Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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August 5, 1999
I got up and out by nine this morning, mailed off a box of books, and headed to Kyoto station where I dropped all but one of my bags in a coin locker, then headed out for Mukomachi, location of another temple. And once I got there, it was a wait.
The temple here is called Yoshimine, and I had it listed as a single day job because the buses that go to it are infrequent... -very- infrequent. I waited for fifteen minutes, and then asked the first bus I saw if it went there; the driver said "yes," so I hopped on. Two blocks later, he charged me 150 yen for the ride, pointed to a bus stop and told me to take bus #6, in an hour. Gee, thanks.
So I walked around a little before the bus arrived; there were all the usual shops, and one grocery store, called the "Kyoto Coop". Inside, as I looked around, I was presented with quite a floor show... a fresh fish was in -- one fish, three feet long, one foot thick -- and one of the butcher's brought it out to the main part of the store to carve it up where all could see. I wasn't the only person who stopped to watch; among the crowd was one young lady in her seventies who actually sat down to watch, sitting on the combination rolling cart/chair that seems to be so popular this year with older Japanese females (I'm sure they sold a lot of that fish right after they carved it up).
I grabbed a light snack -- a container of small, fried crabs, cut roughly in half and crunchy because they still had their shells on -- and headed back to the station to wait. Around twelve, the bus arrived; I let the driver know I was headed for Yoshimine, and kicked back for the twenty minute ride. It curved and weaved through Mukomachi, eventually dropping me off at the base of a road headed -- sigh -- up. So I walked the remaining two kilometers up to the temple.
Yoshimine had two things I had too notice about it. The first was the stunning way the plant life had been incorporated into the temple's structure; carefully grown trees created many natural fencelines, and branches cretd tops to gateways... very impressive. The second thing I couldn't help notice was the -barbwire- surrounding the temple grounds. It was well-hidden for the most part, but it was definitely there. I wonder if they've had more trouble with vandals and thieves than the other temples I've visited.
In any case, I did my thing, looked around, and started back down the hill for the bus stop, well aware that I did not know when the bus would be back... and I had a busy day planned. On the way down, I passed another pilgrim on the way up; I reassured him he was headed in the right direction. Like me, he was dressed pretty plain, but he did have a walking stick. In fact, most every pilgrim I've seen on this route has looked pretty much normal, except for their stamp book (or poster, if they bought that). No special hats, clothes, staffs, or bags to keep their books in. Just plain old everyday clothes.
It was a long wait at the bus stop. I almost fell asleep twice; guess I didn't get as much sleep as I wanted last night. It's always difficult, since I normally work at night and sleep in mornings... but hotels want you up, mobile, and out at ten, even if you've got the room for multiple nights. In any case, the bus arrived, I got back to the bus station, walked the two blocks to the JR rail line, and headed back to Kyoto for a quick meal and to get my bags.
A moment to talk about my quick meal. In some of the larger stations, there are small restaurants on the waiting pads. These usually have a long counter that you stand at as you eat, so they don't really encourage anyone to stay and chat with friends. The restaurants at Kyoto station did something that I haven't seen elsewhere though; they have vending machines out front where you pick the meal you want, pay the machine, and get a ticket to exchange for the meal inside... this speeds up the process, because all they have to worry about inside is getting your meal to you. I had a 'Kitsune Udon'... 'Fox Udon' (Udon is a fat noodle); it's called 'Fox Udon' because it has two big flat triangle of fried tofu floating in it, which are said to look like a fox's ears.
Anyway,by the time I had eaten and retrieved my bags, I was catching the Shinkansen to Tokyo around three o'clock... a bit later than I had hoped. Still it was only making five stops, so it would be a fast ride at an average speed of two-hundred and fifty miles per hour -- my rail pass entitled me to park in any non-researved seat in cars 1-5 of all but the express service trains. So I got a seat, pulled out a comic, and flew on to Tokyo. It was a quiet trip.
I arrived a little after seven and a little before dark; I took a local train to Ikebukuro, and walked straight to the best, cheap hotel in the area -- Hotel I.B.A. -- to get a room... and they were full. So I walked to Hotel Theater; and they were full. And I was getting annoyed. So I walked to the one ATM that will give me money for my Washington Mutual card, and pulled the limit I can get in one day... 50,000 yen, about $500. I checked the account balance... less than $500 left in it. I headed to the Dai-Ichi Hotel, considering what to do... they were full.
So, on a thursday night, for some reason, all the affordable hotels were full... and it was now passed eight, and it was no use staying to pull more money out tomorrow; it would be better left on the card for the few hotels that would take it. So I thought about it: I'm going to have to really scrimp to pull off what I want to do, but I'm damned if I'm waiting until next year to finish the pilgrimage. With nowhere to stay and no reason to stay over night, I headed back to Tokyo, and got back on the Shinkansen for Kyoto; that's where I'm sitting now, as I write this.
I'm not sure where I'm sleeping tonight -- I'll probably reach Kyoto around eleven to twelve -- but I'll just have to figure that out when I get there. I will now definitely be arranging to head home around the sixteenth, instead of the twenty-fifth; and I will be concentrating more on finishing the pilgrimage. Tomorrow, I'll try for two more temples that are reasonably near each other -- Chomei and Kannonsho -- then I'll be headed for the Osaka area, where thre are about five more in close proximity of each other. As for tonight... well, we'll see.

. . .

1:00 AM addedem to August 5:
With the subways shutting down behind me, I managed to reach the Toyoko Inn in Kyoto just after midnight; I've taken a room for two days. Tomorrow, I'll sleep in a little, then go get the two temples on the east side of Lake Biwako. Night.

I think the staff here is getting pretty amused by my antics.

Onwards to August 6, 1999

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