It is an incredible priviledge to write here and to let people know that we have had an incredible opportunity to work with National Geographic and Shikoku Tourism this year. Having had many discussions about the region, the attractions and natural sights and sounds of Shikoku, National Geographic became very interested in going deeper into our region and discovering more. We are now in the midst of discussing what more we can do to focus on Shikoku and to let the readers of National Geographic learn more about this hidden, and largely unexplored gem of Japan.
Digging around way way back in archives, I found this nice little article about the Shikoku Pilgrimage. It also has a nice reference to the Sen Guesthouse out in Matsuyama. A bit of inspiration to get us feeling more in the mood of getting back to Shikoku, and starting out on the pilgrimage once again!
I wish to strongly encourage you to check out this amazing website:
It is beautiful and navigates like a dream. And it is chock full of information and material. I will need some serious time to check this out in greater detail. If you have time, and inspiration, or if you need inspiration, I recommend some time here.
Today is December 31st, 2020. It’s the end of the year, and it couldn’t come fast enough. 2020 vision is such a sad joke, it makes me really wonder if we, as a human race, have much hindsight after the debacle that has been this year. Things seemed to have started out okay, but then with the corona pandemic, the wheels came off. The temples closed down, the airports shut down, the pilgrims from overseas dwindled down to virtually nothing. It’s been a rough year for so many, and our hearts are truly broken for those who lost so much this year: loved ones, jobs, careers, house and home, passion for living, health, and inspiration.
It’s been a dark dark year, and it is hard to be philosophical about it, especially when you know and feel that so much damage to our world this way was avoidable, treatable, and could have been handled so much better. As a people we ought to feel no small amount of outrage at people who downplayed the pandemic, who pretended that it really wasn’t so bad, and that it would disappear like magic. A lot of people are gone now, who didn’t need to be, because of these genocidal acts of omission and the promotion of falsehood and outright lies.
We need to do better from now on. We need to really make education, reading, and the pursuit of intellectual expansion priorities for our communities and societies. Vaccines are not “theories”, it is medicine to prevent tragedy. Science is not a “worldview”. Science is real. We need to be a bit stronger to state these things directly and be less tolerant of ignorance and overly loud opinion as having “equal value of perspective”. It does not. We must not give it another inch. Our generosity towards stupidity has lethal consequences.
So, when you are venturing forth and making plans to make your way to Shikoku for a journey of a lifetime, please do take care of yourself. Get medical insurance before you come. This is a MUST HAVE item. Get the vaccinations you need. Cooperate with others until things get better. Social distance, wear your mask, do no harm. Be considerate. Wash your hands. Book your hotels and inns before you come. Plan your journey for next year (maybe…. fall???) meticulously. Leave less to chance. By all means, come to Shikoku and explore the splendor that awaits, and start the healing journey you may need, but use more than your heart to do so. Use your brain. Make a plan. Make a schedule. Be flexible with your expectations. Be kind and forgiving to yourself and to others.
Let’s do our part to make 2021 the year we come back from the brink of darkness. I’ll still be here cheering you on!
Well, Inbound Tourism has been knocked down to the canvas. The corona virus has had catastrophic impact on the entire industry. Hotels, Japanese inns, restaurants, attractions, and even the Shikoku pilgrimage have been all ground to a screeching halt. Japan has essentially shut down all the borders. The airports are at a stand-still. Nothing is moving.
And graphs don’t lie:
So, what are we to do now? Roll over and just die? Do we just give up the dream of what we’re supposed to do? I don’t know about what other people are doing, but I don’t feel so bad. I’ve been knocked backwards before. I’ve been knocked out cold before. A couple of decades on a karate dojo floor has taught me how to take a punch. We are going to come back from this, and there is something to be optimistic about. After all, it can’t get much worse after this. Our only direction from this point is UP.
