It's 5:30 as I sit in my tatami mat room in Temple 6 (Anrakuji 安楽寺) waiting for dinner. Most temples will check you in at 4:00 (possibly 3:00, if you're tired and hungry), giving you enough time to shower and relax until a 6:00-6:30 dinner.
Although I am quite content with my lodging, I should tell all newbie henro - there's nothing especially spectacular about temple lodging. I do recommend it, especially on Koyasan (高野山), but lodging at temples is comparable to a decent ryokan.
I will be posting pictures once I return to Hiroshima, but let me try a thousand words instead:
Arrive at JR Bandō Station after leaving Okayama at 7:05. Bandō is the closest station to Temple 1 (Ryōzenji 霊山寺), but you can also take a bus from Tokushima Station that drops you off right in front of Ryōzenji.
For those traveling from Honshu, take a limited express (Marine Liner) heading towards Takamatsu and transfer to another heading to Tokushima, or take a limited express to Utazu and change for one heading to Takamatsu - depending on the time of day, the transfers could take you up to four hours to get to Tokushima Station. If you time it right, it should take just over two hours.
Once you're in the area, you can get off at Bandō Station; it's about a 15-minute walk to the temple, and there's a map in the station, including information about the procedure to follow at each temple. If you want to stop in Tokushima first, you can take the bus loading at platform #6 to the Ryōzenji Mae stop (¥390).
My confusion about which direction to head is shared - a Japanese person about my age is wandering in circles; I notice he's wearing a backpack, and once our paths cross again, I introduce myself. Turns out, he is from Tokyo, also a first-timer, and restricted to traveling during Golden Week as well. Together we amble towards Temple 1.
I had been told there were henro shops near the ferry stop coming from Honshu, in Tokushima, and Temple 1. There are three such supply stores just to the left of the entrance that I used to properly attire myself.
Basic Henro (へんる, 遍路) Supplies
You can buy these at each of the respective temples for about ¥50 (for one), but it's cheaper just to carry around a box; they sell them for ¥250. You'll need to light at least one at each of the temples.
Same situation as the candles; they are offered at temples, but it's better to buy a box for ¥100.
White vest or robes (hakui)
Essential. The vest identifies you as a henro. There are a couple of choices here depending on what you want to do; they sell higher quality hakui that can be stamped and signed at each of the temples. If you choose this route and are an aruite henro (walking henro), DON'T WEAR THE SAME HAKUI - buy a cheaper one you'll want to sweat in. The temple ink isn't exactly the clearest when washed. Vest, short sleeve - ¥1300. Long sleeve - ¥2100.
Conical hat (sugegasa 菅笠)
I saw many henro that were dressed all in white yet chose not to bear the sugegasa. It definitely makes you stand out more as a henro, and it is more traditional, but not essential. Small with rain cover - ¥1100. Large with rain cover - ¥1300.
Silk "scarf" (wagesa 輪袈裟)
Supposedly represents the clothing of a monk, but as you can't don that during this pilgrimage, the best equivalent piece of material. They have a variety of colors, none of which have any special significance. Most common is purple.
Name cards (ofuda 納札)
Somewhat essential; it's like the henro equivalent of a Japanese meishi (business card). You'll be dropping a few into the metal receptacles at each of the temples, exchanging them with fellow henro you might meet on the road, and possibly leaving them as your trademark at rest stops and free lodging areas. I don't know if you can have them printed ahead of time with your name on them, but it's worth looking into. White ofuda symbolize first-time pilgrims.
White: 1 - 4
Green: 5 - 7
Red: 8 - 24
Silver: 25 - 49
Gold: 50 - 99
Red Embroidered: 100+
White pants, sandals
As I said, the most traditional pilgrims will be dressed all in white, with the sugegasa and sandals, carrying only what they need. However, there are plenty of henro that choose to display a white upper body and normal hiking pants and boots; your call.
Prayer book (kyōhon)
Essential for the religious pilgrim, unless you've memorized it. If you can read hiragana but aren't very good with kanji, they offer a text with hiragana written to the side. I didn't see a romanji copy anywhere, but I'm sure it exists. All devout henro will chant the words within at each of the temples (thanks to Dave Turkington for part of the text).
Stamp book (nōkyōchō 納経帳)
A luxury item, but one I highly recommend, as it gives you a good chance to receive a unique souvenir at every last one of the temples. The temple monks will stamp each page with three different imprints in red ink, and proceed to unleash a powerful array of brushstrokes to complete the picture. You have the choice of a book, stamping your hakui, or getting a scroll stamped (difficult to carry if you're a walking henro, obviously).
