Pilgrims in SPAIN!

Well, dear friends and neighbors, I just got back from Spain. It was, as you may already know, a very very cool place to visit. It was my first time to Spain and I have not been to Europe for many years. Everything was interesting and everything was new for me.

I had set out with a local group from Japan with the purpose of promoting the Shikoku Pilgrimage. There was a lot of moving around, and I had to drive quite a bit during this journey, but it was totally worth it.

Our first stop was to Santiago de Compostela. This is the “end” of the Spanish pilgrimage for many, but it was our first stop. It is a very inspiring place to visit. Here are a few of the pictures I took when there:

 

After that visit, we were off to the city of Sarria to meet the mayor there. This was a great time and opportunity. The mayor, Ma del Pilar Lopez Yanez, was tremendously graceful  and very classy. After a lunch together, she invited us to her office where our group was able to talk about the pairing of the Spanish portion of their pilgrimage, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, with the Japanese portion of the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage, from Kannonji to Okubouji. Initial discussions were very fruitful, thanks to our stellar translator and travel support, Shoko-san.

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After some time with the group in Santiago de Compostela, I decided to make my appointments in Barcelona with various travel companies to promote a business connection and cultural exchange opportunity. Some meetings were good, but one meeting was spectacular. We are looking forward to exploring a project together of inviting pilgrims from both Spain and Japan to venture out and experience each other’s pilgrimages. It has great potential and I am absolutely thrilled to be part of the process to help facilitate these experiences.

I have always felt that the weapon against hate and ignorance is knowledge and travel. We learn more about other people when we walk on their roads, eat the food they eat, drink the things they drink, attempt in our feeble ways to use their language to communicate, and find things that we can enjoy, share, and laugh about. I am dismayed to see so much hate in the Western media and ignorance in both speech and deed with those who pretend they should lead us. So, in response, I think we should make pilgrimage in a foreign land a mandatory activity for anyone fit to travel.

It surely is a step in the right direction, wherever that direction takes you.

Getting Closer and Closer to the Beginning

It has been another great couple of sessions for getting out on the pilgrim’s trail. This blog has not been updated for a little while (sorry about that), but sometimes my work takes on a life of its own and needs my attention. But it sure was nice to get away for a little while to visit temples, to study more about the Ohenro trail, and see some things that were unique, elegant, beautiful, and surprising.

It has also been very interesting to see a few more foreign pilgrims on the road. The most amazing thing that has been similar with several is that they have come to Shikoku with limited or without any proficiency in Japanese. They just get out on the trail and start walking, filled with a spirit of determination and a lot of guts. I really admire that. I think it is awesome. I had a chance to stop a few and ask how they are doing, ask where are they from, and ask what they would like to see for some changes or improvements to the whole experience. Some travel by foot, but I also met a family that just came here, rented a car, and started driving all over the place. How cool is that?

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There is usually a brief comment about how the current English guidebook is not enough, but then another quickly following comment that the guidebook is indeed indispensable. I could not agree more. The guidebook is GREAT, but a guidebook cannot, by its very nature hold all the information that a pilgrim would like to have. So, we will do what we can here to chip away at what people want to learn and know more about over time. For me, I am still learning, so we can learn more together, and talk, and share ideas, and try to figure out a few things along the way.

There are also comments about how the trail could be better identified and also for some better computer maps. I think that those things are coming along, and in my time talking with some of the people in the Shikoku Ohenro Friendship Society, a lot of volunteer man-hours are going into those exact things. I think that despite the frustrations that pilgrims have today, things will be better for people who are coming later in the weeks and months to come.

For me, on this first time around, we got to Temple 12. Coming in reverse order this year that means that I have visited 76 temples so far. That is a lot, and they are beginning to blur a bit around the edges. From now I have to kick things into gear and get more updates on each temple. I would like to include more folklore, locals sights and sounds and flavors, and all of that will take time. But this project has given me much more than I have given it. Must get back to it to balance that out a little better, if I can.

There are a couple more outings yet scheduled, so I am looking forward to those. And then off to Mt. Koya. I am, as you can imaging, pretty jazzed about that.

Hope this blog finds you well, safe, and dry on this rainy day here in Shikoku!

 

Yours,

Mark