28 April 2008

Day 20-21: Takimoto-san

Now that I'm hitchhiking some of the longer roads, I'm quickly covering quite a lot of ground. In fact I seem to have passed the half-way mark in terms of distance. I've only visited 33 temples, though, finishing up this afternoon at Temple 51, Ishiteji, where I'll be spending the night.

Temple 51, Ishiteji. Note the statue of Kobo Daishi on the top of the mountain to the left of the pagoda.

Yesterday I got rides from an elderly couple out for a drive in the country and from a farmer on his way to town to do some shopping. He insisted on taking me directly to the temple. He said he once dropped a henro along the way and that the henro had subsequently gotten lost. He wasn't going to do that again.

After I finished up at Daihoji, I decided to walk what the guidebook said was eight kilometers to the next temple, a walk mostly though mountain forests which ended up seeming far longer but that led to one of the most incredibly sighted temples I've seen thus far. Commanding a high spot in the valley, Iwayaji is built in the side of a huge piece of rock at the end of a spur from which hikers and drivers have to circle. There is no onward road.

Temple 45, Iwayaji

Having hiked across the mountain to get there, I walked back along the road with the intention of visiting the nearby onsen for a bath and dinner and then camping out in the nearby bus stop. But while I was in the bath I met Mr Takimoto, an 81-year old former shop owner, born in Seoul during Japan's occupation, who is now living alone. When he heard I would be camping out he invited me to spend the night at his home. Which is what I did.

Actually, I stayed in one of his homes. Not the one he lives is, but one that is now largely abandoned. And that was just fine and probably better than sleeping in a bus stop.

This morning, Takimoto-san got me up at 05:00 and drove me into town, where it was far too early to start hitchhiking, but where I arrived just in time for the first bus to Matsuyama city, on which I was the only person who was not a high school student. I rode about half-way down the mountain to a hiking path that took me on an hour's walk to the first of Matsuymaya city's temples. Today I visited six.

05:30 with Takimoto-san in front of his house in the village of Naose

Walking down through the mountains

As soon as I finish here I'm off to what is supposed to be Japan's oldest existing onsen, a spa that's been in operation for something like 300 years.

Then tomorrow I'll be finishing up in Matsuyama and heading for Imabari.

Om namu Daishi henjo kongo.


26 April 2008

Days 17 - 19: Country roads & Saintly patrons

Just outside Nakamura city is a little town called Yuzushima, Mutsumi's father's hometown, a tiny hamlet back off the highway in the folds of the mountains. Before I started this journey I asked Mizoho to mark the place on my map and much to my surprise - and to Mutsumi and Mizuho's - it was quite easy to find. All I had to do was ask.

Next time Mizuho visits, he'll likely get an earful about the gainjin henro that visited their village this spring.

While I was reluctant to give up walking, hitchhiking has been an interesting and rewarding experience in itself. Since I last wrote I've been picked up by a young couple out for a day's drive in the countryside, a male nurse, a doctor, a business owner (who after hearing about my leg insisted on driving me directly to the next temple, instead of dropping me off along the way as he first offered), and this morning a mother with a child of 12 in the car who told me when she heard I was from Fukuoka that her 32 year old daughter lives there as well. This daughter herself has 3 children, making this woman both a mother and grandmother at the same time.

The area across I've been hitching is quite large but has few temples. I've visited only 5 since leaving Kubokawa.

The view from Ryukoji, #41

The bell tower at Meisekiji, #43

I met these 2 guys at #42 yesterday and told them about a place in the next town where they could spend the night, have a bath plus dinner and breakfast for only 2000yen (about US$15.00). I learned about it myself from a list of free of cheap places to stay compiled by former henro. The woman below lets out rooms in her house to henro only, perhaps as a religious practice. She didn't say that in so many wiords, but that she served vegetarian meals, offered no alcohol, and makes only enough to cover her costs speaks clearly of her intentions. She is perhaps Shikoku's patron saint for henro.

Time now to clear off for my next stop, the town of Uchiko.

Om namu Daishi henjo kongo.


Day 19: Another day, another doctor

If the police ever picked me up and searched my bag they might wonder why I'm carrying an x-ray and MRI scan of my left leg.

I guess I'd have to tell them about the kindly doctor at Nishimoto Clinic in Ainan-cho. After 2 days of hitchhiking around southern Kochi and Ehime prefectures, my blisters were healing and my left leg was feeling a little better from the rest, less inflamed though still a bit swollen. Considering that perhaps the first doctor I consulted didn't know what he was talking about, I asked about a nearby hospital at the temple where I had spent the night and was directed to Nishimoto, where I was the entertainment of the waiting room for the dozen or so elderly people in for their physical rehabilitation therapy.

