Monday, 31 March 2014

Temple 24 - Hotsu-misakiji

Hard to believe I am a quarter of the way through. However, some of the long stretches are coming. Since I knew I wouldn't be able to walk the entire route in the time I have, I decided to use local transportation for the long distances. Since it is 76 km to the next temple I decided to use the train and bus and spend more time exploring the temple and shrines.
The Business Hotel I stayed near the train station was nice and comfortable. I received a call from Kayoko last night in my room and was surprised. She had tracked me down and asked if I could leave her black floppy hat at the hotel desk for her to pick up on her way by. I was glad she located me and when I gave the hat to the hotel front desk with the note, since I didn't know how to explain in Japanese, she knew all about it from Kayoko, and smiled to acknowledge she would hold on it.
The train ride/bus ride was an adventure. I figured out the fare and purchased my ticket. Then a Japanese ohenro man and wife came in and looked confused, so I was able to point to the fare. The train had two cars and everything was going well, until we arrived at the Mugi station, when a train employee came on and looked like he was uncoupling the two cars. So I got off and simply said to the conductor Kaife and pointed to the first car. He shook his head "yes". The Japanese couple then followed me. When we arrived at the last stop, the bus station was right next to the train station. The Japanese couple were given a map and went off somewhere. I decided not to followed and when I found a picture map of where temple 24 was, I got up the nerve to ask one of the ladies at the small snack shop in the small bus station,  and pointed to where I wanted to go, and then my watch. The lady wrote 9:59, which is what Kaz told me, so decided to stay put (and not follow the Japanese couple) and wait the 30 minutes.
The lady then served me some hot green tea as osettai, which I thanked her for.
When the bus arrived the Japanese couple were already on it and smiled at me.
It was a nice bus ride along the coast. Next time I will walk it, but for this time, I don't have enough time to do it on foot.
After getting off the bus, I had to walk back to the hotel to leave my bag. I walked past it at first but the next hotel steered me in the right direction. I was able to drop off my day pack and start the 300 meter mountain climb to the temple. I was able to spent some extra time enjoying the temple. The first picture of the Kukai Hall which has a large rock alongside it. When you drop a stone on the large rock, it sounds hollow like a bell sound. It is said the sound reaches the world on the other side. It was amazing how different size stones made different hollow sounds.
The second picture is the main Buddha Hall.
I was able to spend the afternoon along the sea shore and visiting the cave where Kobo Daishi stayed. When he looked out he could see water and sky and hence his spiritual name became Kukai representing the sky and water. Since I was the only one in the cave I said the heart sutra very loud and slow, while listening to the echo and vibration of the cave.
There were' not many people at the temple (no bus tours) so it was nice saying the heart sutra and prayers with just the sound of the wind and birds.
I enjoyed walking along the coast with the black lava rock. It reminded me as a kid how I enjoyed walking around McCoe's island beach combing. I took off my shoes and waded in the ocean. The salt water was cool and refreshing on my hot feet. I can say, I have now dipped my feet in the Pacific ocean on the Asian side.
Everywhere I went I would have people give me osettai candies.
I checked in the hotel at 4 pm (I was able to drop my bag off earlier, so they would know I wasn't going to be a foreigner "no show").
When I ran the buzzer a little old lady (must have been over 90) wouldn't let me pay, but slowly walked me to my room, making sure I was aware there was a step. I thought what happen to my day pack and will I ever see it again. Sure enough, there it was, in the room waiting for me.
After checking out the 6 tatami mat room with a low table and floor chair, it had it's own toilet and a nice separate sitting room looking out over the ocean. The owner arrived with tea and a snack. After about 15 minutes, I was shown where the bath was and got the message to use it now. As I was relaxing in the hot bath, music started to play like when I would go to the onsen with Cheryl in Hamamatsu, Japan, which was a polite indicator it was time to get ready and leave. So I finished and put on my clean yukata and walked back to my room.
Here are some of the pictures I took:
Picture 1: Kukai Hall with bell rock that makes sound to the other world when stone is dropped on it.
Picture 2: Buddha Hall
Picture 3: pool to the ocean where I soaked my feet in the ocean
Picture 4: Rock called "Eboshi Iwa" because the shape resembles an "eboshi" hat that was worn hundreds of years ago (as per the plaque which was also in English). It is made of the rock type called gabbro. Thousands of years ago movements in magma deep under the water cooled slowly which formed this gabbro. On my way to the walk along the coast, I took note of the tsunami evacuation points up the mountain, just in case I needed to find them.
All in all, an excellent day. I enjoyed taking my time at the temple and exploring what Cape Muroto has to offer. It is a great place and I would love to visit again.
Tomorrow it is back to walking about 20 km to temple 25 and 26.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Temple 22 and 23.

