Yep, still alive, last time I checked. I haven’t been a complete tech-hermit: the Instagram posts have been appearing like clockwork, the blog, which is far harder to maintain, I consciously let atrophy in the interests of relaxation at night, laptop battery life and concentrating on the oddly satisfying though never-ending task of prettying up the day’s pictures.
For those readers who’ve been wondering and perhaps even anticipating, my apologies and gratitude. I have a couple of free hours right now, so I’ll see if I can sum up the events of recent weeks with a few of those ghastly bullet points, and supplement those with some pictures in a forthcoming (promise) post.
Meanwhile, do consider checking out my Instagram page — I never missed a night and with my favourite shot for each day, it makes a pretty decent overview of my whole Japan trip; my handle is goattrackphotography.
- Where I’m at is Osaka — my first time here, oddly enough, considering it’s the 3rd-biggest city in the country — in a really, really cool Starbucks/book store/cafe high up in one of those ubiquitous shopping precincts that enclose every major urban station. I’ve been here for many, many hours, as it’s rained all day and now that the hard work is over, I’m reluctant to get all wet and grungy again. I’ve also had little interest in sightseeing — would have checked out the reconstructed castle, which is very famous, but this place is just so comfortable, and I’m sorta castled out. Plus it would require walking; I hate walking.
- I came here yesterday via JR highway bus from Matsuyama, Shikoku, where I spent a few days doing almost nothing except taking a daily hot-spring bath, working on pictures, napping and sharing beers and yarns with my friends at Sen Guesthouse.
- I’ve seen a fair bit of that guesthouse of late. I actually quit the pilgrimage a week and a half ago, just three or four days from the end, at Ozu station, Ehime, south of my start/finish point at temple #51, Matsuyama. I had temples #44 to #50 left to do, and then the return to #51, but my feet had been messed up after a few days of walking in dreary rain (in sandals), and the pain and misery were extreme even by my standards.
- The place it all started to go bad was Cape Ashizuri. My third time there and I’ve never warmed to it. I always found it sorta bleak — maybe reading in Oliver Statler’s book about all the pilgrims in days of old intentionally sailing off into the sunset in prolonged acts of suicide (plus its reputed popularity even today as a place to jump off the very scenic cliffs) marred its image for me. I far prefer Muroto, the other cape in Kochi.
- It sucked that my feet began, again, to fail there, as I’d just met a couple of cool young Frenchmen doing the Henro and we enjoyed each other’s company. Funny, just as in my first walk down that cape in 2008, the best English I got to speak in ages was with citizens of France in their second language. They moved ahead, we met by chance a couple of days later in a bamboo forest, we parted…and then they turned up, with great gallic gusts of laughter, at a convenience store I was slouching against — we shared dinner, beers and a great stealth-camp in a hillside park in Uwajima. Then my feet gave up the ghost and I could never catch them again.
- Rain is a pain when you’re lugging a couple of cameras. I usually change to the weather-resistant 100mm macro lens on the (also weather-resistant) Pentax body, which hangs over one shoulder unless the weather’s really awful, but the Sony RX1 that is attached like a prosthetic claw to my right hand is far from weather-resistant — and also very expensive. I’d wrap a shower cap (first thing I look for to pinch in hotel rooms) around it, then hang it from my sternum strap just inside my lightweight rain jacket — and all of this further sheltered beneath my umbrella…but it’s a hassle. Especially when I see something I need to shoot. A precarious business in inclement conditions.
- The laptop has now done two Henros and somehow stayed dry inside its Sea-to-Summit dry-sack in the pack. What a machine. I couldn’t have done the art I completed without it. Go, Apple.
- Blisters usually don’t bother me — I pop the ones on toes and the back of feet as soon as they appear. With the two-three toenails I always lose, they help make my feet look like I’ve danced through fire or something. But on that danged cape the wet socks started to rub, and I felt the hot spots starting to bite beneath the ball of each foot. Worse fears realised: the nastiest possible spot for a blister, let alone a left one and a right one, right where that 15kg+ bears down with the most force. After a few days, though they never burst, I was travelling at less than half-speed, and every step felt like I had ground glass in my socks.