The doctor looked and touched and hemmed and hawed before sending me for an x-ray and then an MRI. Both showed the bone was unscathed and the doctor said it was most likely just muscle fatigue. He asked me how much longer I'd be walking and without considering the implication, I said a month. He asked me to wait outside and that he would prepare medicine and bandages.

What I got was a huge bag of cold compresses, spray and ointment pain relievers, and a pocketful of pain pills, a month's worth of medicine that has added another kilo and a big bulge to my backpack. And because the doctor thought I might need to consult another physician while on the road, he also gave me the xray and MRI film, which is much to big to fit in a backpack. I had to roll it up into a tube and strap it to the side of my bag.

After leaving the hospital I got back out on the road and hitchhiked most of the day. I walked perhaps only 5km before pulling into Seiyo city for the night. This morning I walked about 15km from Seiyo into Ozu city and I think that's all the walking I'm doing for the day. The leg is feeling better, but I want to treat it gently for a couple more days and work my way up to another 30km day.

Om namu Amida Butsu


23 April 2008

Day 16: Learning to let go

The last thing I wanted to do was give up walking.

Most Japanese on the henro michi these days drive or ride on buses in large tour groups. They're easy to spot. They look fresh, their clothes aren't soiled, they're decked out in full henro regalia (which is not always practical for those that are walking), and they usually stay at the temple only long enough to say their prayers and collect their stamps. Walking henro tend to linger at temples. It took a long time and a bit of effort to get there and the only thing to look forward to after leaving is another long walk to the next one.

It's partly that effort that makes walking more meaningful. Anyone with a week's free time and a little money can be chauffeured from temple to temple, hotel to hotel. But to get out and walk 50km to the next temple with your luggage on your back, to hunt down food and lodging, to sleep outdoors - most people are not even willing to entertain the idea.

Kiyotakiji, where I spent night 12

I know now how it feels to ride. Today I hitchhiked 80km to Kongofukuji, the longest distance on the pilgrimage between temples. What would normally be a two or three day walk was a couple of hours in a series of cars and once I reached the temple a bit of an empty feeling. I knew if I had walked here I would have been rewarded with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. As it was, I learned to let go of pride.

The view from Cape Ashizuri just in front of Kongofukuji

I no longer have bragging rights for having walked the entire route. But my leg will be the better for it and perhaps I'll be able to finish the pilgrimage.

Somewhere along the way I injured something in my left leg. I noted it at first a few days ago as just a small strain, one of many you notice when walking such distances. This one, though, continued to grow and by Monday it was getting quite red and swollen. Walking became slow and painful. The last 5km to Kubokawa were five of the most difficult I've done on this trip.

Kobo Daishi at Iwamotoji, Kubokawa

I pulled into town late and found the Maruka Ryokan, a place run by a lovely family who looked after me during my two nights there. I had decided to take a day off and let my leg heal. I slept most of the next day and my leg was a bit better by this morning, but still not in great walking condition. I went to the hospital but the doctor didn't seem to have much idea about the cause of the swelling except for all the walking I've been doing. He gave me two tubes of ointment to control the pain.

The choice was then to spend another two or three days where I was waiting for my leg to recuperate completely, or to continue in a manner less stressful to the leg and take up walking again when I am able.

And so after I left the hospital, I got out on the highway and stuck out my thumb. First ride was with a surfer, who got me about halfway down the peninsula. Then a 45-year old woman on the way to Nakamura city to discuss divorce proceedings with her husband got me as far as the city, after which I was picked up by an elderly couple coming from the city and who had fond memories of their homestay some years ago in the USA.

Interestingly, only one car henro offered to give me a ride, but he was going in the opposite direction. I rode the bus back in to Nakamura, where I'm spending a rainy night at the Tosa Inn.

Tomorrow is another day. Probably not a walking day. But perhaps another day to test my expecations and to meet a few more of the people of Kochi prefecure.

Gate, gate
Bodhi Svaha


18 April 2008

Although I’m spending the night at an internet café, I would like to get some sleep as I have more walking to do tomorrow. Today was a slow day, but my feet needed it. Yesterday I clocked 40km in wet boots and have two new blisters to show for it. Tomorrow I’m shooting for 30k.

I won’t go into the boring details of where these were taken because it wouldn’t mean much to most of you. Just a collection of some nice shots of the countryside that I’ve been passing through.

I took a bath in this river. The water was clear and cold and washed away the fatigue of a long day's walk. That night I stayed with another henro at an abandoned elementary school. We found an unlocked door and slept inside, me on the landing between the first and second floors. Here I am in the morning, just rising from my sleeping bag.

A couple of days later it was raining heavily and I turned into the nearest spot I could find, which was this combination henro rest stop and town bus stop. You can see my stuff spread out. I was trying to get it a little drier, but it didn’t help much.

And here’s Kobo Daishi looking out to sea. He practiced mediation here in caves along the rocky coast and it is said that it was at this point that he changed his name to Kukai, which means literally “sky sea.”

