The Invitation

At this time we are in the process of getting things formalized for inviting tour groups to come to Kagawa to experience the incredible Shikoku Pilgrimage. We have worked very hard this last year and things are coming together nicely.

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If you are new to this site, and are here to find our more about what the Shikoku Pilgrimage is about, I hope you will take some time to look through some of these pages. There are a few caveats I need to give you right away.

  1. This website is far from complete. Last year I finished the 88 temple pilgrimage and I am still updating information on the site. Last year was a “gyaku-uchi” year, so we traveled the pilgrimage in reverse starting at the last temple, number 88. So, if you are looking for my own journey, please start there. I have been updating the information as I have been going along and I am down now to the early 30’s. I hope to get this all updated as soon as possible. The pages all have photos, just no explanations or history–YET.
  2. I am not a tour guide operator, but I work closely with a group of business people and one of our members is a tour operator. If you are a travel agency, please contact me via email (cometokagawa@gmail.com or englishbiztakamatsu@gmail.com) and I promise to respond in a timely manner.
  3. Should you decide to come to Shikoku, we believe you are going to have an unbelievable experience. Coming to Japan is a marvelous thing in itself, and you will surely enjoy the great sites of Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka. I love all those places myself. But coming here you will find a certain closeness and “hands-on” experience that you will not get in the more high traffic tourist places.

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There are also a few things I want to tell you about our great Come to Kagawa project as well. Some of it is pretty cool so I can start to let the cat out of the bag early on. We have been in conversation with several people who are masters or artisans in their specific fields and each is very interested and keen to share their knowledge and passion for art with groups that will come.

Our team of artists and experts are in the following fields:

–tea ceremony

–calligraphy

–zen meditation

–Shintoism

–udon making

–bonsai gardening

–kimono wearing

We are absolutely blown away with the intensity of interest these artists have in their desire to share their knowledge and passion with visitors. Many have said the same thing, that they have a certain “urgency” to share with others. They have the knowledge of art in their hearts and minds and just want to share that passion with others so that their art will continue beyond them.

These would be things that visitors could surely enjoy and participate in, in addition to the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage itself. We think that we are cooking up a very unique and supremely fun experience here. So, if you have received an invitation to come to our fair prefecture of Kagawa, and if you are interested in talking about the specifics, please get in touch with us. We are very much looking forward to talking with you soon.

Yours truly,

Mark

Finish Line?

This week I visited the final three temples on the pilgrimage. I “got it done”, so to speak. It was a very nice morning when I headed out, and this time I did not go with the tour group. I got up in the morning, had a quick breakfast, jumped in my car and was at temple number 3 (Konsenji) in Tokushima within about an hour. Simply beautiful. No one was there yet and it was quiet, and peaceful, and perfect. After that I zipped down the road to number 2 (Gokurakuji) and that was nice too. The final visit to number 1 (Ryouzenji) was met with a lot of people, tour buses, and foreign visitors too. I was surprised as to the contrast between number 3 and 1. Of course, it is understandable that at the very first temple people need some kind of orientation, places to buy their ohenro gear, and to get the whole process started, but it was surprising how busy it was, and how the energy seems a bit nervous and unsure as groups lumbered in and out.

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But I “cleared it”. My “noukyouchou” (temple stamp book) was complete, I performed my final sutras (for this trip) and I was done.

Was there an epiphany? Was there a moment of satori (Buddhist enlightenment)? Was there the movement of clouds above while the light of heaven shone down upon my upward beaming (and unshaven) face?

Nope. None of that. But I did feel something, or maybe I just thought something. I can’t be sure. I felt that I had done the thing I was supposed to do. I felt that now that I finished my first pilgrimage around the whole of Shikoku, I was ready to get back to my life.

I felt compelled to leave. I felt like I was given something that I needed and that I now needed to do what I could in my work and my everyday moving about to be of use and purpose for those around me.

Even a few days later I still have the same feeling. So, there are few things to get done.

  1. Keep working on this website and fill in as many gaps as possible. Promote this website and invite other to contribute where they can. The pilgrimage is something that is best shared, and although many have private feelings and reasons for doing it, there is something of a communal experience that occurs and needs celebrating.
  2. Keep doing the job I am doing in building and growing our language schools for kids. I am lucky to have a job where the results of “giving” to others can have very quick and tangible results. Teaching is a noble and important job. I am delighted to work with a great team of teachers in building our schools and serving our community. There is much more to do, so I need to get back to doing it.

The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage is in a circle. The metaphor is not lost on me. You finish the circle, but you could easily go through again and again and find more to learn and discover. I appreciate that, and I find it beautiful and attractive. I can see why there are people who are dedicated ohenro and why they walk this path for as long as they can put one foot in front of the other.

But for me, I am perhaps not designed to be in a circle only. I come from a culture where linear movement has its own value and place. In a circle you can let the situations and circumstance “be” while you move through them, and you are changed in ways you do not realize or fully understand. A linear movement is more like a rocket trajectory perhaps. I feel compelled to move in this way, for now.

My work, our schools, the students who need our help and service wait. If I am to remain in the circle they would not be there by the time I went around again. For me, it is time to come out of the circle and to use what I have in my mind and heart to do what I can to get kids better in English. I have a privileged position in this world, and I intend of leveraging my abilities for these kids. They need it and deserve it.

After the trajectory of these years to come may falter and slip, I will need to come out of the linear world again perhaps when I am forced to retire. I know where there is a circle where I can walk and think and reflect on the person I am, and how I may participate in the world around me. I know where I could start, and the path stretches out ahead, like an old friend who is inviting you to come along for the walk of your life.