Last night had a nice soak in the onsen bath that is part of the minshuku. I removed the blister bandage and put a new coat of "new skin" on the blister. It is great stuff to have. This morning I am trying Debbie's duct tape suggestion to cover it and see how it works.
Breakfast was at 6 am, since the ohenro's wanted an early start.
Had breakfast with the five fellow ohenros I met last night at supper. I gave them my name slip. They told me not to eat my plum and they would show me how to make rice balls for lunch with leftover rice we each get in a container. You sprinkle a little salt on the rice and spread it out on the saran plastic wrap, the kitchen staff provided. I made two more with the sweet pickled "something" I had. The guys laughed, one sour, two sweet.
Headed out about 6:45 am. It was cool but weather seemed to indicate sunny when I watched the NHK TV station.
The walk to temple 22 was over a 250 meter hill. Quite a few steps to climb. I took my time. On the way down you walked thru these beautiful trees, like pines, but different. Kind of like the redwoods in California. Then hiked thru some beautiful bamboo forest which is the picture below. Hard to believe, here I was in the middle of a beautiful forest in Japan, not worrying about being lost and not a care in the world. Just the birds singing and the chameleon croaking, every once in awhile. When the wind picked up there was this banging noise, as the hollow bamboo hit against each other.
At temple 22 met up with my five amigos from breakfast. One likes to be called the joke man because I was told he likes to tell Japanese jokes. So when I saw him, I said hi joke man, you made it and this big smile came on his face. He said he was a slow walker and I said like me. The next two pictures are of Temple 22 - Byodoji.
Temple 23 - Yakuoji was beautiful with all the cherry blossoms. It was truly beautiful. Since I took the train from Aratano station to Hiwasa station (close to temple 23) I was able to spend a couple of hours enjoying the cherry blossoms at the temple since I was too early to check in the hotel. It was nice to just sit at the temple and meditate and reflect.
Excellent day. I brought a bento box for supper.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Temples 19, 20 and 21.

