Aug 31, 2009

Day 9 - On the road

Not everything along our route was beautiful and inviting. This appeared to be some sort of transmission tower. Whatever it was it certainly spoiled the landscape.
As we walked, we passed through numerous small ports like this.
Each port had a small fleet of fishing boats. I do not know what they went out for, but these boats have a very strange shaped circular object on the end of a short mast. They may have been antennas of some sort, or another idea that I had was that they were hung down into the water and were either sensors of some sort or maybe put out an electric charge to help with the fishing.
Most of the ports were in fairly large but well sheltered bays.
Maybe every other port had a boat yard like the above, where the boats could be hauled out of the water and repaired. The fishing ports were the only places that even a semblance of dynamic economic activity. The whole area was obviously feeling, and strongly, the effects of the economic turn down.

This part of the Henro Trail contrasted nicely with the mountain paths. I enjoyed this part very much, even though the weather was overcast. My aches and pains were getting better and my inner voice was continuing to quiet down. Also life was becoming very simple and all the stresses and cares and worries of every day life were fading away.

Aug 28, 2009

Day 9 - The beach in the morning

The beach in front of our accommodations was a little heaven on earth. I would have loved to spend a few days there, basking in the sun, swimming, and relaxing in general, but we had to get to the next hotel. We were not in a hurry because we only had to go 10 kilometers to the next hotel. The one after that was 36 kilometers from this beach. That was a bit far for us, so we took in two days - 10 km and then 26 km.

As we followed the road away from the beach and over a very low hill, we found an interesting traffic sign. The next picture shows all the signs on the post. The top one is pictorial and is shown in detail in the following photo. The middle sign say "Caution crabs" in Japanese. And the bottom sign is more or less scientific and gives the name of the crabs and their description.

The road paralleled the shore. At the beaches it followed the line between the beach and the woods, and in between it passed of the hills that on our left formed the headlands between the beaches. One of the first beaches that we came to after leaving the hotel had been turned into a fishing port. The above picture shows a large dredging barge that was deepening the entry to the dock area.
At the top of one of the rises, we discovered a shelter that was specifically made for Henro Pilgrims. The sign says that it was newly built with funds provided by the National Lottery.My walking stick is leaning against the wall beside the sign.

Aug 27, 2009

Day 8 - The end of the day

The bell tower at Temple #23, which Ian and I both rang. As I have said, it is customary to ring the bell when you enter the grounds as a Pilgrim, but many things interfere with this. Often there is no bell tower, of if there is one, there is no bell. In other temples, the tower is not near the gate. Also we found some where the tower was roped off so that we were not able to approach the bell. I have no idea what was going on, other than it seems to be a custom but a weak one.
This is the main hall at Temple #22. You can clearly see the wind shelters for the candles at the right and left. Also the stone structure in the middle at the foot of the stairs. As always the doors to the main altar are open but since there is no interior lighting, you can not actually see much inside.

I just realized that I may have gotten the previous temple numbers mixed. In any case, the above picture is of Temple #22.
The route between Temple #22 and our ryokan was very nice, an extremely pleasant walk. I found that more and more my inner voice was quieting down and a feeling of peace and tranquility strengthened. My legs were getting stronger, but I was developing a rash and my feet had large blisters. However, these were relatively minor and did not detract from my positive mood.

This was a relatively easy day compared to some of them while we were in the mountains. During the day we met almost no other Pilgrims. We met the three sisters for the last time, since they were planning on stopping at Temple #23. They said they planned to do one prefecture a year. We also met one young man going in the other direction. The counter-clockwise route is much harder than the one we took. For some reason the steepest slopes are all down hill when you go in a clockwise directions, but uphill on the reverse. Also all the signs are pointing in the clockwise direction and put in places where they are easily seen when going in that direction. Many of them are extremely easy to miss it you are walking in the other direction.

While at Temple#22, we called various places and got reservations for the rest of the week. Because of the locations, we will have to alternate long and short days. I am still not sure whether this was good or bad.

