Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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July 28, 1999
I decided to head south. After looking over the map, it was clear that would be cheaper... Lake Biwako, it turns out, is at least fifty kilometers long, and I'd have to travel that far just to reach the temple on the island to the north... all the other temples are south of here. I'll go back to the island after I've activated my JR Railpass.
So this morning I got up and watched some television in a communal viewing room while letting my computer have breakfast at an outlet, then packed up and shipped out. Before taking off completely, though, I stopped by a Daiwa Bank cash ATM service to see if my Citibank card would work like it was supposed to. It didn't. And then I realized why; the pages that I had browsed about the Citibank card's ATM conectivity was an English page under the Japanese web site; it was describing the capabilities of ATM cards issued by Citibank -in- Japan, -for- Japanese. If I had a Japanese card, I could get cash anywhere in Japan -- but only at Citibanks anywhere out of country. I had the opposite problem now... my Citibank card can get me cash anywhere in the USA, but only at Citibanks in Japan! Still, last year I was limited to one ATM in Tokyo that could give me cash for my Washington Mutual ATM card; so I've traded one very long leash, for several shorter ones... I'll have to go back to Kyoto today to get more cash in my pocket. Joy. (I'll be having a long talk with Citibank when I get back to the states.)
But that was for later; before that, I was off for Ishiyama Station. There are two temples in short distance of this station, Ishiyama (on Ishiyama Mountain), and Iwama, so I hoped to get to each early on in the day and then mail some stuff back home and figure out where I'd be sleeping next. [Ishi-Yama, by the way, literally means "Rock Mountain"... just so you know.]
From the station, I opted to walk -- naturally -- and got to see a little of the town. I also got caught at a crosswalk by a group of about thirty children (escorted by teachers), who quizzed me on who I was, where I was from, and if I spoke English. As they went their way and I went mine, one boy at the back started to shout the only English he knew... "Helloooo, baby!" The Big Bopper lives on!
It was a long walk to Ishiyama... longer than the maps indicated. And once there, I had to climb about two stories to reach the clearing with the main hall; wheeeee. After that effort I wandered around a bit. It's very much a mountain temple; it seemed like every path either went up or down, steeply. It has some lovely scenery though... lots of ponds full of coy the size of your forearm, lots of hidden quiet little areas, and a path with about thirty-five images of the goddess Kannon along it... a pleasant walk, if unemcumbered.
But I was loaded down. I'm not sure when it happened, but the amount of stuff I'm toteing just barely exceeded the limit of what I could carry comfortably. Add to that the fact that the strap on my shoulder bag keeps failing, and it gets annoying. So I figured that after Iwama Temple, I'd take time out at the post office and weed out some of the stuff I'm carrying that is really unneccesary. And so, burned and thirsty, I left Ishiyama.
I bought some ghost story books out in front of the temple, then turned toward Iwama, and kept walking for a long, long time. When I saw a sign that pointed in the right direction, I was happy... until I saw that it indicated that the temple was still 5 kilometers away. This is supposed to have been 'easy walking distance'... oy.
Rather than walk backwards, I reasoned that there had to be a bus that went to the temple, and that, this being the right road, there should be a bus stop; which there was. But there was only one bus that went to Iwama Temple, according to the schedule at the bus stop... and it didn't stop at that particular bus stop. In fact, the bus only had two stops... the temple and Ishiyama Station. So I waited for the bus that would take me all the way back to the station -- there was no chance I would make it walking again -- and had a nice talk with an older gentleman who wanted to practice his English.
So there I was, on bus headed back the way I came, when two basic things became clear. The first was that I was definitely carrying too much to travel the way I want to travel... I should not have been so wiped out -before- reaching Ishiyama Temple. So, when the bus reached a street I had walked up before, I got out at a post office, bought a big box, and dumped a lot of the larger things I was carrying that I simply never used. The main thing was a solar panel I had bought to recharge my computer when no outlet was available; but none of the temples on this part of the trip, or anywhere else I'm headed during this stay, is so far removed from civilization that I won't be able to find an electrical socket from time to time. So out the solar panel went. After an hour of said critical thought process, about half my stuff (mostly things I'd bought here) was on it's way home, and I was feeling much lighter and just about right.
How time flies; by now it was four-thirty, and since most temples close up after five, there was no chance of me getting to Iwama Temple today. But that's okay... remember I said -two- things became clear? Well, here's the second.
I do not have enough money or resources to stay in Japan as long as I intended; but I can probably do everything I'd hoped to do in the time that I have.
That unexpected $220 charge on shipping a few days ago put a serious bite in my finances (please note that for the same amount I could have stayed at a youth hostel for ten days). So I no longer have the ability to stay in Japan until the 25th (unless I start sleeping outside [which is a possibility, if I can find information about campgrounds]). However, the things I want to do come down to a list of four items:

  1. Visit the thirty-three places on the Saigoku Pilgrimage route (seven down, twenty-six to go).
  2. Track down the rumors I have about a temple in Kumamoto and/or Nagasaki that has a monsters' hand on display.
  3. Visit the Comic Market Comic Convention in Tokyo on August 13-15.
  4. Meet a friend at the Tokyo Imperial Palace on August 15th.
So I might make arrangements to end my trip on the 16th of August rather than the 25th, as I planned. This would shave ten days off the trip that I wouldn't have to worry about finding shelter for. I'll be thinking about this for a couple days before I decide... but the plan for now was this: Go to Kyoto, get cash, return to the Youth Hostel in Otsu and get a place to sleep for three nights, allowing me to finish three more temples and do some writing I need to do. So off to Kyoto.
The scary part of travel is whenever you head someplace new, because you don't know what to expect or if there will be the various resources you need to get around and find shelter... but those places you -have- been quickly start to feel familiar and okay. I was as relaxed as I've ever gotten going back to Kyoto, negotiating the subways, and getting the cash -- been there, done that -- and since there was nothing else I wanted to do there, I was back in Otsu by six o'clock. I wanted to make it to the Youth Hostel by seven, but since I now knew which set of trains would get me there, I took a moment to explore around Otsu station. I found a used CD, Video, Game, and Book store (yes, all one store), and managed to find a copy of one of the comics I've been trying to find for two years now for only $1.40, so that felt REAL good. After that, it was off for the hostel.
As I've observed before, things tend to go wrong just as I've got them figured out. I was able to get one night at the Youth Hostel, but ONLY one night... tomorrow they'll be full. I'm guessing there are some festivals this weekend, and that they'll be full of students and teachers on a cultural fieldtrip. Since there's no room for me, tomorrow I'll go take care of Iwama Temple, then head to the next area of temples to see where I can find a place to stay. Tonight I need to dig through my ticket's paperwork and decide if I'm trimming the trip or not, so I've got a busy night again. O-Yasumi-Nasai (Good night).

Onwards to July 29, 1999

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