Hello again. The past few days have been quiet and tiring. Here`s why.
Last Wednesday i had a lazy day in Uwajima and stayed in a hotel staffed completely by fat ugly people which is a rare occurrence in Japan and made the place seem slightly more normal.
Thursday was a 22km stroll with Massa again. We walked in the hot sunshine and saw three very serene temples. At the third temple in the late afternoon sun i met an old Japanese man who was also doing the hike he asked me why i was doing the walk. "Is it to see Buddhism or to travel or to see Japan?" "Yes", i replied. I asked him why he was doing the hike. "I always wanted to see Shikoku. And i`m Buddhist." Then he laughed a little, sighed and looked at me, "My wife is angry."
Earlier in the day i was given 1000 yen by a complete stranger simply because i was a doing the Shikioku pilgrim hike. The giving of gifts is big in Shikoku. Giving a gift to a walking pilgrim is seen as the same as giving something to Kobo Daishi himself and he was the founding father of Japanese Buddhism and the founder of most of the 88 temples on the route. Because of this i keep having gifts thrust upon me. One day last week me and Massa got a haircut and the owner of the place gave us a 75% discount and a bag of fruit and that night we got a discount in a guesthouse and the owner gave me a lots of beer which meant that during the day i almost made a profit.
Day 28 was a long day. Massa wanted to take a different longer route to the next temple so we said good bye and i walked 38km, sometimes by the main roads through sleepy towns and sometimes through trees and next to rivers. That night i stayed i a free pilgrim hut that had a raised sleeping platform on one side and a canoe, a giant stuffed panda, an electric fan and a some farm machinery on the other. Just before sunset an old man arrived at the hut. He was Suzuki, a 60 year old man from Osaka who was hiking around Shikoku for the first time and seemed amazed that i was too. I was more amazed that he was only on his 25th day and he set off the next morning at 5am planning on walking 40km before another sunset.
I didn`t manage to keep the pace with 60 year old Suzuki so walked through the morning sun, tree filled valley and fertile farming villages chock full of elderly people. Old people are everywhere in Shikoku. There are quite a few school children who cycle past every morning and say hello and there are lots and lots of grandparents but somehow there doesn`t seem to be anybody in between. Where are they? Sometimes rural Shikoku feels like God`s waiting room. That night i stayed in a humorless guesthouse in Kuma Kogen town and saw the half way temple, number 44.
Yesterday was another long day of 37km and a hot sweaty one too. I checked off three more temples and climbed various different hills and forests until late in the afternoon three old women insisted that i sit down and talk to them in their hillside village which was a bit of a problem as their English was almost as bad as my Japanese but we overcame the language barrier somehow and they gave me some food as well as some ice tea. All free of charge, yet again.
And that night was free too. Another pilgrim hut that was next to the toilets in a car park of temple 47. I searched around for a place to buy food and tried unsuccessfully to have a shower in a sink and then this morning walked through the suburbs of Matsuyama, saw four more temples and arrived at lunchtime in one of Japan`s oldest cities complete with trams, old bath houses and a small population of young people. Matsuyama is the biggest city i`ve seen since i left Tokushima 30 days ago but i`ll probably be leaving tomorrow with Muto who`s managed to catch me up (i`m suspecting more "running" has been involved) so i`m guessing tonight i`ll be getting drunk in a convenience store like a tramp with a traveling bald Buddhist whilst trying to help him learn English. But the beer won`t be free, unfortunately.