Beginning the Cycle

OKUBOJI 大窪寺 88

The morning started like all the other mornings. I packed up all my gear, made sure all things were with me. Said goodbye to my room and thanked it for its shelter. Checked out and thanked hotel staff. It was early and the streets that were busy last night were empty and somber.

Some people came out and in from buildings carrying some boxes preparing for the day and their business. My roller luggage which I was happy to have, but disrupted the silence with its wheels scrapping against the grooved pavement. I would be returning to Shido station where I caught a train yesterday. It was a nice place with a seating area and small sweets shop close by. The bus that went to temple 88 picked up there. My plan was to ride the bus up to the half way mark and then walk the rest of the way. When I got to the station the station office looked as if it was closed. I planned to keep my luggage there until I returned, so this took my by surprise. A quick couple knocks on the door though revealed it was fully staffed and getting ready for the day. For a small fee they stored my luggage and I was on my way for the day. The bus was on time, as usual, but there were some other buses that were very close to the same time as this one, so it was a bit stressful. Getting on the wrong bus would put me in the opposite direction.

The bus picked up a few people here and there and then it reached the end of the city and it stopped for a minute to pick up some henro. It was the Taiwanese henro from yesterday. They had their bags on these trolleys and were super excited. I sort of got smashed into a window for most of the ride. When we got to the stop that I was going to get off at, I decided that I would rather continue with the rest of the henro on the bus. I was prepared to climb the rest of the mountain, but I was enjoying the company. I tried to reason with my self, as I felt a bit guilty at first that I was not going to walk the last temple, but after a bit of time I realized a couple of things.

Regretting gets me no where (I didn’t regret it anyway, but thought about the future), all these people could of went to this temple at any time and at any day, but here we all were, and last that I was confident and completely okay with my decisions. What ever decisions I made, I knew I would be okay and had confidence that I could make the best of it. So I rode the bus up to temple 88.

Like all mountain roads it winded here and there and the windows started to fog up from the amount of people on the inside and the cool mountain air outside. Soon a street appeared with buildings on both sides. The bus pulled off and let us off.

Autumn colors hung on the trees surrounding us and a small town built on the street had people coming out to see us. There was a couple places to eat, some shops for souvenirs and henro gear and a large sitting area. In between the buildings were some stone stairs that led up to the temple.

Ever since I started the journey I wondered what the temple would look like. It was in the mountains and it was the last temple in the pilgrimage. As I climbed up the stairs more henro appeared at the top near the main temple. It stood up against the mountains and grey sky. Smoke rose to the left of the stairs that led up to it and past that the temple office was a small ornate building with people crowding to get their book stamped. Everyone was in high spirits. I prayed and thanked Kukai for the journey and keeping me safe along the way. I also prayed for the rest of the henro that would make the journey. And a bunch of other things I prayed for as well.

Before I got my book signed I was sitting down taking in the scene and a man was next to me. We had our stuff set in near the same location. He had just started his journey, but was doing it in the opposite direction. So going from temple 1 to temple 88 and reverse order. His name was Mitchell and he spoke excellent English. We talked for a few minutes about the trip and we took a picture together. I wished him safe travels on the rest of his journey and went to get my book signed. I wanted to film them signing my book as I had not done that yet, but they did not allow filming, so I missed the opportunity. When they finished I flipped through all the pages astonished that I had actually been to all the places signed in the book.

88 temples visited.

This temple I once thought was so far away and now I was standing in it. Time had flown by. I took a stroll through the temple. From the main temple there is a path that wraps around the mountain side and leads you to the main gate and the daishido. There is also a place where you can pay and get your staff placed. It is a large glass container with tons of staffs stuffed inside. As I returned to the street to head back to the bus I noticed the group of Taiwanese henro taking pictures. I motioned that I could take their picture for them since one was always being left out. After I wanted to take a picture with my phone of them, but they thought I wanted a picture with them so I got one with three of them haha we soon crowded back on the bus and headed back down the mountain. I retrieved my luggage and took a look at the train schedule.

There was still one place to visit before the journey ended and another one started.

Main temple

Temple 88









Main gate




The street below the temple filled with shops and some places to eat



To complete the circle one must return to the place it all started. Not to return to nostalgia or remember what it was like, but to experience the beginning as the end. To see the beginning with the knowledge and understanding of the end. Maybe life is like this?

The next train that would take me back to temple one was about an hour and half away. My new friends had moved to the small sweets shop outside for something to eat so I decided to follow them in and check it out.

