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  3. Shikoku Pilgrims’ Helpers (4) Rest Area Operator: Mr. Hironobu Masuda

Shikoku Pilgrims’ Helpers (4) Rest Area Operator: Mr. Hironobu Masuda

A new pilgrim inn is being prepared near Temple11, Fujii-dera!

Meet Mr. Hironobu Masuda, who runs “Henro no Sato”, a rest stop for walking pilgrims in front of the gate of Temple 11, Fujii-dera.

Mr. Masuda opened the rest stop pictured above with his friends in 2018. He has continued to serve the pilgrims who pass by, offering drinks, Free Wi-Fi, and show pilgrims directions on the road ahead.

He has also cooperated with our activities by conducting surveys of walking pilgrims and collecting information on accommodations and other facilities for walking pilgrims throughout Shikoku Island.

He is a reliable old man with a friendly smile and always in good spirits. If you have ever visited Fujii-dera, you probably know him. Mr. Masuda has decided to open a pilgrim inn in a private house across the street from “Henro no Sato”. The opening is scheduled for mid-October 2023. He is currently preparing for the opening. We’ve asked him about how it came out.

Masuda-san, why did you decide to open a pilgrimage inn?

(Interviewer: Kota Murao, Pilgrimage Information Center)

Hironobu Masuda was born in 1949. After retiring from a telecommunications company, he has completed two walking pilgrimages to 88 sacred sites in Shikoku. Since then, he has wanted to contribute to the maintenance and succession of the Shikoku pilgrimage.
In 2016, he established the walking pilgrimage information website “Toaru Aruki Henro no Michishirube” (A Walking Pilgrimage’s Pathfinder).
In 2018, he established “Henro no Sato,” a rest stop for walking pilgrims, and in 2022, he opened “Henroyado.com,” a website for accommodations for walking pilgrims. As an organization to continue these activities, the joint venture “Henro Eleven” was established with local volunteers in July 2023. They are currently preparing to open a pilgrim inn.

During the three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of pilgrim inns has decreased!

Masuda-san, you continue to count the number of walking pilgrims at Henro no Sato, but have the numbers of pilgrims returned after the pandemic?

As of 2019, before the pandemic, there were 1,507 Japanese and 403 foreigners, but by 2020, during the pandemic, the number of Japanese and foreigners had plummeted to 288 and 83, respectively. By June 2023, the number had recovered to 1,188 Japanese and 718 foreigners. The number of foreign pilgrims is clearly increasing, with the naked eye.

There are not many accommodations around Fujii-dera, despite the fact that many pilgrims stay one night before going to the next Shosan-ji Temple. Are you able to accommodate foreign pilgrims as well?

That’s it. There are some budget hotels near Kamojima Station, but it takes 30 to 40 minutes to walk here. There is only one lodging near here, so some people will have no choice but camp out. The foreigners who are coming now seem to be able to make reservations, but if the number of pilgrims increases at this rate, we may be in trouble because we are over capacity. That’s why I felt we had to open a pilgrim inn.

For walking pilgrims, this is the point where people arrive in the evening of the second day after starting from Temple1, Ryozenji on the first day, and generally stay overnight in the area on the second day in preparation for the climb up Temple12, Shosanji on the third day. There used to be a considerable number of pilgrim inns, but many of them have been closed due to depopulation. Foreign walking pilgrims come here unaware of this situation. Even when the accommodation area was expanded to the vicinity of Kamojima Station, there were few accommodations that were available in foreign languages or that could be reserved online, which was a major challenge.

What will Masuda-san’s pilgrim inn be like?

We plan to renovate a private house across the street from “Henro no Sato” to accommodate about 10 people in a dormitory room. There will be shared showers, coin lockers, and a space for cultural exchange or socializing. We will not serve meals, but we will provide retort pouch foods and beverages at an extra cost for those who wish to buy, and we will set up a microwave oven and hot water pot so they can do it on their own. I’d like to keep the facilities to the bare essentials and offer inexpensive overnight stays.

That would be easy to use for both Japanese and foreigners. And it is conveniently located for starting the next morning for Shosan-ji ancient road.

There is a simple lodging facility for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago in Spain called “Albergue”. I wonder if Westerners might understand if I said I wanted it to make the inn like that. Well, I’ve never been there, though. (Lol).
If I can manage it well here, maybe there will be people who want to try a pilgrim inn in other areas where there is a lack of lodging facilities. I hope I can be a model case.

He wants to spread the splendor of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, which he felt when he himself went around Shikoku on the pilgrimage, and bequeath it to future generations. Masuda-san’s activities, motivated by his desire to pass on the kindness he has received to the next person and create a warm world, have continued to grow more powerful with each passing year. In the three years since the COVID-19 pandemic, a considerable number of pilgrim inns have gone out of business throughout Shikoku. Perhaps it was inevitable that Masuda-san took up the challenge of halting the decline in lodging facilities.

Renovation work is steadily progressing in preparation for opening in mid-October 2023. There are plans to sell goods necessary for the pilgrims and to implement baggage delivery services in the future. We will report on the progress from time to time, so please look forward to it! 

If you are planning to visit Temple 11, Fujii-dera, please visit “Henro no Sato”, a walking pilgrim rest stop.

Henro no Sato Pilgrim Rest Stop

“Toaru Aruki Henro no Michishirube” (Route Information site for walking pilgrims) https://ohenro.jp/blog/arukihenro/
“Henroyado.com” ( Accommodation information site for walking pilgrims) https://henroyado.com