Driving across the bridge into Shikoku, my driver (a close friend of mine who had guided me through my first few years in Japan) turned down the music momentarily. I knew the cost of driving over a multi-kilometer bridge would be proportionally much higher than I could possibly reimburse with the funds I had raised for this journey. No, his conversation had nothing to do with bridge costs. He was simple, and complete in his sentiment:
“You’re about to go on an adventure”
He paused, then turned the music back up to a volume high enough to drown out any remainder of conversation as he paid the enormous toll with a smile. How lucky am I to have such friends?
I hadn’t really thought about it that way, though. An adventure? Really? I’d always wanted to go on an adventure, but I hadn’t thought of this as such. It was more of a promise, but that promise drifted in and out as we bumbled our way to the first temple.
Instead I filled my thoughts with checklists. Did I have everything? Did I have my sleeping bag? Yes – Bivy Sack? Check. Wallet? Yes. But something was missing. I know it wasn’t the henro hat, white clothes, or night utensils for food. SO what was it? I had my camping chopsticks and I had settled things. Officially homeless, I had given up my apartment so it wasn’t that. Maybe I forgot… No… I think… Wait, yeah I had…
The car stopped.
I looked outside, at the clock, and then back out. 4:50. The temple would close in 10 minutes, but I still didn’t have all of the items I needed to move one. Where was I going to sleep tonight? Wait… umm, I don’t even know what I’m doing here…. I started through my checklist again. I had a towel… What was it?
So many thoughts like these jostled about for attention while my friend stood outside and waited. A seasoned traveler, he could easily see the look on my face, taking it with stride. He took out a cigarette and just waited.
“Okay… umm… Well, I guess it’s time to go.” I thought. I laced up my shoes, opened his car door and stepped out into an open parking lot.
I remember he stood next to his car smoking, and I remember the temple. The wood, etched with faded designs with roofs cutting swiftly through the sky to shade the thousands of walking ohenro who planned to start their journey here. I remember a mannequin with a variety of henro-fashion, and a gift shop. Across from the temple lay a long road with little homes fitted with their own jet-black roofs, beset by small fields of rice and lined with the sounds of early summer cicada.
I looked back to my friend. He had already taken my backpack out of his trunk and finished smoking. I wanted to plead to be taken home. What is this? This isn’t me. An adult rendered childish by the idea of a hike without an exact location to call ‘home’ to return to… Who was this person so scared? Of course I could fly to America and stay with my parents if need be, but the cost of plane tickets made that idea just as crazy as giving up on the first day, renting an apartment nearby and just stalling that first step forever.
No, it was time to go. But something was missing…
I smiled, my friend said something and I think we hugged before he jumped in his car for the long and expensive drive home.
I looked around again. Such an empty parking lot. One side fit nicely against an array of older Japanese homes, another side simply touched a nearby field (with a convenience store in the distance). And there was an old man under an overhang next to the road.
I remember clearly his quizzical glance. The look of a walker who was beginning his 6th revolution around Shikoku, this time in memory of his late wife. How could I forget that look of slight confusion mixed with a desire to impart knowledge of the first steps? I don’t know, but I knew he knew something. So I walked over and said hello.
I cannot begin to express how much help this man will have given me. As of yet, I didn’t know he planned to make sure I knew every good place to sleep on the cheap. I didn’t know he planned to help teach me the correct temple procedure. And I clearly didn’t know he planned to tell me how unnecessary my mosquito net would be in the summer heat.
Instead I knew just two things….
I can probably sleep under this roof if this guy doesn’t mind.
That and I had forgotten my toothbrush.