Sleep, glorgious sleep. I’d passed out out from exhaustion and aches last night around 8pm. The creaky knees and sore muscles were still there when I drifted awake at 4am. When I crawl out of bed after sleeping in until 7:00am, my limbs are still tight. By the time I finish a cool shower and head out, my limbs have purged the injuries.
I practically skip from my Couchsurfing house to breakfast at Family Mart, marking a laundromat on the way for this evening. I settle into a seat at with my breakfast onigiri and coffee and check messages at a leisurely pace. My henro creature comforts.
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. There are senior hiking groups, wiry athletes with dripping foreheads, young families, even some early city girls chatting away.
At a bend, three elderly ladies chatting at a bench say hello when I stop for a drink and 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 between the Genji (Minamoto) and Heike (Taira) clans that ushered in the era of shogunate rule, the beginning of ‘feudal Japan’. 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. History sustains this attraction 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 nostalgic poetry off the blossoms in the garden.
Perhaps, if they have the time, they will pause at Yashima-ji and comment on the temple’s strikingly red paint and peculiar decoration in the structural beams supporting the eaves. The Japanese torii for Shinto shrine beside, however, is typical of Buddhist and Shinto co-existance.
Anyhow, it’s time to go. 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 under-maintained path and stairs, my knees are shaking.
I am in quaint suburbia with its residential harbour, yachts out near open water. A promenade appears by the waterway. Ah, city life. I will milk it according to my henro needs.
I reach a bridge that crosses over the water to the other plateau and immediately find a Marunaka supermarket. Henro provision (aka food) shopping! Out I come and deposit myself on the bench in the shade, gulping greedily until my throat hurts. I finally stop when my stomach does too and take the road up the hill, looking for a 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 Udon. It is large stand-alone traditional building with an enclosed entrance and garden. Oh dear, is this going to be super expensive?
I can hear the dishes and hissing of the kitchen when I enter the reception, where I lock my shoes in a drawer and follow a waiter to the tatami eating area. It’s full, but there is always a spot for single guests. They give me a corner with the 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 soy sauce, age, sesame seeds, lemon, chilled grated daikon, and spring onions.
Many seats remain empty for a while between guests leaving and coming in, giving a calming and languid atmosphere. The families, couples, tourists, sit back after they’re done, chatting and laughing.
I lean back on my two arms. Kimochiiiiii. This is too comfortable.
Yakuri-ji is an easy climb. There’s no real need for the cable car, but Japan seems to like offering those. The temple seems like a shy twin to Yashima-ji that prefers a cozy spot just under its 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. Cement downhills are really hard on the knees, when you can feel the tendons straining to keep the weight. Fortunately, I have two staves to help. It’s still early afternoon, but I’m ready to to wind down soon.
I focus on other things, snippets of observation and loose thoughts from yesterday. I think about Aurelie often. She’s the only other toshi-uchi nojuku henro I know, discounting her month break in Shishikui. Even Kouhei returned to Kyoto for a week after each prefecture. In addition, both of us are foreign women. Even with my basic Japanese and Chinese it’s been a challenge. The learning curve is much harder for her.
I’m out of the woods and enter a town in afternoon shut-down. The heat makes towns desolate, an invisible blanket where snow would have been in 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 scenery. Unfortunately, I just light my incense, which I’m running out of.
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!’ Henro preoccupations, 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 to my repository of missed trains or rushing 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. Okay.
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 his English isn’t conversational level. He’s worried about Aurelie. That’s been obvious in the way he usually searches her face for reactions, but instead I say 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 relay the message to her.
After a moment, she says, ‘I think want to walk alone tomorrow.’
Something unravels. We’ve only spent two days together. Aren’t we a bunch of troubled youngsters, indeed? No wonder our elders are amused.
By late evening, I’m walking 30 minutes with my clothes to the laundromat.
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 my luck quota yet.
Doubling back means sacrificing Sanuki udon dinner. There’s nothing close to the laundromat, so I go back to this morning’s Family Mart and have an adventurous dinner with 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 it’s clean laundry!
I hug my clothes all the way back home and prepare to sleep.
That’s when 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 try to hold out for an hour, but the rest will have to wait a week or two.
To her daughter, I give 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 cute 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.