One especially hot day, after riding many miles along the uninhabited coastal landscape of south Shikoku island, I spotted atop a hill a unique building which stood out for its brightness, between the dark green forest and the deep blue sky. I wondered who’d be the lucky guy who lived up there.
After a while I reached the turn that led to that place, where a sign said, “Hotel for Pilgrims. Rooms from 2.000 yen.” The price was ridiculous, cheaper than the even more ridiculous capsule hotels.
I couldn’t resist the curiosity and climbed the steep access. I walked into the bright reception, and, quite embarrassed, I asked about the price of the room. I couldn’t believe what I heard, there was indeed rooms for that price only for pilgrims, and I was one! After many days of resting outdoors, my body appreciated the ofuro (hot tub) overlooking the ocean, and sleeping under a real roof.
The next morning, the hotel manager, a middle age man, well-trimmed looking, approached me. “May I treat you to a cup of tea?,” he said in excellent English. I nodded and we sat at a table. After the protocol, I asked about something that intrigued me, “The hotel is great, but is it profitable?”
He took a deep breath. “It is not for business,” he said. “I already gained a lot of money in Tokyo, but there I never felt happy. Some years ago I decided to buy this building and retire to live in it with the idea of transforming it into a hotel, especially cheap for pilgrims.”
I didn’t need to ask him if he was now happy; his radiant appearance gave him away. We departed after taking a picture together, with the bicycle (unfortunately I cannot find it, and that was the only one I had about the pilgrimage).
That morning I remembered another encounter occurred a few days ago when I deviated from the road in a village to ask directions to the next temple. I came across a middle-aged man who, after giving me a fully detailed explanation, he added, “It is getting dark. You may want to sleep over at this house,” he said pointing to a nice traditional house, “It was my parents’ but now nobody lives in it.” Then he pointed to a house of modern construction, a bucket of gray brick, located right next door. “I live in this one,” he said. I accepted very gratefully.
“After settling you may come to my house for some drink.”
Honoring his invitation, I went back and sat at the kitchen table, next to a huge sink full of unwashed dishes.
“A beer?” I declined and instead suggested a cup of tea. After chatting for a while, the man began to unravel the story of his life.
“I was an executive of a music company in Tokyo. I gained a lot of money, and often organized parties in this house. When business began to go wrong, my so-called friends turned their backs on me. Even my wife left me. I lost all my money and now I live here, alone.”
We entered the huge living room, furnished with a gambling table, couches everywhere, a giant video screen, and shelves full of adult movies. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the kind of parties he had thrown there.
The next morning, when I was about to leave, my host came out to say goodbye. I thanked him for his hospitality and handed him out a note I had written last night, “The pilgrim shares his merit with anyone who helps him in his attempt. Arigato.”
The parallels between both characters did not go unnoticed. Both were wealthy businessmen in Tokyo. One invested his money in a hotel for pilgrims, and the other in a house to organize parties. The first was a happy man living in a palace with magnificent views over the ocean, and the other was locked in a gray house, alone and without more views than the next can of beer.
It’s a moralistic story, but as certain as life itself.