Tokyo to Tokushima
After editing for nearly five days, I thought it was about time to find my way to Tokushima. Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku, is where it all begins. There looked to be several ways to get there, and all of them had one thing in common... It would take a while.
After some research, I settled on an overnight bus from Kawasaki Station to Osaka Station, then a two hour bus ride to Tokushima. The overnight bus was not as bad as it sounds. I reserved the first seat behind the driver, and it was really a high class ride. The seat reclined to nearly horizontal and curtains on every side pulled together tightly enough to block out every bit of light. Combining a night's sleep and travel wasn't a bad deal at all.
I arrived in Osaka in the early morning. Being a workday, Osaka station was not without its normal congestion. The station, like most stations in Japan, were bright, clean and just full of life and activity. I stowed my luggage into a locker and thought I'd explore a little before taking off on a noon bus for Tokushima. One thing I hadn't found yet was a really good English-Japanese dictionary. Luckily, a large bookstore in the station carried two perfect travel-sized ones. I bought both of them since one was geared more towards phrases and just vocabulary. The two together, along with my very broken Nihongo, should be all the communication tools I need for the walk.
I spent a lot of time in Osaka Station, but ventured outside for just one thing. I needed to find a Freshness Burger. I love burgers, and I've had them all. Their burger, to me, puts all others to shame. Let me put it this way, I walked nearly 4 miles to get one. I figured this would be one of my last meals before the walk, and I just really wanted some delicious for lunch. After the walk-lunch-walk, I got my bus ticket from the JR counter and began plotting my trip to Ryozenji, the first temple.
So Unlike The Big City
Tokushima is not a large city at all. The train experience alone clearly paints the difference. Tokushima Station is on the island of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four major islands. The station requires you to physically hand your boarding ticket to a human being. That's right, a living, breathing human being with eyes to greet you and a waist from which to bow. The machines in Tokyo that read and spit out your ticket faster than you can take two steps are no where to be found.
To add to the small city appeal, the stations along the tracks outside of Tokushima have no attendant at all. Sitting in a corner of Bando Station, my stop for Ryozen-ji (Temple 1), is an old vending machine. It sits there quietly, in an open air hut with a few chairs, waiting to trade your money for tickets. A small bridge over the tracks leads you to an even smaller shelter, where you very patiently wait for your return trip.
Let's Get Started
Now, the whole reason I went to Bando Station was to find my way to Ryozen-ji. The first of the eighty-eight temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage starts at this very temple. Not more than a 15-minute walk from the station sits a rather unassuming temple.
My plan was to gather all the requisite gear today and begin my walk the following day. The temple is geared for pilgrims, as there were three different places to purchase the staff, hat, books, and white jacket. Unfortunately, there wasn't a jacket large enough for me and I was told that the next temple would have one. Walking over wouldn't be a problem on this first day, though I also wanted to just sit in the first temple and be a simple observer.
Not being a buddhist, I needed to see how things were done. I sat for about an hour and watched people and groups of people come in to the temple and worship. I identified a similar process between all of them, and was happy to see that what I read before coming here was plenty accurate. After feeling comfortable about carrying myself respectfully and properly in the temple, I started towards the second temple for my larger white jacket.
Walking to the second temple, I smiled nearly the whole way. I was finally really doing it. Yes, I would start from the beginning again tomorrow, but I was finally putting one foot in front the other and starting the pilgrimage. Homes, a few stores, rice paddies and citrus trees. These passed by me like paintings in a museum. Knowing that I'd see much more of this, I was overcome with a calming sense of happiness. I can tell you, it's nothing I've ever felt before.
Hawaii and Japan
Upon reaching the second temple's store, I was greeted by the kindest, sweetest shopkeepers. Two old women helped me with my purchases and were so patient with my horrible Nihongo. I'm glad I spent my money here, as the woman as the first temple was kind and helpful, but a little lacking in sweetness. I imagine they offer a gift to everyone, but the woman who rang up my sale gave me a free lighter for the incense that I'd be burning at each temple. This little gesture meant a great deal to me, and I thanked her profusely. One thing I've always noticed about traveling in Japan is that people are so delighted to hear that I'm from Hawaii. As many Japanese travelers as there are to Hawaii, I am sure that Aloha has somehow touched most people here in one way or another. Almost as soon as I mention Hawaii, I feel the Aloha returned almost instantly. Let me tell you, it's such a warm and welcoming feeling, and the shopkeepers were no exception.
Knowing that I should probably head back to the hotel in Tokushima to prepare for the next day, I wrapped up my purchases and headed back to Bando station. A little anxious? Maybe. Terribly excited, yet quietly calm? Definitely.