It was an early morning. I was taking the 5 am train to Matsuyama and then heading into the mountains south of the town to start the day.

It was dark and cold, but even still a guy walking during the morning hours greeted me and asked me about my trip (with pretty good English). The train ride was long, but I was on an express train which has seating for everyone. The first two temples I was visiting today were 44, Daihoji and 45, Iwayaji. Both are in the mountains to the south of town. I knew that it was going to take a bit of time to get there, which is why I took the early train out.

I would say Matsuyama is what I expected from a big city in Japan. People were out all over the place, there were shops and malls everywhere and it felt alive. I dropped my stuff at the hotel and made my way to the bus station where I took the bus into the mountains. Through the twists and turns around the mountain road another two henro got on the bus. As we got off the bus I said goodbye to the other henro and quested on to temple 44. Through a quiet neighborhood and into the tall dark woods, temple 44 appeared in the darkness. It was a huge contrast just a couple minutes away. This forest had tall large trunked trees that sprouted out everywhere. A small path led me up a hill and into the temple. The feeling was as if I had stepped into a fairy tale, the ground seemed perfectly made with tree roots building steps for the wandering traveler, the trees lined the paths as if they were marking the way to go. It was cool in the shade compared to the sun which was bearing down just beyond the trees. I knew that I had a long journey ahead of me that day, so I got my book signed and started off to the next temple.

These two temples are the only ones that are in the mountains in this area. You visit 44 and 45 and then head into town for the other temples.

Temple 45, Iwayaji is to the east of 44. You take the mountain paths and some follow roads. There are some paths that I have taken which have just been some stairs followed by rocks made to be stairs and worn paths. Part of the path from 44 to 45 was made up concrete slabs that looked like they had been there for a very long time. They dipped and rounded through the mountains and even when there was a river had platforms to jump across. The sun was shining and up on the mountains the trees were starting to turn already. The path was the most scenic I had been on so far.

I should of looked at the map before I headed out as I was caught off guard by some of the hills I had to climb. I was already on top of a mountain, what hills could exist? As I got near temple 45 there are two paths you can go. A longer path that takes the side of the road to the temple or through the mountains. I was actually going to take the road, but as soon as I came to fork in the road, this old guy came down the mountain path totally okay, good shape, smiling and told me to be careful and that the temple was that way which he came from. So I ended up taking the mountain path. I really do not understand how some of these older folks do it. Some of the climb was through just pure jagged rock and it just kept going. Once you got up one ramp another went up , it was like the original mario game, but with no ladders in between and it went on for ever.

Then once I reach the top, it was time to come down. The decline was steep and intense. The trees had littered the ground with pines cones so while I tried my best to get footing, most of the time it felt like I was skating on top of them. When it looked like I had gotten to the bottom, it kept going, but now with long tall rock steps. Finally the trees opened a bit and the gate appeared next to a cliff side. This temple is famous because the priests built their home in the side of the cliff. When you get a look at the main temple the cliffside is the backdrop which makes it truly memorable.

To get back to where I needed to go, there was a bus that picked up down below at a bus stop. It was the only bus for another three hours so I needed to make it. I thought the stop was close to the temple, but I was wrong. I had five minutes to get down to the bus stop and from the temple there is another descent down steps that wind around and around.

I respectfully jogged down those steps. There were these flags that lined both sides of the path all the way down that encouraged me to keep going and I could make it. I hit the parking lot at the base and saw the bus stop across a bridge. A small hut marked where the waiting spot was. As I approached to lay my stuff down I noticed two people inside the small hut.

It was the two henro that I had taken the bus with earlier. One was an older gentleman that smoked and kept the ash in a small cylinder on his belt. He could speak a little bit of english, but I could understand some of his Japanese to carry on a conversation. The other guy was a middle age man who had good spirits to him. They had been waiting there a bit so I know I didn’t miss the bus. It turned out that I did not need to rush down from the temple, because the bus was around forty minutes late. It was alright though, the none expected situations is what makes the adventure an adventure. We rode the bus to the station in town to catch another bus. The old henro was done for the day, but the other henro and I would continue on. When we got dropped off at the bus stop to continue to the next temple the old henro waved all the way till we couldn’t see the bus anymore. Even if I just met him, it was sad to part so soon. My new companion and I made our way down a path that was lined with solar panels and a clear view of the city. It was a beautiful site and one that you could only enjoy if you knew where to stop.

Temple 47 - Yasakaji

The path we took roped us around these large bends in the mountain that had what looked like kids drawings on these boards. Each one had a message about stopping pollution with a picture go along with it. A lot of earths smiling or frowning.

Soon we passed a few lakes and entered into a neighborhood that held the next two temples. Temple 46, Joruriji, while it is in the neighborhood it feels as if it isn’t. With trees that section if off from the rest of the world and the mountains framing the background, when inside it feels like you are somewhere else.

My new companion told me it was his last temple for the day and good luck on my trip. I did not get his name, but I wished him the best of luck and to be careful. I left down the street bowing and giving thanks to the company I had for the day.

The next temple, Yasakaji was just down the street about fifteen minutes. As I approached I noticed something white sitting at the main gate. As I got closed I noticed it was a cat. It sat on a bench just beyond the main gate on the left side. When I bowed and moved through it payed no attention to me and kept staring out at the street. It turned out there were a lot of cats at this temple. They just chilled everywhere not caring who was passing by. The main temple was up a set of stairs and a old women and her son where at the temple as well. She started a conversation with me, asking the usual things and explaining on how surprised she was that I was so young and doing the pilgrimage.

I will tell you that she inspired me a bit. She was in a wheel chair, but had a lot of life to her and even with her age and condition she still made her way out here to pray and give thanks. I prayed, said goodbye to her and her son and went to get my book stamped near that main gate. When I opened the door to go into the temple office I was greeted by more cats. One was snacking on some cat food in a bowl off to the right and another literally sat next to the window where you got your book signed and stamped. This cat didn’t care, it sat their looking around and closing its eyes for a quick nap then peering around again. Pretty amazing to see animals that are so used to humans.

After that I walked into town which was not my greatest idea. The sun dropped quickly and a lot of Japan I noticed does not have the best street lighting so some of the path was dangerous for the me and the cars on the road, but through the semi dark I reached the train station and went back towards my hotel for the night. I ended with some kimichi ramen for dinner and called it a night.

Matsuyama Uwajima
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