The owner of the Youth Hostel didn't seem pleased to see me either. Maybe because I was dripping in his genkan. But he let me in nevertheless and I spent a warm and mostly quiet night. Met a Croatian/Italian couple over dinner at a local pub. She's a Shingon practitioner working on her PhD and invited me the next morning for a fire puja at her temple.
That started at 06:00 and by 07:30 I was back at the hostel for breakfast, then on to ceremonies for the Buddha's birthday, which turned out to be less interesting than the fire puja and a lot more difficult to see. It took place in a long, narrow room but only 2 doors at the back were open through which guests were permitted to view the event. What an unwelcoming way to greet your guests on the Buddha's birthday.
After 30 minutes I skipped off to pay my respects to Kobo Daishi, the great Japanese monk who founded Koya and inspired the pilgrimage. He is interred at Okunoin Temple and pilgrims typically begin their journey by paying their respects to his remains. Along the way I bought my pilgrim's gear, including a walking stick and white blouse. The latter normally comes with a printed inscription but the only thing they had in my size was plain. The guy at the store said I could have it inscribed by bush and ink at the temple.
When I got there I asked if the ink wouldn't run when it got wet with rain or sweat. He assured me it wouldn't. He was wrong. I have a sweatshirt with a black skid mark down the back to prove it.
By the time I got back to the guest house and collected my bag and set out it was noon. I had my photo taken at the Daimon before heading down the 20km mountain trail, a beautiful walk through an ancient cedar forest.
I arrived just above the valley floor around 18:00 and found a small covered picnic area that made a perfect place to spend the night. By then I was so exhausted that a couple of oranges and a few biscuits was enough for my stomach. What I needed most was sleep. I had a couple of visitors during the night, a young couple and then a few guys up to admire the view. They were more scared of finding me than I was of seeing them and they left almost as soon as they arrived.
I woke to the sounds of birds and a soft pink light on the horizon.
After packing up, I headed off to follow the river down to the ocean. I started just after 06:00 and walked until about 17:00, with 30 minutes for breakfast and 30 minutes for lunch. By the time I got to Wakayama city on the coast I had walked about 40km and was exhausted. The sky was getting black, rain was starting to fall, and at that point I couldn't imagine hunting for a camping spot in the city. So I checked into a business hotel and had a luxurious hot bath. Also had the good fortune to check into a place with washing machines and free internet service.
And so here I am this morning, washed, in clean clothes, well fed, and ready to walk out to the port to catch the ferry to Shikoku.
I pray for sunshine soon.