This is the place from which we bounce up. So, I am going to keep hammering away at writing and promoting and connecting with people around the world and still get the word out about Shikoku, about this marvellous and important pilgrimage. I’m still waving this flag. I hope you see it. I hope you see it and are infected by a different kind of thing, not a virus, not something that makes you sick, something different, better. I hope you are infected with inspiration, and hope, and daydreams of your time coming to walk the path, and move between the temples all around Shikoku. I would love to hear your story when the corona cloud passes and you come here, to the end of the world, and write it yourself.
It has been news for several days now but it needs repeating and reporting on this site.
The Shikoku 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage is shut down for the time being due to the Corona Virus Pandemic. This is likely no surprise to most, and it is an unfortunate necessity for everyone to be safe and healthy as we all do our part to get through these trying and difficult months.
Oddly enough, I feel rather optimistic despite this unhappy news. We are going to find a way to get through this and come through the other side. A vaccine will be created and home cures like injecting oneself with household cleaners will not be needed. The world may heed the good advice of doctors to treat viruses carefully, and to be sensibly cautious. And hopefully anti-vaccine people will come through this pandemic healthy and whole as well, and then realize that their anti-science attitudes are dangerous and self-destructive.
It is unclear when a vaccine will be ready and accessible, but I would like to hazzard a guess that 18 months from now we can pretty much get back to normal. I would like to believe that a vaccine will be available, and although the corona virus may still infect and travel, people will be better equipped to deal with it.
There may also be need to keep a handy website accessible while you might come to Shikoku in 2022 and it is this one here: https://covid19japan.com
At the time of this posting, Shikoku is doing reasonably well, but the numbers of who might be sick or infected are difficult to truly know. More data on the matter, rather than less, might be a good idea.
In the meantime, I think I will keep doing what we all need to do and that is to stay safe and healthy, to do more reading and research on the pilgrimage in this “down time” and to start making plans for when life can get back to a semblance of “normal”.
Please stay safe and healthy. More to come in the days and weeks ahead!
I found this video and simply love it. There is a live version deeper in the blog updates on this site, but this is also so great. For us non-native Japanese learners, it is also a great way to learn the Heart Sutra:
This production is a very nice little melodrama of a group of young people who discover themselves and learn more about relationships. The acting is very much on par for a lot of daytime drama type shows in Japan. Not Academy Award performances perhaps, but it’s nice just the same.
The entire show has subtitles so click them on and follow along.
Paul Barach had his adventurous pilgrimage around Shikoku back in 2010. For him it was an experience of mixed impressions, feelings, and revelations. His book is entitled, “Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains”, and if you are thinking of coming to Shikoku to experience the pilgrimage yourself I very much recommend this book.
I liked this book for a number of reasons. The first is that it is brutally honest. The author has his perspective and has little inhibition in telling you what he thinks. But this honesty is not one of projection alone. He turns the focus on himself as well and has little trouble showing a harsh light on the darker parts of his thinking and feeling too. I think that takes a lot of guts, maybe even more than mashing your feet to hamburger over six weeks walking the hard roads of Shikoku.
Like other writers who choose to walk the Buddhist pilgrimage of Shikoku there is not enough opportunity to explore and describe the temples themselves in detail. If you are looking for that, this book will not satisfy your thirst for that knowledge. Most “aruki-henro” (walking pilgrims) are on tight, albeit self-imposed, schedules, and must hustle from one temple to the next in order to collect the calligraphy stamp for their “nokyouchou” (stamp books) and are also far too often plagued by boar, snakes, insects of all sorts, narrow tunnels, rain, slippery rocks, incidental injury, and long long stretches of road where they are left alone to their dark dark dark thoughts.
But, that does not mean you should skip this book if you are researching the Shikoku Ohenro trail. I would say quite the opposite. This book will introduce a lot of things that guide books do not, and there are some great pieces of information and insight dropped in throughout. You are encouraged to sift through this pilgrim’s tale to pull them out. There are some valuable nuggets in there worth digging for.
