Sleep, glorious sleep. Last night at around 8pm, I passed out from exhaustion and aches when there was still an evening glow. When I drifted awake at 4am, I still had creaky knees and sore muscles. By 7am, I roll out of my futon with taught legs. But by the time I head out, the cold shower has purged the memory of yesterday’s injuries from my limbs.
I practically skip from my Couchsurfing house to breakfast at Family Mart (and note a laundromat on the way for later). I settle into a counter seat after purchasing a breakfast onigiri and coffee. I check messages with one hand, granting myself the luxury of connectivity.
Today, I’ll go up to Temples 84 and 85 which are on two plateaus jutting out into the sea and finish at Temple 86. After, I need to return to Utazu to get my retainer, which I’d left at the onsen I’d met Aurelie and Edvaldo in. Thankfully, Kouhei helped me call yesterday to confirm they found it.
Morning leisure finished, it’s time to hike up to Temple 84 through a recreational trail. As I head up, I join the trickle of senior hiking groups, wiry athletes with dripping foreheads, young families, and even early city girls chatting away.
At a bend, three elderly ladies resting on a bench say hello when I stop for a drink. We fall into a familiar rhythm of discussion: Where are you from? Canada? How far! Are you alone? You do nojuku?! Isn’t that dangerous? *A thoughtful exhale.* Taihen desu ne? Are you a girl? Of course she is! Oh, I thought you were a boy! They stare at each other in mutual shock before letting out peels of laughter.
It’s a conversation that flows well for both short exchanges and long conversations. Since we’re going in opposite directions, I leave them to enjoy the view and each other’s company saying, ‘O-daiji-ni.‘ They respond with the customary ‘O-kiosuketekudasai.’
Temple 84 is spread across the expanse of Yashima, the site of the second last major battle in the Genpei War between the Genji (Minamoto) and Heike (Taira) clans. The Minamoto Clan’s victory ushered in the beginning of ‘feudal Japan’ and the country’s first shogunate. As a crucial aside, Minamoto no Yoritomo, Japan’s first Shogun, is commonly thought to have killed his suave and talented half brother, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, Japan’s most famous tragic hero. The historical associations sustains this temple even in the summer heat. History buffs and travellers feed off the suggestive ruins in one area, shelter in a paid museum, imagine the armies from the lookouts, and pluck lines of poetry off the blossoms in the garden.
Most will pause at Yashima-ji as they move through the compound. What strikes me is the temple’s red paint and peculiar decoration in the beams supporting the eaves; they seem very Chinese, and I only learn later that the temple did have Chinese associations from the information plaque. Sitting right beside is a giant tanuki (racoon) and Japanese torii for a Shinto shrine, a typical co-existence between the two religions for centuries.
Anyhow, I’m a pilgrim and not a history buff today. I need to go. Also, I want to eat as much Sanuki udon as possible while in Takamatsu. The henro-no-michi from Yashima-ji to Temple 85 is cuts straight down the side of the plateau. By the end of the long, slightly overgrown path and stairs, my knees are shaking.
I’ve descended into quaint suburbia with its residential harbour and yachts. A promenade appears by the waterway. City life has such inviting familiarity. As a passer-by, I will milk its comforts only as long as I am here, which is until tomorrow morning.
I reach a bridge that crosses over the water to the other plateau and immediately find a Marunaka supermarket. Henro provision (aka food) shopping! After wandering through the isles, I sit down right outside on a bench in the shade, gulping greedily until my throat hurts. I finally stop snacking when my stomach does too. I’m still looking for my listed udon shop on the way.
After checking out every intersection for what I expected to be a hole-in-the-wall noodle joint, I see a prominent sign beside the road. All the cars in town seem to be descending on the parking lot of Yamadaya. It is traditional stand-alone building with an enclosed entrance and garden. Oh dear, is this going to be super expensive?
When I slide open the entrance, I can hear the dishes and hissing of the kitchen. Once they have a seat for me, I lock my shoes in a drawer and follow a waiter to the tatami eating area. I get a spot with a corner garden view.
It turns out that their base plain udon is a reasonable 350 Yen. But today, I’ll treat myself with a cold udon set with a raw egg. When it comes, I slurp in the chilled noodles, accented with a special dashi soy sauce, age, sesame seeds, lemon, chilled grated daikon, and spring onions. Sanuki udon is known for its chewiness and this hit the spot perfectly.
Even though it’s mostly full, the tables are filled and cleared at a gentle pace. The families, couples, tourists, sit back after they’re done, chatting and laughing. There may be a wait, but no-one is pressured to leave.
I lean back on my two arms. Kimochiiiiii. This type of comfort is surreal.
Temple 85, Yakuri-ji, is an easy climb. There’s no real need for the cable car, but Japan seems to like them. The temple seems like a shy twin to Yashima-ji and is nestled under the cliff face under the peaks. The Main Hall has exquisite statues of protective komainu, which are more often found in Shinto Shrines. They remind me of Chinese protective lions, which Kukai might have seen when he went to China after planting eight chestnut trees here (giving the temple its name).