After an early morning breakfast, I headed out about 6:45am. Rain, rain, rain was the theme of the day. Not just rain , pouring rain like I have never seen before, or as Kayoko says "like cats and dogs".
Let's go back to last night first. At supper there was only three place settings. Two together and one alone. I was directed to the one alone probably as to not make the Japanese couple uncomfortable. I noticed there was one more place setting next to me but no food. Maybe for a late comer I thought.
After supper and doing up my blog, I looked at my game plan for tomorrow. The plan was to walk to temple 19 (about 4.2 km - 60 minutes) then take a cab to temple 20 (which is a hard 13 km climb).
I asked the owner who knew the odd English word, thru my phone translator, if he could book the cab for tomorrow. Basically I was told, because I couldn't confirm a time, he said best to do it from temple 19 when I get there. So, I left like a puppy with his tail between his legs again. 
I found 4 futons in the closet and stacked them up to get some height to sleep on. Around 8 pm I decided to go to bed. As I was on my way to the toilet, there was the Japanese woman (Kayoko) who had scolded me for lighting the candle wrong, however, by the end of today, I realized she was not scolding me, but trying to teach me. However at this point, when I saw her, I thought l am in trouble. To boot she was in the room next to me with the paper thin walls. What if I wake her when I get up to go pee in the middle of the night. I said a friendly hi and she said you stay at same place.
I was awake at 5 am, so decided to quietly go to the common washing area to shave and brush my teeth. Again our paths crossed, as we both did our morning washing. Funny thing there is one common sink area for men and woman. No big deal, as we both washed our face and brushed our teeth.
Then at breakfast, low and behold, she was at the empty spot from last night, next to me. So I thought, what the heck, let me try to break the ice. She said she arrived late last night. I gave her my nameslip and business card, as well as, a Canadian pin and maple syrup candy. She wrote her name and address on the back of her name slip. I found out her name was Kayoko. She asked where I was staying tonight and she said she is staying too far, she will never make it. The good thing is because she was Japanese she could easily call and change her accommodations. For me, since I had Masa call and book some of my accommodations before I left from Canada, I had no easy way to change them. I remember Masa explaining that even thought I was a foreigner, I could sleep on futons and eat Japanese food. Some places were OK with foreigners, while others were not comfortable with foreigners. I was so grateful Masa could explain in Japanese the best he could to try and convince them to be comfortable in letting me stay at their accommodations.
There was an egg in the shell at breakfast and wasn't sure if it was cooked or not. I watched Kayoko break it over her rice (from the corner of my eye) and thought here I go, I can handle eating a raw egg over rice. No big deal.
I said my farewell to Kayoko, paid the owner for the night's stay and said gosheso-sumadisda and he replied with a smile on his face.
As I was leaving it started to rain, so I put on my rain gear. For awhile, as I walked it looked like it was going to stop raining, however, I decided to keep my rain gear on until I got to Temple 19. Well the skies opened up and it poured and poured and poured. I've never seen it rain so hard. When I got to Temple 19 it was raining so hard, I found a place where there was a shelter, near the stamp office and was able to take off my day pack. I tried to go do the temple routine but it became almost impossible. Once I tried to lift my rain jacket the bag with my stamp book (cell phone and other precious stuff like my passport) would get wet with the heavy rain. When I went to get my book stamped I asked if they could call a taxi and no one could speak English, so I was out of luck. Now what was I to do. Just as I was going to get my day pack I could see Kayoko making her way up to the Buddha Hall wearing her signature black floppy hat. I thought I would ask her even if she would think I wasn't a serious ohenro and think it was terrible to even consider taking a taxi. As she came in the stamp office she was surprised to see me. I asked if she could help me after she had her book stamped. When I asked if she could call a taxi for me, she said sure and if she could ride with me.  I said by all means. She only wanted a ride to where she wanted to visit a shrine. She said the rain was really heavy like it's raining cats and dogs. In the cab we had a nice talk and she showed me a picture of her husband. She was doing the ohenro walk in his memory. He died at the age of 57 due to heat stroke last October. I told her I was doing it in memory of my dad. She said she found it so lonely in the house by herself, so decided on the ohenro walk. It made me think of mom how lonely she must feel with dad gone. I could feel the pain and sorrow she was feeling with her husband's loss. I asked if she could ask the taxi to wait while I did my temple routine at temple 20 and then drive me to the ropeway (lift) to temple 21. She did and it was no problem.
It is strange how things work out and I made a connection with Kayoko. I realized her intention was not to scold me over the lighting of the candle, but to teach a poor foreigner, who can speak little Japanese, some of the ohenro customs.
When the taxi driver dropped me off at the ropeway, I noticed Kayoko black signature floppy hat on the floor of the back seat of the cab. I thought the cab driver would have no way of returning it to her. I thought I would take it with me back to Canada and email her when I got home, to get her mailing address and sent it to her in the mail. It was nice to go in the ropeway building to get out of the rain, get dry and feel human again. They had a nice historical display, which I enjoyed and spent time looking at it. The ride up was spectacular and hoped Kukai (Kobo Daishi) would understand this was my best for today with the rain.
I loved temple 21 (pictures 1 and 2). The sun came out and I enjoyed a couple of hours of peace and quiet just sitting. I could have spent the whole day there. This is the part of the pilgrimage I enjoyed and wanted to spent as much time as possible at the nicer temples. I got to dry out my rain gear and found a vending machine with the hot royal milk tea (my favorite). It was like being in heaven. I watched a chameleon, which I think does the croaking, walking from his hiding spot to the next hiding spot.
I took my time walking the 5 km down the mountain to the minshuku. I stopped to listen to the chameleons croaking along the way. As well, there were these white and grey crabs walking along the road and some crushed ones that didn't make it. Wonder what they were doing in the mountains.
I found the minshuku around 2:30 pm. Since it wasn't 3 pm (the official check-in time) I sat across the street near a row of cherry blossom trees (picture 3). As I sat there, a woman came across the street and asked if I was Arnold Smith. I said yes, and she said please come (dozo). 
After I was shown my 6 tatami mat room and where the bath was, she said there was no charge to use the washer and dryer. The last place charged $1 (100 yen) to use the dryer. I have been hand washing my clothes each night, as I didn't have much to wash. However, today I decided to wash more as my hakui was getting very stained and my pants needed a good wash.
Supper was a blast. There is a bus tour staying in these large rooms. The dining area was Japanese style with low tables and just mats to sit on. They had about 6 of us sitting separately. One guy could speak some English and they decided to move all of us walking ohenro's together including me. They were surprised I could use chopsticks so well. I am learning to like sashimi (raw fish). I asked about the custard bowl and was told it is an egg pudding. One older guy (72), they call the joke man and he was funny. Looking forward to have breakfast with them tomorrow and maybe walking with them. I told them I took taxi today and they said "no problem" to do the ohenro any way you want, by bus, by car, by bicycle, by train, by taxi. They said each pilgrim does the pilgrimage in their own way and there is no right or wrong way. It is the journey that counts and how we each get there is up to each and every one of us.
Even though the day started off with allot of apprehension on my part, it worked out well, thanks to the blessing and help of Kayoko. I really enjoyed my longer visit at temple 21. I decided to sent Kayoko an email to let her know I had her black signature hat and wondered if there was a way to drop it off at a temple for her to pick up. If not, I would mail it to her from Canada. I figured she probably wouldn't read the email til she finished her pilgrimage.
I realize the ohenro pilgrimage is a journey full of surprises with great satisfaction. Wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Some more notes from yesterday.