The building looked like a green house, large tall pointed ceiling made out of glass that followed all the way to the ground. Sweets wrapped in decorated boxes were displayed all over with some chairs and tables strung about. A small counter with a few girls out looking the shop stood in the back. I ordered a hot chocolate and some pancakes. Pancakes in japan are more of a dessert then a breakfast. Most come with ice cream and plenty of whipped cream. For some reason the Taiwanese group was in a big hurry. I knew they were heading the same way I was, but was not sure if they had something planned in between. They payed for their drinks said goodbye and ran off to the train station. I looked at my phone and the schedule. I figured I would see them again today if my train knowledge was correct.

For a moment I sat alone taking in the silence of the building and that this was truly the last temple. I went through all the memories I had collected through the last month. It did not turn out like I thought it would before I started, but if I learned anything, nothing ever really does. Hindsight is always 20/20 to a degree. Life can be un-expecting, plans change and the anticipation is often the most enjoyable part. No one really enjoys hiking up a mountain, stressing themselves, being lost in a forest or worrying about where they might find shelter in the rain.

An adventure though? with new places and exciting trails? from the nice comfort of where you might be it seems like the trick, the one thing missing, but as I quickly found out. The hero of a story is only the hero to everyone else. To themselves the “heroic” journey is just life. My journey wasn’t anything heroic. I was not saving a princess, or defeating any evil, well maybe trying to defeat my own, but it was more of a journey to expand my horizon. To see what else lay out there, reset a bit and gain some perspective. And maybe figure out what to do with my life. Which at the end, the answer is still unanswered. No lighting bolt, no divine dreams. Just life. The opportunities that existed before, exist now. It has not changed. What I gathered is that action is required, and that most things in life are not that hard. You start and figure it out. As I sat I still had a hard time believing the things I did. Honestly I must of been crazy, but here I was at the end.

Enough reflection over some pancakes. I finished my hot chocolate, which was very bitter, and caught my train. I threw on my headphones and enjoyed the ride until my transfer station. I took the limited express train and transfered to the local train to reach Bando station. When I transfered and the train doors opened I smiled.

The Taiwanese group was on the train and they lit up when they saw me. They had rushed to grab the local train which takes you all the way to Bando, but stops at all the stations in between. I greeted them again and sat across. This time walking to temple 1, I knew sort of where I was going. The group and I followed the green line that was set up and things looked familiar. When we reached the temple however it looked different to me.

Last time I had visited it was covered in fog, the sky was grey and there was no one around. Now it was bright, some people where here and there and I could see the rest of the temple. We crossed the street and set our stuff next to the main gate. I gathered my candle, incense and henro bag for one more offering and prayer for the temples. The main temple was near the back. Inside of it a hundred lanterns hung from the ceiling giving off small yellow light. I read the heart sutra and Kukai’s name three times, bowed and went to get my book signed. When I handed the monk my book to be signed he flipped through it and gave a “Sugoi” (amazing) he turned to a blank page near the end and stamped, signed it and dated it. He congratulated me for handed the book back to me.

The lady that had greeted me in the beginning asked if I would like some tea. I could never refuse tea so I obliged. A cup of green tea and a small sweet was perfect. I sat in the shop out looking all the gear that others would come to buy in preperation for their journey and watched other people get their books signed and stamped. I had drained all my emotion the last couple of days, but as I walked back out to the temple grounds and walked around, the feeling was not of loss, but gratitude that I was able to be apart.

I had completed the circle and experienced something that was deeply rooted in me now. We had an hour or so before the next train, so we hung around the temple. I took some pictures, helped close a shutter on a building, meditated and relaxed. It turned out that we were all staying in Tokushima that night so we had one more train ride together. As the time got closer we gathered our things and hurried back to the train station along the green line. I felt a bit odd as I had my roller luggage and I decided to just carry it. I felt like a pirate carrying a treasure chest, heaving it down the street in my arms. By the station where the green line starts there is a sign that says good luck on the journey, on the way back, the same sign on the back side congratulated us on finishing. It was a cool touch. It was a short train ride to Tokushima, we got off I said my final goodbyes to the group and thanked them for everything.



The main temple





I walked to my hotel which was a bit far away. I set all my stuff aside and sat for a moment to catch myself. I flipped through the henro book looking at all the ink and red stamps. I smiled, set it aside and went out to grab lunch. Life continues.

Thank you to everyone for reading about my journey and supporting me. Without it this would much harder. I pray for the safety of all current and future pilgrims and thank Shikoku for being so kind and hosting me. I will never forget this journey. I will one day make it again. I know I shall return. Until them. Thank you, safe travels and Cheers!

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