Day 20 of our Shikoku pilgrimage walk was special in some ways.
As all of the administrative things regarding Erik’s visa extension and our moving were finally taken care of, there will not be anything that may try to keep us from just walking forward. From here, no more complicated traveling back and forth; we should be able to keep our travel route as a simple extension line.
In a way, today was the actual start of our thru-hike of the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
The trails around T20 Kakurinji 鶴林寺 and T21 Tairyuji 太龍寺 were also very special to us.
The trails are considered one of the hardest parts of the Shikoku Pilgrimage trails, often compared to the T12 Shosanji 焼山寺 trail for the hardness and beautiful scenery along the paths. But for us, these trails mean a lot more than that.
This was the area we lived in for the past several years and cleared every spring and fall (and sometimes even in summer) with a local volunteer trail maintenance group.
We have so many good memories on the trails. If asked which temple is the best of all Shikoku pilgrimage temples, we can say T21 within a second.
Just thinking we would not walk on this part for a while made us, especially Masako, emotional.
The six mountain trails to T21
To have a proper goodbye, we planned to walk four out of the six routes around T21.
- Tairyuji-michi 太龍寺道 – the most commonly used route
- Kamo-michi かも道
- Car pilgrim route to the temple parking lot
- Iwaya-michi いわや道
- Nakayama-michi 中山道
- Kitaji-michi 北地道
- Tairyuji Ropeway 太龍寺ロープウェイ
There are a couple more trails that only local elders and hunters know. Even in the six routes, pilgrims today rarely walk on Nakayamamichi and Kitajimichi routes.
The most-commonly-used route should be like this.
Crossing the Suii bridge 水井橋 over the Nakagawa River 那賀川, going straight up along a beautiful gorge, and following thousands of steps, the Tairyuji-michi trail (❶). After visiting T21, most pilgrims used to walk back a little bit and go down on a concrete paved narrow forest road (❸). Lately, more and more people choose to visit the Kobo-Daishi statue meditating on a cliff called Shashingatake 舎心ヶ嶽 and proceeding to a 4.5 km long mountain trail, the Iwaya-michi route (❹).
This shortest way is still quite challenging and lengthy for regular walking pilgrims to reach T22 from T20 in one day because you have to walk up and down two over 500m high mountains and another small one without any shops to get food along the way.
Meanwhile, our original plan was like this.
- Walking up and down the first T20 mountain and crossing the Suii bridge.
- Instead of going into the Tairyujimichi trail, following the narrow road through Suii village 水井町, and going about 3 km down along the Nakagawa River to Isshukuji temple 一宿寺, the trailhead of Kamomichi route to T21.
- Via Kamo-michi, walking up the T21 mountain.
- Visiting T21 and the Shashingatake sacred site.
- Taking the least-known Kitaji-michi trail to go down the T21 mountain to Michino-eki Washinosato 道の駅 鷲の里.
- About 4 km walk on a car road to the east from the Michino-eki will bring us to Jifukuin temple 地福寺, the trailhead of the Nakayama-michi trail, to go up the T21 mountain again.
- The Nakayama-michi route connects to the Iwayamichi route near Shasingatake cliff so that we will make the last descent on T21 mountain to Asebi village 阿瀬比.
- Then, we will tackle the last lower mountain trail to go over the Ōne-toge pass 大根峠 to get to T22.
Sound crazy, right? Yes, this plan makes us go up and down the T21 mountain twice. Unless we were very fast trail runners without carrying heavy backpacks, it was impossible to make it within one day.
The only way to walk this crazy route plan depended on whether we got a room at Sowaka 道の宿そわか at the corner of the Michino-eki Washinosato.
In the older post, I briefly wrote that Sowaka was not available on the day we got there if we kept walking forward during the Golden Week. That was one of the reasons why we were doing those weird traveling back and forth during the period.
Let’s start talking about how our walk on this part went.
Be prepared; this will be a very long blog, too long to keep in one post…
In the early morning, we left Sakamoto ふれあいの里さかもと by their ride service with other pilgrims. While we said “see you soon” the last couple of times we stayed here, this was the time we had to say “goodbye” to them.
While we were getting food for today and tomorrow and eating light breakfast outside the convenience store near the Mihino-eki Hinanosato, others had walked their way to T20.
No shops and fewer vending machines along T20-T21-T22
Note that this convenience store is a critical food supply point; there will be no convenience stores or grocery stores directly along the route until T23, which is 20 more kilometers further down from T22.
If you don’t mind making short detours, a small Michino-eki in Asebi village between Iwaya-michi trail and Ōne-toge pass trail has a newly-opened udon noodle restaurant and a small local grocery store after T22.
Still, they are not 24 hours 7 days a week kind of shops, so don’t make your food supply plan entirely relying on them.
Regarding the hydration situation, the shocking fact is that T20 doesn’t have a vending machine, unlike other Shikoku pilgrimage temples.
We have seen quite a few walking pilgrims in soaking wet clothes with sweat, sitting hopelessly at a bench in the temple after walking up the brutally steep uphill, looking shocked. I was one of them when I walked my first solo Shikoku Pilgrimage in 2015. When I finally found the first vending machine by the Suii bridge after walking down the T20 mountain, I literally fell on my knees, got two bottles of sports drinks, and drank them at once.
Thankfully, T21 has vending machines at the stamp office and ropeway station. Once you are out from mountain trails, you can find vending machines here and there along car roads.
If you have a water filter, you can certainly have more options. The mountains have small streams with water usually running all seasons, and even T20 has a new (and very big and clean) bathroom.