Many years later he is said to have come back to the same spot and founded this temple.

That's all for now.

For those keeping track, I'll be staring my morning tomorrow at Temple #31 and hope to finish at #35, then on to #36 on Sunday, arriving at #37 Monday, followed by a 80km two day walk to #38.

Om namu Daishi henjo kongo!


Question on Day 3

Ducking under the roof of a covered shopping arcade to get out of a driving rain, I met a small Japanese man who asked the usual questions. While he smoked, I confirmed that I was indeed walking the pilgrimage road, yes, I had lived in Japan quite a long time, that I was from America and was married.

He asked if my wife was ill.

After a short pause to wonder why he was asking, I assured him she wasn’t. So, why, he wanted to know, are you walking? It’s usual for Japanese people to walk for someone or something. To have some purpose, something to which to dedicate your effort.

At the time I replied that I was doing it for myself. But thinking about it for a while – time to think being one of the great luxuries of walking 1200km – I decided there was in fact someone to whom I wished to dedicate the merit of my walk.

My father Harvey has for the past couple of years been living with Parkinson’s disease. Medication alleviates the most severe symptoms, but there is no cure. Life for him is not what it once was. He moves slower, he rests more often, his hands shake, he thrashes in bed. Every day must be a struggle. A struggle he did not choose, a struggle much greater than walking 40km a day on blistered feet with 10 kilos on your shoulders.

Buddhists believe that devotional or virtuous actions earn merit, a spiritual mileage club that create conditions for a favorable rebirth. Mahayana Buddhists, especially Tantric Buddhists, like to practice dedicating merit. Only the most literal minded think the gods or Buddha is keeping score, but in the symbolic act of giving away our merit it is believed we reinforce charitable behavior that may then more readily find expression in our daily lives, with real actions and real people.

There is something of a set ritual for making temple visits, including purification, offerings, thanks to Kobo Daishi for a safe journey, reading the Heart Suttra, and offering prayers for the enlightenment of all sentient beings. To this I have added my own personal dedication, that any merit I accrue from this pilgrimage be given to my father that his suffering may be reduced and that he may live out his life in ease.

This walk is for Harvey.


From the Lagoon

I’m staying this evening at an internet café in Kochi city. I have a booth large enough for my to stretch out in. It:s kind of like a traditional Japanese room but instead of tatami a soft vinyl mat that's nearly as good as a mattress. I have a computer, tv, and all the soft drinks and tea I can handle. There is a kitchen as well, but assuming the quality will be about like fast-food (or worse) I ate before I checked in. I paid 2500yen (about US$20.00) for 12 hours.

Those outside Japan may not know that is is a social phenomenon associated with these overnight packages at internet cafes (though not typically with henro).

My room for the evening


Day 11: Kochi City

The island of Shikoku has always been something of a world apart and even today Japanese jest about the island being a foreign country. It's not a place people move to but away from. Perhaps those that do move here are trying to get away from something.

Previous to this journey I had been here only once, and then for only one night in a city. In fact most of my life in Japan has been spent in cities. Once I started walking I was surprised to find that Japan still holds places of undeveloped quiet.

In fact, that's mostly what I've been walking through the past 10 days. When I got off the ferry and had a close look at my map I found that starting at Temple #1 would require me to walk north, then south back past the Ferry Terminal. So instead of wasting a half day to get to #1, I took off for the nearest temple in the circle, #18. This temple is just at the edge of Tokushima City and I very quickly found myself walking through the countryside, where of course there are no Internet Cafes. I spent my days walking, bathing in cold, clear rivers or under hoses, foraging food at the occasional supermarket or convenience store, and sleeping at abandoned elementary schools.

It's been an incredible 10 days. There are stories to tell and pictures to share and hopefully I'll get a few of them up here soon. At the moment I'm writing from a computer in a hotel lobby. I'm once again in a city and if all works out I plan to spend the night at an Internet Cafe. Then I can write at a little more leisure and perhaps share a few photos.

Until then, know that I am well and loving life. I hope you are, too.

Om namu Daishi henjo kongo.


10 April 2008

Day 3: Wakayama City to Shikoku

Arrived Monday in Koya-san and straight off the cable car had a chance to check out my rain gear with a 20 minute walk to town. The woman at the Tourist Information counter didn't seem to pleased to see me dripping in her office but she was kind enough to phone the Youth Hostel to see if they had a room.

The owner of the Youth Hostel didn't seem pleased to see me either. Maybe because I was dripping in his genkan. But he let me in nevertheless and I spent a warm and mostly quiet night. Met a Croatian/Italian couple over dinner at a local pub. She's a Shingon practitioner working on her PhD and invited me the next morning for a fire puja at her temple.

