Dark clouds hung from the sky as I set out to conquer the final temple this morning. Usually this would be a cause for concern, but with the end in sight it only emboldened me to walk faster.
Small school kids pattered past wearing matching yellow raincoats while older volunteers ushered them across puddle-strewn roads.
After an hour I reached Maeyama Dam and skirted around its edge, arriving at Maeyama Ohenro Kōryū Salon around 8.30 am.
The facility, run by an NPO, has a small museum chronicling the history of the pilgrimage and presents walking pilgrims with a certificate of completion (I was no. 2505 since July 2015).
It was interesting to see the ancient osame-fuda (name slips) on display. It must have been pretty laborious to write each one out by hand from scratch.
Beside the building is a large hut which, judging by the tent in situ, is fine to camp under.
Just as I was leaving the rain began but it was light enough not to have to don my full rain gear. Since I had about 12km of mountain to climb I would have just ended up a sweaty mess anyway.
I choose to follow route B up to Mt. Nyotai because it seemed to have the longest offroad section and thus the most tree cover.
Along the way, I tried to picture in my mind all of the people who had helped me get this far. There have been so many that to be honest, I think I must have missed a few.
Except for the rocky final kilometre, the ascent was pretty forgiving and I was at the 741m peak by 11 am. Unfortunately, the clouds had obscured what would have been a spectacular view. Fittingly the small shrine here contains a statue of the god of rain.
From here it was a half-hour walk downhill to Ōkubo-ji (大窪寺 – 88). Below the clouds I finally got a glimpse of the landscape stretching as far as the eye could see.
Walking around to enter through Ōkubo-ji’s main gate, I had half expected something a little grander than the other temples but instead, it was much like the rest. Given the nature of the quest, the understatement was apt.
I almost had the whole place to myself and this time I went through the rites more slowly than usual, trying to savour the moment and appreciate how far I’d come over the last 7 weeks.
Some people choose to leave their wooden staff here, for a fee, considering it as a symbol that their journey is over.
Unfortunately, the silence was broken 15 minutes later by the arrival of a tour group who immediately took up most of the space in the small courtyard while they took a group photo.
Retreating to the temple office, I got my book stamped and then walked back down the steps to a restaurant just outside the main gates.
There I bumped into a friendly couple I’d met on the trail earlier who recommended me a special udon dish served in a cauldron of broth with all sorts of vegetables and pork.
Feeling content I began the 10km descent down to where I’m staying tonight. The rain had intensified so I stopped under the eaves of a farmhouse to suit up.
After some nice woodland detours, I arrived at Shirotori-onsen at 3 pm. This gave me plenty of time to wash my clothes, take a bath, get organised and relax before dinner.
There’s more I’d like to write today but I think it’s going to take a few weeks of decompression before I can get the right words out. Needless to say, it was a momentous day.
Tomorrow I’m heading back to Ryōzen-ji (霊山寺 – 1) where this all began to close the circle.
Distance walked: 26 km / 36,200 steps
Temples visited: 88
Overnight lodgings: Shirotori-onsen (白鳥温泉) – Onsen