Kakurinji-michi trail – a rare stone-paved, one of the oldest, pilgrim trail
Dinner and breakfast will be served at Sowaka, and we usually don’t eat much while walking. So we got some energy bars, small bags of chocolates, and gummies. We would instead stop at vending machines frequently and drink sugary drinks to fuel calories.
It was still cloudy and a much lower temperature thanks to raining yesterday, which really helped us walk much more comfortably on the steep trail up to T20.
(Some of the first parts of this trail are, I believe, one of the top 3 steepest uphills of all Shikoku Pilgrimage trails.)
When we got to the viewpoint where every single pilgrim stops and takes photos of the fantastic scenery of the Nakagawa River and the mountains of T21, the sky was completely blue, and the river water was perfect emerald blue-green. So glad I could see the most beautiful condition of the old home.
T20 Kakurinji – the temple of crane forest
Even on Saturday, T20, Kakurinji was unexpectedly quiet, probably still too early morning and getting into the off-season of pilgrims after the Golden Week.
T20 is one of the few temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage that have sacred creatures in their temple names. Even the two temple gatekeepers standing on both sides of the gate and glaring at visitors are cranes here.
When Kobo Daishi (Kūkai) was practicing on this mountain, two white cranes, one male and one female, spread their wings and swooped down on an old cedar to protect a small golden Jizo.The association of temples on the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage
The monk was so delighted by this scene that he carved a 90-centimeter-high statue of Jizo Bosatsu 地蔵菩薩 from a nearby sacred tree, placed a 5.5-centimeter-high golden Jizo inside, and named the temple Kakurin-ji (crane forest) Temple.
The sacred cedar tree the cranes were protected allegedly stood behind the current main hall. Visitors can see a Kobo Daishi statue standing by a tall ancient cedar tree there.
After visiting the main hall and descending the stone stairs to the Daishi-do hall and stamp office, a big group of bus tour pilgrims, all in the same white pilgrims’ attires, led by a monk, came in and cheerfully walked up the stairs. With their chanting chorus as background music, a lady at the stamp office told us they were all the way from Hokkaido island. Even more surprising, they come to the Shikoku pilgrimage yearly; they must be very faithful.
One note about a sign (in Japanese) at the entrance of the mountain trail to go down to the next temp; it warns walking pilgrims not to walk on the Kamo-michi route because it is unmaintained and dangerous. Completely wrong!
Kamomichi trail is undoubtfully the most frequently and well-taken care of trail of all shikoku pilgrimage trails. I can say this with 100 % confidence because we would always clear the trail with the tireless and dedicated local trail conservation volunteer group. Even after a typhoon messed up the trail with fallen trees and landslides, the Kamomichi trail is cleared faster than any other trail in Shikoku.
The infamous knee-crashing steep downhill
We carefully walked down the trail from T20 to the Nakagawa River valleys, as many pilgrims, regardless of their age, get knee pains from this trail with many high steps and steep slopes.
There was still a long way to go today; we tried to walk in a way that did not put too much pressure on our knees.
At the precious, life-saving vending machine near the Suii bridge, we were taking a short break with cold drinks, chatting with our friend grandpa, who happened to come out of his house nearby for a late morning walk.
Suddenly, a monk in his grey monk clothes popped out of the same pilgrim trail we had just walked down.
Like all others, he hurried to the vending machine and got a bottle of water. From the color of his clothes, I asked him if he was a Zen monk, but he said he was a Shingon (the esoteric Buddhism sect Kobo-Daishi founded.) Since he carried a big full-size camera on his backpack shoulder belt, I figured he also liked taking photos.
As we walked together and crossed the Suii bridge, we found that he is the main priest-monk of a temple in a deep mountain village of Kochi. He visits the eighty-eight temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage every year for his temple’s parishioners with their name slips. Though he usually does it by car, this year, after more than ten years, he decided to make his pilgrimage by walking again. So he was carrying the heavy piles of name slips for 88 temples in his backpack.
Since he needed to go as fast as possible, he took the shortest way, the Tairyujimichi route, to T21. Before we parted at the fork, we exchanged our Facebook to keep in touch. Hopefully, we could see each other along the pilgrimage route; even if he walked much faster than us, he would need to pause and go back to his temple whenever temple-related events happened to his parishioners.
To the trailhead of Kamo-michi trail
At the beginning of our extra 3 km walk down to the trailhead temple of Kamomichi route, walking through the idyllic small village, we had a short chat with Yokoi-san, the leader of the trail-maintenance volunteer group.
We walked down a narrow road along the south side of the wide beautiful Nakagawa River, still comfortably under the protection of tree shades.
Approaching the next village where the trailhead temple was located, we passed my old house on the other side of the river. We also saw the big construction project of a new flood protection wall along the river finally completed after a couple of years.
This village and huge rice fields were twice sunk in terrible river floods before, so having this robust flood prevention wall system outlining the village was a long-time dream for its residents. Far from us, on the broad top of the wall, we saw people setting up a big tent for a ceremony commemorating the completion.
Before entering a small path to the trailhead temple, we again stopped at the last vending machine to get some sweet fluid calories. Half of the long day of mountain walking had been done, so far so good.
(To be continued)
The Shikoku Pilgrimage 2022 – Vol.1: late April to mid – June 2022
|Temples||T20, T21||POI visited||––|
|Total Elevation Gain/Loss||1414m/1391m||Highest/Lowest Altitude||549m / 25m|