Milepost 700

I sit at the penultimate goal, a mere four kilometers from temple 88. The morning has been full of little surprises, nearly all blessings, and I find myself as expected pensive and mellow. This will be the last temple in the main route before I truly close the loop and return to temple number one where my journey began nearly four years ago.

The day began as most do, at two-thirty in the morning and unable to sleep due to the cold night air. So I did as I am wont to do, I picked up my bags and started walking with my sleeping bag draped around my shoulders for warmth. I must have looked a horrid sight to the occasional motorist, shuffling through the midnight air, hunched and humpbacked. After about fifteen minutes I came across another cache of vending machines and bought myself a warm canned coffee to condition my spirits from within. The dark of the country at three a.m. is quite inhibiting, I must inspect every street post and guard rail for signs about the route to the next temple lest I wander off the trail.

After another twenty minutes I found a rest spot for henros. Many of these which are generously built by the townspeople house a small shrine to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. It’s always a delicate situation in how to treat one of these rest spots, there may be cushions to sit on, but sleeping in a shrine is really pushing it and irreverent. But in this case it was the middle of the night, and there was a carpeted area in front of the altar with a cushion, so I begged forgiveness and used the warmth of the four walls to catch 90 minutes deep sleep in my bag before moving on and leaving the place exactly as I found it, aside from a small offering in the donation box.

By dawn I had arrived the Michi on Eki (road market), the last before the final temple. It was seven and a large number of senior citizens were gathering to gossip, laugh, and chat. At first I thought it was simply the hip place for locals to gather, but when the market opened at seven-thirty, I saw they were all workers and had assembled for the day’s undertaking. A lady gave me a package of tomatoes as _settai_ (offering), and another carpenter bought me another coffee before expressing to me his love of America and all the country had done for his land. I had to shake his hand for a solid five minutes it seemed before he happily bid my farewell and continued on his way.

For the first time in days I saw myself in the mirror. Insect bites cover my face, and my skin is dry and worn. Lest the benefits of washing and sleep go ignored my appearance is a testament to the trials of times of old. It was not my intention to run myself down, but my own pride to eke out a minimalist life of quasi-asceticism has produced such. Though I look and feel exhausted, there is a part of my heart that is exceedingly calm, perhaps that is the part of the body the pilgrimage exercises the most.