It`s been about a week since i last wrote anything and i`ve been a little bit busy.
I was in Tokushima and ready for a walk. The walk around Shikoku was started by a man called Kobe Dashi who founded Japanese Buddhism and built 88 temples around the island. People started doing the walk around as a pilgrimage to Kobo Daishi hundreds of years ago and it`s now mainly done by car and bus tour. Very few people do it on foot.
The first temple and start of the hike was a train ride east from Tokushima to a town called Bandou. On the train i met an old man who used to live in London and bought me a Japanese Buddhist walking stick. I bought a guide book and started hiking down the road. That first day I hiked 18km through small side streets and rural villages and saw the first 6 of 88 temples. I met a Japanese guy at one temple who was doing the hike on foot for the third time in the past year. He gave me some advice and some Buddhist prayer beads and wished me good luck.
That night i stayed at a guesthouse at a temple that had a sauna, a huge TV, cigarette machines, free breakfast and dinner and when I sat down to eat that night the head Buddhist man gently asked me, "Mr David, would you like a beer?" I liked Japanese Buddhism instantly.
Day two was a quiet 23km through 5 more temples, hot sun and cool wind which has resulted in the best t-shirt suntan ever. I strolled through a valley filled with empty streets between paddy fields and crops and met a crazy man 3km before the last temple of the day who laughed at everything i said, spoke to himself in Japanese, told me i had "weak legs and heavy backpack" and kept pointing to things and telling me what they were. "Road." "Car." "House." He wouldn`t leave me alone until i lied to him and told him i was Catholic.
That night i stayed in an empty hotel in a town called Kamojima and the next day walked 15km almost all of which was uphill through a quiet forest to the top of the valley i`d spent the previous few days in. It was tough on the legs but when i got to the top there was a beautiful temple and the Japanese guy i`d met on the first day who gave me the Buddist prayer beads was taking a rest. His name was Muto, a Buddhist carpenter from Kyoto and we`ve been hiking together since. Muto isn`t your average Japanese Buddhist hiking pilgrim. He smokes cigarettes like kids eat chocolates, drinks at least one beer every night and sings Beatles songs. That night he helped me find a guesthouse in a nearby town and he camped in his tent in a car park about an hour away.
Day four was 23km and consisted of Muto teaching me Japanese and me helping him with his limited English. We saw four temples and he told me that on the hiking trail around Shikoku there are free guesthouses in the towns a villages where people doing the walk can stay. And so that`s how i came to be sat in a small two roomed flat above a taxi rank drinking beer and watching baseball on TV whilst eating beans, spinach and massive oranges that a taxi driver had given us whilst two small girls that were the owners nieces gave me a rendition of Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes and then began an impromptu English lesson by naming different animals and then pointing at my head. Japan is fun.
The next day was 27km long and it rained the whole time which made the air cooler and my sunburn happy. We saw three temples and Muto taught me how to say a thank you prayer to Kobo Daishi at each temple which seems like a fair exchange for free food, free accommodation and being able to do the hike in first place. We walked through the rain, past paddy fields and fruit farms, in bamboo forests and amongst rolling jagged tree filled hills. That night we stayed in another free hostel and ate in a convenience store before grabbing some beer from a vending a machine and testing my newly learnt Japanese again.
Day six was another 27km full of drizzle and cloud. We climbed three hills through mystical Japanese mist, 2 more of the 88 temples and later that day Muto found another friend who gave us a place to stay for free. The only catch was that the owner of the free hostel was also the owner of the village hardware store and so we had to work in exchange for the place to sleep and that`s how i came to find myself cleaning plastic plant pots with a chain smoking, beer loving, Beatles singing Buddhist carpenter outside a hardware in rural Japan. and the next morning he somehow managed to get a free breakfast through another friend who is the village hairdresser. in every town and village we pass through Muto seems to know somebody who can get us free food or accommodation. He always knows a friend. I`m starting to think Japanese Buddhism is a more transparent version of the Masonic Lodge.
The next day was an uneventful 26km walk along the main road that loops around Shikoku, Highway 55. We walked along side the road and through towns along the coast to yet another free hostel, this one next to a temple. Muto was very happy that they had hot showers and even happier that there was a beer vending machine around the corner.
Yesterday was full of sunshine and sweat and after seeing a monkey in the trees and Japanese eagles circling in the sky we arrived 22km away from where we started in the small town of Kaifu. I paid for a room in a hostel and a Muto tried to find a place to pitch his tent. This morning he told me that he was walking around last night looking for a park or a patch when a man walking a dog invited him to have some noodles and a beer in his bar, which, of course, he accepted and got steaming drunk and slept there. He met me this morning and said we`d been invited to the bar for morning tea. And that`s why i`m in the bar now typing this in the owners living room on a keyboard that has its CAPS LOCK stuck so i`ve just typed his whole thing holding down SHIFT while Muto drinks tea and talks with the bar owner behind me and two dogs yap away at my feet. I`m still not entirely sure how i`ve managed to find myself free loading my way around japan with a cigarette loving beer drinking Buddhist but that seems to be what i`ve done. And this is just the first week. Korea already seems a long time ago.