After the 30km double-mountain hike yesterday, it was hard getting up this morning but I dragged myself out of the futon at 5.30 am in order to make the 6 am prayer service (Asa Gongyou) at Byōdō-ji (平等寺 – 22) right next door to Sazanka where I was staying.
I felt a little awkward as I was the only one in attendance but luckily only my ears were required. The monk, a friend of Masako’s, chanted non-stop for an hour with the occasional help from a pair of cymbals and a rattle (I’m sure it has an official name) which he rung every so often.
I had no idea what he was chanting but it was the perfect meditation to begin the day. Afterwards, he explained some paintings of Kōbō-Daishi in the temple. I think I got the gist of it.
Heading back to Sazanka I had breakfast at 7 am before hitting the road just before 8 am. Walking through Aratano I noticed a sign warning of snakes. I’ve already seen a couple of small ones but apparently, only the big ones are dangerous.
About 5km later the small road I was following merged into the larger Route 55 main road which I’ll be following for the next few days.
Luckily I was able to get off the main road within 2km and followed an alternative route along the coast which passes through some nice small fishing villages.
The first village I passed through was Yuki where I took a short break on Tainohama beach. They have good camping facilities with showers if you were thinking of stopping here.
Close by is the village of Kiki where I nearly got lost by walking up route 289 by mistake. Luckily not much time was lost and I found a nice henro hut overlooking the harbour to have my lunch (a banana and rice ball).
Continuing along the coast through the Yamaza Pass I bumped into another pilgrim I’d met yesterday; a Japanese-American woman from Dallas, Texas who was doing the pilgrimage for the second time in two years!
Founding the corner of the peninsula I got my first look at Yakuō-ji (薬王寺 – 23) from Ebisu-do rising up from the mountains beyond. With the goal in sight, I quickened my pace for the final 2km.
After walking through the small town of Hiwasa I reached Yakuō-ji at 2 pm. Set on a number of levels rising up the mountain I didn’t fancy carrying my heavy pack all the way up but luckily the staff in the shop at the bottom let me leave it there.
There was a large tour group praying when I arrived so I let them do their thing before paying my respects. I noticed many of them dropping 1 yen coins on the steps going up which is apparently for good fortune.
Looking out over Hiwasa and the 20km path I had just trodden it felt well worth it although my feet might have had a different opinion.
Luckily Yakuoji Onsen is right next door so I popped in for a short soak. As a stereotypically reserved Brit, public nudity is not usually our thing but the needs of my feet outweighed any ingrained fears!
Body refreshed I stopped by a small udon restaurant to top up my energy before continuing along Route 55 towards my destination.
There was something rather surreal about passing through small ancient farmsteads while walking along a busy highway. At one point I passed a goat standing alone in a field which sent shivers down my spine when I remembered a certain film.
Feeling pretty beat I reached the gaping mouth of Hiwasa Tunnel. I had planned to take the Yokoko Pass to go around it but there had been a landslide and the old henro trail looked none too safe so I decided to take my chances in the tunnel. Luckily a handrail separated the traffic from walkers.
800 meters later I emerged back into the sunlight and less than 20 minutes later arrived at Uchikoshi-ji temple where I hoped to stay the night. I bumped into the monk walking his dog around the grounds who kindly gave me permission to sleep in the annexe. With a kitchen, bedroom and shower it was way more than I imagined and I’m ending the day feeling very lucky once again.
It’s over 70km to temple 24 and with rain forecast, for the next two days, I don’t want to overdo it. Over and out for now.
Distance walked: 30 km / 43,000 steps
Temples visited: 23
Overnight lodgings: Uchikoshi-ji (駅路寺打越寺) – Tsuyado