July 11, 2015

Day 21 - July 11

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Michi-no-Eki Mima 道の駅みま → Matsuyama City 松山市
Temples: 41 (Ryūkōji 竜光寺), 42 (Butsumoku-ji 佛木寺), 43, Meiseki-ji 明石寺) 51 (Ishite-ji 石手寺)
Weather: Sunny
Travel Method:  Walking + Train
Distance: 23.8  (+75.3) km

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A fellow henro once told me, ‘When far from the temple, wake early; when close, rise later.’ Sleep is precious everywhere.

Still, I rise at 5:30 today because I woke naturally and I want breakfast. The Lawson close by has seats, which means I get to enjoy a dignified meal, seated, with my food laid out on the counter.

As I pack, a photographer pokes around the michi-no-eki with a DSLR. It’s an ungodly hour for artists. I’m tempted to ask what he’s photographing. It could be anything with the massive lense he’s wielding. He takes an interest in me too, aims from a safe distance, and shoots. By the time I’m done my errands, I know he has records of me going to the toilet, cleaning up my stash on the storefront, sitting around, standing around. I wonder which photos will end up in the net, or perhaps a print. I hope none, but being the subject (object?) of interest is flattering.

I leave an osamefuda tacked to the stall post, under another one that’s been left. Osamefuda are dropped in temples and given to people who offer henro o-settai. Marked with the name, address, and date essentials, they are the little pieces of us we leave behind. The only thing we can offer. They’re just pieces of paper that might not matter a shred to a shopkeeper making ends meet. They deserve one anyway.

I wonder what the owner’s like. It’s a Tosa shop in Uwajima, which is historically part of Iyo (modern-day Ehime Prefecture). I wonder what brought a ‘rough’ Tosa person north, although Uwajima is historically the more wild and rugged side Ehime.

I take one last look look at my sleeping spot, swept clean. As with most nights, the heat and chatter outside late at night woke me up. But it was such a snug corner with thin walls for privacy in an exposed parking lot. Sleeping humans are just unconscious masses of flesh and bone on a surface – so ignoble, so animal. The image of myself sprawled out on the boards at the Susaki Henro hut appears, a bare, exposed truth. The image is humbling, yet liberating.

Is this early bird photographer a student, a journalist, an amateur? After I’ve gotten onto the road, the he stands at the exit and points down the road, the eye of the lense square at me. In the city, I’d have walked up to chat. As a henro, I move on.

At the Lawson, I pick up a feast for breakfast to spread on the counter. When done, I sip on the iced coffee while charging my phone behind me. I have lots of time before Temple 42 opens at 7am.

At 7:00, I do the quick half-hour walk through the fields. I’ve been thinking about high school friends, as I do every now and then. They’re my reference point for friendships since.

These old friends are my strongest memories of pleasant surprises, staple laughter, belonging, generosity, alienation, expectation, anger and disappointment. It’s hard avoid such complications when everyone’s seeing each other every day in high school. But even as we shared our school, friends, our thoughts, our interests, we so often kept our problems at home to ourselves. I had my ambivalences about them then, and new hesitations with friends now. I have so many friends to dedicate wishes to — where to begin?

The next temple was an hour away and has a more secluded air. This one has the most pristine incense alter to date, a swept plane without beginning or end. It is flanked with statues at the entrance, has prominent main gate, well-tended trees for shade, dignified halls that display great craftsmanship rather than size. The architectural finish should sufficiently meet my architect friend’s standards – or more accurately, her boyfriend’s.

I hang around. I have time. This place has an outlet for me to charge my phone, too. The next temple is just over 10km away, maybe a 3 hour walk if I take my time? From there, I’ll take a train into Matsuyama to Temple 51’s tsuyado and call it a day.

Almost two hours later, I’m rushing down a forested hill. I’m still 8 kilometres out from the next town despite what I thought was a good pace. I need to make it to Temple 43 and then to the train station. I barely have two hours.

Once I’m out of the forest back on the road, the noon heat is relentless. I should be used to it by now, but this is much worse than Kochi. I should give up, there’s no way I’d make it unless I run. But I have a full backpack in this heat. I can only manage an alternating brisk walk-and-jog. 

I’m really pissed. Bad judgement, entirely avoidable – again. I could have left the temples earlier and walked faster. I had so much time. I need to make up lost time, even if I’m risking heat stroke. This is the first time it’s ever occurred to me, and I don’t have water. Nor do I stop to buy any at a vending machine I pass. It’s the first time I swear. Once I start, the stream of profanities carries me all the way into town. I curse at the heat, at a turn, at the next block, at myself, at daring to still feel pain in my feet. Feeling pain means not focusing enough. I feel like I’m falling apart.

