William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

86. Weekend Road Trip, Part Two: Matsuyama to Imabari

Written from notes taken July 19-21

The attendants got me far enough away from the snoring that I was able to sleep a fair bit, and I woke up feeling refreshed and ready. (It was a good thing indeed that we had bathed the night before.)

We got on the road early, and we found our way back to the temple route. The road to 47 and 46 was largely one-lane, yet the neighborhood was moderately busy and some of the mirrors that were supposed to let you see around the corners didn’t. Nevertheless, it felt good to be back on the pilgrim path (even if driving).

Temple 46 had an amazing flower garden next to the premises – it had attracted a lot of serious photographers with elaborate equipment who wanted to capture the images of the beautiful flowers in the morning sunlight.

Temple 48 had a neat little bonsai cultivation operation going. Also the others got to talk to / be talked at by a humourful drunk while I was waiting on a bench in the shade of the temple office.

Temples 49 and 50 were scenic and well-situated; at 50 we made the acquaintance of a 75-year-old man who was doing the pilgrimage. He talked to us under a shady awning while he finished his beer.

I had been exposed to the idea that a lot of older folks do the pilgrimage. What I didn’t know was that the pilgrimage doesn’t really stop after 88. After you finish one round, you can start buying these sutras on which you write people’s wishes and leave them in appropriate places – this is in exchange for the gifts (osettai) that pilgrims receive from the sympathetic public. After ten, twenty-five, and fifty rounds, the sutras change color. After 100, you start getting beads.

This man, walking (and sometimes cycling) the entire pilgrimage three to four times per season, was on his 363rd trip. He must have been doing it steadily since he retired, as many older people do. He described the many times he found himself hip-deep in snow on some of the more remote parts of the pilgrim path.


We took our leave and drove to Temple 51 – this was back in the middle of town again, so we had to pay to park, but it was only 200 yen, refreshingly informal, and we paid it when we parked.

Temple 51 was massive. There were so many little things to see there that I can’t really get into it. We did, though, take a long climb up to the top of the hill it was at the foot of – from there we got fantastic views of the city (although the most spectacular views were yet to come…). And guess what? We ran into our friend again at the convenience store, where he was getting another beer! He drinks a light, low-carb beer after every temple.

Back on the road, we cut a line straight through the city, and this was worth doing as the streets were pretty, and Matsuyama’s trams were worth a look, too. I meant to stop somewhere for lunch, but I never found an inviting enough place. Fortunately most of us, instinctively knowing how these things usually go, had stocked up at the convenience store across from the temple.

We reached the extensive grounds of Temple 52, at some distance northwest of the city proper. 52 was built on a mountain, and the temple seemed to go from bottom to top; we drove in about as far as we could, which involved ginger, nearly straight-up climbs on a one-lane drive. I missed one parking lot after another, but in the end it was probably a good thing that we got high up, because that’s where all the good stuff turned out to be anyway.

After poking around at the top of the temple, F. discovered some stairs (she has a knack for this) and after she disappeared, A. and I followed.

We walked and climbed and climbed and walked. And then the path split; we could continue walking around the mountain, or climb to the top. It said it was a short trail, only a few hundred meters. But most of it was vertical! There was still no sign of F.

By the time we reached the top, I was very hot and dripping with sweat such that my glasses were covered in droplets. But the view – there was a rewarding vista with views of the city, the port, nearby islands and mountains, jeweled with the blue sky and the bluer Seto Inland Sea.

After I took a trillion pictures, we climbed back down to the main path and decided to keep to it, figuring that we might either run into F. or find our way right around the mountain. But after a while it felt like we weren’t going to wrap around, and I didn’t want to have to hail a cab in some other town just to get back to the temple, where D. and K. were probably waiting for us and already wondering if we’d been eaten by wolves. The sight of a tree fallen across the path sealed it for me – I interpreted it as a sign, and we doubled back.

Back at the van, we found F. sitting in its shade reading a book! She’d been back for about 15 minutes, and she had also gone up to the summit, but she continued all the way around the mountain and ended up back in some other part of the temple. One of the things that kept A. and I from trying it was that the kanji for each direction on the signs were different (though I held out hope they meant ‘clockwise’ and ‘counter-clockwise’), but F. was brave enough to go for it anyway. K. and D. found us soon afterwards – and it was now 4:00. More than two hours had elapsed. We drove back down the hill, stopping at the temple office so I could get my book stamped, and at last we set off for Temple 53.

