Raymond TAIT, Australia Rounding Shikoku
Encounter on the pilgrimage — Master Nakata
On May 7, 2022 was the day I met Nakata-san at Temple 12 Shosanji; one of my favourite temples of the 88 and I have been there 4 times now. But my first visit was special because of it set the stage for my first by chance meeting with Nakata-san. As my curious and friendly nature struck up a conversation right at the entry gate to Shosanji; I commented to Nakata-san that his brocaded Wagesa (Stall) was Stylish & Unique and his Kongōzue (Walking Staff) was Awesome……he replied, “Thank you” and continue to enquire where I was from and commenting that he had not seen many foreigners visiting temples due to the Pandemic.
He was interested in my reply, informing him that I was a permanent resident of Japan and living in Kobe. Which then led to the almighty “why” or “naze” question……mine was simple; I was a first timer and on Day starting at Temple 1 on have been introduced to the Pilgrimage some 3.5 Years prior by some dear friends during my Illness recovery. Through their Inspiration, I decided that one day “I would like to walk the Pilgrimage too” and now was my one day!
Then suddenly, Nakata-san ferreted into his matching Brocaded shoulder bag for a Nameslip or Osamefuda and proudly presented his silver one to me pointing out that he had completed the Pilgrimage 49 times; I was awestruck and I humbly passed my handwritten white paper novice slip.
As I gazed intriguingly at his slip the paper quality was more rigid and the sheen of the silver mate finish proudly had his details professionally blazed across it…..as I studied it further and quizzed him about his “naze” – he again dived into his shoulder bag and produced two more Nameslips – this time beautifully designed brocade ones covered; each covered in his own plastic sleeve.
Nakata-san kindly pointed out that these two nameslips were that of his friends or as referred to them as fellow “Ohenro Ambassadors” and that Nakano, Masateru had completed 564 Pilgrimages and Nango, Kazunori had completed 103. In an almost momentous shout “what 564 Times…..he must be in a permanent state of travel between temples and Nakata-san replied “yes, he is and is much more well-known than me!”
He then kindly and a heartfelt way placed is warm hands over mine clasping these two treasured brocaded nameslips and said “No, you keep them, to signify your first Pilgrimage and our meeting today” – my knees shook and my voice qivered gently pushing back the slips into his hands and stated “these are far too valuable and cannot accept them” he gently pushed back and said “I insist, as we are part of Ohenro Ambassador Group and have their permission to give them out in special cases as he see fit and I have decided that “you are that person today to encourage you along your pilgrimage journey” I was travelling that day with my friend John, visiting from Tokyo and he took our photo to commemorate this auspicious & special day….commenting that you are like a like a young school boy; with your face beaming with pride of having just won a race or competition!
I have carried this three nameslips in my shoulder bag ever since to every temple I go and occasionally in chatting with other Walking Ohenro on the trail and usually at night in a Pilgrims Inn & chatting about the Trail over dinner and a drink recanting the story with pride & glee, like it happened to me yesterday!!
I followed up a couple of days later & wrote to Nakata-san and sent him a copy of our photo together. He replied kindly, stating “I live near Temple 47 Yasakaji near Matsuyama and if you are in the area, please stop by and say hello and have a coffee together” I thought to myself…. how nice of him and will definitely do that one day, as his genuine kindness & Ohenro Spirit had left me with a special memory!
Well, fast forward, as I was traversing around Shikoku recently and in the area, having some time on my continued love affair with Shikoku in general, I want to stop by and say hello to Nakata-san but also present him with a return gift……my original designed White Cap with “Shikoku 88” Embroidered Emblem or Patch sowed into it. Nakata-san happily received it, and we sat outside his his Carpentry workshop exchanging more stories bringing each other up to date over the past xx months.
He then said come on into my house, as I want to show you my Kakejiku or Scroll of my pilgrimages; again, like a beaming curious schoolboy, I of course said yes and followed him into his house. Directly inside the entryway into house started the proud display of O-Jiku or stamped Scrolls from the 88 Temple Pilgrimage but he guided me further to a separate room directly off the entryway and as a entered; I was gob-smacked with awe of was and completely drawn into this room adorned with O-Jiku and other Pilgrimage Memorabilia, including statues, mini shrines and even several pieces beautifully back-lit for effect…..simply stunning!!
We spent more than 30 minutes in the room with Nakata-san explaining each large O-Jiku’s difference and indeed the different Pilgrimages possible on Shikoku and in fact there a total of 212 Temples of significance and closely related to the famed 88 Temples of which most people are aware of the 20 Bekkaku & often incorporate visits to Bekkaku Temples alongside an 88 Temple visit. Upon completion of this heartfelt tour of significance for me; Nakata-san said, “I have a gift for you too” and presented me with a brocaded (Tiger design) stall and matching shoulder bag – I thanked him and gleefully accepted them.
Then, suddenly as we were placing our shoes back on he grabbed an ornate white walking staff or Kongozue from the entry…..stating “I feel something special about you and our friendship; I want you to have this too” I initially refused because of significance and uniqueness but he insisted explaining that he is a master carpenter and he has found several piece of wood or branches in the forest and then crafted them into a walking Stick with with the Six-Rings on top that signifies and Ohenro Ambassador…..you too will be one in the future!!
After thanking many times more with gathered in the courtyard between his house and the company’s Workshop/warehouse and he went on to explain about his deeper and further engagement to Ohenro and he is actually the contracted builder – restoration of Bekkaku #8 Toyogahashi near Ozu City, Ehime and where I had coincidentally visited the day before……and he said that he was there too, and we had actually missed each other by a mere 2 Hours. Our Ohenro spirit and deep connection is now genuinely grounded, and I believe will last for many years to come!!