Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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August 8, 1999
I woke up very early, as the ryokan's owner had told me the first bus was at eight-thirty. I got dressed, picked up my stuff, then headed downstairs, where the owner met me; the bill was only $50. Then she waited as I put on my shoes... and then she put on hers, walked out ahead of me and said "Ikimasho ka?" ("Shall we go?") She then proceeded to walk me all the way to the same bus stop I'd caught the bus at yesterday, told me it was the right bus stop, checked the schedules and told me the bus number, and got a group that was headed the same way to promise to get me to the right stop. I'm thinking she didn't know where my friend called her ryokan from last night...
So, after a short wait, the bus arrived... and I was informed it was the right bus by the leader of the group that had taken responsibility for me. Oy. So I rode back up the mountain once again; different driver though. One stop short of the stop I needed, the group got off -- they were climbing the mountain, not visiting the temple -- and the leader of the group informed me that I should stay on one more stop. I know he was trying to help, but I was relieved I wouldn't have to put up with him all the way to Makinoo temple.
At the stop, I dropped by the small restaurant again to thank them and let them know the hotel had worked out. I also had a tempura udon there for breakfast, before starting up the mountain.
The path starts off as a concrete road with a slight slope upwards, that winds it's way into the mountains following a creek. This creek goes all the way up to the temple, by the way. Which reminds me...
On my way to a previous temple, I stopped to take a picture of something that struck me as odd; a small crab -- about two inches width -- was sitting in the drainage water on the side of the road. "Perhaps someone's pet got away," I thought. Two days later, climbing a road to another temple in a different place entire, a small crab ran down the road a little, then skittered to hide in some moist leaves near the muddy wall on one side of the road; this was up a mountain, mind you.
Today, as I walked the roadway up to Makinoo temple, I saw a mother and child leaning over some railing... they were pointing and shouting. I stopped to look, as did some other travelers. Down in the creek, the father had a small cage -- inexpensive plastic, good for bugs and such -- and he was catching small crab to put in the cage. The mother and child were pointing out ones that he had missed.
Japan has tiny crabs living in it's mountain streams. I may never guess how that came about, but there's that.
But back to the climb; just as I was getting winded, a gate appeared ahead. "Cool," I thought, "there already!" Stupid. Pass the gate, the path turned into a rough dirt and stone stairway... steeper too... and kept going for another kilometer or so. By the time I reached the temple, I was pretty wiped out. By the way, no one ever just says "you're sweating a lot!" Instead they comment on how hot it is, and ask if you want something to drink.
It was a nice temple, set in a low pass in the mountains; I could have walked down the other side, had I wanted (I couldn't see anything down there though). I did my thing,and handed my book to the nokyo, who commented on how hot the weather was as he stamped the book. I looked around a little, but soon started down... I'm on a tight schedule to finish the pilgrimage.
Back at the stop, the bus was waiting... a different bus, because at the restaurant was the bus driver that had helped me out yesterday. So I got to thank him again also, and they offered me a free drink while I waited for the bus.
So last night, when I told the ryokan owner I was going out to get dinner, she told me to wait a moment. I did, and she shortly came back with one of the ryokan's cards, with the address on it. She handed this to me, and said it was just in case I took a taxi back. When I returned a mere twenty minutes later, and told her I'd eaten at Kentucky Fried Chicken, she was a bit surprised. I wasn't sure at the time, but I've figured out now. You see, I'm an American.
And all Japanese know that Americans drink a lot of alchohol.
The free drink I was offered was an Asahi beer; boy, did they look surprised when I asked for bottled water instead, and informed them that I never drink alchohol. I must seem a pretty strange character. Anyway, as I sat there being quized about the pilgrimage, my country of origin, and other stuff, it happened again... I was caught in a conversation I absolutely didn't understand. I got the same nervous feeling I first got when I visited Japan in 1990 with no language training at all.
I think the source of the problem was the bus driver and his friend's tough guy accents. You see, tough guys shorten there words a lot, and the tend to lose a lotof the "p" and "b" sounds in their words... this results in sentences that you almost have to be a psychic to understand, unless you're familiar with the accent, which I am; but only in a written form, in the Japanese comic books. Hearing it is quite a different matter.
But somehow I drifted through the conversation without offending anyone and, apparently, answering enough questions correctly. Shortly it was time to go; the restaurant owner re-filled the water bottle for me, and I was on my way back to Izumi Fuchu station.
My next two stops were pretty close together, so I made my way through various rail lines to the closer of the two, a place called Kokawa, home to -- not surprisingly -- Kokawa temple. It was a short walk in a straight line from the station, and, although the front was in a state of being repaired, it has to be one of the most visual impressive temples I've seen yet. As I entered the complex, I was offered some free tea by a shop keeper; it was good -- salty and full of puffed rice, but good.
I made my way to the main hall, pass a pond full of turtles and coy (Turtles, by the way, are sacred because in Buddhist legends the world is carried on the back of a giant turtle. And the coy, well... the coy are pretty). I also passed a grandfather and grandchild, busily hunting bugs with a butterfly net; I passed them again on my way out... the kid had a plastic cage with about fifteen humming semis in it. There were a lot of people enjoying the place, as tends to happen at the easily accessible temples that don'tcharge an entry fee, so it was a temple I wouldn't mind visiting again when I have more time. I did my thing, and handed the nokyo my book... and as he handed it back to my slick, dripping hand, he commented on hot it was.
I bought a temple comic, and a bag of candy -- made at the temple, according to an old recipe -- and was off for the station again. It was only three o'clock, and the next temple -- Kimii temple -- was supposed to be close by. I desperately wanted to get three temples today if I could, to help make up for lost time when I missed Chikubushima a few days ago. I took the train back to Wakayama, a large station that many lines went through, then checked the boards that list where each train goes... and Kimiidera, the stop I needed, wasn't listed. So I asked; the information booth said to go topad number five. I did, and looked at the board there. Kimiidera was not listed. So I asked an engineer that was taking a break, and he siad I was in the right place. So I took the next train; Kimiidera was just two stops away. Why it wasn't listed, I have no idea.
But I was there; it was only fifteen minutes past four, and the temple was supposed to be only five-hundred meters from the station. And it was, too... it's the first temple I've been able to see from it's associated station. I easily walked the short distance, paid the 400 yen entry fee and climbed up, with nothing but the main hall and the nokyo in my mind, sure the place would close and kick me out short of the goal. But it didn't; I got the third temple. Cool!
As I wandered a little, just to enjoy the moment I suddenly realized just how far I'd traveled to reach this temple from Kyoto, because Kimiidera, from it's mountain-side location, has a beautiful view of the ocean. So I looked at it for a while, a tree full of semis buzzing and humming next to me.
Then it was time to find a place for the night, and consider what the next temple would be... I've run out of the temples that are near each other and relatively easy. I checked at Wakayama, but there's was only one, expensive hotel, so I returned to Osaka and found a place there instead.
It was a good move. The next temple set I'll try for starts near Osaka, goes over towards Himeji, then to the Northern coastline of Japan. Tomorrow I'm going to try for three (and probably get two), Nakayama temple, Engyoji temple, and -- once again -- Matsunoo temple (the one I failed to reach from Lake Biwako twice before). Well, I've got an early day tomorrow. Night.

Onwards to August 9, 1999

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