Temple 53 was a nice, easy, small temple – a refreshing change after two mega-temples. And guess who we saw? Yep, our septuagenarian friend, and he beat us to it!

After 53, we set our sights towards Imabari. It was going to be too late to visit any more temples, but we could go up and find a place to stay there. Unfortunately, F. and K. thought that we could find a campground by a lake up in the mountains. =) Such was indicated in D.’s guidebook, but we couldn’t find it on the prefectural map or on the nav.

After eating at a Joyful along the new alignment of Highway 196, we took a turn into the hills. It started to get dark. Before long, we were wandering one-lane mountain roads in the dark, searching in vain. We did find some kind of factory at the top of one creepy, steep road. The jokes and laughter and comic gasps flowed freely.

After a while, we gave up and made a bee-line for Imabari. It should be noted that since we were already up in the hills, the road in that direction was going to be kind of rustic. Sure enough, it was – but it was a lot of fun to drive. After the better part of an hour of utter darkness and innumerable twists and turns. I remember seeing this bright, shiny overhead sign announcing that we were entering Imabari City – it’s just one example of all the mergers that are now commonplace with outlying Japanese cities, and after absorbing many townships and villages this border was way up here in the hills – and then it was back to the utter darkness and innumerable twists and turns.

We got back onto a National road – 317, the main road across the mountains – while still in the mountains, but this road was significantly easier, busier, and two-laned.

In Imabari I ran a red light while looking ahead to a McDonald’s, because I was looking for a place to park and get my bearings. At this point people were starting to express concern and wonder if I was tired. I think this particular snafu would have happened anyway, though – it was dark, and the intersection was so small and tight that I just didn’t see it.

To my dismay, there were no obvious all-night cybercafés to be found in the city, and so I decided to head south along the coast and find a campground that was on my own pilgrimage map. I couldn’t find it on my nav system, so I had to stick to the costal streets and hope for the best.

Well, I did find a beach. The road I was left on to get to it was so narrow in places that I had to push the switch to pull in the side mirrors – it’s great that feature is there, because I needed it too many times on this trip.

And so there we were, parked at a beach, the hour growing late. No cybercafé, no preparation (on my part), and probably no sleep. This was a mess. My inner dialogue was something like, “Frkkkk. IRGHJfjjekkkk. KzHHHzzzzT… doe-s no…t com-put.*”

We couldn’t readily agree on what to do, and I certainly didn’t have the wakefulness necessary to think or plan, so we ended up defaulting to … nothing. I tried to prepare myself for sleeping on a concrete ledge, the only sure way to escape the inevitable snorer. It didn’t really work, it wasn’t very comfortable and there were a few too many mosquitoes.

I went back to the van and fired up the nav system – after a few minutes and some jigging I found the campground I was actually looking for. I had pulled to the coast one inlet too soon. I decided to share my information, even though I knew very well it was too late at night to be served there anyway – this idea was rightly put down straight away. A few more ideas and counter-ideas were bandied about, some of them involving me driving to find a hotel (one person even volunteered to help pay for it) or cybercafé and then coming back in the morning. But I think I was too tired to process that or accede to anything, really. I couldn’t turn off my frustration – I wanted to be anyplace but there. Stupid beach, stupid trip, stupid mosquitoes, stupid other-person-who-snores-who-has-to-sleep-alone, stupid Japanese navigation system, stupid Japan!!

I decided to just go to the van and take my chances in the passenger seat before I got the company I feared would keep me awake all night. Maybe I’d get an hour of sleep or something. K. came along soon after and straightened up the back seats of the van so that I could sleep there, as I was the driver. I murmured in protest, insisting the passenger seat was fine – mostly out of guilt for the trouble I was causing others. We almost had an argument; I apologized for not being proactively cooperative because my frustration prevented it; she retaliated, perhaps rightly, pretty much stating that I wasn’t being cooperative at all. I think I was making things more complicated than they had to be; in retrospect, I should have driven D. and A. to a convenience store, bought a Red Bull, and attempted to ask directions to a cybercafé. But such a valiant, progressive action didn’t occur to my ragged pate.

I crawled into the back and got a few precious hours of sleep.
Tags: beaches, ehime, japan, matsuyama, road trips, temples, travel

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