August 28, 2019 – The first night takes getting used to. The futon is a fine place to spend the night. I am a bit bothered by an air conditioning unit that turns on and off again a little too often. It makes a lot of noise, and I can’t ignore it. I’m still suffering from jetlag, albeit a little, and I’m still nervous about how the rest of the trip is going to go. Not the ideal mix after a bad night on the plane. I wake up around half past five, get dressed, and put my things in my backpack. After that I put all the sleeping supplies in a neat pile.
The breakfast is special. Toasted white bread with cheese, coffee, fruit, tomato, lettuce, and grapes. A pretty exciting experience for my Dutch palate. Afterwards, I pay for my stay and thank my host. I give her one of my clog keychains as a token of gratitude. She hangs it with two others, from earlier guests from the Netherlands. I put my backpack on my back and hang my temple bag on my stomach. Onwards to the second day of my henro. Tonight, I hope to receive tsuyado at temple six; the first free temple-stay for the pilgrim!
Temple 2 to temple 3
Finding my way in the trail I walk the familiar route to temple 2 and follow the “wrong” way which I found yesterday. It leads me neatly to temple 3; from my stay it’s 4.2 kilometers to Konsen-ji. I walk under a motorway entrance. There are cars with running engines waiting for school children carpooling. Interesting to see!
The rest of the trail goes well. Today’s route is clear, and the hike is actually fine. Still, the weather is still pressing and hot. I hope it will remain dry.
Temple 3 – Konsen-ji
Temple three is a quaint little temple with a red entrance gate. I arrive around half past seven; the hike there went off without a hitch. After greeting the temple guardians, I enter. I begin the ritual as described in the manual of Henro House 1. This means beginning with some introductory sutra’s, the heart sutra, and then some finishing ones. For two altars this means that it takes about half an hour, including the collection of stamps. The visit to temple 3 doesn’t impress me much.
Temples 4 and 5 – Dainichi-ji and Jizoo-ji
The temples of this day don’t really make an impression on me. I’m still busy “landing”. I arrive at temple four at around half past eight. Number four is found almost against the mountain; you go under the motorway and continue towards the temple. And back again via the same route. I reach temple five around half past ten. This means that I perform my ritual, get my stamps, gaze at the route and continue walking.
Buying food at a konbini
After these two temples, I have walked another 7.1 kilometers. In the meantime, it is around eleven o’clock, so I have to figure out where I might find some food. On the map I spot a Lawsons Konbini at the side of the road, and I need to deviate a little for it. Everything in the Konbini is new, everything is unknown. I take my time exploring the premises and looking at all the exotic things available. There is a lot. From whisky to pads, from manga to yoghurt and then they also have hot and cold drinks and a fried food section. All in one tiny store. I buy some jelly-coffee, and some different lunch items.
After Jizoo-ji, I peruse a rest stop for henros to have my lunch. It rains every so often. With my rain cape on its insanely hot, and without it, it’s very wet. I’m not sure which I prefer; on or off?
Finding my way in the trail: lots of impressions to process
The day is a blur of impressions. Nearly everything is new, and there is so much to learn, that it’s dizzying. I take pictures of the gates, because I promised myself I would back home. I sometimes stop to view things along the road. The hiking itself is going well. It does take getting used to the walking with a backpack, not knowing where to walk on the road, losing the trail, and reading and seeing a lot of Japanese. I simply cannot understand… The time passes slower than expected. It’s only 11:00 and I’m already at temple 5. It’s not looking good for my lodging plans!
After temple five, Jizoo-ji, I decide to continue walking towards temple seven. That’s close to seven kilometers walking from here. Around half past one I pass temple number six, Anraku-ji. My planning is correct; I’ve arrived way too early to ask for tsuyado, because then I risk having to continue and improvise a solution. I don’t dare do that yet, so I continue onwards to temple seven.
Temple 7 – Juuraku-ji
I walk through the entrance of the temple and at once meet a Japanese pilgrim. His English is very good. It’s fun to chat with him for a while. He is making the journey in parts, because he has only a few days off. As he is a student English he thinks it’s great to speak to a foreigner. Walking the entire pilgrimage in one go impresses him very much. After exchanging our osamefuda, and a business card, he exits the temple, and I enter.
In there, I do my dues. I take my time this time around, because I don’t want to end up back at temple six too soon. When I’ve finally collected my stamps, it is quarter to three. I’m exhausted after two bad nights and today’s hike. After a short visit to the toilet, I embark on the journey back to temple six.
From temple 7 to temple 6
The route to temple six leads me 1.4 km back on the route. That walking back is pretty tough, despite having just walked there. There are no signs directing me while walking in the opposite direction. Luckily, I manage to recognize several prominent points along the route, so I know to cross a wide road at the right point and take a back road to temple 6.
Temple 6 – Anraku-ji
The gate of Anraku-ji is nothing special. A simple arch for entrance to the temple. After greeting the temple guardians, I enter. It’s interesting to see that literally next to the entrance for hikers, there is one for cars, and there is even a small parking space within the temple itself.
The temple has an added hotel, where, normally, -not now because it is early in the season- you can stay for Shukubo; lodging in a temple. I, however, choose to go for tsuyado, a free night’s stay. From my preparation I know that there’s room for this purpose in the gate.
Unfortunately at the start op 2023 the tsuyado of temple 6 has been closed due to ‘bad behaviour’.
The main altar is inside
The main altar is inside the temple. You light the candles and incense outside, though. It takes looking around, but eventually I can start my ritual. The ladies that stamp your book are to the left of the main altar and are pretty much just observing you while you recite your sutras. It’s a strange realization for me, which makes me not dare recite my sutras out loud.
After completing my ritual, I move over to them. It’s only three in the afternoon, and usually you would not receive tsuyado. I try to convey in my best Japanese that I am very tired, come from the Netherlands, and am a walking pilgrim. After that, everything is good. Luckily, they also have a translation device. I can stay, and they even have some food I can eat; rice balls with a sweet filling. I thank them with clogs, and they love them. One of them goes with me to the sleeping space.
Sleeping in the gate
The gate has stairs that lead up. When I climb them, I enter a small space with three tatamis. There are some yoga-mats, which I use as a mattress to lay on. In the middle of the floor there is a hole with a plank on it. Through the plank there is usually a cord strung with the bell on it. The bell hangs in the middle of the room. Luckily, the ringing rope is fixed. Imagine someone ringing a bell one and a half meters high, while you’re laying underneath it! The windows are closed with latticework windows, so no protection against mosquitoes or other bugs.
I hang my rain cape, let my sleeping mat fill itself with air, and prepare my sleeping spot. I eat the food I bought along the way with much gusto. Then I take plenty of time to explore the temple further. There is a beautiful garden with a pond filled with koi carps. A small bridge takes me to a green island. On the island are gorgeous statues. Underneath the covering in front of the main altar, there are the candle and incense burners. When I study them, I find them ingeniously crafted and complicated constructions.
I enjoy some rest on one of the benches. A little while later, I see the ladies leave. They wish me a good night. I wish them well. After a visit to a spooky toilet, I lay down in the twilight of the small room and try to sleep. I manage, but in small bits. I wake from the ribbits of frog armies, the splashing of the koi, and the buzzing of mosquitoes.
Walking distance of the day: 27.4 km.