The Japanese supper was good last night. Looks like only 3 of us as guests. I had a nice relaxing bath after I arrived before supper. The room is a 6 tatami mat size room with futon to sleep on.
Supper was some tempura, sashimi, assorted pickles, noodle soup, rice, and a small soup bowl with a cover on it to keep it warm. I thought it was dessert as it looked like warm custard. However, when I ate it, it was not sweet and had some vegetables in it. Not sure what it was. Will have to find out from Kaz or Masa after the trip. Dessert was a strawberry and slice of apple. Everything is so nicely arranged on the tray and the dishes.
Today I met a nice couple from Australia with full camping backpack. It looked so heavy. I am so glad I shipped all those things I decided I didn't need back to Kaz's place at Temple 11. My pack feels so much better now.
As well, met these two older ladies, one who spoke good English. She was from Tokushima and her friend was from Osaka. Wish I had more time to chat with them but I had to press on. They were walking as well and met them at a few temples.
Also met a Japanese walker who spoke some English. I learned later her name was Kayoko. One time as I was walking I could see she was behind me in a distance. I thought great, I must be going in the right direction. At a traffic light she caught up with me and we exchanged greetings. She was a fast walker and zoomed ahead. I thought good I can follow her, which I did and suddenly she disappeared. I thought, which way did she go. Then around the corner and the temple was magically there.
So when I was doing my temple ceremony, I have been lighting my candle from another candle. Kayoko commence to tell me that I should not do this, as it is bad karma. I felt like a school kid being scolded by my teachers. I thanked her and started to use the lighter Kaz loaned to me.
I was awake early this morning, since I went to bed early. So decided to add this to my blog. I am finding it very tricky typing on this smart phone, so do please excuse any typos. I went back and fixed up some from yesterday and did a repost.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Temples 13 to 18

Another early start to the day. Breakfast at 6 am. Today had real nato. I tried it the way Masa showed me, but could only eat half of it. The place I stayed at was nice with a regular bed verses a futon to sleep on. I also had a small bathroom with small tub with hose for shower. It was nice to have a shower in the morning verses having to take bath at night. I had breakfast with one other ohenro that was staying at the same place. We didn't talk much as my Japanese was not good enough.
I started walking at 6:30 am to temple 13. The temples were reasonably close today. It was an easier day walking as there were no mountains to climb. The first picture is of temple 14.
The second picture is a sample of the sign post sticker you have to keep an eye open for. Sometimes if you don't see one for awhile, ones mind starts to take over that maybe you weren't paying attention when you should have. You start to think "did I miss the last turn", "should I go back and find the last one". Then one will magically appear.
The third picture is of temple 16, whereas, the fourth and fifth are of temple 17. The last one is a cherry tree in full blossom close to the minshuku I am staying at. It was awesome and so beautiful.
I was able to make it by 3 pm. I was able to take the train as planned to save some time between 17 and 18. I decided that in order to complete the pilgrimage with the time I had, I would have to use trains and buses for the longer distances, where I could easily use them. Since, I was early I decided to walk to temple 18 and start at temple 19 tomorrow.
When checking my feet this morning I noticed a small bump on the side of my heel. I didn't think it was a blister,  so just put a bandage on it to be on the safe side. Later in the afternoon I could feel it just a bit. When I checked it, sure enough it was my first blister. Out with the first aid kit and needle to drain it while at the minshuku. I put on some second skin and a blister patch and will see how it is in the morning. 
All in all a good day. Didn't get lost. Had a few moments of "did I miss a turn". The forecast called for 40% chance of rain. I was lucky again, just overcast, no rain.
Tomorrow looks like a hard day with a couple hard climbs. Was able to wash my clothes by hand and figure out for 100yen I could dry them for 60 mins in the dryer.
Plan is for an early night and for an early start this morning.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Temple 12

