I didn’t quite do 60km today but I got to 10 temples, which is where much of my time went. I almost made it to 11 but managed to get lost several times in the rush to make it to one last temple before their book signing office closes at five. This didn’t turn out to be too bad a thing, as I stopped in a park to use the toilet and have a quick rest when a local man walked over started chatting to me. He could see I was doing the pilgrimage and told me it wouldn’t be a problem to camp in the park for the night. He also showed me a pilgrim hut I was looking for. I wouldn’t have found it. However, there was already someone in it and I prefer to sleep in the park anyway.
So right now, I’m in my little tent, under a tree, in a park on a hill between a castle and a temple. I’ll take some photos in the morning. It’ll probably be cold tonight do I’ve put on pretty much all the clothes I have to make sure I don’t wake up frozen.
This morning already seems a long time ago and the day a blur. When I left my accommodation, it was cool and raining lightly and the rain came and went all day. I rode out to the first temple to get started and stock up on pilgrim supplies. This included a map book and a book describing all the temples on the way. I also got a white pilgrim’s jacket and a nokyocho, a book that is stamped at each temple. Finally, I got a bundle of white paper slips. I write my name on them and place them at each temple before praying. I can also give them out to anyone who offers me help or gifts along the way. I saw a silver one today which means that person has done the pilgrimage at least 25 times. I got the jacket to show I’m a pilgrim in the hope that might encourage cars to give me plenty of room when they pass. I’ll wear it when it stops raining.
The temples were pretty close together today and I was trying to get to as many as possible and also because of the rain, I didn’t stop to explore the local villages (except the several times that I got lost) but I also tried not to ride on main roads so I saw some pretty interesting buildings. (Just realised that was one sentence – hope it makes sense, I’m a bit tired). There are some new houses but also lots of really old wooden houses, some of them enormous. At times I felt I really could have been in the Japan of a hundred or more years ago. I didn’t see any samurai, though.
There were always at least some pilgrims at the temples I visited. Most of them are older people but there were a handful of younger people as well. Many people travel by car, some by taxi and others by bus. I was the only cyclist but the walkers, as do I, stand out by our raincoats and outdoor clothes. The motorised pilgrims were the ones dressed entirely in white with hats, a staff and the full pilgrim regalia.
I seemed to be visiting temples at much the same speed as some of the people in cars and once they started recognising me, they were always very friendly and impressed that I was doing the pilgrimage by bicycle. The Japanese are brilliant at being impressed. At one temple signing room, all I said was konnichiwa as I walked in and they all immediately told me how brilliant my Japanese was.
Right then – I’ve forgotten what else I was going to say and I’m making more typing errors than correct words so I’d probably better get to sleep. Big day tomorrow – I have to get over a couple of steep hills to get to temple 12. The man I met in the park reckons it’ll take me six hours to get there and that I’ll have to carry my bike up. It’s only 13km away and my bike and bags are probably 25kg so here’s hoping he’s wrong on both counts. Don’t forget to check my Twitter feed – I’m posting pics from all the temples I visit and anything else that comes to mind.