- I wasn’t enjoying myself. I just wanted to reach the finish line. One day I was at a convenience store, sitting down on the ground enjoying the motionlessness, when the little voice in my head said, “Man, just quit.” I got online, booked three nights at Sen, and spent a long, long day trudging towards the train station. I would have quit a day or two earlier but the trains and buses in that rustic corner of Ehime seemed like more bother than they were worth. Getting to this one would have ordinarily been no bother, but it took all I had, and I almost cancelled my booking at Sen but didn’t want to waste the money. On I trudged. When at last I collapsed into the seat on one of those little rural trains they have over here, I immediately gulped a couple of celebratory swigs of cheap Japanese whisky, but soon regretted it: it was a limited-express and it flew like a goddamned rocketship around the bends and through the tunnels and up the coast and over the mountains to Matsuyama, till I was gut-churningly motion-queasy. Matsuyama was the relief I knew it would be.
- I didn’t really care if I never finished, since I’d already done the Henro once, but after a few days of rest the feet were a lot better, and I’d used the time to order some cheap hiking shoes on the Japanese version of Amazon, which Matt had told me would get them to me fast, and he was right. All at once I was back on a train south — this was a week ago, a Wednesday, and when I told Matt I’d be back in three days, he said, “No, dude, you’ll need four.” He booked me in for three days starting Saturday night, and it felt great knowing I had all that comfort and camaraderie waiting at the end of the line. Plus, I scored lovely weather and a really scenic section of trail. The train was a local, so it was an interminable journey, but once I got back on the road, I felt reinvigorated, my shoes were springy and luxurious, and I’d left some heavy stuff at the guesthouse, so my pack was at the ideal weight.
- From Ozu I worked my way to Uchiko and then gradually gained elevation following a pair of lovely rivers up towards Kuma Kogen and eventually temples #44 and #45. I was utterly alone, there were flowers everywhere, the feeling was bittersweet and I savoured it all. First night was in a roadside shelter recently built for cyclists, next beside an ancient stretch of forest trail approaching Iwaya-ji (#45); the final night was under an overpass, just for old time’s sake — but a good one, silent and blessed with a little patch of grass and a few planted ornamental trees.
- That last campsite was just 1.5km short of temple #46, and that final morning was wonderful: all the temples leading into Matsuyama are close together, and I really enjoyed that last string of stops, till I arrived at #51, just 10 minutes or so from the guesthouse, around midday on Saturday.
- Beers ensued.
- I took up my now-customary position at a little coffee table that is my de facto office when I’m there, and resumed doing not much of anything except bathing, eating, drinking, sleeping and photo-editing. I took some shots for Matt & Nori to use on their website (not on there yet but I’ll let you know) and met a few henro as they moved through. I had no idea what to do next but my departure isn’t till May 16 so needed to come up with something, or shorten my stay. At last I devised this almost-plan, which is…
- Osaka…well, I’ll do it properly one day, perhaps. But later tonight I get an overnight bus to the western coast — well, almost. Kanazawa is one of those places you hear about over here that I’ve never seen. Arrive there in the morning and will probably spend tomorrow strolling around the old town and a famous garden, before a night in a cheap guesthouse and then another train, or bus, to the Noto Peninsula on the Sea of Japan. I had the idea of walking its perimeter years back, but forgot all about it till the other day. It sounds laidback and peaceful (though Golden Week is fast approaching, the one time of year a sane man avoids anything tourism-oriented in this country), but if it isn’t, I’ll bail for Tokyo and think of something else.
- I’ve now walked Shikoku twice, once in each direction, via those 88 temples, in addition to the 30-day wander of 2008. I am, it’s safe to say, Shikoku-ed out. Right now I doubt I’ll be back, and if I never see a temple again it’ll be too soon.
- I achieved nothing in the way of enlightenment (forget Nirvana — they were an excellent band but that’s it) but I never expected to, since I don’t even believe in it. I’m pretty much a rationalist to my core, which is a bummer at times. But as Edward Abbey said in one of my favourite quotes, “We have all we need of heaven here on earth.” (I will add: “Hell, too.”) What those long and sometimes punishing walks do provide, of course, is a near-lethal dose of self-awareness. No doubt it makes you stronger, but I don’t know, I still seethe with the same angst, and anger, and disillusionment etc at times, like everyone else; I suppose I just get better at riding it all out.
- The first Henro was a battle against mental obstacles. I was on anti-depressants during it, fortunately, following some trauma and deep depression in 2014, but it was a struggle. This time it was more the physical body that let me down: cold nights, cracked heels, an elephantine middle finger after that plant attack, and finally the blisters. Then of course the mental stuff moved in there again at the end: Hello, darkness, my old friend. But I pulled it off, the end was beautiful, and I couldn’t be prouder, I guess. I don’t really think about it.