Staff (kongōtsue 金剛杖)
Essential. This staff represents the spirit of Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師) or Kūkai (空海), as you two will be traveling together for the duration of your journey. Hence the printing on the staff: 同行二人, dōgyō ninin, "two people traveling together". There are a variety of staffs sold, but most offer a colorful covering over the handle with a bell attached. The bell is there to ring and not let your mind wander during your pilgrimage, to keep your thoughts focused. ¥1500 without a bell, ¥1000 with a bell; no that's not a mistake - it's cheaper to purchase the bell and cover.
Remember - the kongōtsue should never touch the ground when you are walking over a bridge; according to legend, Kōbō Daishi could not find lodging during his journey and was forced to sleep under a bridge. If you let the staff touch the ground, you might wake him up with the noise.
Bag (fudabasami 札ばさみ)
A small white bag used to carry your prayer book, candles, incense, and name cards. They offer a simple cloth one and a hard plastic one with different compartments. I stored this in my backpack unless I knew I'd be visiting many temples in one day.
The finished product:
Looking somewhat like a traditional henro (with the exception of my brown pants and hiking boots - purists wear all white and sandals), I embark.
Procedure at each temple:
1. Stop at the entrance gate (Niōmon, 仁王門) and give a short bow with hands together in a praying position.
2. Cross the threshold and find a water basin (ablution basin, chōzubachi). Take a small drink and wash your hands to "purify" yourself.
3. Find the main bell (shōrō) and give it a loud chime. It might be locked up.
4. Approach the main temple hall (Hondō). Light a stick of incense and place it in the ashes (kōro). Light a candle and place it in the glass case (rōsokutate).
5. Walk up the steps. Throw a coin into the center box. Place your ofuda in the metal bins around the offering box. Chime the bell.
6. Chant the heart sutra from your prayer book. I admit I don't understand the words, but luckily the kanji is written beside its phonetic hiragana.
7. Complete with a short bow with hands in prayer position.
8. Repeat the same procedure for the Daishidō - the temple for Kōbō Daishi.
9. Explore the temple grounds.
8. Get your stamp book (Nōkyōsho) stamped and signed at every temple - it's a great and very unique keepsake. ¥300 for each temple.
More about the procedures
Temples 1-3 are reasonably well marked along the henro trail (へんる道), and they're all adjacent to the main road. I didn't have a problem with the trail all day, but I was careful to keep my eyes peeled for Miyazaki's signs and the "official" stone markers:
Once you do get past Temple 3 (Konsenji 金泉寺), however, you need to pay close attention to the sides of the road. Often there's nothing more than a small sticker letting you know you're on the right path.
If you do get slightly lost, however, it's no problem at this stage. Just head south and you'll hit Highway 12. You might see other henro along that route, or you can ask for directions.
There's a Lawson about 2 km past Temple 3 that would be a great stop for lunch. It will come into sight on your left.
Shortly after that, you leave the paved road and start walking through rice fields and wooded areas until you reach Temple 4 (Dainichiji 大日寺).
Google map of the henro trail
The Bangai temples you pass aren't particularly impressive, but they make good opportunities to take a rest and chat with fellow pilgrims.
Temple 5 (Jizōji 地蔵寺) is very modern - I was quite surprised. As you cross the Niōmon, there's a wide screen TV displaying tourism information. Even parts of the temple look brand new - fresh concrete, unweathered wood. There might be a vendor outside #5 offering sweets or fruit.
Be prepared for a long walk through surburbia if you're headed to Temple 6 for the night; it's 5.3 km from Temple 5 in a rather residential area. The mountain views on your right make up for it. It's almost impossible to get lost unless you wander down a side street.
Anrakuji (安楽寺) is probably the best place to stop for your first night (shukubou). It shouldn't be too crowded because the major tour buses stop much farther down the road for the night, leaving walking henro with a few options.
¥6500/night with meals
Dinner at 6:00 PM
Breakfast at 6:30 AM
No morning services offered
Bath includes an onsen
It's a nice place with full bath, massage chairs, henro shop (inside the lodging area), and laundry facilities. Be sure to bring out your Japanese during dinner, as you will attract a certain amount of attention (I was the only foreigner that night). The dinner here is absolutely delicious, which is probably why the price was a little higher than usual. Fried vegetables, fresh sashimi (including some fish I couldn't recognize), sweet fruits, a salad, tea, rice, and tofu.
Incidentially, as you enter temple lodging, they will have a basin of water to wash the end of your staff, not your hands. Do so. This symbolizes washing Kobo Daishi's feet.
My left shoulder is aching, but my will remains strong.
Other pictures of Shikoku Meguri