Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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Night of August 13, 1999
I didn't get any sleep. All night.
The train reached Kii-Katsuura two stations after I finished typing the last entry; I pulled my stuff together, and left the station just a little before twelve at night. The station had a thriving population of teenagers on both sides, in little clusters drinking canned coffee, smoking, and shooting the breeze... occasionally, one group would shout out a question to one of the groups on the other side of the station, though more often I saw them simply call each other on the cell phones they all had.
From the walkway over the rail lines, there was a very obvious hotel about one block away; no fool, I went there first. It was called the "Kii-Katsuura Resort Hotel"... and it was full. So I wandered away, following the lighted streets, until I found signs that lead me to another hotel; a much bigger one. I don't remember this one's name, but it was full too. By this time I was getting pretty tired of dragging my stuff around blindly, so I headed back to the station.
It was too late to find a hotel that would let me in; besides, I kept running across cars parked just off the roads with their air conditioners on and occupants asleep. The temple I'm here to get is, officially, the first temple in the Saigoku pilgrimage route... I suspected that all the hotels were full because the pilgrimage season was now officially open (and,no, I didn't visit the temples in the official order -- that's kinda optional).
In any case, I put all but one bag in a coin locker; they would be safe there until after I had visited the temple in the morning, and I was free to wander tonight since it was unlikely I would get any sleep. So I wandered, exploring the closed shopping street area in front of the temple. I found out, eventually, why all the hotels looked so expensive... the town is on the edge of a bay with a large harbor and beach. One hotel is on an island in the bay, with a fish shaped boat that takes customer back and forth; I wouldn't even want to hazard a guess how much a room there would be!
So I wandered until around one-thirty, slowing going nuts... there just wasn't that much to explore. Luckily, that's when I found a store that saved my sanity; a twenty-four hour grocery, with manga. I bought a couple drinks -- diet coke and pepsi are generally not very available in the vending machines -- a banana ripple ice cream, and two good books, which I spent the bulk of the night reading.
I walked back to the station's walkway, and settled there, above and between the two pockets of teenagers (which had thinned out a bit), and started to read. Then the station lights turned on, at two in the morning. "Odd," I thought. Then the doors were opened. It turns out that Kii-Katsuura is one of several stops on two "red-eye expresses" -- extremely late running trains -- one at two-thirty, and one a four. And here I thought all trains stopped between 1 am and 7 am; maybe just in the cities, eh?
I was also visited by a golden scarab beetle that had knocked it self silly on the wall. I've been seeing these all over the Kyoto and Osaka areas; unfortunately, usually I've been seeing them squashed flat at the rail stations, next to the occasional unlucky (or stupid) semi.
So I read and waited; when it was light enough to read the schedules, I determined that the first bus was at six-twenty. By this time there were no teenagers;instead, there were now seven other people waiting for the first bus.
Now that I'm running into more pilgrims, I'm starting to see why I surprise people so much. Most pilgrims aren't out alone; they have friends and family with them. Often parents will also bring their children, and one family waiting had brought their pet cat (in a cage, though they let it out on a leash to sniff around some). So I'm unusual for more reasons than I had thought.
Eventually, the bus arrived... I asked if it went to Seigan temple. It did; the long night was over.

Onwards to August 14, 1999

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