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.
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!
This blog is getting periodic updates every now and then. We are closing in rapidly at the end of the year. That means a lot of fun things to do, some cool events to enjoy, and also a long sustained scream from now right through to the end of the holidays.
And speaking of screaming, let’s talk about HEALTH INSURANCE and your inevitable voyage to, and the life-changing experience you will have on the Shikoku pilgrimage. You will likely hear from various places of sage counsel to make sure you have health insurance and travel insurance before you go anywhere. And like most people you will probably think, “Ah… what could happen? I’ll be all right. Look at these biceps! I’m invincible!”
And that is all fine and good until you aren’t. Something happens. You slip on the trail and break an ankle. Your biceps did not save you that time. You catch a cold and keep walking and then get bronchitis and then keep walking and then you get pneumonia and then you collapse in the nearest drug store looking for Vicks Vapo-rub.
It can happen. I may not happen. But IF it DOES happen, you better have some health insurance.
The reason for that is simple. If you don’t have health insurance the situation you now in will be completely out of your control. Bad things have a higher potential to happen and you will not have much of a say in what is coming next.
One possibility is that you will be picked up by good samaritans and put in a hospital. The doctors will look at you and instantly admit you into their medical facility, do tests, hook you up to an IV, and do what they can for you. Japanese doctors and medical facilities are some of the best in the world. If I am sick, for anything, I want to be treated here.
You will not be allowed to just leave when you want. If you have a serious illness, or broken bones, you need to get treated and healed up. Stumbling out of the hospital only to collapse later makes trouble for a lot of people you don’t know, so don’t do that. Every hour you are in the hospital costs money.
After a few days you may be ready to leave. Now you have to pay the bills. One recent report from someone on the Shikoku Pilgrimage who did not have medical coverage is still paying a bill of 50,000 dollars. That is some serious money. It would not have been a problem if he had health insurance. I am sure that you do not want this kind of grief.
You may think, “Well, maybe I will just leave the hospital and quietly get to the airport and go home.” I suppose you could do that. And besides it being a real low-life thing to do, fantastically selfish and narcissistic, it may have some “real life” consequences for you.
The world is different now than it was years ago. People who do not pay their medical bills in Japan and skip out may be reported to other authorities. It’s a kind of crime. Municipal, prefectural, and national organizations cooperate much more with each other than they did in the past. If you have a black mark on your name because you skipped out on your medical bill, do you think that this information may be given to the local police, who then share that with immigration and border control authorities? Do you think that should you try to come back to Japan in the future you might be stopped at the gate and asked to settle your outstanding debt? Do you think that in the spirit of international cooperation against terror that the Japanese border authorities may share their information with other countries? Do you think that skipping out on your bill in Japan may affect your ability to travel and use your passport as you go elsewhere?
Maybe. I don’t know. I am no expert. But I do know that privacy is shrinking in our world, that the ability to “be off grid” or “under the radar” is more fantasy than reality. We are all far more “accessible” than we used to.
It would just be much easier and simpler to just get some health insurance rather than run the risk of going through unnecessary trouble and heartache.
There is some rather inane urban legend on the Shikoku pilgrimage, likely true to some extent, of a traveler who got very sick and needed to be hospitalized. That traveler did not have health insurance and when the day of reckoning came to be discharged the hospital staff met that person, bowed in unison, and said, “It is our osettai!”. Which means “It’s on the house”.
Really? I am not sure if I really believe it. I’m pretty sure that I do not want to believe it. It sounds all so magical and marvellous, like a testament to the natural good natured characters of Shikoku residents far and wide. It’s a “made for television” kind of moment.
Maybe that happened. But even if it did you really MUST NOT expect to get free medical care when you come to Japan. You need to pay your own way. If you get sick and need professional care make sure you have covered to receive it. Do not think that this folksy legend of overly kind and eternally generous thinking about medical treatment will apply to you when you come to experience Shikoku. That is incredibly self-centered and naive.
A more realistic interpretation of the above case was that the doctors and nurses, because they are sworn to protect life (even yours when you don’t have proper insurance) will not leave you on the street. They probably figured out that their patient was basically treating their home town and prefecture like a homeless person’s free/cheap vacation, and that this person had little consideration for the impact of their actions on others.
They realized that they were dealing with someone who under all the smiles was someone who cared more about themselves and their “magic experience” than thinking that while traveling to another country is great, you are traveling through someone else’s life, their city, their hometown, and the place where they raise their kids.
They probably realized that even if they tried to get some payment towards the un-collectable amount owed it would be a long series of hopeless attempts resulting in great frustration. It would be “cheaper” to cut the losses and try to make it a bit more palpable as a “gift”.
But it is a gift that the “guest” took in advance… and enjoyed prior to the actual “giving”.
It is also so unnecessary. Health insurance and travel insurance are dirt cheap. Compared to the actual costs of having to pay for medical expenses out of pocket it is almost free. Please consider this moral lesson as a heart-felt plea to prepare yourself and plan for potential trouble when you are ready to come out to Shikoku. Small preventative measures will save you much pain and suffering.
Everyone I have talked to and met here in Shikoku who are very interested in supporting and helping people come to the region to enjoy the pilgrimage love the concept of more visitors and explorers. They love that people can come and experience this incredible place. But there are concerns too. Things like garbage left behind, people sleeping in public spaces, and also this… people who need medical help who did not prepare properly.
I think that as visitors to Japan (I include myself in that number, even after 20 plus years of living here) we need to be mindful of these things. Don’t throw garbage out in nature. Don’t sleep out in places that you do not know are okay. Book a guesthouse, an Air BnB, or a hotel. Eat well, and eat locally. And for your own sake, and health, and safety, and pocket book, get some medical/health/travel insurance before you arrive.
