|Temple 38 Kongofukuji Reflection Pond|
|My Pilgrimage Clothes|
Getting up at 5 am every morning and embarking on a walk for the next 10 hours or so certainly has an impact on the physical body. In my case I started the pilgrimage 2 days after completing the Eco Slow Marathon Inba. It was the most fun I have ever had running a marathon. I loved the beautiful course, the fabulous entertainment, the wonderful people I met, and the causes of raising money to help the orphans from the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and cleaning up trash discarded around Lake Inba.
I walked the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain last year, covering around the same number of miles. But in Shikoku, the goal is to visit all 88 temples, many of which are built on top of mountains, making the walk itself considerably more challenging. I loved walking through the cities and villages like a silent observer of Japanese daily life. I saw children in their school uniforms walking together to school, little elderly ladies bent over in their gardens, farmers working the rice fields, the extremely polite store clerks who bowed to everyone as they walked in, and of course the dedicated pilgrims visiting the temples. I saw a part of Japan that most tourists never see when they come just to visit the major attractions in famous cities like Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo.
But it was the mountain trails that thrilled me the most while I was hiking between temples. In Alaska I always feel somewhat uneasy when hiking trails alone. There is always the concern of stumbling upon a bear with cubs, or an angry moose protecting her calves. Or worse yet, encountering a human predator with harming strangers as his primary goal. But there in Shikoku, I often walked for many hours on isolated trails high in the mountains, never even seeing another person. There are no large mammals that have humans on their menu and personal crime by humans is extremely rare there. I could really enjoy the peacefulness of nature at its finest. The trails were beautifully maintained as well. The forests were quite lush and varied and were especially beautiful in April and May with the bright green new leaves and flowering trees displaying cherry, wisteria, plum, and azalea blossoms around every bend. Many were extremely steep but the view through the trees made all the hard work well worth the effort.
|Beautifully Maintained Trails|
Immersing myself in Japanese daily life I also learned a lot about the culture of the country. The Japanese show respect for everyone. The store clerks bow and thank you for your purchase. I never came close to leaving my credit card in a store because on every occasion, the store clerk would hand me my receipt with both hands with the card on top of it, and give me a deep bow along with a どうもありがとうございました (thank you very much). I thought it was interesting that no matter where I went, my receipt and card were always given to me in the exact same way.
I found people to be very friendly and I always got a very positive response when I told them I was American and even greater when I said I lived in Alaska. When I passed people on the street I was always greeted with a bow and a こんにちは (hello) or おはようございます (good morning). I noticed also that people were quiet and reserved while riding on the trains. This was quite a contrast to the people who liked to talk loudly, and even be a bit obnoxious on the trains I used later in London. I noticed that all businessmen dressed in dark suits with dark ties and white shirts and carried black briefcases. It was as if the typical business man in Japan had a uniform as rigidly required as that of the elementary and high school students. I sensed that the average worker in Japan takes their job duties quite seriously.
Pilgrims along the Shikoku Pilgrim trail are highly respected, even foreigners like me, stumbling along learning about Buddhist traditions as I went. It is supposed to bring good karma to help a pilgrim. Because of this I received a lot of help sometimes in the form of little gifts (osetai) of food or candy and occasionally little bits of money, which I always donated at the next temple. In addition to small gifts, people helped me in many other ways too. If I was confused or lost, someone would always gladly help me. Several times store clerks actually left their store to walk down the street to get me pointed in the right direction. I was even given a place to stay and meals for two days and the hotel owners refused any payment. Sometimes people even chased me down the street to give me osetai. There was a lot of good karma earned helping this often confused pilgrim along the henro way!
I loved my pilgrimage in Shikoku. I am so grateful to all of the wonderful people who helped me along the way. All those who lovingly gave me osetai, Mayulee and her family who took care of me when I fell and got hurt, then gave me a place to stay, my friends Shuki and Takashi who I stayed with when I arrived in Tokyo, and Narumol and Hajime Nishi who took great care of me and gave me a place to stay in their condo my last night in Japan. And of course Kobo Daishi who walks in spirit with everyone who undertakes the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
To all of you I say:
Thank you very much!