The place were we spent the night was a ryokan, a hotel for people on vacation, that was next to the ocean. However, it had seen better days and smelled badly of mold. It had a huge bath but the showers were broken. A man was there unsuccessfully trying to fix them. The ryokan consisted of a restaurant and a section with rooms. Apparently people are not taking vacations much anymore, because of the economy, so places like this have really fallen on hard times.

The beach was beautiful in front of the ryokan was beautiful. We went over to look at it before we checked in and then Ian went over to walk in bare feet through the salt water. He hoped that it would help his blisters, which were worse than mine. I decided that I would use the time to send a longer than usual blog.

Twice during the day I had forgotten to attach the belly strap on my backpack, so my shoulders were much sorer than usual. However, they felt okay when I got up in the morning.

Since this was a vacation spot, not a stop on the Henro Trail, breakfast was normally served late. We asked if they could serve us earlier, since we were the only ones there. They finally said that they could have our breakfast ready for us soon after 7 am. We ate packed and left for Day 9.

Aug 26, 2009

Day 8 - Onward to the sea

After turning right and entering the low hills (low compared to the previous mountains we had crossed), we followed pave roads through the woods. This was a very pleasant walk.
We found this sign along the way. It says that this is part of the Henro Trail and asks that you do not illegally dump trash here, because there is a movement to get the Trail recognized as one of the World's Treasures. Japan has very strict laws about trash and most of the time it must be separated and you have to pay for discarding it. Therefore, many people just take their trash (old refrigerators, worn out furniture, plastic bags full of things that I do not want to know about) and dump them over a roadside cliff somewhere in the woods. This stretch of the Henro Trail was on what used to be the main road but now had little or no traffic because a wider, straighter road has been built, so it is a perfect place for this illegal, anti-social activity.
We again passed through an area where they were harvesting bamboo. This time we discovered one-rail railroads to carry things up and down the steep hillsides. The power was supplied by a small motor, like those found on motor scooters.
Although the hills were not tall, the sides were very steep. As I said, the walk was very pleasant and the scenery was extremely peaceful.
Finally we came to the new wider road and after coming over a low hill had our first view of the ocean. For the next few hours we could see the ocean but only between the hills.

Aug 22, 2009

Day 8 - On the road again

As we walked down the river valley toward the ocean, we passed a farmer getting the rice paddy ready for planting.
At one point the Henro Trail veered off the road for a kilometer or so, and we found this delightful little building which protects a small statue.
A few meters up the trail, there was a Shinto shrine that was just as picturesque.
Next we came to a small pond full of bright green water with cherry trees around the shore. The cherries were no quite in blossom yet but the were still pretty, another week and they would have been beautiful. I do not remember if I mentioned it and I am too lazy to go back through all my entries, so bear with me. You can just skip down to the next picture if you have heard this before. The Japanese are wild about cherry blossoms. When they are in bloom, people bring tarps, food, and lots of beer and party under the blossoms. The blossoms carry a very strong Buddhist symbolism. The arise in the spring, have a very short and beautiful life, and they pass away, creating an ugly mess where the petals fall on the ground and rot. The Japanese say that this is just like human existence.
A little further toward the ocean and the Henro Trail turned right and passed through some hills, still heading for the ocean but at a point further south. The right side of the pave road we were walking was bordered by steep hillsides that were covered with bamboo groves which were being farmed. In the picture you can see, cut bamboo at the bottom left and a slide for bringing them down from the hill top.

Aug 21, 2009

Day 8 - Still at the temple

Looking down on the temple grounds from the main hall on the hill.
Well-dressed statues alone the path up the hill. Actually I took this on the way down.
The main hall on the highest level of the temple grounds.
The temple was beside a river, and when we left, passing straight through the main gate, we came to this bridge after only about 200 meters. The temple was off to the left.
Looking back at the temple from the bridge. You can see the main hall of the temple on the hill side between the two white buildings.

This was the last temple in the mountains. From here on we were heading for the ocean and once we reached it we would follow the shore line for many days. We had along way to walk before reaching our night's lodging. We expected to be able to see the sea at some point during the afternoon.

