This morning I was sitting powerless at the table while the lady owner of the minshuku was trying to book a room for me, at my intended destination. Her husband was talking in Japanese to me, while pointing at the map and showing all the different routes that would bring me to the 39th temple: Enkō-ji.
His voice was trembling, but strong, same as his hands, which were quickly drawing circles around the path he was suggesting me to take.
I could understand 5% of what he was saying, nodding along to whatever story he was telling me.
Meanwhile, the lady approached me with the bad news of no further availability at the minshuku I first chose.
I quickly drafted a Plan B,which was even more quickly judged and rejected by the husband. By his own, unsolicited, initiative, he took the phone and called another hotel: however, he had no more luck in his try than her wife.
After another couple of calls to different plaves, husband and wife were battling over the phone, each one of them telling the other to hush down and let him/her help the gaijin (foreigner) at the table.
I was starting to lose my nerves, so I took my phone and devised an alternative strategy. It was going to be ugly, but sometimes we need to do ugly things in our lives.
As Frank Underwood (fictional character from the tv show “House of Cards”) likes to say: “If you don’t like how the table is set up, flip it”.
And so I did. I flipped the table and booked a hotel in Sukumo, close to the temple #39. In doing this, I effectively cut one full day of walking and, at the same time, the need to choose one of the six paths ahead of me.
I played a rather unexpected “Out of jail” card, and I believe it was the best decision.
It took me the whole morning by bus to get to Sukumo, and a 3,5 hours trek to reach the temple and come back.
There is a stone turtle just after the main gate of the Enkō-ji temple. I wondered why and therefore looked for an answer.
Quoting from shikokuhenrotrail.com, which is an excellent source of knowledge about the pilgrimage:
Legend says that in 911 a red turtle came out of the sea and brought a bell to the temple by carrying it on its back. The bell is now in a Tōkyō museum. The pond on the temple grounds (Kame no Ike) is where the turtle lived while it was here.
While I was resting at the temple, I was approached by a young Japanese man who spoke good English and was curious about me. It was very nice to talk to him. He was also walking the pilgrimage, but in a counter-clockwise fashion, meaning that he started at the 88th temple and going in my opposite direction.
As a matter of fact there is no “good” way of completing the o-henro. Each pilgrim is free to do whatever he wants and choose whatever route he likes better.
Now it’s time to rest and get ready for tomorrow’s walk. It should be a pretty straight-forward day, though the last time I stayed at a “classic” hotel, my guide book was lost.
I will try to keep my wits about me this time. No surprises allowed.