Hello friends and neighbors. I hope you are doing well. Out here in Groovy Nippon we have had a largish typhoon blow past. When the typhoon systems start moving through Japan you know that you are at the end of summer. It’s a great time of the year. I love walking with our dogs by the rice fields as the harvesters are out and the fields are being cleared. Birds eat fallen rice. Dragonflies in blue and red are slowing down, lazily hanging around the edges.
Today’s Q&A is a little on the “brutally honest” side of things. It’s not my intention to be rude, or to hurt feelings, but over the last half-decade or so, and being in the midst of Shikoku Pilgrimage here in Kagawa prefecture, I need to share with you some information, and to get a few things off my chest as well.
We get many inquiries from around the world from people who are uniquely interested in the Shikoku Pilgrimage. They read about it online, or on a Facebook group, and they are very keen to come out for the experience of a lifetime. Of course, that is wonderful. I hope they do come. I hope that they do make it out here and have an incredible experience. Being out in nature, taking time to think and reflect on your life, clearing your head, and also submerging yourself in the ancient 1200 year old Buddhist path of Enlightenment and following the footsteps of the high priest, Kukai, is an amazing experience as well. The benefits of the experience will change your life.
This is no hyperbole. The experience is awesome, multi-layered, deep with nuance and tone. Running as a ring that threads the four prefectures, the “four kingdoms” of Shikoku, it is little wonder why some walk the path continually, a ring to walk that deepens thought and awakening with each circuit completed.
But too many people come out to Shikoku and just do it wrong. They just don’t “get it” from the outset. Let’s talk about how some newcomers to the Shikoku Pilgrimage can be so clueless.
Inquiries such as, “Hi Mark. I want to come to Shikoku and complete it in four weeks. I don’t want to book any hotels. I am a vegan and am allergic to broccoli. I don’t speak Japanese. Also, I heard that I can get free things called ‘o-settai’ while I walk around. Will you please provide me detailed instructions for my trip? I will be camping the whole time and do not want to eat foods that I don’t like. How can I do this? Where can I get my free stuff?” or some variation of the above.
I’m serious. I get these kinds of inquiries very frequently, almost daily.
My answer is a bit, “on the nose”, but here it is:
No, I am not going to help you. I am not going to book places for you to stay. I’m not going to be your personal guide or translator. I’m not going to suggest camping places, or public toilets that you can sleep in because you don’t want to spend money on a proper inn or hotel. I’m not going to call ahead to every place you eat because of your chosen dietary restrictions. I’m not going to introduce you to anyone. Nope. Not going to do it. No way.
I’m not going to promote the fantasy that all people are going to give you free things, this “o-settai” (historical artifact of charitable giving to pilgrims and received in the form of alms and carried prayers and offerings bourne by the pilgrim as they pay homage to various deities). I’m not going to propagate the Shikoku-urban legend that people here are going to give you fruit, snacks, drinks, money, rides, and places to stay because they are in awe of your choice of vacation. No. That silliness needs to stop. We’ll talk about “o-settai” in another blog. There is much nonsense about this concept.
For now, let’s talk about the attitude of someone who comes from their own country to Shikoku with such expectations. Imagine, if you will, Japanese people coming to your hometown. They do not want to stay in your local hotels or dine at your local restaurants. They do not want to spend money in your shops or purchase items that are made or grown locally. They may wish only to hang around in the parking lots of your convenience stores. They may throw garbage on your streets, in your fields, and near your churches or places of worship. When there is no toilet around that they can find they may relieve themselves in your parks, on the sides of your roads, or places nearby where your kids walk to school or play with their friends. And then… they go on the internet and complain about all their inconveniences and how they didn’t get free things while they were having a “spiritual journey”.
How would you feel? I am sure you would feel outrage.
And yet, this nauseating behavior is considered as some kind of “holy trek” by foreign pilgrimage groups, and as somehow “normative”. I might be one of the only people to speak out against this kind of attitude, and since my own kids live in this country, and they, with their friends of their generation, are the inheritors of this part of Japan, I ought to say something.
