After an exceedingly healthy breakfast we hit the road proper at 7am under a crisp blue sky, soon visiting Gokuraku-ji (極楽寺 – 2) and Konsen-ji (金泉寺 – 3) which are just a few kilometres from Ryōzen-ji (霊山寺 – 1).
Each temple has a similar layout with a main gate (山門 sanmon) at the entrance, main hall (本堂 hon-dō), Daishi Hall (本堂 hon-dō) which contains a figure of Kōbō Daishi and temple office (納経所 nokyo-cho) where you receive the temple stamp.
I tried to pay close attention to how more seasoned pilgrims were conducting themselves in order to avoid looking like too much of an amateur but I doubt I was fooling anyone. Luckily Buddhists don’t seem too hung up on ritualistic adherence!
Following the path turned out to be straightforward with small red signs or stone markers pointing the way every few hundred feet meaning I barely had to check the route guide or Google Maps.
5km later we encountered a rather grumpy monk at Dainichi-ji (大日寺 – 4) who told us off for putting our bags down in the wrong spot and signed everyone’s book with a haggard look. I guess even the holy have bad days.
Passing along narrow lanes and through rice fields, it dawned on me that this was to be my life for the next six weeks or so. Given that my days are usually passed in front of a computer it suddenly felt rather unreal and my head began to swim from the bright sunlight and heat. I hope my body is able to adjust.
We also spotted our first henro hut (遍路小屋) which are provided by local communities for pilgrims to stop and rest but can double as a place to stay the night. This one looked particularly modern and even had tatami mats inside.
A short distance past Jizō-ji (地蔵寺 – 5) we stopped to eat udon for lunch at a roadside restaurant. After hungrily finishing our food I called ahead to Jūraku-ji (十楽寺 – 7) in order to book a room for the night in the temple lodgings (shukubo 宿坊). Luckily my Japanese was sufficient.
With the temperature being around 26°C in the afternoon heat we took a more gentle pace for the rest of the day and spent a lazy hour in the shade at Anraku-ji (安楽寺 – 6) which had a particularly pretty garden in its grounds.
Arriving at Jūraku-ji a little after 3pm we quickly completed the temple proceedings and then took a well-earned nap. I felt pretty good about completing 18km with our heavy backpacks on the first full day of walking and hope to improve on it tomorrow.