I am calling today "the day of the frog". I will explain later. Breakfast was at 6 am, so I could get an early start. It was a Japanese style breakfast, where on the main plate was two fish about 4 inches long that were smoked with their heads still on. I wasn't sure about eating it since it also had not been cleaned. So I thought what the heck and used my chopsticks to remove the head and bit in. To my surprise it was very tasty. I needed the energy to make it through the day so ate them both. Rest of breakfast was miso soup, rice, cabbage salad, small dried fish, pickled green vegetable, dicon, and some other dishes which are hard to explain. It was all tasty, except couldn't eat the fish heads. I noticed the owner watching me, I guess to see what I was eating. I could see a little smile on her face, when the foreigner plate was bare at the end of breakfast. I learned asking for more rice was definitely ok. It was nice to have breakfast with fellow ohenos. We sat with the man and wife couple, who we met at the udon restaurant the first day. Michio gave me his business card with his website, where he collects earpicks, which have a nice carved handles ( 
So I said my farewell to Kaz and I left around  6:30 am. Kaz was heading back to Tokyo and I was on my own to see if I could do the pilgrimage with my limited Japanese speaking skills. I had to take a short walk back to temple 11 to start the trail to temple 12. I used the voltaren cream for relief of muscle pain on my hip flexors and quads last night. Thanks to a recommendation from my friend Bob (in Toronto), they felt fine this morning.  At the start of the climb there were a lot of steps with these small houses with a statue of Buddha and Kobo Daishi. One of the fellow ohenro's mentioned each one represented one of the 88 temples. I took some pictures with my camera but not for the blog. It was an immediate hard climb. It reminded me of the Gatineau hills outside Ottawa but much steeper. There were beautiful views along the way. Loved all the ferns and moss. The first picture is of one of the many statues and markers, that marked the way,
I stopped at a small spring and when I went to take a drink, I could hear this funny noise along with the birds singing (picture #2). It took me awhile to figure it was frogs croaking. I stayed and listened. One of the ohenro that passed by while I rested mentioned that it was salamanders. I tried to record the sound with no success. It made my day, hence "the day of the frog". By this time, I figured I had finished the hard climb. Boy, was I wrong.
The second climb was brutal. Each step was an effort. Just as you thought you were near the top, around the corner was an never ending steep climb. Then around the last corner there were steps, and you looked up at a large statue of Kobo Daishi (picture 3). I thought, I have been saved and was there at the temple, only to find out it was only a shrine and overnight shelter.
Then there was a steep downhill, which was hard on the shins. At the bottom, I could see some roof tops through the trees and thought I am there, at the temple. Well, fooled again. It was a shrine. Then another hard climb and when I started downhill, I could see roof tops. Fooled again. Had to cross the road and through more mountain paths.
Then there was a third killer of a mountain to climb. My legs were painful. Thankfully, my hiking boots were working well and no blisters. However, I thought for sure I missed the temple, haven't taken a wrong turn, since I didn't see any fellow ohenros. My mind was starting to make me a "doubling Thomas" and the climb got steeper and steeper.
At this point, I thought I hadn't seen another ohenro for awhile. Had I indeed made a wrong turn. However, every once in awhile, there was a statue of Kobo Daishi. Sometimes, I would find this nice red flower that had just fallen off the tree and would pick one up and carry it for awhile, then place it at the base of the statue. It looks like some one takes care of them along the way, as many have a nice new red bib.
Finally, I made it to the home stretch, and found some ohenros resting. Then I was determined to find the gate to temple 12. It was 11:30 am, 5 hours, like Kaz mentioned it would take. When I arrived at the temple, I had to find a place to sit and take off my pack at the temple. I quickly got a bottle of poco sweat to drink as the two bottles of juice I took with me to drink was long gone.
After a rest, I did my temple routine. When I went to get my book stamped the young monk said, in perfect English, only one. I said after that climb I should get 10. He laughed and thanked me for the Canada pin. Most times they ask where you are from.
After resting and talking to some fellow ohenro's, I have seen the last 2 days, they asked if I was up to another hour climb to the shrine where there was a nice view. I said no, maybe next time. I better be on my way. I would have loved to stay at the temple for the night and enjoy the temple surroundings and views.
Then on the way down I ran into an American, who was doing the pilgrimage in the opposite direction. I said he was a brave soul. We chatted for a bit and he is now living in Japan and has done it a number of times.
Then as I was coming down the mountain, I came across a wet hillside with my frogs croaking again. I stopped for a minute to listen to them, but decided I needed to be on my way. It was like they were saying goodbye, enjoy your day and ohenro walk.
When I made it to the bottom of the mountain to the first rest stop with washrooms, I started to realize I was never going to make it to my minshuku in time. When, I started up the next mountain path, I checked my guide book and had about 15 to 20 km to go. I would never make it before darkness fell as I was so tired. I didn't want to be trying to walk the mountain path in the dark.  I walked back to the washroom area (the last place of civilization). I went into a place, I thought was a restaurant, and asked a lady if she could call a taxi. She said no and directed me towards the car park by the washrooms, where there were tour buses stopped, so the bus pilgrims could use the washroom and there were small stands selling fruits and vegetables. I thought I am too embarrassed to admit I am too tired to continue walking to ask for a ride, with my limited Japanese speaking skills and felt like a wounded dog walking with my tail between my legs as I walked back to the washroom car park area. Then the woman came chasing after me yelling. She went up to one of the bus drivers and asked if they would call for a taxi. I showed them where I was booked to stay and they called and said to sit and wait on the bench outside the washroom. The taxi would be here in 10 minutes (is the message I think they were saying). Well, it was the longest 10 minutes in my life, as I watched other ohenros walk by, so embarrassed. Then I thought they probably just think I am resting. When the taxi arrived and the bus driver explained where I wanted to go to, I was never so happy in all my life. It is amazing what small things can bring you joy when you are feeling lost, down and out. 
The taxi ride was a quiet one, as I tried to speak some Japanese, but did poorly at my attempt. It was a good time to try and wash away these helpless feelings I had, while sitting waiting for the taxi. I arrived at the guest house safe and sound. It was like a Business Hotel with my own bathroom. I was never so glad to take off my sweaty clothes, wash them and have a nice warm shower. I inspected my feet and no blisters. All the recommendations for foot care were sound advice. The socks and boots are working well. When I find my feet getting hot I remove my boots and try to cool off my feet.
The last picture is of the stairs to temple 12. A piece of cake, compared to what I just climbed.
Early start planned for tomorrow. Hopefully, it will be an easier day.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Temple 7 to 11 pictures

