Saturday, November 06, 2010

'Round Shikoku Day 14

I again didn't sleep well, due to the rooster crowing about four hours before dawn. I opened the blinds to the view of Kōchi city below, glittering under a flawless blue sky.


Temple 33 was quiet and free of people but for a lone man setting up a veggie stand off to the side. Suddenly there was a gentle cling-cling of those fairy bells, and withing minutes, three groups of car pilgrims showed up. In front of the Hondo, they all chanted in their own particular timing, as if doing it in rounds.

We moved away from the sea into farmland spreading out toward, and between, the hills. Passing one greenhouse, I distinctly heard what I thought was a Hank Williams song. We followed a small canal to Temple 34, whose courtyard contained a Kannon statue with a face of unbelievable softness and compassion.

It was a hot day so we took time for ice cream, and then again for cold tea in front of a cafe. We'd been pretty close to burn out, but rather than take a day off, we chose to instead do a couple of consecutive half days, less than 15 km each, taking our time. Nearing Tosa city, we met Rte 56, and crossed the long bridge over the Niyodo-gawa into town. I'd been craving a milkshake for a week, so was thrilled to see those familiar golden arches. But I'd chosen the only Mac in the world that doesn't have a milkshake machine. Those few minutes inside caused a bizarre reaction in me. All the parents scolding their children for no apparent reason, created almost a panic reaction in me, and I desperately needed to flee. I guess I wasn't ready for the real world yet.

We found solace in a quiet cafe closer to the town center. We needed food, but they only did two things: tea or coffee. We hemmed and hawed a bit, but finally settled onto brown velvet cushions rarely seen except for on retro film sets. There was only one other customer, but he left early, returning a few minutes later with some yōkan, kindly worried about our stomachs. The cafe owner herself also gave us some cake she'd gotten from another customer, then left us alone for a couple of hours. We relaxed and eased into peace.

Around 3:30, we made for Temple 35. A paraglider had launched himself off the peak at the perimeter of town, and was now spiraling above the fields across which we zig-zagged. The final approach to the temple was up the same steep mountain. Through the gate, guarded by eye-less Nio, we reached our refuge for the night. There was a tsuyado there, a lovely 6 mat room below the Kannon hall. After 5pm, the crowds left, and we had the grounds to ourselves. The buildings themselves were of great age, and to protect them was a fire truck perpetually parked in the corner of the parking lot. There was strange pagoda which you entered down a set of descending steps, leading you to an alter, small and candle-lit, then descending again to the exit, from above. I couldn't grasp the physics of it, and decider to leave it to Escher, expert on such things.

We were intrigued by the sign for the 'forbidden forest,' but left it alone, to instead sit at the edge of the hill and watch the full moon rise over Tosa. After dark, we alternated reading in the tsuyado, or taking walks, solitary but for the resident cat. As I lay down to sleep, my eyes returned again and again to the tall figure out the window. Amida, silhouetted against the moonlit sky.

On the turntable: Pearl Jam, "Lost Dogs"


blaine said...

I enjoy these re-posts.

I live in the middle of Shikoku and really want to do the pilgrimage but finding the time is the biggest problem.

I don't want to do it in sections so I will have to wait till I'm either unemployed or maybe going back home.

Nonetheless, I like reading about your walking adventures. I can imagine it all so well.

ted said...

Thanks Blaine. It really was an amazing time, and the perfect way to say goodbye to Japan.