And now it begins. Getting to temple 1 of the pilgrimage and purchasing all the necessities is one thing… quite another to get into the vibe of finally doing this… winding down, especially after all the flying, then Osaka, then driving here in a strange Japanese car on Japanese highways… this now is supposed to be quiet, mindful, here and now. But all those qualities can be lived also while flying, while in Osaka, while in a new situation on a Japanese highway, can they not? Well, in theory yes.
Well, I like to think that normally I live in a quiet and mindful manner, but somehow the feeling of doing a pilgrimage is different. Standing there at the temple, bowing in, doing the ritual water cleansing, ringing the big temple bell, going to the main temple hall, lighting a candle, and 3 incense sticks, ringing the little gong, a little money offering and putting your osamefuda slip into the box, bowing, reciting the Hannya Shingyo (heart sutra), bowing again, and then all this again at the temple hall for Kobo Daishi, then going to the temple office for the stamp and calligraphy into your pilgrims book… taking a few pictures… and then bowing again when leaving the temple… This needed a little getting used to, not only in what to do, but to do it in calmness and mindfulness…
Now, another aspect of my pilgrimage is that I do it by camper car, which so far I have seen no other pilgrim doing. Most go by car (they probably stay at hotels, inns or where available temples), some walk, and very few do it by bicycle. I have not yet seen anyone else with a camper (but that might change, I have just started). And I noticed many are older than me. And by far most are Japanese. So far it is going well with my camper. My first night I could park right outside temple 6, there was a parking lot with toilets.
The second day started right after sunrise with a few temples (6 to 11)… and since I take my time at each one, this took me until noon. Then I drove into the mountains to go up Tsurugi-san (1955m). Unfortunately, despite a nice weather forecast, when I got there, a big thunderstorm moved in and covered to whole mountain. We, I and a few other crazy ones, went up anyway, since we had a booking at the mountain hut on top. It all went well, and the delicious dinner at the hut, together with the storm ending and making way for a beautiful sunset, more than compensated for the unpleasant way up. But hey, am I not on a pilgrimage? A little suffering I have to have too, right, not only the walking pilgrims.
The next morning started in the clouds (see the picture above with me next to the sign)… but that made for a wonderful mysterious photo walk down the mountain… Then I drove very joyfully into the Iya valley enjoying the views, and letting faster cars overtake me as needed… I am not fleeing a hunter here. This valley I had visited before with my wife… but back then did not bring a proper camera (I still cannot believe it)… simply beautiful this whole valley! Vine bridges, river gorges, the scarecrow village, and finally I arrived at Ochiai village, which is basically a bunch of houses dotted on a huge mountain side all the way up. There I found a parking spot for my third night, with a beautiful view (and a toilet that smelled like pine trees, because it was made of that wood and was really clean and fresh – if you only know European public toilets… come to Japan to see and smell how it can be).
Today, the day I am writing this blog, is Sunday, and as I came back out of the mountains to continue the temple tour, I saw a difference… quite a few more people at the temples than during the week (many Japanese do the pilgrimage on weekends by car in stages, a number of temples each weekend). But it was not crowded by any means. Still a relaxed atmosphere, not so lonely, one could say – during the week it can happen that you are the only one visiting a temple.. Today, after arriving at the beautiful mountain temple 12 around noon, I continued to do temples 13 to 17. Then it was 5 PM, temple closing time, and shortly after – sunset. So I called it a day, and went into the direction of temple 18, but stopped halfway at a nice onsen. Ahhh… It is kind of outside of town and has a big parking area… so I will stay here for the night (it is open until 11:30 PM .. so I can use its toilet one last time after uploading this blog article 😉