That started at 06:00 and by 07:30 I was back at the hostel for breakfast, then on to ceremonies for the Buddha's birthday, which turned out to be less interesting than the fire puja and a lot more difficult to see. It took place in a long, narrow room but only 2 doors at the back were open through which guests were permitted to view the event. What an unwelcoming way to greet your guests on the Buddha's birthday.

After 30 minutes I skipped off to pay my respects to Kobo Daishi, the great Japanese monk who founded Koya and inspired the pilgrimage. He is interred at Okunoin Temple and pilgrims typically begin their journey by paying their respects to his remains. Along the way I bought my pilgrim's gear, including a walking stick and white blouse. The latter normally comes with a printed inscription but the only thing they had in my size was plain. The guy at the store said I could have it inscribed by bush and ink at the temple.

When I got there I asked if the ink wouldn't run when it got wet with rain or sweat. He assured me it wouldn't. He was wrong. I have a sweatshirt with a black skid mark down the back to prove it.

By the time I got back to the guest house and collected my bag and set out it was noon. I had my photo taken at the Daimon before heading down the 20km mountain trail, a beautiful walk through an ancient cedar forest.

I arrived just above the valley floor around 18:00 and found a small covered picnic area that made a perfect place to spend the night. By then I was so exhausted that a couple of oranges and a few biscuits was enough for my stomach. What I needed most was sleep. I had a couple of visitors during the night, a young couple and then a few guys up to admire the view. They were more scared of finding me than I was of seeing them and they left almost as soon as they arrived.

I woke to the sounds of birds and a soft pink light on the horizon.

After packing up, I headed off to follow the river down to the ocean. I started just after 06:00 and walked until about 17:00, with 30 minutes for breakfast and 30 minutes for lunch. By the time I got to Wakayama city on the coast I had walked about 40km and was exhausted. The sky was getting black, rain was starting to fall, and at that point I couldn't imagine hunting for a camping spot in the city. So I checked into a business hotel and had a luxurious hot bath. Also had the good fortune to check into a place with washing machines and free internet service.

And so here I am this morning, washed, in clean clothes, well fed, and ready to walk out to the port to catch the ferry to Shikoku.

I pray for sunshine soon.


07 April 2008

Day 0 - Rain

The ride to Koya-san went off without a hitch. Lots of rain, though, and as it's a bit colder up on the mountain I decided to spend the night inside rather than get sick my first day out. The prices at the temples are a bit more than I want to pay, starting at 9500yen, so I took a room at the Youth Hostel (3900, including a computer and internet connection) and hoping that the rain will pass over tomorrow and allow me to start walking.


Day 0: Inventory

Besides what I'm wearing, I'm leaving this morning with one 50-liter capacity backpack and one large waist-pouch carrying the following:

1 long-sleeve undershirt
1 long-sleeve shirt
1 pair convertible hiking pants
1 pair long underwear
2 pair underwear
2 pair socks
2 pair padded hiking socks
1 rain suit
1 sleeping bag
1 lightweight foam sleeping mat
1 mosquito net
1 inflatable pillow
1 bag of toletries (soap, toothbrush/paste, nail clippers, aspirin, band aids)
1 guide book
1 book on Kobo Daishi
1 journal
1 camera
1 pocket-size, bendable wire tripod
1 pocketknife
4 strap-on reflector strips (for night or tunnel walking)
1 pair chopsticks
1 fude pen
1 ballpoint pen
1 pencil
1 hard shell tupperware box (for carrying fruit, cookies, etc)
1 flashlight
1 mp3 player (loaded with 3 gigs of Dharma lectures; no music on this trip)
1 towel
1 large cotton scarf
1 small bag of uncooked rice (for offerings to the Nio)

We don't have a scale at home so I've no idea what this weighs. Maybe I can find a scale at one of the stations today.

Lots of rain this morning, which I suppose is not so bad. I'll be riding trains most of the day so I don't expect to be getting very wet . The forecast calls for the rain to be finished by tomorrow, just in time for me to start walking.


06 April 2008

First steps

Welcome to my Henro blog.

What's a Henro, you ask? I've found even a few Japanese who don't know. The kanji are these:

The character on the left means "all over, in many directions," and on the right, "road." From this perhaps we could derive the word highway, but instead we get the word for pilgrim, or pilgrimage.

From tomorrow I'm going to be a pilgrim, walking the 1200km pilgrimage road around the island of Shikoku. Typically, it takes six to eight weeks to complete the journey on foot. I will from time to time when passing through a sufficiently urbanized part of the island be checking in here to update my progress and post a few photos.

In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about the pilgrimage, check out some of the links I've posted in the sidebar to the right.

First stop tomorrow will be Koya-san, where I will attend a ceremony Tuesday morning marking the birthday of the Buddha and pay my respects to Kobo Daishi, the saint who walks with Shikoku pilgrims.