It’s a little difficult to know where to begin with this entry since it was such an epic day; I covered 40km, climbed three mountains, entered a new prefecture, visited temple 40, met some amazing people, and found an incredible place to stay the night. Phew!

Sukumo in the mist

Wanting to take advantage of the dry weather, I set off at a spritely hour from Akizawa Business Hotel. A thick mist hung over the mountains that surround Sukumo and the air was humid from the recent downpour.

Stone henro trail path marker

Village along Matsuo-tōge Pass

Following the Matsuo-tōge Pass, the trail immediately began climbing into the mountains, passing through several tiny villages where children were cycling their way to school, all with matching white helmets.

Hut at Matsuo-tōge Pass peak

I reached the 300m peak at 8.30am, passing an older henro on the way who looked a bit out of breath. I had just crossed over into Ehime Prefecture and was now on the path to attaining enlightenment (菩提 bodai). Not sure I’m feeling it quite yet!

Village shop

Fruit shop owners

On the local road towards Ainan Town I passed a small fruit shop where the owners popped out and handed me a couple of oranges as osettai. The day was off to a good start.

Tendon

Instead of heading to the temple directly I decided to get lunch first, tendon (tempura over rice) at Naniwa (なにわ) restaurant, and then stocked up on essential supplies at Lawson for the hike ahead.

Kanjizai-ji icons

Kobo Daishi at Kanjizai-ji

Wooden statue

Arriving at Kanjizai-ji (観自在寺 – 40) at 1pm I observed the usual rites before getting my book stamped and signed.

Kanjizai-ji monk

The priest in charge asked me where I was heading next and was shocked to hear I taking the Naka-michi (中道) trail. It’s one of the ancient routes which is known to locals but isn’t in the Japanese guide because it’s considered technically challenging (conservative as usual).

I showed him my English map which has the route and he spent a good five minutes reading it over and muttering his surprise at how detailed it was. He warned me that there would be no food or water available and, although friendly, seemed a little incredulous.

Naka-michi sign

The trailhead is pretty easy to find and I spotted the first official sign at 2pm. Naka (中) means “inside” in Japanese which makes sense when you consider the trail runs through the mountains instead of the normal route while goes around it.

Naka-michi daigandō pass

For the first 11km, I followed the Daigandō Pass which ascends 533m before dipping down into Sōzugakko-Mae valley. The trail has been recently cleared but some parts are still a little hard to follow and very steep in sections.

Daigandō Pass View

Peeking through the trees there was a stunning view of the hazy mountains beyond. It was a magical feeling to know that I was probably the only person for miles around.

Naka-michi trail gate

There a number of gated areas that you pass through containing young pine trees. I spotted a wild deer at one point and presumably they want to keep them out.

Rice terrace

Sozugakko-Mae valley

Reaching the stunning valley floor at 4pm I was worrying that I might not have brought enough water (I had 3 bottles but had already finished 1.5). I shouldn’t have feared because opposite Ōsōzu Shrine I found a vending machine. There might well be more of them than people in Shikoku!

Shōgandō Pass Sign

Shōgandō Pass View

Shōgandō Pass View

The second accent along the Shōgandō Pass was a little less steep and better defined. At the summit (588m) I passed the enormous wind turbines I’d seen from the below.

Henro dojo

A couple of kilometres later I reached the old farm house zenkonyado (free lodgings provided by local people) at 6pm. I’d called ahead to Ōmori-San, who I’d been put in touch with, and lives in the village.

Ohmori-San

He came out to greet me and show me around as well as to demonstrate how the well pump worked (another first). He generously left me some instant yakisoba for dinner.

Henro dojo interior

The Henro dojo (へんろ道場) house has an earthen floor at the entrance followed by traditional rooms all separated by sliding doors.

Village girls

I don’t think the village gets many foreign visitors because before long two adorable old ladies came by to say hello and gave me rice balls for my breakfast tomorrow. One of them was hard of hearing so the other had to scream “he’s from the UK” several times before she got it 🙂

Sitting on the veranda I ate the yaki-soba while enjoying the sunset and reflected on the past week. Somehow, after all the rain, the bad days make you appreciate the good days even more.

After the sun had set I stepped outside to use the privy and was momentarily stunned by the sudden absence of light. All the remained what the incessant chirping of frogs in a field nearby.

Information

Distance walked: 40 km / 54,000 steps
Temples visited: 40
Overnight lodgings: Henro Dojo (へんろ道場) – Zenkonyado

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Comments

  1. Chris says:

    Hi so nice to follow you. We go in april 17! Wish you a safe and spiritual walk. Kind regards rrom Belgium. Chris

  2. Arnold Smith says:

    Thanks again for sharing David…….we all reach enlightenment in our own way…….I think by your entry “Somehow, after all the rain, the bad days make you appreciate the good days even more.”, you are well on your way to finding enlightenment. You have chosen the less travel path, the rewards will be ten fold. Amazing how a vending machine, placed in a strategic location, can be a blessing in disguise. Remember, it is not the destination that counts, but the journey. Hang in there.

  3. James Boddy says:

    What a memorable day you’ve had David, your photos and words make a truly interesting posting. Certain days you get that strong sense of a spiritual presence surrounded by Nature’s bounty and then when what you need suddenly appears, even a vending machine out in the sticks! Magic moments! The love and kindness of the local people is so genuine. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences.

  4. Wendy says:

    I am currently on the road when I notice did not get your Day 28 post I thought it’s because different time zone. I enjoy very much reading your post and it certainly helps me while going through a difficult and stressful moment. Thanks for sharing.

    • David says:

      Hey Wendy, sorry to hear things a difficult right now – will say a prayer for you at the temples I visit today 🙂

  5. Richard says:

    Sounds like an amazing day. Really enjoying reading about your progress. It sounds as though people are so kind.

  6. robin says:

    Hi David, thanks so much for keeping this blog – its really helping me with my plans for my own trip in October. I am trying to follow you in the map book and today I am completely lost – I don’t think I have the latest version of the book and maybe the route you have taken isn’t in my copy? what page of your book shows the trail?

    • David says:

      Hey Robin – in the Sept 2015 edition the Naka-michi trail starts close to temple 40 on p56 and then continues north along p55 > p58 > p57b. It took me a while to figure it out too!

      • robin says:

        thanks – I have the 2013 version and have been wondering if it was worth updating before I go – this shows there are some significant differences and has made my mind up 🙂 the enlightenment seems to be working for me

  7. Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide says:

    Ōmori-san is inputting his heart, soul and life to Nakamichi regarding rebuilding that trail. Thanks for your choosing to Nakamichi. I show respect your report on blog.

  8. Elly Juhrend says:

    Thanks for the photos and your story about this trail. It gives me the courage to walk this one next Spring! Last year in Autumn I didn’t dare to walk there because of the warning in the routeguide. (no food and water available untill Manganji). i walked the Kashiwazaka trail instead. Ki o tsukete! Elly

  9. Athena says:

    You’ve sold me. I’m doing this next time! Thanks for posting the photos!

    I also love the bags of fruit. That’s so typical of rural Japan. It’s one of the reasons I miss Shikoku. When I was there…I almost took it for granted that (yummy) fruit was free or at least came in the bundles. I was so shocked when I came back to Tokyo.

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