#81 Gareth


Temple: Unpenji – this is the highest temple on the route at about 950m. There’s a ski lift on the far side of the temple.

Picture: sunset from Mt Unpenji.

Dedication: Gareth is my brother. We’re quite different but we’ve almost always got on really well. I love him a lot and we talk in a way that’s different from the way I talk to anyone else. Probably because we grew up together and have so many common references. I was really proud to be his best man when he married Jenny. One thing we share is a love of mountains, so this mountain temple is for you bro.

A day in the life of a henro:

4.45 – I wake up again, it’s getting light, is pretty cold and foggy and the traffic is picking up. I turn onto my back and try and rest for a bit longer.

5.00 – The traffic is pretty heavy and I only have one ear plug so I decide to get up. I get dressed quietly, take my washbag and go down to the river to get ready. I sit on the side of the river after, finish yesterday’s blog posts and drink a bit of water.

5.22 – I get back to the hut, roll up my thermarest, repack my bag and check the map. The first bit is easy, about 20km more or less dead East. Sara is waking up and asks if I’m not freezing. I say I’ll be boiling a few minutes once I’m walking. We say goodbye and good luck and I set off.

5.57 – I reach the edge of Ehime prefecture. I’m entering the last stage of the pilgrimage: nirvana.

6.20 – I meet three more ohenro and we walk together through a pretty village before they head off up the hill to Unpenji. I’m carrying on to a bangai temple first.

6.50 – I stop and have the first break of the day on the side of the road: two bars of lemon caloriemate shortbread and some more water.

7.22 – I’ve been stopped by two people who say hello and check I haven’t missed the turn to the temple.

7.26 – I come across a tiny village with a karaoke bar.

8.49 – I reach a spectacular dam. I’m walking along a quiet road a few hundred meters above the river.

9.36 – I reach a Lawson konbini and stop for a meal leaving my pack outside. It has seating which is always nice. I have three rice balls – tofu skin, seaweed and pickled plum plus a 100 yen coffee and a bar of Meji black chocolate. I was going to have a wash here but the toilets aren’t great so I just sit for a bit. I’ve done almost 20km which is a good way to start the day. I have to climb the mountain to the temple now. I buy some more caloriemate and some peanuts for later.

10.29 – I cross a railway line and spend a while searching for the path.
I ask in an udon shop and the guy says the only way up is the cable-car but his mum hears and tells me the old henro path is up near the train station.

11.08 – I reach the main gate of the temple. That 500m climb seemed very short if tough. I sit, finish my water and check the map. I realise I’m only half way up because the gate is a long way from the temple. Blergh.

11.40 – I reach the top and go off to explore the temple and say my dedication.

12.13 – I get my book signed, chat to the staff and ask about the route down. The monk says there is no walking route and you have to get the cable-car then walk round the road. My map disagrees so I figure I’ll just work it out. I go and refill my water from the hand washing spring. I’ve been doing this since I saw the black monk do it and Stephenie said she’d been “tasting every temple” as she went.

12.43 – I’m totally lost, I can see the road I’m aiming for below me but the path I’m following has been going uphill for ten minutes and has just ran out. I’ve been scrabbling around in the woods but it’s going nowhere so I retrace my steps trying not to panic about the time.

13.12 – I pass a delivery guy on a scooter and he stops and tells me to follow the road round then when I reach a village the path forks off through the middle, downhill.

13.38 – I’ve found the path and am well on the way but have only about three hours left if I want to ask about tsuyado at the temple. Otherwise I’ll be sleeping on the mountain. The cloud has cleared and it’s pretty hot. I stop for a few minutes, eat some lunch and put on some sunscreen.

14.00 – I’ve been walking along a really busy and steep road with no pavement for twenty minutes. I’m glad to see the turning into a quieter, if narrow road. I see a set of vending machines by the road so buy a bottle of coke and take some ibuprofen for my knee which is aching from the downhill.

16.29 – I’ve been walking really fast. I listened to some music for the last hour and was almost running up the 900m hill. Des’ree and the Jurassic Park theme both have me some motivation! I’m close but I reach a fork in the path and don’t recognise the kanji on either turn. I pick the bigger one and carry on. I’ve hardly seen any people. A lot of the bangai paths seems rarely used.

16.49 – I reach the start of the temple grounds and a man walking four little dogs greets me. I’m pretty happy but I’m sweating like crazy and probably look a state. It’s been eight days since I did my laundry properly (apart from standing under the waterfall). I run up to the main gate, bow, then drop my pack and go and chant my dedication. I’ve walked 45km and climbed about 1600m as well as a big descent. My legs feel surprisingly good.

16.58 – I get my book stamped and ask if the tsuyado exists. “Hai, arimasu” says the monk. Yay! He points me in the right direction and gives me some biscuits as osettai. It’s a big space, fully enclosed and with tatami mats to sleep on.

17.24 – I’ve said hello to the other two guys, both teachers walking together a bit at a time, and unpacked. I head over to the highest point behind the temple to eat the rest of my peanuts and caloriemate and have a hot cocoa from the vending machine while I watch the sunset.

19.05 – the sun is just slipping away, I’ve written this and feel full and satisfied. My feet are aching but life is good. I’ll go and have a wash in the toilets, do some stretching, try and find somewhere to charge my battery pack and then head to bed. I’m normally heading for sleep by 8 or 9 if I’m not with anyone else. There’s no light on the mountain and it’s getting cold. It was a fairly brutal day. Tomorrow I’m heading down into town and will take it easy. There’s an onsen and a coin laundry in the town so I can get clean and take a few hours out to relax and then get a hot meal in the evening.