Last night’s guesthouse, the Farm Morian Loft, was a truly excellent experience. I enjoyed a superb dinner and a massive breakfast. There were just two rooms and a girl called Tam from Singapore was in the other room. She is attempting all 88 temples. She had paid for room only but the owner gave her a free dinner and breakfast. Every passing minute on this pilgrimage fills me with warmth and gratitude for being able to participate.
After the obligatory photos this morning, I set off into the forest while Tam waited for her friend. The trail climbed and fell as it crossed valleys and ridges towards temple 13 while the road twisted and turned somewhere else. The Japanese birds have their own language and they make some strange sounds all around.
I walked with a Japanese pilgrim for a while and we had a simple conversation. He told me he was 71 and had 2 grandchildren etc. It was exactly the same conversation we’d practiced in Japanese class and it made all the effort worthwhile.
I stopped to eat my bento box picnic lunch which included a chocolate bar packed full of nuts, washed down with a cold bottle of Acquarius from a handy vending machine, 160 yen. After that it was a straight walk along a busy road to Temple 13. Despite the traffic, the temple was peaceful and I sat in the shade for an hour. A bus load of Japanese pilgrims arrived and chanted the sutras for that temple, said their prayers and were gone.
Sandrine and Erika have now joined me in the local ryokan. I’m starting to get a feeling for how accommodation works. There are usually several B&Bs near the temple where most pilgrims stay. The cost is 6000 to 7000 yen including dinner and breakfast and they all have a washing machine and soap powder. In theory you don’t need to bring any clothes because they provide a yakata which you wear indoors and outside. There are no Camino style hostels with rows of bunk beds; everyone has their own room which has everything you need except a chair and bed. You sit on the tatami mat and sleep on a futon. Also, there are regular western hotels with beds in the towns.
And there are slippers for every occasion. Indoor slippers, outdoor slippers, bathroom slippers and of course toilet slippers. But you mustn’t wear any slippers on the tatami mats. It’s quite amusing to me but learning about shoes and slippers is one of the most important cultural lessons in Japan. The switch over must occur in the designated area called a genkan. If you’re not in this genkan you will either contaminate your socks or the inside of the house. As you move between the various clean and dirty zones of the house you swap into the appropriate slippers being sure to leave them pointing in the right direction ready for the next person. It goes without saying that the very worst thing you can do is to forget to swap out of your toilet slippers when reentering the clean house. All of this applies not only in your home but anywhere “indoors” in Japan. I remember my first trip to Japan: Japan Airlines swapped me into slippers at the entrance to the plane.