Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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August 12, 1999
I got up early, and breakfast was ready for me by seven-thirty -- eggs well done on a plate with shredded cabbage, peeled tomato, and a dollup of manaisse, two think buttered pieces of homemade toast, a melon flavored jello, a bannana cut in half, a cup of warmed milk, and coffee, with chopsticks. The night cost me $78, but that included the huge dinner and breakfast, and they not only picked me up in the rain to take me to the ryokan, they even drove me to the base of the path to Kiyomizu temple by eight-forty. I think it was worth it.
So I started up the mountain at eight-forty, well aware that the next bus back to Aino station was at ten-forty, given me two hours to go up and back. But, being the trail was only two kilometers, that would be no problem. It was a rough trail... I'm guessing most of the temple's money has gone into the road and parking lot in front, as I imagine most of their visitors come from that direction. I had my camera out for the first part of the walk, but when it became clear that I wasn't going to take a picture, I put it away so I'd stop sweating on it. So I walked up the hiking trail for what seemed a half-hour, and came to the back end of the temple.
I visited the main hall, and then the nokyo, and was on my way out when I saw something on the sales table that gave me pause. A hardcover comic book that, upon further examination, was a discussion of the tenets of Buddhist religious belief presented in a remarkably professional comic book style as a series of short stories. It was $12; I couldn't decide... then I saw there were three other books in the series, all at $12 each. I couldn't afford it; I was down to just $200 in my pocket, and still had four temples to reach, preferably today and tomorrow.
And yet...
I probably would never see these books again, unless I once again came out to the middle of nowhere and climbed a mountain; and I don't see myself doing this again for at least three years. Arrrrrrr... I'm seriously weak when faced with this sort of thing. I spent the $50, and bought the books, knowing that I would be able to get back to Kyoto tomorrow to get more cash if I really needed it.
On my way out, I stopped to take a picture... and my camera refused to work. It looks like the miraculous batteries I've been using are finally dying. I put these things in before I left for this trip, and they've been running strong ever since; but I guess it was enevitable that the would eventually run out. So I walked back down the mountain with no particular picture of this Kiyomizu temple.
At the base, I didn't know what time it was, but I hadn't spent two hours going up and coming back, to my reckoning, so the ten-fourty bus should be along soon. So I waited.
And I waited.
And a bee sat on my leg, licking up the salt and water from my sweat; and I walked in a big circle until I found somewhere nearby that I could buy drinks; and I found a pond to look at; and still I waited.
And it finally showed up... about twelve-twenty. And out flew any hope I had of managing three temples today. Oy.
The bus driver was extremely interested in me from the moment I got on the bus. He kept turning around to ask me questions, and then snapping back to stay on the road as passengers alerted him to some danger ahead. Finally, one of the passengers with a smattering of English started to act as a go-between, so the driver could concentrate on what he was supposed to be doing.
I answered the usual questions, and, after finding out I was on pilgrimage, I was asked where I was going next. I said Ichijoji. In the resulting exchange between the bus driver and the customer -- in the middle of which I handed the customer a pad to write on and a pen -- the bus driver described a way to take buses all the way to the base of the temple which, he assured me, would be much faster than taking the trains. The first thing I would have to do was take the bus right back to Kiyomizu temple again, and wait there for another bus.
I had my doubts: besides, I wouldn't have to spend any money on the trains. But it was now approaching one o'clock, and if it really -was- faster... it was already looking like I was going to have to miss the Comic Market Convention on the 14th, because I'll need that last day to complete this pilgrimage. Besides, the driver told me he wasn't going to charge me for the trip back to the station... and he waited right there to make sure I got on the right bus. So I gave both him and the customer my business card, and took a chance. And got screwed.
The bus quickly re-reached Kiyomizu temple, and I got out. I check the schedule for the bus I needed... and it wasn't due for another forty minutes. Luckily, a Japanese couple were waiting also, and were also on pilgrimage -- most started just after the ninth, so I have more company in general now. We got to talking about all sorts of strange things -- the woman told me about her mother had seen a faceless ghost, among other things -- and the time passed quickly. Before we went our separate ways, I gave them a card; they asked if they could write to me, and I said "Of course!"
We separted at the next place I had to switch buses; five minutes later I was on a bus to Hokkeguichi, which was supposed to be close to Ichijoji temple... and thirty minutes later, I was dropped off there: right in front of the front gate. No climb necessary. Cool!
It was a long trip, but the bus driver had gotten me directly to the temple; -and- I got to make a lot of friends, which is worth a lot more to me than the comic book convention. So I paid my entry fee, walked up to the temporary main hall -- the actual main hall was under heavy repair -- did my thing, got my book stamped, and was done in fifteen minutes. So I walked back down, got a drink at a nearby store and checked the time -- now three-thrity-five -- and crossed the street to check the schedules.
And just as I was re-checking them for the third time, the shop owner walked over and confirmed what I thought; there were no more buses running today. And, she pointed out, it was a long walk to either an active bus stop, or any train station. So I drank my drink, and thought about it, but not for long. Today was just one of those days. If I wanted to finish the remaining three temples in the next two days, I -had- to get to a train station and move... the next temple was very far away. Far enough that, if I waited until morning to go there, it would take all day unto itself to finish. So I set myself, and started up the hill.
I was just starting to think how nice it would be if someone actually offered me a ride to anywhere when a car slowed down, and stopped just a little ahead of me. Where was I headed asked the father of the family. Any nearby train station, I answered. And they made room and I hopped in. Go figure.
I answered all the usual questions -- including the usual tongue twisting caused by Japanese trying to pronounce my first name. After a brief discussion, in which I mentioned I had a JR rail pass (they were on pilgrimage also, by the way), the daughter -- who had proadly announced that she was a university student also [followed by her father mentioning that she just turned 18] -- leaned forward to what looked like a raido, and proceeded to program the car's computer to display a map with a route to the nearest JR rail station. Wow.
So the father simply followed the map as we idly talked about my trip and interests, and their trip and work: he works for a truck manufacturer,and has traveled to the US a few times where there are branch offices. He had fun practicing what little English he knew. I gave them one of my cards, also.
I was dropped off at the rail station just a liitle past four, and started the two and a half hour trip to Minoo, location of the next temple, Katsuo... I read some of my expensive new comics on the way. In Minoo, I looked for a hotel and found one; rather, the -only- one. It's a huge affair called the "Super Minoo Hotel", built on a mountain overlooking the town, with it's own bar, restaurant, pool, bowling alley, gaming parlor, etc., etc. ... and it was hidiously expensive. So I ran back three stations, and found a quiet place called the "Business Hotel Yamada" near a big shopping street. I got dinner, batteries for my camera, and socks (I've killed my last pair), and settled in to type this.
Tomorrow, I'll negotiate the way to Katsuo temple; afterwards, I'm headed back to Kyoto to get more cash and to send off a box of books and such, before heading out for the next temple -- which I may or may not reach tomorrow -- Seigan temple. Night.

Thirty Done.
Three To Go.

Onwards to August 13, 1999

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