Aug 19, 2009

Day 8 - More of the temple

The bell tower at the temple. It is customary to ring the bell when you enter the grounds as a Henro Pilgrim. Some temples did not have a bell tower and some towers did not have a bell, but Ian and I each rang the bell when we had a chance. The bell is rung by swinging a log against the bell. The log is hung from the ceiling on a chain or rope. It is also customary to ring the bell at New Years. Each temple rings their bell 108 times, once of each of the evils that afflict mankind.
A statue on the temple grounds. Notice that it is well dressed - offerings from the local believers.
This is the main hall. The wind shields for the candles are on the right and left, and the container for burning incense is at the foot of the stairs. Ian and I stood on the landing in front of the door when we chanted the Heart Sutra.
The entrance to the main shrine room was unusual in that it was chaotic, so full of offerings that you could not really see inside.
I was not sure what this was but the things hanging from the metal frame seemed to be the weather beaten remains of offerings. These were probably placed there during a local ceremony. This was one of the bad points of our schedule. It was not possible to stop and look more closely or to find someone to answer our questions - we had to get to the next scheduled stop on time.

Aug 17, 2009

Day 8 - The next temple

We left the woods and entered a more built up area, not really a city but with more of the marks of civilizations than we had seen on the previous day.
As was often the case, the Henro Trail followed a river, although I guess that this should correctly be called a stream. This is typical of the Japanese countryside - the houses come in little bunches. Often there is a large house, apparently the major land owner and wealthiest family in the immediate area, and then a lot of smaller houses where the other people live. There were very few stores, and those that we saw were little mom-and-pop places that sold a little of everything, but not much of anything.
After passing over two ranges of low hills with a river valley in between, we came to the next temple, which naturally was in the next valley and on a low hill near the river.
This is the lower body of the guardian of the temple, actually he is one of two warriors who guard the temple. Very often there is a statue of a warrior king/god inside a display area on each side of the main gate. This scary looking personage has the duty to keep all evil spirits away from the temple grounds. When I was doing my program in Japanese studies in college, I put a picture of one of these statues next to an open flame, so that I could see what it might look like in torchlight. It was fearsome. It would certainly keep me out of the temple grounds, at night anyway. Notice that people have left extra kilts (the skirt-like thing the warrior is wearing) as well as other clothing as offerings.
The grounds were quite small and not as impressive as many of the richer temples. I belive that this is a statue of Kanon and the building behind it is a small prayer hall.

Day 7 - a forgotten event

I forgot to add something that happened near the end of Day 7. Temple #21 was at the top of a very steep mountain, but there were stairs on the way up, at least for most of the way. Just before reaching the main gate, the Henro Trail followed about 500 meters of the paved road leading to the temple grounds. This was one of the steepest roads I have ever seen. The slope was at least 45 degrees in places. Going up was bad but coming back down was worse.

On the far side of the temple there was a touristy area and it offered an alternate way of getting to and from the temple. There is a cable car going down to the valley floor. Apparently most visitors arrive and leave via this mechanized route. Ian and I had decided that we were going to walk, so after chanting the Heart Sutra, we started down that same paved road. As we struggled down this precipitous slope, Ian and I were discussing whether or not we would be able to reach the hotel before dark. If we could not, it could have become a serious problem since it was extremely cloudy, with a very light misty rain, and we had no lights other than small key-chain flashlights.

We were part way down the road when all of a sudden Ian disappeared and then I felt a strong bang on my back. At first I had no idea what had happened. Then it slowly dawned on me. I was lying flat on my back. Apparently I had stepped on the wet metal cover of a drain that crossed the road and, because of the steepness of the road, my foot shot out in front of me and I went over backwards. Luckily I was wearing my backpack and it absorbed most of the shock and kept my head from hitting the pavement.

This was the only time that either Ian or I had any sort of serious accident and this one caused no damage, except to my pride. However, it did take about 5 minutes for all of my muscles to decide to work together again.

As you know, we reached the hotel just as it began to get dark - another 15 minutes and we would not have been able to see the road.