- Nature, as always, was the core of my Henro. I didn’t really care about the temples this time — enjoyed some, for sure, but didn’t take many shots in them or care too much if I arrived at them after dark. Ancient trees, birds, insects, stray cats, a lovely snake, a pair of goats, rocks, moss, beaches, rivers, flowering trees: those and plenty of others were more beautiful than any human-made edifice could ever be; I’ll remember them and their fellows long after the temple memories have faded.
- This will sound cheesy but what the hell: If nature is my god, mountains, forests, rivers and coastlines are my churches, walking is my ascetic discipline and making pictures is my meditation. End of sermon.
- The walk down the Shimanto River (which I’ve now done twice), from source to sea, is for me a greater achievement than my pair of Henros. I’ll never forget that week of beauty and solitude.
- That’s enough of all that.
- Oh, my final figures? I’ll attach the completed table at bottom, but the total for my 53 days (which includes the Shimanto walk plus all the zero days) was…
- Thanks for reading.
|Henro Day #||Date||Main Temples||Daily Distance||Total Distance|
|1||Feb 28||#51: Ishite-ji|
|2||March 1||#54: Enmei-ji|
#56: Taisan-ji (a different one to above!)
|3||March 2||#57: Eifukujo|
|4||March 3||#60: Yokomine-ji||41.85km/26m||135.62km/83m|
|5||March 4||#61: Kouon-ji|
|7||March 6||#65: Sanpuku-ji||25.22km/15m||210.75km/130m|
|8||March 7||#66: Unpen-ji|
|9||March 8||#68: Jinne-in|
|10||March 9||#75: Zentsu-ji|
|11||March 10||#79: Tennō-ji|
|12||March 11||#81: Shiromine-ji|
|13||March 12||#84: Yashima-ji|
|14||March 13||#86: Shido-ji|
|15||March 14||#10: Kirihata-ji|
|16||March 15||#5: Jizōji|
|19||March 18||#11: Fujii-ji|
|20||March 19||#13: Dainichi-ji|
|21||March 20||#18: Onzan-ji|
|22||March 21||#22: Byōdōji||29.77km/18m||610.70km/379m|
|23||March 22||#23: Yakuōji||37.49km/23m||648.19km/402m|
|25||March 24||#24: Hotsumisaki-ji|
|26||March 25||#27: Kōnomineji||38.44km/23m||766.01km/475m|
|27||March 26||#28: Dainichi-ji|
|29||March 28||#31: Chikurin-ji|
|32 (Shimanto River Walk Day 1)||March 31||0||25.72km/15m||941.5km/585m|
|33 (Shimanto River Walk Day 2)||April 1||0||19.08km/11m||960.58/596m|
|34 (Shimanto River Walk Day 3)||April 2||#37: Iwamoto-ji||29.11km/18m||989.69km/614m|
|35 (Shimanto River Walk Day 4)||April 3||0||45.97km/28m||1035.66km/643m|
|36 (Shimanto River Walk Day 5)||April 4||0||28.98km/18m||1064.64km/661m|
|37 (Shimanto River Day 6)||April 5||0||13.82km/8m||1078.46km/670m|
|38 (Shimanto River Walk Day 7)||April 6||0||24.08km/14m||1102.54km/685m|
|39 (Shimanto River Walk Day 8)||April 7||0||44.44km/27m||1146.98km/712m|
|40||April 8||#38: Kongōfuku-ji||22.08km/13m||1169.06/726m|
|42||April 10||#39: Enkō-ji||27.17km/16m||1237.16km/768m|
|44||April 12||#40: Kanjizai-ji||26.77km/16m||1263.93km/785m|
|46||April 14||#41: Ryūkōji|
|47||April 15||#43: Meiseki-ji||29.08km/18m||1353.24km/840m|
|48||April 16||0||0km: Injured||1353.24km/840m|
|49||April 17||0||0km: Injured||1353.24km/840m|
|50||April 18||0||0km: Injured||1353.24km/840m|
|52||April 20||#44: Taihōji||32.64km/20m||1411.68km/877m|
|53||April 21||#45: Iwaya-ji||33.68km/20m||1445.36km/898m|
|54||April 22||#46: Jōruriji|