If I have a criticism of the book it is that the author himself did not take enough precaution and make suitable preparation for his trek through Shikoku. For him, Shikoku was the adventure and the place to explore and trundle through on the way to self-enlightenment and personal discovery.
In Paul’s very descriptive and self-revealing tale he mentions several times that he was not ready for some elements of his trip. He was injured quite seriously when he foolishly caused damage at one of the temples, and his shin was opened up leading to infection. Postponing medical treatment due to a lack of medical insurance made his situation quite terrible. Luckily for him he received proper medical treatment (only costing him 50 dollars US) and then was back on the road. This needs to be highlighted in your book as a cautionary tale. GET HEALTH INSURANCE before your travel to Shikoku.
There were times in his book where he was out of money. This is also something which is somewhat not easy to overlook. Why did Paul think it was okay to come to Shikoku without enough money? Why did he think it would be okay to just sleep outside wherever he thought might be good enough? Why did he have some subconscious expectation that “osettai” (charitable gifts from local residents) would see him through the day? Why did he think that ramen places would let him skip on the bill at the end of his meals? He certainly does not say “Hey, come to Shikoku. The food is free and you can camp just about anywhere. Everyone loves it, so come out for a homeless vacation!”, in any direct way. But there is a subtext there that it is just fine to throw caution to the wind, camp where you like, have some deep spiritual experiences as a result and everything will work out just fine.
Paul does not get to sit in on the meetings that I do with Ohenro Association people, or monks at the temples. He doesn’t have a clue that his “adventure” is a local burden. It might work for the very rare person coming through, but should hundreds and hundreds come after him, the situation for local communities would be pretty rough. There are people here in Shikoku who have some very serious concerns about this, and they can hardly be blamed for it.
In one part of the text, I like very much the realization that he has when he is inside a Japanese family’s home that would not leave him out to sleep under a bridge. They take him in, feed him, let him bathe in their home, have him sleep in a beautiful part of their home, and do their best to host him despite Paul not having any real Japanese ability to communicate or to express his gratitude. In some frustration he says, “I can’t give them anything”. In that moment he realizes that he has been traveling as a “taker”. It is an ugly moment, but an incredibly insightful and blindingly truthful moment.
It made me really respect the man he was becoming in that moment.
With the Shikoku Pilgrimage becoming more and more popular and visible each year it is quite critical, for the preservation of this great cultural artifact and journey of the soul, that each traveler take themselves into account. It is great to see the world and adventure. We should all do it, but we also need to do it in a way that we do not have our hands out to others. How can we contribute to the hosts of our experiences? How can we be gracious and welcome visitors? How can we make good benefits to those we encounter on the way?
Our experiences and growth ought not come at the expense and inconvenience or trouble to others. We should enrich one another as best we can, whenever we can. I think this can be done in some very basic ways. If you travel by foot or local transport, stay at local inns, ryokan, guest houses, and hotels. Slow your pace down. Take some time to see local things. Eat local food, and find out what festivals or activities are going on around you. Hire a guide for a day with a group and learn more about the culture and history. Join a Japanese friendship association and make connections with new friends that you will treasure forever. If you receive something from someone, like an “osettai”, that is great but put something back into that person’s hands. A trinket from home, a key chain, a pin with the flag of your country, a bookmark, or anything else easy to pack and carry. Be creative and give when you can.
I think that if Paul were to come out this way again he might travel very differently. And if he does, I hope he gives me a shout. I’d be happy to take him out for dinner. Not as “osettai”, but just as a thank you for this great book.
I’m grateful that Paul Barach wrote this book, and I think it is a great read. He is funny and made me laugh out loud a few times. That is not surprising as in his credits I learned that he is also a comic.
A nice brief article on travel trends around the world. The Shikoku Pilgrimage gets a mention in the middle. It’s nice to see and the numbers of growing tourists each year seem to be a reflection of this as well. More people are finding the trail out here. A UNESCO designation may be soon in the coming as well. We may be living in some interesting times to come!