Ruth: There are relatively few foreigners on the Shikoku pilgrimage route, so we tend to spend our time with the Japanese that we meet. As the lovely temples begin to blur together, what stands out more for me each day are the wonderful interactions we have with locals.
When we were planning our trip to Japan I told Gord that I definitely would not be sampling any pufferfish. Only licenced people can clean and prepare this fish because it contains toxins that are 1200 times more toxic than cyanide. A single fish can kill up to 30 people. Why would anyone take the risk? Then our lovely Warmshowers host offered us each a bowl of his homemade pufferfish soup and I ate it. The fish was very tender and delicate and we survived the night.
After dinner we spent the evening watching a sumo wrestling tournament with our host. Another activity I never thought I could get into. He explained that the sport is now dominated by the Mongolians, but many Eastern Europeans have also made it into the top ranks. We watched a massive Georgian easily win his match.
Sumo is a sport that could only have been created and sustained in Japan. Coloured by ancient Shinto traditions, the sport has barely changed since the Edo period in the 16th century – right down to their period hair do’s. I’m not sure what the life expectancy was in the Edo period, but for modern sumo wrestlers it’s between 60 and 65. Shinto elements also remain a big part of the sport, including throwing salt into the ring as a purification ritual. Like so many things we encounter in Japan, ancient traditions exist in parallel with the country’s modernity.
We continue to be so impressed with the kindness of the Japanese people we meet. Today we met a man who showed us his album documenting all the foreigners he had met on countless henros and a Camino in Spain. We were his 69 and 70th Canadians. Then we got into a competitive osettai match with him. We exchanged name slips (his was golden, indicating he has done the pilgrimage between 50 and 100 times) and we gave him some Canada pins. He then went to his car and brought us back a cut paper wild boar thingy. Gord countered up with a Canadian bandana. And then he gave us a towel, so I did a small painting in his book. After we left the temple he spotted us again near a convenience store where he beckoned us to sit down as he bought us iced coffees. Competitive kindness is a hoot!
Oh, just a side note. I was stopped this morning by my own paparazzi. A guy waved frantically, pulled his car over and with an enormous camera proceeded to take my picture. Ah, fame at 51!