Day 15 – 7 October
The next morning I woke and decided to give my bike a much needed clean. I wasn’t in a massive hurry again as I’d arranged another Warmshowers.org host for that evening.
After cleaning my bike I set off up the western part of Shikoku’s coast towards Temple 39 about 50kms away.
It was another fantastic coastal ride. The pilgrimage had really had some amazingly beautiful sections.
The weather was perfect and I could relax and enjoy the cycling.
I was engaged in a sort of conversation by a henro who was interested in what I was up to. He was on his tenth pilgrimage I think and had recently fallen on his face.
I also spotted some henro with a lot of kit:
I later learned these were probably professional henro; homeless people who are constantly on a pilgrimage and who live off the support and gifts pilgrims are given. Beats having them sleep rough in Tokyo station I guess.
At Temple 39 I had a chat with a couple of henro including one who spoke English well. He was a retired executive and was walking the route as a friend recommended it, he said he was still searching for the meaning of his journey.
I then began riding for Sasayama the village where my host John lived. I was lucky John spotted me as he returned from work as I don’t think I’d have found my way without his extra directions.
John was working as an ALT in the nearby town of Sukumo but was living a bit further away as he’d wanted to get a house with a garden and where he could keep pets. Somehow he’d managed to arrange all this without the help of his company, which is very hard in Japan.
The garden let him grow his own vegetables and he turned out to be an incredible cook with them. I had some fantastic food while staying there; John had managed to learn more about Japanese cooking while living there than I would have imagined possible.
Day 16 – 8 October
I’d originally planned on staying one night but when John kindly offered to host me for another, I accepted as I felt I needed a rest day. My knee was twinging and a bit of time off the bike would do it good.
That afternoon, after he’d finished work, John, his dog and I went along to the beach, so he could surf and so the dog and I could get some air.
It was then back for some more great food.
John was a really welcoming host and it was humbling to meet someone who, from his stories and actions, lived the ideals of couchsurfing and Warmshowers so thoroughly.
Day 17 – 9 October
I left Sasayama feeling like a new man, full of energy. The rest had really done me some good.
Perhaps too much good as I got stopped by a policeman as I was bombing along. He told me to be careful as it was very busy. He clearly hadn’t policed many Chinese roads.
I reached Temple 40 pretty quickly, this is the temple furthest from the start of the pilgrimage.
This guy seemed to be some sort of über pilgrim guiding a lot of other ones. He may be a monk… or not.
I had about 50km to the next temple which took me through Uwajima city, overlooked by a nice castle.
And through some tunnels.
There have been a lot of tunnels on Shikoku, thankfully they are usually well lit and often have a pavement to ride on. Compared to some of the ones I’ve been through, where I’m screaming in fear inside my head, they are almost a pleasure.
The three remaining temples were not particularly noteworthy. Though the ride to 43 was good as it went up over a pass and had a great descent on the other side. Most Japanese descents aren’t great as the road is too narrow to get any speed up, that wasn’t the case with this one.
After Temple 43 I started to look for somewhere to camp. I ended up on the side of a small mountain camping next to a shrine. I’d followed a sign for a park but I think it was more of a mountain hiking area than the grassy expanse I hoped for. Still it was quiet.
Day 18 – 10 October
When I woke up I knew I was in for a hard day, the first two temples were both at over 600m. In the end it turned out to be much tougher than expected.
The day did start well though, with a lovely morning mist.
I then went through Uchiko which has some well preserved old streets.
After that though I spent the next few hours climbing and descending in order to visit Temples 44 and 45.
Both of which were well up in the mountains.
When I finally got to 45 I was pretty spent and I ended up having to walk up quite a few steps to reach it as it was built into the side of the mountain.
Once I’d been to 45 I thought I’d be descending straight away to the city of Matsuyama. I was wrong. I had to climb up to a pass, the first signed one I’d seen in Japan.
Not the highest I’d been up but a sign is a sign.
From there it was finally straight down into Matsuyama with a fantastic descent with nice wide roads. Wheeeee!
In and around Matsuyama there were still six temples I wanted to get round to before the end of the day so I’d be sure of finishing the pilgrimage the next day.
Luckily they were all fairly close together.
This temple was close to Dogo onsen, said to be the oldest hot spring in Japan. That night I would be staying with a couch surfing host and I still had time before we had arranged to meet so I decided to visit the onsen.
Inside the baths were quite small but well appointed and there was definitely a sense of history in the steam.
After the long day I’d had, the soak in the baths was very welcome.
I then headed off to meet Nabi San, my host. He turned out to be an incredibly smiley and kind hearted Japanese man who had given over the use of a one room apartment just for couch surfing. This seemed incredibly generous.
We went out for dinner and I felt a bit bad as I could barely keep up my end of the conversation as I was so tired.
I got a good rest at Nabi San’s flat though and was ready the next day to finish my pilgrimage.
Day 19 – 11 October
I woke earlier than I’d planned but took my time getting ready. I only had to make it about 50km to Imabari today as I was going to stay with the Tokunaga family again.
They had very kindly hosted me when I started the pilgrimage and had kindly agreed to do so again at the end.
I thus set off later than usual and took a while to get to my penultimate temple as I got a bit lost.
Now it was just a short ride to my final temple.
It was only as I carried on riding that I realised I was done. It did feel good. It had been more of a challenge than expected.
The ride back to Imabari was also tough. Another typhoon was on its way and the wind was already picking up and of course was against me.
I made it in the end and went back to the first temple where I got a stamp so I’d have one from where I’d started (I’d got one from the finish too).
Finally I finished up back with the Tokunaga’s who made me feel very welcome again.
Over the whole pilgrimage I covered 1488km saw 88 official temples and a few extra ones by accident and design. I met countless kind people and had some of the best times of my trip so far.
I can’t say it was a particularly spiritual experience for me but it was definitely a worthwhile one.