Aug 14, 2009

Day 8 - Moving on

The constantly changing light of the sun through the trees was a delight as we continued along the narrow path through the hills.
The Henro Trail was well marked in the section. At every place where you could possible make a wrong turn, there was a sign like this with an arrow pointing the way. Too bad we don't have arrows like this to point the way in everyday life.
In some places the trees have fallen over, almost blocking the path. Someone has taken advantage of the horizontal tree trunk to hang a sign announcing that this is still the Henro Trail.
An amazing amount of work has gone into constructing and maintaining the trail. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to calculate the total cost of the trail in current dollars.
We left the hills and entered a flat valley full of farms. This part of the day was a bit of a struggle because the weather turned hot. We stopped at just about every drink machine to buy a couple of half liter bottles of sports drink. I was not sure about how effective this was since it added a kilogram to the weight we were carrying and caused me, anyway, to sweat freely.

Aug 12, 2009

Day 8 - Starting out

This pagoda of turtles was in the yard of the hotel we stayed in. It was reasonably good. Ian and I had a two room suite on the second floor. Both rooms had tatami mats on the floor. As I said, I went to sleep almost immediately after the evening meal but Ian stayed up for a while in the second room.
Our hotel was the white building on the far left. We were still in the mountains, although we had descended a long way from the summit, so the farm land was all terraced.
At first the road was flat and easy to walk. The farms along the roadside were quite pleasant and I enjoyed the walk.
We entered another hilly area and the Henro Trail left the road and descended a steep hillside into an orchard of plum trees, some of which were in full bloom - beautiful.
After passing through the orchard we entered the woods again. This area was terraced but the farms and people were long gone. I read something at the hotel that indicated that the area had been populated, and isolated, hundreds of years ago. The people had worked hard to construct flat areas on which to farm and build houses. It was really eerie to walk through the remains of a long gone civilization. The Central Americans must feel the same when they walk through the Mayan ruins.

Aug 9, 2009

Day 7 - some final comments

This was one of the hardest days of the whole trek - 11.5 hours of walking and two mountains. At the start is was flat and easy walking. We met some of the students who had interviewed us and they tried to get us to go have coffee with them, but we declined. We wanted to but realized that, if we did, we would not be able to stay on schedule and that would be a disaster because we already had reservations and might not be able to change them.

Also early in the morning we met one of the men who had stayed in the same place near Temple #20. He called to us and gave us each a bunch of mikans (an orange-like fruit that is very popular in Japan). He had bought a bag of them and then had realized how heavy they were. Not wanting to waste them, he passed about half of them to us. We were not very happy about the additional weight, either, so we ate them right away.

I described it before, but at Temple #21 a woman complained about the way we chanted the Heart Sutra. Ian and I were standing on the steps and she came up behind us and started chanting with us and then, once that it was clear that she was chanting with us, she tried to get us to go faster. Of course, we were already going as fast as we could. She started telling us that we should go faster and her voice got really loud. Ian turned around and gave her 'the evil eye'. She finally gave up and left but as we were leaving, I heard her complaining to somebody else about something new.

As I said, physically it was one of the most stressful days. I went to bed at 7:30 and slept right through the night.
We also met a woman who gave us settai - a tissue holder that she had made.

Aug 8, 2009

Day 7 - finally over

Although there were steps on this part of the Henro Trail, going down hill was hell on the legs. I was never able to decide which was physically more demanding, going up or going down.
Nestled in one of the little valleys was what I would call a homestead. Someone was farming the sides of the hills and from the amount of restructuring of the natural landscape they had been at it more a long, long time, very likely centuries.

As it got closer to sunset the mist gave the landscape an eerie look, a foreboding of something. However, nothing happened, except that we had to walk faster on the level areas so that we would arrive at our hotel in time for supper.
As you can see, there were still plenty of slopes to attack our legs, especially the knees. At the top of the picture there is a row of off-white objects along the side of the road. These are sand bags that are keeping the pavement from enjoying a long trip to the valley floor.
The last picture of the day. By the time we arrived at the hotel it was far too dark to take photos with my cell phone camera. We did get there in time for supper and slept extremely well that night.