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Published: August 1st 2008
Well, here i am, six days in, and I'm in the city of Tokushima, resting my feet for a day - it may have to be two - because i can hardly walk for blisters. I have about seven and they are oozing various gross substances. (i always end up writing about puke and ooze in my blogs, don't i? The realities of travel!) My dad tells me they should harden up in a day or two, but yesterday it took me seven hours to hobble eight miles which isn't good. Still, I'm holding out hope for a recovery within the next 24 hours. I've still got 71 temples to go! I have come 62 miles. I'm kitted out with the hat, the hakui shirt and the staff, much to the amusement, I'm sure, of many who know me. (I think i pull it off OK, but i do get the giggles when i see my reflection in a shop window...) It's been very hot and there are areas with no shade, so it takes longer to cover distances than i thought; i'm not the only henro finding this, however - i frequently meet others who are semi-collapsed by the side
of the road with facecloths on their heads, and we say to each other 'OOf!', and point at the sun. The locals have been very sweet to me. There's a tradition called o-settai, when people give presents to pilgrims to help them on their journey. This is supposed to symbolise the person giving to the saint Kobo Daishi (founder of the pilgrimage) so it's rude to decline. But i'm still quite shocked when people give me money, drinks, food and offer lifts. My Japanese is crap, but shifting from totally crap, to just quite crap. I have learned the temple drill - bow at the gate, ring the bell, make your prayer or wish at the main hall, post your fuda slip with your name and address on it in the box, put a coin in the box, then repeat all this at the daishi hall and get your book stamped with the temple seal; beautiful calligraphy. Since I'm not religious, I'm not chanting sutras but to see and hear the other pilgrims doing so is quite enchanting. Every temple is distinct but if i'm honest i do blur some of them together a bit in my mind and have
trouble remembering exactly which one had which gate/deity etc! There are pilgrims travelling by bus, by taxi, by car and by bike. Only a few are walking and less, i think, then i initially thought because i found some of the paths in the mountains were overgrown. There were times when i saw nobody for about six hours. I'd find deserted shrines in the middle of the woods and fill up my waterbottle, and see nothing but snakes and cicadas. So serene. And a little eery...
I have survived my first nansho temple ('temple in a perilous place') which was temple 12, a full 2,600 ft above sea level and with a very steep climb. The sense of achievement at the top was massive, even if i had sweated off half my body weight. It was getting dark after i got my stamp so i walked to a little shrine and asked the women in the house next door if it would be ok to sleep out there. They were fine with it and i spent the night on a wooden platform in my sleeping bag, watching lightening flash over the mountains and the mist creep in around the
lanterns and statues. There were many spiders and scuttling creatures but i had picked up a beer at a vending machine and drank it to calm my nerves; excellent! People say that Japanese wildlife is disappearing because of all the development. Spend the night in a shrine, madly shining a flashlight around, trying to locate the many creatures that are running around you going, 'breee-cha-cha-cha-cha!' and you'd have to disagree... It was mad. It was one of several moments in the last five days when i have thought, 'this has got to be the craziest thing that i have ever set my mind to.' And god knows there are contenders to that throne. Next morning, my blisters were coming on strong. I walked eighteen miles that day. It was damn hot. I almost trod on a pink snake that was sunbathing on the asphalt. I stayed in a ryokan and found i could barely walk the next morning. And so that brings me up to here, in Tokushima, trying not to get stressed about my feet! I mean, i thought i'd get a few, but seven, bleeding ones?!! I thought if i had trouble it would be with courage, or
my pack being too heavy, or getting lost - but blisters? if these stop me from being able to do the walk properly then i will be the angriest woman on earth. Still, this little break is giving me some time for reflection on the things i have seen so far. I'm looking at the history of each temple (almost of all of them have been burnt down several times) and the beliefs behind the sutras i hear chanted. On my first night, i stayed in a shukubo (temple accomodation) and sat in on the prayers. People say that Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion, but from where i was sat it looked like a religion. There was a sermon, and there were sutra books - like prayer books - and people took it in turns to come to the alter and bow and pray, and mark their foreheads with incense. I need to understand more about what all this means. And, staying in quite a nice hotel, i've got a perfect place to do my research; hot tea, a comfy bed, fine views over Tokushima, a few good bowls of udon and hopefully all of the rest of
Shikoku ahead of me. Not a bad situation.
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