Temple 7 to 11

Breakfast was at 6:30 am and was typical Japanese with miso soup, rice, cooked egg, pickles, tofu cake with vegetables to name a few. There was a plate with pickled seaweed and large brown beans. As I was eating the large brown bean Kaz mentioned I thought you didn't like nato, which is fermented soy bean. It wasn't too bad. Wait til Masa finds out I tried nato. I forgot to mention, at the end of yesterday, Kaz blew a sneaker, and the bottom heel of his sole let go. He tried to glue it but it still was in bad shape. He was able to find out from the locals where there was a shoe shop and was able to buy a new pair of sneakers for walking. I was hoping my hiking boots I purchased for the pilgrimage would make it OK.
We started the walk to temple 7 around 7 am. It was cloudy and looked like it could have rained at anytime, as these black cloud would appear and the wind would pick up. I was prepared with my rain gear at the top of my pack, which seems so heavy now.
To temple 7 it was 1.3 km. Then onto temple 8 which was 4.3 km. We planned to stop at a rest hut to meet some of the locals who provide osettai, but it was to early and wasn't open yet. I am starting to get the temple routine down now.
Temple 9 was another 2.4 km. My hiking boots and toe socks are working out to be worth there weight in gold. So far I am watching for when my feet get too hot and make sure I remove my boots to cool them down. So far no blisters. Tomorrow will tell how well I do.
The steps to temple 10 were grueling.
333 to the temple, then another 111 to a higher temple and a lookout where Kaz pointed out where temple 11 was and the mountain to temple 12. Coming down was much easier. The walk to temple 11 was a killer, since my hip flexors and quads were screaming the whole time. About 1/3 of the way to temple 11 we stopped at a small store to see if they had any bento boxes for lunch. They invited us to eat the bento box with them in the store. We sat around a heater in the corner of the store with some of the local Japanese. I was glad Kaz was with me so he could translate my answers to their many questions. I gave them each a maple syrup candy and they enjoyed it.
At each temple I have been giving the stamp office one of the Canadian pins when they ask where I am from. They are always happy to receive it. I love to watch them write the kanji and Sanskrit in my book with the black ink brush.
We arrived at the minshuku (Yoshino) around 4 pm. After a hot bath to soak my sore legs and feet it was nice to rest before supper.
Tomorrow is an early start to hike the mountain to temple 12, which is a hard climb and can test one's stamina to complete the pilgrimage. I plan to be up for breakfast at 6 am for 6:30 hike up the mountain.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Temple 1 - Ryozenji to Temple 6

