Dedication: Pierre. I’ve been walking with him on and off for three days. He’s a great companion. May he find what he’s looking for as a shikoku henro. May I, also.
So, about today:
I slept on a bench by a noisy highway and got about four hours sleep from midnight. The thing about Japan is it goes sea, road, houses, mountains so there’s not a lot of space for humans at some points.
I woke at 4.45 and started walking by 5.30.
I didn’t stop until 9 when I reached a coin laundry. I hadn’t washed my clothes for nearly a week and was feeling rank. It was raining so I put on all my waterproofs and put everything in the laundry.
I finished in 50 minutes and went to the kombini nearby to check the weather and get coffee where I ran into Yohanan and Stephanie. They are a couple from Israel and New York who were walking together and camping out.
I climbed up a 500m hill in less than a kilometre with the rain pouring down. I had hoped to stay in the free hut at this temple but when I said ‘tsuyado’ the temple worker just made an X with her hands.
I more or less ran down to get back to the road and ran into Stephanie and Pierre at the bottom. We speed marched towards Aki while Stephanie and I swapped life stories and the storm raged. Yohanan had done the pilgrimage three times before. She had moved to Jerusalem a few weeks before and they were doing it together. They’d drank a lot at a karaoke place the previous night and then had a big row. He had now vanished with the tent leaving her high and wet.
We reached a service station Pierre had been hoping to sleep at but it was very exposed and small. I ordered a bowl of udon with fried tofu and spring onions. After all that walking and rain it was perfect. I just held the bowl and inhaled while Stephanie and Pierre made plans. Stephanie left to go find an onsen in Aki to get warm. Seeing us staring at the map and the rain a young woman came up to us and gave us some amazing baked treats as osettai.
We pressed on and reached Aki as the storm was peaking and rain was lashing into my face. We found the train station but it closed at 9.
Pierre persuaded me to try getting the train one stop to a smaller station and after we arrived we found a shelter with two walls and an old toothless and very friendly cycling henro setting up his tent.
By this time it was dark and I’d walked 42km with a 500m ascent. I feel good though, my feet are killing and I’m tired but it feels like this is my life now. I’m looking forward to tomorrow despite how hard it is but I’m sure my blisters will be killing me, my feet aching and my legs and shoulders cramping by then. Despite that this is my path.