After doing my rounds, I pick up the nokyocho for a friend and strike up conversation with the man at the office who has just retired from his job and started working here. His son studied in Canada. We could go on, but another pilgrim is waiting to get his nokyocho.
I follow the leafy single-lane road back down to town. Cement downhills are really hard on the knees and I feel my tendons straining to keep the weight. Fortunately, I have two staves to help. It’s still early afternoon, but I’m ready to wrap up the day soon.
Yesterday drifts into mind — snippet observations and feelings I’m unsettled by. I think about Aurelie often. She’s the only other toshi-uchi (all-in-one-go) nojuku henro I know, discounting her month break in Shishikui. Even Kouhei returned to Kyoto for a week after each prefecture. Also, both of us are foreign women. Even with my basic Japanese and Chinese it’s been a challenge. Hers must be far worse.
By now, I’m out of the woods and enter a town in afternoon shut-down. The heat creates a smothering desolation, an invisible blanket where snow would be for winter.
That’s it. I’m going to the tram station. I’ve walked enough.
Shido-ji feels like a garden complex with a maze of pathways and signs to the Main Hall, Daishi Hall, and stamp office. If I wasn’t in a rush to make the tram back to the city centre, I’d just sit and enjoy the overgrown garden. Unfortunately I don’t have time, so I just light my incense, which I’m running out of. I guess this is the home stretch.
With Shido-ji done, I walk back to the tram stop close by. When I get to the entrance, Kouhei and Aurelie are sitting on the benches against the wall.
What are they doing here? I’d seen them marching briskly past me down the street earlier. They didn’t hear me call from the intersection. I thought they were rushing to the next temple.
Aurelie tells me, ‘We’re going back to get our bags. I saw a good camping spot at the michi-no-eki by the sea. How was your place?’
‘There’s no laundry!’ My henro preoccupations spout out unfiltered.
The corners of her lips curl up. ‘Sometimes you can never tell with those types of places.’
About 5 minutes before the tram arrives, I head outside to the platform. I’d rather wait in the sun than add this to my list of missed trains or frantic running episodes.
‘We still have time. We can see it when it arrives,’ Aurelie says.
It’s true. The tracks stop right at the doorway. She can wait if she wants.
When the it arrives, I put my hat in the bag compartment above and sit down. Soon, we’re cruising behind the row of houses in front of the deep blue sea.
I tell them I need to take the train back to Utazu to get my retainer. If I didn’t, I’d go for udon. Did they see the udon shop up to Temple 85? Nope, they bought stuff at the supermarket, like I had.
There are options though! I show Aurelie the locations on my phone. The places are in Japanese, so I suggest marking them on our henro map, but she says, ‘Never mind. It’s too complicated.’
‘Yamada-ya is on our guide, though.’ I open our book and point out the English mark. Good food feeds the soul, too. ‘You can go here for dinner on your way to the michi-no-eki.’
She doesn’t seem very interested, so I drop it.
Shall we meet tomorrow and finish together? Kouhei gives his casual okay. Aurelie does, too. I suggest the Henro Cultural Centre, since we can get our certificates too.
Kouhei asks me where I’ll stay tonight. The same place as last night. He pauses. We speak in Japanese because English is a struggle for him. He admits being worried about Aurelie. That’s been obvious in the way he usually searches her face for reactions. I reassure him by saying that she used to travel alone. If he needs to do something, he can say so.
Then, he asks me to tell Aurelie that he won’t go with her to the michi-no-eki tonight. Perhaps I should have asked why, but I didn’t. We all have our reasons. I just relay the message to her.
After a moment, she says, ‘I think want to walk alone tomorrow.’
Perhaps she wanted me to ask why, but I don’t. She has her reasons. Something unravels. We’ve only spent two days together. Aren’t we a bunch of troubled youngsters, indeed?
By late evening, I’m walking 30 minutes with my clothes to the laundromat.
Earlier, I finished the return train trip to Utazu to retrieve my retainer. Then, arriving back in Takamatsu station, I retrieved my sedge hat, too. In my rush to transfer to Utazu, I’d left it on the tram’s upper compartment. Silly and lucky on two counts. I’m grateful. Hopefully I haven’t used up my luck quota yet.
Doubling back means sacrificing my Sanuki udon dinner. There’s nothing close to the laundromat, so I go back to this morning’s Family Mart and venture to try an instant ochazuke, rice with a tea broth. I inhale it to return to the laundromat and toss everything in the dryer. It’s expensive, but at least it’s clean laundry!
I hug my clothes all the way back home and prepare to sleep.
Unfortunately, my host returns and asks for help on some translations. She’s done an excellent job. It’s incredible that her English is self-taught. I wish I had time to chat, but I’m about to pass out and I need to get up at 4am tomorrow. I hold out for an hour, but I can only look over the rest of her stuff in a week or two.
Before they return to their side of the house, I give her daughter the small Jizo figure I’d received outside Temple 77. It has a serene smile much like her innocent one when she lets down her scowl.
That brings me to the end of my stay in Takamatsu. Tomorrow, I will finish Temple 88 and Kagawa. Then, I’ll need to finish Temples 4-8, 11-17, and then return to Temple 10 to complete my kechigan, to close the circle. That’s a headache. But one that can wait for tomorrow.