The plan worked and no-one asked me to leave. I snuck out at 6:30am and hit the road. East again, it’ll be the same right across Shikoku. More long tunnels, more busy roads. I generally didn’t enjoy this morning but I did get a lot of eating done. I even found a proper pint of ice-cream!
At the big supermarket I met my first pilgrim. He wasn’t dressed in white or wearing a straw hat. But he had the stick and bell and he was walking. I saw more later, all going anti-clockwise. There were two cyclists going my way, one gave me sweets, and a pair of English teachers hitch-hiking for charity.
The overcast sky and (many) early lunches made it seem much later in the day. Plus my pack was weighed down with supplies so I was more tired than normal. Did I explain earlier that I plan to do the full 88 temple tour with my girlfriend Tania next year? Well days like this make me change my mind. Walking through urban areas is not fun. I prefer mountains and rivers (hence my Iya Valley route). So why put myself through it again?
Struggling on I finally started seeing ‘henro no michi’ (pilgrim’s route) signs. They lead me up route 379 in a little valley where the houses were once again wooden with curly grey slate tiles and sliding doors. I like this side of Japan a lot. It did present a camping problem though, no space. I saw a nicely cut area of grass, big enough for a tennis court, and asked two locals if it’d be alright to put up a tent. They said not to bother, just around the corner is a free place for pilgrims. Or something to that effect, my Japanese is mostly interpreting their gestures.
Sure enough I found the shelter. A raised eight-tatami complete with shrine, trail register and cupboard full of futons. The lady from the little shop across the road talked to me for a while. I understood very little but I tried. She brought me a bowl of hot udon noodles and told me the shelter is 85 years old.
So my mind is changed again. If this is normal and the shelters are well spaced, I can see us coming back next year. And I’ll bring the lady a gift too.
Word of the day: higashi = east
Distance today: 41km