Andy Brett

589 days ago

There is a long tradition of local residents supporting pilgrims by offering them alms, or o-settai, which can take the form of anything from candy to overnight lodgings. Opinions vary on their motivations but the old lady seemed to be in the market for blessings. She watched my penmanship carefully to make sure that I did not overwrite the character 吉, which others had told me to put on the piece of paper. It means “good fortune” — and one way to net some is to receive a pilgrim’s name slip.

Here is a sample of what I was given on the road: a cup of hot chocolate; a vitamin drink; a rice triangle; a cotton tissue holder; a night’s accommodation in an abandoned bus; a caramel wafer biscuit; a glass of beer; a bread cake filled with melon jam; and two bottles of iced tea from a hotel receptionist who also found a bungee cord so that I could strap them to my bike.

A journey along Japan’s oldest pilgrimage route

Sayuru Kunihashi had paid the bill for a night on a tatami straw mat, eaten a breakfast of fish and rice and absorbed the directions for the day ahead. Her watch said 7.20am and she was dressed to depart. A sedge hat for the strong sun, a wooden staff for the rough terrain and a white funeral robe.