It’ll be great to see you here. But make sure that you do it well, and safely, and stress-free too.
That’s all for my rant today. Thanks for reading this far.
Amazon is a speedy machine. I had put out the notice that the Kindle version was ready to go and when I woke up this morning I got the notice that the hard copy version is now also available.
I can’t describe how excited I am that this book is out there. I have written books before, and make a bunch of textbooks/homework books for our English student. But this one is a special book. It is one that I hope will serve as an inspiration to whet the appetite of people who are all over the world and thinking of doing something for their lives that may help them get “on a better path”.
Of course, no vacation or long walk through the woods and through temples will solve all your problems. But time away from the noise of things that drag you down, a bit of a disconnect from the white sound of television and media, and a chance to learn and explore the glorious Shikoku Pilgrimage may do one’s soul good.
So, if you are interested please get yourself a copy of the book. Available through fine internet connections everywhere:
Ok, so there are some “usual” ways to come to Takamatsu, via airport, and that is great. You can catch flights from Tokyo, Shanghai, Taipei, Seoul, and Hong Kong. All those places will take you direct to the airport. And then you are here! Yay!
But… and this is kind of a fun way to come to Shikoku too, you could come by overnight train. The SETO SUNRISE! It can be caught in Tokyo or Yokohama and departs around 9:00pm. You get on, find your bed or bunk, depending on how much you spend. Make sure you have lots of snacks and drinks, and then ride the rails all night until you wake up in glorious Shikoku.
You’ll get some “wake up call” along the way so you won’t miss the incredible sights of the Seto Inland Sea, so that is like a bonus.
Seriously, I took it once and loved it. I will surely do it again. So, take a look at this great video about what it looks like from the inside!
SETO SUNRISE. Inquire with the JR ticket counter!
It has been awhile. But it has been for good reason and there is purpose and happenstance, so allow me a few lines here to explain what that means.
I started this website a few years ago. The primary purpose was to bring some exposure to the Ohenro experience and to put more information out there about the Shikoku Pilgrimage. It was also a way for me to spread out my own brief experiences in the pilgrimage and to see them one by one, perhaps looking for strings of meaning through the route.
I live here in Shikoku, in Kagawa, in Takamatsu city, and my wife Kazuyo and I run our schools here. While we are often busy with our work, we do so in the backdrop and context of this pilgrimage which rings Shikoku. The local culture, the people, the geography, and the spirit of the place is inextricably linked to everything we see and touch every day. But often in way in ways that are difficult to explain, or articulate well.
We noticed that there is a groundswell of activity around us in local businesses and government for “inbound tourism” and we have been approached almost daily for assistance and counsel about how to make various events, attractions, transportation services, restaurants, and tour experiences more attractive for incoming guests and to do so while maintaining the integrity of the experiences.
So we started an experiment from last year October and developed a website to highlight various places and cultural activities for incoming guests to explore and enjoy. I made a sister web site called “Come to Kagawa” (www.cometokagawa.com) and in a few short months the traffic has been booming. We had initially wanted to simply make a public service site to help stimulate interest in Kagawa, but had no idea what would happen next.
This was completely unexpected and the response was very nice. We were noticed by JR Shikoku, the 114 Economic Advisory Board, Kagawa University, Takamatsu City, and a good number of business owners who work in the hospitality industry. We have been working closely with many members in these groups in their various projects and some intense planning has been going on (in the shadows, behind the scenes, in quiet whispered tones….). No, no… not really. Nothing so dramatic. But it has been a wonderful experience to meet some very creative and interesting people, and also to discover for myself more how we can be of service to new friends and inbound colleagues (co-conspirators).
In short, we’ve been able to accomplish a few significant things. First, we have established strong links with JR Shikoku and the local 114 Economic Advisory Board. We have plans in motion to set up “concierge” services for inbound guests. The format is being set up right now, but what that means for incoming visitors is that there will be an active robust resource of information of:
- How to get to Shikoku
- How to travel around Shikoku
- What events, festivals, cultural activities are available and when.
- Accessible accommodations from luxury hotels, to rustic inns in the mountains, to guest houses.
- Information on each and every temple on the Shikoku Pilgrimage
- Information on cultural and historical places to access and see
- Information on the Setouchi Experience with art, and islands, and food and drink
- Information on rental car services
- Recommended Shikoku experiences ranging from weekend stays to the full-on 2 month Ohenro trekking experience, and many between.
Our goal is to make clear a lot of information that is floating out there, and to work cooperatively with people who are “in the know” about so many of these things, to work cooperatively and collectively together to make a good thing.
We understand that Inbound Tourism brings with it two sides of a coin. One is the good: where people can come, explore, discover things, enjoy, dine, relax, and in doing so bolster and support local economy. We like this a lot, and as parents who have kids growing up in Shikoku we want to work like crazy to do our best for their future here. The other is the bad: where people come, make a mess, throw their trash in the street, carve their initials into temple walls, get inebriated on the street, demand to know why ketchup is not on everything they eat, and forget all their manners because they are “on vacation”.
I think that we can manage this situation, or at least do the best we can to accentuating the good and reducing the bad. And it comes by doing what we always do–creating and providing information about these places in Shikoku, telling the stories of people who live here, inviting people to enjoy things in a way that will give them a uniquely deep Japanese cultural experience, and developing a community of people who have come to love this land, this Pure Land, this beautiful and marvellous Shikoku.
More updates will come in rapid fire about the concierge services and how to access the format in the weeks to come. Much planning has been going on in the last several months, but now we feel like we have our feet in the starting blocks, and are really ready now to start this race in earnest.
I warmly and cordially and whole-heartedly invite you along with us, to contribute your experiences and insights, to share your perspective, and to help us develop this community.
Watch this site for details! In the meantime, thanks for reading, and have a great day.