Leaving home at midnight, 70 year old Inaba drove for 16 hours to Nachi, in southern Wakayama prefecture. He arrived at the Nachi guest house, where I met him, at 4pm. We shared a table at dinner.
First, he complimented my dexterity with chopsticks; then he praised my burbling Japanese. A retired rice farmer, Inaba makes the long-round trip to Nachi every year. He comes to pray at the grave of O-sewa ni natta kata (somebody who looked after him well).
He usually only comes in May, the anniversary of O-sewa ni natta kata`s death. But, news of the devastating typhoons in Wakayama brought him back again.
The typhoon killed over 100 people; many villages, roads,bridges and buildings were destroyed. Inaba`s thoughts were focused on what damage landslides may have done to O-sewa ni natta kata`s grave.
“I thought about bringing a shovel, but then I thought, I could always borrow one”, Inaba told me. He looked me in the eye and spoke with intensity. I had to concentrate to both appear polite, and not to be distracted by the recently arrived cream pudding.
The following morning, Inaba had an early start. He was to leave the guesthouse at the unbuddhaly hour of 4:30am for morning service at the temple where O-sewa ni natta kata was buried.
“Why don`t you go with him?”, the burly guest house owner asked me. At 4:30am? I could have punched him. Or cried. Or both. Instead, I meekly agreed.
At 4:30 am, Inaba was waiting for me by the shoes. He looked radiant. I felt like a bag of shit.
Inaba, as a temple regular, was granted privileged access deep inside the temple. I, as his…erm…mascot, was allowed alongside him.
Inside, Inaba fell to his knees, prostrating himself, chanting Namu Amidha Butsu. I lowered myself to the tatami floor with the grace of a cow trying to sit at the dinner table.
After the sutra-chanting service, Inaba left with the Head monk to say a special prayer at the grave of O-sewa ni natta kata. Straight afterwards, he left for the 16 hour drive back to his home Yokohama home. A 48 hour trip, two thirds of it spent inside a car. Not bad for a 7o year old. O-sewa ni natta kata must have been a pretty special person.