We set off this morning around 7.30 am from Jūraku-ji (十楽寺 – 7) and enjoyed the cool early morning breeze on the way to Kumadani-ji (熊谷寺 – 8). There’s something very liberating about having nothing else to do but walk and follow the signs.
The sound of monks chanting boomed out of a tinny loudspeaker somewhere above the path leading up to the main hall at Kumadani-ji. Combined with the dappled light coming through the trees it was very atmospheric.
We enjoyed the place to ourselves quietly until a couple turned up with two small dogs wearing matching white henro shirts. They seemed to be enjoying the pilgrimage even more than their owners!
At each temple, after praying you get your pilgrimage book (nokyocho 納経帳) stamped and signed with the name of the temple and deity in beautiful handwritten calligraphy. As well as acting as a passport for where you’ve been, each page is small work of art.
I noticed that the friendly lady doing the signing at Hōrin-ji (法輪寺 – 9) did it a little differently from others since she did the calligraphy first and placed the red stamps on top. At Kirihata-ji (切幡寺 – 10) the nokyo priest looked well into her 90s and didn’t say a word but not in an unfriendly way.
To reach Kirihata-ji you must first climb 330 stone steps. We stopped at a pilgrim good shop Sumotoriya at the bottom who were kind enough to let us leave our heavy bags there instead of hauling them all the way up. Here I also purchased a sedge hat (sugegasa) which aside from being the proper attire is actually very effective at keeping the sun out of your eyes.
The trek to Fujii-dera (藤井寺 – 11) is a little under 10km which was the longest stretch between temples so far (there will be much bigger gaps later on) and we were pretty tired towards the end so didn’t spend much time there.
Tonight we’re staying in a wonderful hut beside an onsen near temple 11 called Kamo-no-yu which is generously provided by the owners for free. They also provide bicycles so you can easily get to the nearest supermarket. The perfect combination to wash away the aches and pains of the day.
Tomorrow we have our first climb up into the mountains; I’m looking forward to the shade!