Japan day 12
Japan day 12
Takamatsu-Himeji 51 km
A truth that has forcefully emerged over time on my travels is that the more simply you travel and live, the more people will stretch out the hand of kindness and generosity. But sometimes you have to remain steadfast in your resolution to see it happen. More of that later.
Before I headed off for the first of the day’s two ferries, I attached my new sign to the bike
….kindly made by Sachiko, with the all important Japanese kanji characters, to complement the romaji. Now everyone should be able to read it.
The day’s plan was to take the one hour crossing to Tonosho, on the small island of Shodoshima
….cross the island following the northern coastal (hilly) road to Fukuda, then catch the ferry to Himeji on the biggest of the four major islands, Honshu.
The big attraction about Himeji is its castle, locally known as the Egret (because it is white, and looks like an egret from a certain angle), standing prominently over the city.
No sooner had I ridden off the first ferry onto Shodoshima when I heard a drone-like chanting coming out of a doorway, and picked up the distinctive smell of incense sticks being burned. I stopped and looked in. The small assembled crowd of pilgrims jostled around to make room for me to join then, and I spent 10 minutes enjoying the sound of a monotone chant, but in three part harmony. Quite extraordinary really…..and, of course, the location was a tiny Buddhist temple, and these pilgrims were travelling around the island’s temples on a pilgrimage, known locally as the henro.
Wherever I go in the world, I come across local variants of religious belief and spirituality, all of which point to an unmistakable truth: it seems to be programmed into the human DNA to look to a source of energy and guidance that is beyond this world. Each manifestation of this, despite national and cultural differences, betrays common characteristics at every level, including the manner of prayer and worship.
When I got to Himeji, having picked up a city plan from Information, I went immediately to the principal Shinto Shrine
and asked if I could pitch my tent in the garden. This caused a stir amongst several members of staff, and they really tried to persuade me to go to a hotel or guest house. I gently stood my ground, but I knew it was a non-starter, because they locked up the whole site at 6pm for security.
However, one of the young men, in his Shinto robes, jumped on his bike and took me a couple of kms away from the centre to a smaller shrine, and arranged with the caretaker for me to sleep there.
Then things really began to happen. He phoned a friend, Yoshi, a retired teacher who spoke some English, and he came to meet me. He was obviously excited at the prospect of practising his English, so arranged with Masaaki (the caretaker) to bring some sake (rice wine), which we drank hot (a tradition here), and some snacks….
….and we sat on cushions on the floor in the shrine office talking the evening away, and Yoshi has promised to take me around the sights of Himeji in the morning, and have lunch together before I leave for Kobe.
None of this would have happened if I had weakened on my resolve to sleep in my tent, and allowed myself to be persuaded to take a hotel room.