Finally, I accept I won’t make it. The anger and regret just vanish, puff. I just want to finish properly, at a diligent pace rather than just fizzle out onto the pavement. Eventually, I reach the shaded hill behind the town. At the parking lot, I charge past a group of driving henro up steadily mounting the steps. Carried on autopilot, I quickly finish my prayers.

Then, I see the lineup at the stamp office, and smile. It was never meant to be. I’m happy I tried anyway, and happy I don’t have to agonise over every step racing to the train station. Instead, I wait my turn patiently to get my stamp and get an ice cream at the parking lot souvenir shop. Water, too, of course.

Heat stroke crisis is averted. There’s air conditioning in the temple canteen and a plug behind me. What more can I ask for?

When the shop is filled by a new group of bus henro, I decide it’s time to leave. I take a shortcut through the mountain paths and into town, where the streets are paved with uniform flagstones, the wooden traditional shops with polished wood and gleaming tiles. This town is a natural set for historical movies.

At the station, I discover that the next train is an express, and 2000 Yen instead of 600 Yen local (which is in two hours). Sigh, at least I can afford to buy the extra time. Money is good for covering mistakes. 

Soon, I’m sitting on the train dozing off to sleep. There are only so many hills you can watch race by at 100+ km per hour. An hour cuts at least three days of walking up to the mountains of Kuma Kogen and back down into Matsuyama. Since Cape Ashizuri 2 days ago, I’ve raced over almost two weeks of walking.

I arrive in Matsuyama barely an hour later, at 3:30, and walk through the downtown area to Temple 51, Ishite-ji.

I feel like a feral human entering civilisation. The cars, the people, the tram, the shops, the restaurants, the lights! The noise! It’s more exciting than when I stood in New York’s Time Square, Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing, or London’s Trafalgar Square, Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, you name it.

Ishite-ji is a temple of the city. It a 15 minute walk from the popular Dogo area, and has been kept well by its patrons. Its entrance is half hidden from the street, but sports a moat, statue, carefully selected trees, and embellished archway. After that it’s a covered arcade that points to bustling trade throughout the centuries, if they weren’t pedalling modern worship trinkets and souvenirs. Finally, you reach the temple gates, and enter the open courtyard. 

Ishite-ji is the site where Emon Saburo was reborn with a stone in his hand. The Matsuyama merchant, it is said, turned away a beggar at his door and lost his son days later. Realising it was Kobo Daishi, Emon Saburo circled Shikoku searching for him in vain for years. When he finally gave up and went counter-clockwise, Kobo Daishi appeared and asked what he wished for. By then, the converted merchant said he wanted to be reborn to help others. The temple is supposedly the site of this miracle and literally means stone-in-the-hand temple.

The temple gate, Main Hall, various sculptures, Daishi Hall, and historic bell tower are all national treasures over 700 years old. Even the more recent gigantic red lanterns and massive incense urn are sights. The Daishi Hall is covered in students’ prayer sheets asking for good grades. This temple still sits at the centre of local and tourist culture.

I say my prayers for a local friend who would have enjoyed Matsuyama as a culinary, cultural, historical, and strolling getaway. After that, I pick up her nokyocho and register for the temple’s tsuyado. A few minutes later, an elderly man shows me another building across the street that they use as storage on the first floor, and a ceremony and prayer hall on the second floor. There are stacks of futon, blankets, and pillows in the corner. He shows me the narrow walkway between the towering boxes to the toilet on the ground level, then says ‘Jiyu ni‘, come and go as you please, before leaving.

I hang my sweat-soaked clothes on the lines to dry. Then, I realise I left my staff at the temple in my hurry. It’s like forgetting my companion, Kobo Daishi, whom has been supporting me as a third leg every day. I go out to retrieve it and pick up dinner.

Once I’ve stopped, I’m usually loathe to venture out again. So dinner, I decide, will be whatever is cheap within a block of the temple. That means the sweets shop across the street that caught my eye earlier. I pick up a red bean manju, steamed bun, and a Dogo manju, made with the water from Dogo hot spring close by. In the shopping arcade, I see two remaining grilled green mochi, a sweet Ishite-ji is famous for, left at a closing stall. These used to be free for pilgrims, and now set us back 50 Yen a piece.

I enjoy both desserts on the large wooden table I’ve flipped down back in my sleeping hall. Then, I clean up using the washroom corner sink, which only runs when I flush. There’s a lot of flushing before I’m done. It’s barely 8pm, but I’m calling it a day.

I checked all the rooms earlier when I arrived. I saw another name registered at the temple list and was surprised to be the only guest. It’s paranoia, but I’d rather put my demons to rest. Paranoia can’t be reasoned with, but it can be put away.

I put my staff beside, move the tables to block the other sliding doors and leave the far row of lights in the room on. This place is so comfortable, I’m determined to sleep well!

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