My body was feeling the effects of the long day before when I awoke to my alarm at 6 am on Wednesday morning. I definitely could have done with an extra hour or two of sleep but I forced myself up from the futon and packed my bag for the hike ahead.
The owners of Hirokiya Ryokan (ひろきや旅館) had given me the option of rice or bread for breakfast; I choose the bread to have a break from the usual Japanese cuisine. Pizza toast is somewhat of a dying speciality in Japan.
Also staying at the ryokan was a German woman who didn’t speak a word of Japanese which made it all the more surprising that she had made it to Shodoshima and this place in particular since it didn’t have online booking. I helped her communicate with the owners to work out how to get to where she was visiting that day.
Shortly before 8 am I set out on foot with only my day pack, leaving my heavy backpack at the ryokan. The objective of the morning was to reach the peak of Kankakei Gorge (寒霞渓), a ravine at the centre of the island.
A short distance up the road I stopped at Eikou-ji (栄光寺 – 13) and was relieved to find a monk who was able to stamp my book.
Almost next door to Eikou-ji is Yama-Roku Shoyu (ヤマロク醤油), a soy sauce factory which uses huge wooden barrels to ferment the sauce for up to 4 years for each batch.
A staff member gave me a short tour and it was amazing to see the labour-intensive processes which haven’t changed much in hundreds of years. I bought a small bottle to take back with me.
I continued up the hill, past a dam, and into the forest. The unforgiving gravel road was constantly reminding my body of the rigours of the past few days and I was feeling worn out even without the heavy bag.
By 9.30 am, I made it to Kikyotaki-san (清滝山 – 14), the first of three temples on the mountain. The old caretaker there showed me photos of eagles which were nesting on the cliff face above the temple.
From here I followed the winding road west to Hotokega-taki (佛ヶ滝 – 20) before beginning the next climb to Sekimon-do (石門洞 – 18). There I found a solitary monk conducting a fire ceremony in the hall built into a cave on the side of the cliff. Inside it was a smoky fugue and after watching for 10 minutes I quietly left.
The trail snakes around the back of Sekimon-do through a huge rock arch and continues to the top of Kankakei (812 m), taking about 40 minutes till you reach the ropeway terminal which most tourists use.
As well as spectacular panoramic views, there are a couple of restaurants and I choose an olive croquette burger for lunch. It was surprisingly good!
After lunch, I began the descent down the second trail which is a short walk west from the first. On the way down I bumped into a lovely older couple who live in Shodoshima and regularly go there to bird watch. They were very curious about the pilgrimage and I recommended that they give it a try.
On the way down you pass the lower ropeway terminal and then follow the road.
Upon reaching ground level again, I made my way east through a bamboo forest, visiting a number of temples along the way.
Of note was Gokuraku-ji (極楽寺 – 16) which has a huge pond in front which must be crossed by bridge to enter. The lady working there told me that the temple burnt down some years ago and that the pond was dug to ward off any future disaster.
Around 3 pm I arrived back at Hirokya Ryokan to pick up my backpack. I thanked the owner and his family who had been incredibly hospitable.
My accommodation for the night was Sen Guesthouse (セン ゲストハウス) which is near the end of the thin peninsula which stretches down and around Kusakabe Port.
It was a long and arduous 2-hour walk in the afternoon heat along the road to reach my destination but my aches and pains evaporated when I was warmly welcomed by the owners Matthew and Noriko who I had met in 2016 when their guesthouse of the same name was located in Matsuyama, Shikoku.
It was good to catch up and hear about their experience of moving from a small city to the deep countryside. They have carved out a fantastic life for themselves here.
Hopefully, my body will be recovered enough for the next onslaught tomorrow!