This week i`ve been sleeping in store rooms, on temple floors, guesthouses and grandparent`s homes. Here`s why.
I was in the city of Matsuyama which is an old Japanese city with trams, a rich history and a drought. It is also home to the oldest onsen (spa/sauna) in Japan and i spent an hour there showering and soaking in a hot bath with old Japanese men before meeting up with Muto again in another free Temple hostel that smelled of spam and didn`t have working lights. Muto is doing well. Somehow he`s acquired a portable TV/CD/DVD player but he won`t tell me how and he still drinks and smokes as if his life depends on it.
The next day the drought ended in a big way. It hosed it down all day. Monsoon. Stair rods. Cats and dogs and other animals as well. I walked with Muto for a bit but he told me to go on ahead as he wanted to try and find a place dry to pitch his tent. I wandered on along the main road next to the sea and through towns and vilages getting more and more wet. Within a few hours i thought i`d reached saturation point and then i got car splashed by an elderly couple driving through a huge puddle. I couldn`t have been more wet if i was underwater. I could have put out a camp fire simply by standing next to it and doing a bit of a wiggle. I stopped in a supermarket to by some food for the night and as i was browsing around realsied that i`d started quietly singing along to the instrumental music being played on the speakers in store. It was I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Has Gone. I swore audibly.
That night i made it to the village of Asanami where there was a small local temple with a floor to sleep on for free. It was shut. I asked at the post office and Mr Nakamura the postmaster told me to wait in the post office as the owner of the temple was out shopping. We passed the time by chatting in bits of English and Japanese and he told me that my backpack was too heavy guessing it weighed 20kg. I disagreed a lot and said it was only about 7kg. He looked at me, looked at the backpack, glanced at the counter, shrugged and plonked my bag on the electric scales. The correct weight was 9.3kg so i was declared the winner and given some ice tea and cake. Muto arrived as i he couldn`t find anywhere dry to pitch a tent and we spent the night in the temple drinking beer and watching his TV.
The mext morning we walked in the sun by the coast but at lunchtime the clouds came and swamped us with more rain. That day we squelched 30km and saw five temples the last of which, Temple 58, was in a forest up a huge damp hill. We stayed in another free hostel or to give it a more realistic description a store room under the toilet block in the car park. Thankfully they had a washing machine and a dryer so we got cleaned up and Muto tried unsuccessfully to get a reception on his TV while we wolfed down more supermarket food.
Day 34 of the hike started way too early as Temple 58 has a monk who does a morning prayer so we were invited along to pray and chat with an old bald man in a yellow and purple robe in an ornate temple at the top of a damp hill in forest. A usual Thursday morning really. After the long prayer he sat talking to me and Muto. He asked Muto a few questions which i guessed were to do with his reasons for doing the pilgrimage. Muto spoke for a quite a while, the monk listening intently. Muto`s voice appeared by break at one point and it might have just been the incense wafting around but his eyes weren`t dry. When Muto finished the old monk considered his answer and spoke at length. Then he turned to me and asked which country i was from. He smiled when i told him England and he then told me about the time when he was in a karate competition in Manchester. He didn`t ask me anything else, turned back to Muto and talked more with him until my legs went numb from sitting crossed legged for so long.
I asked Muto later that day what he was talking to the monk about and he tried to think of something to say and then just smiled, waved his hand and said, "No English, no English." Later that day we arrived at another village with a small temple and yet another free place for walking pilgrims. We ate fried chicken and beer in the village chicken and beer resturant and then sat on a park bench near a beer vending machine and drank to much Asahi and tried not to look like tramps and failed miserably.
On Friday we walked 30km through more quiet villages and up another huge hill where we saw temple 60 and, thankfully, no rain. We wandered back down the slippery path through the trees to another village called Komatsu where i found a guesthouse and paid for some accomadation for the first time in a week and Muto camped somewhere. We met this morning, saw four more temples and had a dull day walking alongside the main road as cars and trucks glided past in the sunshine. Now we`re in Niihama which is home to Muto`s grandmother who is an 83 year old classical three stringed Japanese guitar teacher who wants to feed me lots of food. And Muto wants to get drunk. Again.
I`ve got less than ten more days of walking left and then i`ll be finished. Today broke the 900km mark so we`re over three quarters done. It`s been a hell of journey so far and this is just the start. I`ve got five more months of travelling to come after this. Should be fun.
If you want to see some pictures and don`t have access to the always annoying facebook then send me an email and i`ll send you a link.
I`ll update the blog again next week and try and write less next time. Keep in touch.