10. The Milk Chocolate of Human Kindness

9 Apr

Window Vista: a lovely view of Kōchi city from the lookout

On the road it doesn’t take much to excite me when it comes to accommodation.  The bog-standard Best Western hotel I had booked in central Kōchi had set my pulse racing because it not only had free (soft) drinks all day included in the tariff – unlimited tea, coffee and joy of joys, fruit juice! – but it also had a fairly decent buffet breakfast thrown in too, a rarity on the kind of budget I travel on.  So this morning perched alongside the coffee’n’pastry corporate slaves in their prison uniforms – that’s business suits to you – I despatched platefuls of eggs, sausages, rice balls and croissants, giving me a hearty base for a hard day’s cycling.

There were many temples in the greater Kōchi area, and so I decided to base myself at the Best Western once more, relievedly ditching most of the stuff from my backpack in my room and setting off for my first waypoint: up a gurt big hill, of course.  I made my way up it with ease and found myself at a small park with a lookout tower from which you could gaze over the city.  It was a stunning day and the city looked gorgeous nestled in amongst the green hilly outcrops.

The temple nearby – number 31 out of 88, for those keeping count – was unfortunately undergoing building work, but I duly paid my respects despite the drilling and rallied down the far side, following the signs to the next temple on the route.  As I was making my way along, lost in thought, a car revved up alongside me and the window wound down.  Thankfully it wasn’t the Shikoku Yakuza mafia, but rather a lady yelling if I could speak Japanese.  I replied “a little”, and she revved on ahead, veered dangerously in front of me and screeched to a stop.  I wondered what the hell was up.

Rushing round her car towards me and jabbering away, she dug deep into her purse and fished out a freshly-minted 5 Yen coin, around which was tied a piece of gold-coloured string and a little message in Japanese.  Confirming that I had just come from the temple on the hill, and that I was following the pilgrim route, she presented me with the coin, saying it would bring me good luck, presumably protecting me from other female Japanese drivers who might also have a tendency to veer dangerously in front of me.  It was a really touching gesture for her to go out of her way to award me with this particular piece of osettai, and I thanked her profusely as she hurried off to run over the next pilgrim on the route.

The people of Kōchi seemed to be especially kind, even by Shikoku’s already sky-high standard.  Over the course of the day I was offered no less than four other gifts of osettai, including two little boxes of caramels, one being from a beaming temple monk, and a bar of Meiji milk chocolate handed to me by a kindly couple as I was sat in front of a convenience store fuelling up on sushi.

As I worked my way out to the coast and along the vast expanse of the Tosa Bay, I passed another henro cyclist, a Japanese chap, and we swapped salutations and grins.  At the coast I stopped to refuel and to rearrange my stuff, and he buzzed past me – again, grinning.  I hopped back on The Revenge to catch him up, relishing the challenge, and caught up with him at a large bridge over the bay to the final temple.  I sat on his wheel for a while, and then scalped him at the apex and whizzed down the other side for my last stop for the day.

It was approaching 5pm, normally the kind of time I would like to be nearing my home for the night for a slap-up meal and a few light ales, and yet I was still miles out from the centre of Kōchi.  I crossed the bridge back over the bay, which looked lovely in the lengthening shadows, and scythed my way along the flat coastal path before cutting back inland into Kōchi’s central area, making great headway and being back before dark.

50 miles

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