I wake up from a deep sleep to the sound of my alarm at 5:37. It’s been ringing for 7 minutes without my noticing. I’m so comfy and warm! I don’t wanna get up, and although I have the choice to sleep for another hour, I know It’ll be worth my while to wake up.
Because we are staying in a temple, we have been invited to attend the monasteries morning service. I wake Dad, who has more trouble getting up than I do, and we both rush downstairs but don’t make it until 6am on the dot. Japanese people are always very much on schedule, so when Dad tries to open the sliding doors and finds that they are locked shut, we realize we have come too late. I am SO disappointed. Angela and Gina comes around the corner a moment later and are also sad to find out we’ve missed the mark. I try one more time to slide open the doors, just in case, but am careful not to make too much noise for those inside who woke up early enough to arrive on time. No such luck. The doors are locked. Angela, having lived in Japan for quite some time now, says this seems strange. They don’t usually close or lock doors to these services. She walks over to try and open the doors, and is successful! Amazing! What would we do without her?!
We creep inside and sit down at the nearest available chairs. The ceremony has begun, but it doesn’t seem like we’ve missed too much. For the next hour, we watch as the monks chant and perform their ritual. It sounds like a long time to sit and listen to people chanting, but the whole experience is very zen. When the ceremony is over we bow our heads and leave the beautiful monastery hall. Breakfast begins immediately afterwards and is just as wonderfully presented and delicious as last night. Though, thankfully, there are fewer courses. My young monk friend says good morning to me as he serves a new dish. I’m pretty sure we’re best friends now.
We quickly pack our things and rush outside to get on our bus at 8am. It’s a giant coach bus that somehow manages to take us down the twisting skinny roads of the mountain safely.
2 hours later we arrive at the ferry dock. We have 45 minutes to kill before the next boat leaves, so Ted and Kirk lead us down the street to a Lawson’s (convenience store). Ted hands us each ¥1,000 ($10) for our “lunch allowance”. I buy an onigiri (triangular seaweed wrapped rice cake), a pre-packed ham sandwich, and a hot milk tea. It costs me about ¥300.
We walk back and board the boat to find our reserved space on a tatara (flat mat) where we may leave our bags, lay down, eat our lunch, and lounge around. It’s about another 2 hours to our destination. I eat my onigiri and sandwich, which are (quite obviously) sub par. The milk tea is very sweet but at least it tastes good.
I see a wifi connection and find the password listed on a sign near our space, which actually works! The connection is extremely slow but does manage to get some of my messages through to my mama and some friends. There is pachinko or some kind of slot machine on the boat, and anime characters everywhere. As the boat journey continues on, the wifi signal gets weaker but I’m just happy to have had it at all!
We arrive in Shikoku, one of the main islands in Japan. There are over 4,000 islands that make up the country, but the four largest are the most notable. Honshu, where we’ve just come from, is the largest island where Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are all located.
Once off the boat we board two vans that will take us to the start of the pilgrimage. There are 88 temples along the pilgrimage trail, and we will be visiting about 10 or so of them. To walk the whole pilgrimage takes between 40 and 60 days, so we’re just getting a little taste test.
The first temple along the pilgrimage trail is not exactly what I expected. The temple is placed right smack in the middle of a relatively industrialized town. The temple itself is beautiful, and has many visitors, some pilgrims and some not. You can tell by the attire. People who walk the pilgrimage trail wear white vests, old style sun hats, and often carry wooden walking sticks. We only wear the white vests, but we’re also not making the whole journey.
For every temple we visit, we get a stamp with hand written calligraphy marked into a silk covered book. I love watching the calligraphers do their work at each temple. Their writing is so beautiful and it feels like getting a piece of art work every time I get a new stamp.
Inside the temples they are offering sweet tea in honour of today’s holiday, Buddhas birthday! What a wonderful day to visit a Buddhist temple.
We move onto the second and third temples, following the pilgrimage trail that takes us through small paved roads through a residential area and on a couple short trails. Orange trees are everywhere and are seem to be fully grown so we stop to pick a few along the way. We only find very dry or very sour oranges, but we are obviously picking under or over ripe ones. As if the locals would leave perfectly ready-to-eat oranges on the trees!
Our van picks us up around 5pm and takes us to our hotel. I can tell from the outside that it seems like the kind of place that will have wifi! I think I have an addiction…
Our rooms are small but efficiently designed. Our shower tap is hooked up to the sink tap, and there is a small switch you can flip to decide which faucet the water will come from. As usual, our toilet is fancy with a heated seat. We DO have great wifi, but it only works in the lobby. No complaints here.
Dinner is at 7:30 and is in the hotel restaurant. Staff members are dressed in black suits with bow ties, leading me to believe it might be a fancy meal. There are 5 options to choose from, and I pick the beef curry. When it arrives, it’s just gravy over rice. No curry. No visible beef. It’s awful. The vegetarians get cold tempura and luke-warm noodle soup. Dad’s chicken satay is pretty in-edible too. It’s extremely disappointing.
We are given the news that we’ll be eating at 7/11s for the next three days, and I can tell you, no one looks excited about it. I thought Japan was supposed to have some of the most amazing food in the world…why can’t we try some of that? I suppose pre-boxed cheap sushi is an acquired taste?