Mother, may I take five giant steps?

Free again from the strictures and bindings of towns, we returned to the mountains for Temple 20. Kakurinji Temple of the Crane Forest was a far less arduous hike than the tripe up Temple 12, but it was no less tiring. We started on the road, would up around the base of the mountain, and then, finally, reached the dirt trail. Even at seven in the morning, the day was hot and muggy. Wisely, we stopped for fresh, cool water every time it was made available.

Along the road, we avoided someone spraying pesticides in a space-suit (really, it looked like the Intel Bunny Guy – I used to have one, but someone stole it off my desk), accepted Ossetai of tomatoes and cucumbers (and salt! She gave us a salt shaker!), and we found a Grateful Dead sticker on a car. This last novelty prompted me to start singing all the Dead songs I could remember, as well as any camp songs.

The trip was hard, don’t get me wrong, but once we got on the mountain and off the road, I was doing much better. It was steeper with fewer switchbacks than anything we’d yet done. At one point, we walked up some small stairs rather than follow the trail because it was easier. Mountain King Boone met his match, and by the time we got to the temple, everyone was beat. We ate some ‘salad a fresco’, the last granola bars, and chugged our water.

We had arrived at the temple just as it opened, and a priest ran out to show up the fresh water (which was from a hose, so naturally there was a little spraying of personage involved). The place was cool, safe and very wonderful. We listened to the early morning serenade of nature and in general we were pleased with ourselves. A couple little old ladies had driven up, and gave us the stink eye that we’d beaten them (or that we were gaijin, it was unclear). Dad helped everyone tape up knees and feet while we relaxed. It was only 10:30AM, but already it was in the mid 80s (F), and we had another mountain to climb.

That was the plan, at least. We were intending to hike back down 20, follow the road around the mountain to 21, and the up 21. Boone and I speculated on how this wouldn’t happen. As we made the short (2.6km) trek down, the steepness was brutal. My knee was holding up okay, though, because it wasn’t as twisty turny. That and it was taped up. Boone’s feet started to swell up, sadly, and nothing was helping them. The really hard part was when we got to the Giant Steps. They were so wide you always ended up stepping down on the same foot. It was like playing Mother May I.

Even taped up, we all petered out at the bottom. Too hot, too tired, too sore, and it wasn’t even noon! One member of our party couldn’t tie his shoes. He had to wrap the laces around the whole of his shoe instead! Thankfully, while Shikoku is remote and lacks WiFi, it has a great bus system, taxis and phones. One 11km car ride later, we were at the Minshuku for the night. The rooms were, surprisingly, ready, so we stashed our gear and took a Gondola up the back side of 21. Had we walked, it would have only been 6 or so km, but the Gondola only comes up the back of 21.

Temple 21 is, by far, the richest of all the temples. It was so huge and sprawling, Boone and I got lost trying to find everything. After wandering and exploring, we found everything and everyone, including the party members who opted to walk. We took the Gondola back down just as the rain started. It was a nice drizzle and quickly turned into a downpour when we hit the hotel. The valley, as Dad explained, was in a micro climate, and thus was totally different than the rest of Japan.

I was, yet again, the only woman at the hotel. They were expecting a group of women who were Henroing by bus later that evening, so I was asked to wait for my bath. I was fine with that, and figured out how to pick up Sumo on the TV. We watched with the sound off while Dad and Boone and the boys got their bath in. I had to wait over an hour, but finally around 5pm, I got my turn. After all that fuss about making sure the Gaijin Girl didn’t have to bathe with the boys, what do you think happened? A dude walked in. I was shaving my legs, like you do, and washing my hair when in walked the guy. He went to the far corner of the the bathroom, I stayed in mine, and we didn’t look at each other. I really could have done without it, truth be told, but I was in Japan, and that’s just how it goes.

Sumo was still on when I got back, and I told the boys what had happened. Dad was pleased that I hadn’t lost my hippie bohemian ways living in Chicago. Generic nudity is something I can easily separate from sexual nudity. Boone was a little surprised and I think worried. He’s 17, it’s hard to tell concern on a teenager’s face sometimes. The joke turned out to be on the dude, of course. Five women went in after me, his tour group, and proceeded to give him shit. He was apparently supposed to wait until they had finished. At dinner, he was pretty much mortified about the whole thing.


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