If you plan to come to Shikoku and “do it on the cheap”, plan to camp for free all the way, eat out of convenience stores, walk for days unbathed, race from one temple to the next without a thought in your head about where you are and what you are doing, and travel without proper health insurance, please don’t. Just don’t. The only thing you will bring to Shikoku is trouble, trash, and disruption. You may believe your heart to be pure as you seek personal enlightenment, but it is at the expense of the people who actually live in Shikoku, who call this their home, and who remain here after you go back home from your Instagramable Spiritual Awakening.
Frankly I wonder, and I welcome anyone to correct my thinking if this is wrong, is the attitude that it is okay to come to another person’s country, to foist yourself upon their neighborhoods, health-care networks because you don’t carry insurance, and treat parts of their natural landscape as your personal toilet, a kind of cultural “imperialism”? Is there not some sort of vulgar racist undertone in that? How can that behavior or attitude be considered acceptable under any circumstance? For me part, I find it repugnant and vile.
I’m a Canadian guy and if people from other countries behaved in such a way publicly in my old hometown, you can bet the issue will be met with some pushback, possibly involving atypical uses of hockey sticks, and poutine.
Perhaps I am overthinking it. Perhaps I am over-reacting, but you, dear friends and neighbors, do not see the contents of my Inbox. The self-entitled nonsense that comes our way is alarming. So, we’ve decided not to participate in the support of it, in any way. Sorry.
My company will not assist anyone who does not wish to come to Shikoku in a way that is not only enriching for the traveler personally, but also contributes in a meaningful, honest, truthful, and reciprocal manner with the hosts of your experience. It may sound like I am a bit grouchy, and perhaps I am, but I am very short with people who are “takers”. I dislike disingenuous people. I am not interested in those who see the Shikoku Pilgrimage as a path to conquer, rather that to walk within.
I do, however, love our clients who are curious, gentle, thoughtful, inquisitive, patient, and see the experience of coming to Shikoku as opportunity for growth and understanding. We work very hard to help such people have unique and incredible experiences on the pilgrim’s path. For them, we make arrangements with our friends and contacts at specific temples and plan for visits, tours, learning opportunities and immersive experiences. We put such clients in contact with locals who are keen to interact, talk, discuss, and share time together.
So, here is the “brass tacks” of it all. If you would like us to provide support, planning, arrangements, and special access for your Shikoku Pilgrimage we are glad to do so. But there are conditions. Not many, but a few.
Here they are:
1. You must have a guide. Not negotiable. No guide – no help. The guide is essential to your experience. If you refuse to book a guide for your group that is the end of our discussion. I am very sorry about that but this is non-negotiable.
2. You must be booked each night in proper accommodations. It can be an inn, a business hotel, a capsule hotel, a ryokan… it does not matter. No camping. No sleeping rough. Two of your meals each day will be planned. Lunch can be variable, but we often plan our tours well enough that you can be assured that there will be no need to have you eating out of a styrofoam bowl in a parking lot. You came so far to Japan, you might as well enjoy their huge variety of food, no?
3. We will not run. The Shikoku Pilgrimage is not a steeple-chase through a holy land. It is a walk. It is a journey and a path for awareness – self-awareness, cultural-awareness, historical-awareness, and awareness of other people too. What to think, how to grow, how to understand is up to you. But what we will do is provide information, details, access to people like monks and priests and guides who know much more than we do. We will introduce you to story, legend, and folklore. We will provide historical context, and details of things you cannot find elsewhere in mini-guidebooks. We love our work as it has historical, archeological, architectural, philosophical, and literary values running throughout. Why people would run by all of that to get their temple-book merely stamped astonishes me. Those types are surely not our clients.
So there you have it.
Having grown weary of cheap, thoughtless, under-motivated, under-thinking, homeless holiday types lacking cultural empathy or consideration, I’ve decided not to help or assist any of those guys. There are some nice Facebook groups out there who might be of service to those needs. If our guidelines offend, please go and talk to them, and do not waste our time.
For those who wish to prepare intelligently, thoughtfully, and in a way that is sustainable for all connected – traveler, host, local culture and environment, please contact us for a consultation. We will be very happy to help you. firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope my overly long blog finds you well today, fellow pilgrims. Have a great day.