imabari town proper, the residential streets are better. I find the AirBnB house, ring, knock, wait. Finally, I let myself in the unlocked door.
An elderly man shuffles down the hallway and greets me with single English words. My room. Guest room. He doesn’t smile. Kitchen. He gets me to sit in the guest room and disappears, returning with refreshments, and then again with a sheet of paper. It single lines reading:
‘I am Tsuneto. I am ____ years old.
‘My wife is Akiko. She is ___ years old.’
His hearing be poor, so we need to speak more loudly. His English isn’t very good. His son must have typed it up for him.
Then, he hands me a sheet for me to fill out my information, from my name and age to my food allergies. It’s almost like a clinic form. He is a doctor after all.
When done, I explain to him in Japanese that I need to go to Temple 55. Can I leave my stuff?
He relaxes a little and responds back in Japanese. Yes, I can leave my stuff.
I walk back out, much lighter. There’s an onsen in the town centre. Awesome! Train station is close, excellent! Timely, as I need the washroom suddenly. Indigestion.
A few minutes later, feeling normal again, I walk the remaining few blocks to Temple 55.
And I’m glad I made it. It’s a lovely temple. It’s in an open square courtyard. Everything is facing each other – as though in pairs. The late afternoon sun has softened.
I’m the second last person to get a nokyocho. I get another charm for the couple I dedicated this temple to so that they may each have something. The gentleman who writes for me has the best calligraphic hand I’ve seen so far.
When I compliment him, he tells me stories of all his visitors. He’s eager to practice his English with me. He brings out his photo book, and shows me other Canadians. Then, he shows the latest visitors on his digicam. Eventually, he writes a few more pieces of calligraphy for me. Finally, when I notice that it’s 5:00 and don’t want to keep him, he rummages his drawers mumbling, ‘I may still have them.’
This gentleman wanted me to have a brocade osamefuda that another henro left a few days ago. He hands me the last one, delighted someone appreciates it. Silver (20+) and Gold (50+) osamefuda are already rare, and I’ve heard people fish them out of the temple boxes for good luck. A brocade osamefuda, made of embroidered silk or cotton, is about one of the most treasured things between henro. I marvelled at them back in the Tsuro Zenkonyado, and now one was dug up for me.
I’m back at the AirBnB house and meet Akiko. She serves me a light refreshment, and says I’d probably want a shower. Yes, I’m dying for one. When I’m back out, I flip through the books they’ve put in the guest room, including the Lonely Planet guide for Japan.
Their house is a walking museum. Every room has momentos from travels, paintings, and furniture preserved through the decades. Eventually, Tsuneto comes to get me: dinner time!
Dinner? Dinner is included? I was happy to get a roof over my head for about 1000 Yen.
As we eat dinner, Akiko comments that the typhoon is coming tomorrow. It’ll be landing tomorrow night. I’ve seen it in the weather reports too, and it’s weighed on me all afternoon. I’ve only booked this place one night, and they’ve mentioned they have other guests tomorrow.
Akiko looks at me, ‘What are you going to do?’
I shrug. I’m not sure. But eventually, I pluck up the courage to ask. ‘Is it possible if I stay another night?’
‘Mochiron. Kamawanai.’ Of course. We don’t mind.
What about the guests tomorrow? Where will they stay?
Upstairs. There’s a spare room.
And…that’s it. I have a shelter from the storm.
This is insane. I run through all the things that led me here. It began because I wanted to volunteer on a farm in northern Kyoto. Coincidence. A thread of fate.
That I’d met them at all is fortunate enough. That I get to stay a second night when I need it most is….
I’ve come to believe that the people we are meant to meet, we will inevitably meet twice.