Around 5:30 am, since I was wide awake on the bus, I looked out and what to my wonderous surprise, it was raining.  After arriving at Tokoshima around 6:30 am,  we went in to the train station and were able to catch the 6:40 am train and take it close to the first temple -Ryozenji. Thankfully, it had stopped raining and was just a heavy overcast sky. We went into the temple shop, where I purchased my attire. Just as we got back outside to start the temple prayers. there was a heavy steady rain. What a time, trying to get things organized, so they don't get wet. I figured the rain was a test by Kobo Daishi, if I was up to the ohenro walk. Here is a picture outside temple 1 below. It rained steady for the walk to the next 3 temples, which put a damper on taking any pictures. I was struggling to keep things dry and I had to throw my organization plan out the window. I figured anyone could do it in nice weather, so it was my test to see if I was up to the task. Below is a picture of temple 4 where it had stopped raining around 11am. Along the way we stopped at a little udon noodle shop where their specialty was kitdunay udon, which stands for fox udon in English. No there was no dead fox with the udon. Instead there was different seaweeds. It was nice to stop and rest and have some food, since we didn't stop to have breakfast. It started to sprinkle rain at the end of the day again, and I thought, time to get the rain gear out again.
By temple 4, I finally had the routine down pat, with doing the heart sutra and all. We met a nice lady from Holland, who is walking by herself. She is also staying at temple 6 tonight. We ate supper with her and she is only doing 10 days of the pilgrimage.
After supper we went to the chanting service. We got to see the main hall with their Buddha statue up close. Before the chanting they had us make a nameslip, a memorial slip and write on a stick a wish. I put my father's name on the memorial, since I was doing the pilgrimage in his memory. After the chanting, we went to the back and placed a candle in memory of the person we wrote on the slip. We then placed the wooden stick, with had our wish written on it, on the fire. Then we walked by many beautiful statues. All in all, an enjoyable way to see the full inside of the temple, instead of just the outside.
Afterwards I had a nice bath in the onsen and went to bed around 9 pm. I was so tired. I survived my first day of my ohenro walk.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Day in Tokyo

Today we took the train to Shinjuku, where we have to catch the overnight bus to Shikoku, to start our ohenro walk. Yesterday I stopped at the Post office and was able to withdraw cash using my bank card. I was glad to find it worked, as I will be able to use it during my walk. 
We visited the SHINJUKU GYOEN NATIONAL GARDEN where we got to see many cherry trees starting to blossom. It was very warm and sunny. We visited the huge greenhouse which had lots of orchids and some orchids that are on the endangered list. I have attached a picture of the Zen garden where we ate our bento box lunches. After the visit to the garden we went for coffee where I tried to connect to Wi-Fi to save on my data usage, as I already went over my first 15M and had to buy more to post to my blog. Hopefully I will learn how to get WiFi when staying at business hotels, otherwise will have to limit the pictures I will be adding to my blog.
We visited Tokyo town hall and went up to the 45th floor observatory in both the south and north tower where you can see Mount Fuji on a clear day, but today it wasn't clear enough. After a hike to see if we could find an onsen open to relax at before our overnight bus trip, (only to find it not open), we took the subway back to Shinjuku station, where we rested. We had a nice supper meal with croquette potatoes, which was very creamy, along with a finely shredded cabbage salad. We still had a couple hours to killed before catching the 9 hour overnight bus to Tokoshima, where we will start the ohenro pilgrimage walk.
I am writing this blog on the overnight bus, which is so different. There are three seats in a row with an aisle between each one. You get a blanket and the seat reclines about 60 degrees so you can try to sleep. I am next to the washroom, which you go down some steps to the belly of the bus. When I went to use it, I felt sorry for the guy behind me, as he is tall and his legs are all twisted like Houdini, trying to sleep. Note to Cheryl, the bus would not be comfortable for you because of your height.
Please excuse any typing mistakes, as it is hard to key on the small Nexus phone keypad, especially with a moving shaking bus.
All I know is if it wasn't for Kaz, I would have never found the bus station. I am still feeling the jet lag and my body is slowly adjusting. Here it is 2am, and I am wide awake on the bus. Hope I survive day one and don't turn into a walking zombie, which is what I felt like today. The plan is to walk the first 6 temples and stay at temple 6 for the 1st full day of walking. 
Time to sign off and if my posts get behind, it could be I wasn't able to figure out how to connect to the Wi-Fi.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Giongi Temple

Today we went to Giongi temple about 6 miles by bicycle after having Canadian pancake breakfast with maple syrup from Canada. Here are some pictures. The cherry and plum blossoms are just starting in Tokyo. The second picture is a tree with some pink blossoms. The last picture is of shrine we stopped at, founded by a Chinese monk who visited India. On the way back we stopped at a second hand shop and 100 yen (dollar) store. We had lunch at a nice sushi bar. It was sunny and warm. Enjoyed bicycling, as I got to see the rice fields and residential area. The temperature was around 20 degrees Celsius. At the temple, I received my first temple stamp. The temple is part of a 33 temple pilgrimage around the Tokyo area. It is not as well known as the 88 temple ohenro. I will have to add this to my bucket list for next time, now that I have my first official temple stamp. Enjoyed the bike ride. A great day.

Long day but safe and sound in Tokyo

It was a long day traveling with the 13 hour flight to Tokyo and long line up to clear immigration. Thank goodness for text messaging which was handy in meeting up with Kaz.
After taking a few local trains we made it to Kaz' place, where we went to the local supermarket to buy some bento boxes for supper.
After a long talk about the ohenro walk and what we could do tomorrow retired for the evening.
Tried to sleep but was wide awake due to the jet lag so got up to see if I could get the data connection working as it kept saying NO CONNECTION. I think I got it to work and will try to post this to the blog.
All in all a good day.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Arrived Toronto Ok

Everything was going well for the 7am departure from Ottawa until about 15 minutes before boarding when it started to snow hard. There was a delay due to de-icing but arrived safe and sound. The weather is not bad in Toronto. Not much snow. Mostly wet and overcast. Looking good for the flight to depart on time at 1 pm.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Wow.......tomorrow is the big day.....

Can't believe tomorrow is the big day to leave for my trip to Japan.

Wow....what a day a work!!!!! It was very hectic with dealing with some last minute problems, but by being busy, made the day go by so fast.

Many THANKS to Debbie, for arranging for the Canadian pins, to have to give out to the monk at each temple. It was very much appreciated and helped make my day.

As well, many THANKS to Linda, for the surprise treats in the afternoon and the get together of the whole team in wishing me a "BON VOYAGE".

Many THANKS to all my fellow employees (Team Leader, Manager, etc.), who dropped by my desk, to wish me well on my trip and adventure. I know I have left things in good hands with Marina, who had to put up with my many phone calls, to work out the fun we were having with our problems today.

Not sure how well I will sleep, with the weather forecast calling for 10 to 15 cm of snow in Ottawa in the morning. I was looking at going to the airport early to see about catching an earlier flight, since I only have two hours to connect to my Ottawa to Tokyo flight.

Then around 10 pm I received a phone call from Air Canada advising me my 10 am flight from Ottawa has been cancelled and wanted to see about putting me on an earlier flight. I said that would be GREAT with me. They mentioned the only option was to put me on the 7 am flight. I said that would be definitely OK with me, as I rather be there early, verses missing the one direct flight from Toronto to Tokyo.

So, it looks like an early morning start tomorrow. I usually don't get much sleep before I leave for a trip anyway, so will do my last minute packing stuff and then try to get a couple hours of sleep.

Friday, 14 March 2014

One week to go........

Received an email from Kaz in Tokyo with the following news:
" Today we had a big earthquake near Matsuyama City, near Temple #52. Scale was about M6.2, several people were injured, but not so disastrous. Because of heavy rain and earthquake, the footpath to Temple #60 would be damaged, but you have one month, so it will be repaired or take a diversion which will be given at #61. The route from #61 is rather safe and less chance to be closed. Route from #59 is likely.
However, geographically the area is very weak with some faulty, so land slip or falling rocks can happen anytime, especially after heavy rain. 
Also please don't underestimate the power of Tsunami and once you felt strong shaking and listen the alert for Tsunami, run as quickly as possible to somewhere high (more than 20M high). Long time ago, tourists for Switzerland did not escape, but went to the coast to watch Tsunami and all were killed."
All very good advice.
Then with all the news about the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. I checked my Air Canada flight from Toronto to Tokyo, and it is a Boeing 777 plane. I figure "oh well, if something happens, nothing I can do about it, so might as well not worry about it." The good thing is Air Canada has a good record of safety and proper upkeep of their fleet.

Planning to do a dry-run packing this weekend to see how much my pack I will be carrying everyday will weigh. Then I will see what I will need to remove or can add.

Below is a map with the 88 Temples marked:
Click on picture to see larger view

As well, Wikipedia has a good description of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage:

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Two weeks and counting....

Hard to believe only two weeks to go. I went to the money exchange and purchased some Japanese yen yesterday to have some cash when I arrive in Tokyo. As well, I picked up some Canadian maple syrup candies, as something unique to give as osettai (gifts), while doing the walk. Below is a picture from my Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide book, which explains the attire a pilgrim wears. I have been making some of the namrslips (asame-fuda) to take with me.
Click on Photo to make larger

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Three weeks to go

Hard to believe only three weeks to go til I am off to do the Japan 88 Temples pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku. Here is a picture of the route guide book I will be using to guide me on my walk. Also, here is a link to a YouTube NHK Documentary video about the pilgrimage. Just click on YouTube link above.