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Sleeping with the People Who Sleep with Fishes

I am a member of a Facebook “Ohenro” group and there are some very nice people on that list. Several of them have reviews of their websites here, and it is very clear from their participation that they are passionate and thoughtful about their pilgrimage experiences.

There was one recent posting to the group admonishing, in some vague manner, about how to “behave” in Japan. Typically, I find such kinds of admonishments stiff and condescending. They are usually proffered by someone who has been in Japan for several years, has a good mastery of the language, but somehow and someway kind of lost their own identity in the search of being more “personally acceptable” to an imaginary Japanese “standard” of what is passable to the “typical” Japanese person.

Wow. That is a lot of apostrophes for one paragraph.

Part of the irritation I experience, at times, is the self-aggrandizing passive aggressiveness of these typical pieces of advice. They are well-meaning, I suppose, but they are coupled with a superiority complex that is hard not to see. They often begin with a phrase like, “The Japanese people are ….”, as if one person can understand how an entire nation thinks…. or “In Japanese culture you must …”, followed with a series of instructions you need to follow, lest you bring great shame upon yourself, your family, the Emperor, and all civilized people. Usually, it is all a bit much.

For me, having been around a bit myself for the last couple of decades in Japan, I tend to tune out such advice. It is often dull and uninspired, humorless and preachy.  I hope you can take it from me that there is really only one thing that you need to do, well, maybe two.

  1. Be nice.
  2. Don’t be a jerk

That’s it. Just like back home, wherever home might have been before you came here. You know what good manners are, and you know what bad manners are. Figure it out. Use the golden rule. Recall you girl scout or boy scout code of conduct. Be friendly. Be yourself. That should keep you in good shape.

But… the aforementioned posting by one of the members did in fact have one thing that he mentioned that really stood out. And that guy was totally correct. He had heard through friends of his on the ohenro trail that some foreign travelers were, and get this, SLEEPING IN A CEMETERY. 

Great Scott.

That one is a new one on me. That is pretty stunning I think.

I had no idea that there were actually people out there on the ohenro trail who thought that sleeping in a cemetery in a country not their own would be a good idea. Do we really have to tell people NOT to sleep in the cemetery? Really? I mean, how dumb can someone be? That is pretty rude, and to some, very serious behavior.

To the people who thought that it might be okay to sleep in a Japanese cemetery, “What the hell were you possibly thinking?” Were you tired? Did you have a long day walking? Big deal. Everyone has those. Did you not plan your trip properly? That is your fault. Don’t foist your crap on someone else. Didn’t you think that some people visit their loved ones at the cemetery regularly, and that to them it is holy ground? Don’t you think that for them, finding your lazy carcass sprawled out next to their dead family members might be a problem?

Frankly speaking, I think that sleeping in any cemetery, in any country around the world is  not a good idea. Really. What kind of person sleeps in a cemetery? Are you some kind of zombie? Don’t you have any common sense?

I guess my own two pieces of advice, be nice and don’t be a jerk, needs one more. Here it is:

3. Don’t be an idiot by sleeping in a graveyard.

Walking and exploring the ohenro trail should be a good experience. It should be good for you. It should be enriching and expansive for your soul. It should be good for people you meet on the way. How can we be of benefit to those we meet? How can we serve or uplift our fellow humans? This nonsense of sleeping on someone’s family grave just feels wrong,  because it is. That behavior comes from a spirit of “taking”, whether the people doing it are aware or not. There comes from some people an immature feeling of “getting something” or “taking something” wherever you go. “What can I get?” and “How much for me?” is the underscoring tone. If you feel sleepy or tired, get yourself further down the road to a place you know you can stop at. If you have to pay for a bed, do it. If you have to slog on, keep going. That is just how it has to be. That is the world of responsible adults. You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.

I think that these feelings of greed and entitlement need to be turned around. You don’t need to give all your worldly possessions away and live like a beggar, but when you meet someone, when you meet anyone, the thought of “What can I do for this person?” is simply a better, and happier, way to live.

So, that is my rant for today in its entirety. For those chowderheads sleeping on graves, knock it off. For the rest of you kind friends and neighbors, have a great day and travel safe.

 

Mark

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Down To The Single Digits

Wow.

It has been a very busy year so far. Yesterday I got back home after the last pilgrimage installment. There are only three more temples to visit, and then I will have been to all 88. When I think about that it is pretty amazing, and also I am so grateful that I have been able to update this website throughout the year as I went along. There is so much to see, and so many temples to learn things about and explore. By laying things out here, page by page, I can clearly explore and remember each more clearly. It is also my great hope that this site and blog will be of good help to visitors as well.

I just uploaded the photos up to temple 4, down from 88, so that is a start. There is still much to do for including information, background, history, highlights, and folklore for each. I will keep puttering around with it until it is done.

I am also working on a close reading of the Heart Sutra, and hopefully a helpful guide to reading it aloud, and a mild dissection of each part so that you can understand more and enjoy more of this beautiful thing. I have to admit that I am enjoying pondering the ideas and expressions within the sutra. Like many westerners, I grew up where linear logic is praised, and where clear lines of discussion and argument can be expressed and debated. The Heart Sutra is having none of that, so this is quite interesting.

But I promise also not to go off on all kinds of esoteric tangents that serve more to confuse, than to explore together. That would just be plain…. rude.

My last impression of the most recent journey is that the pace of the pilgrimage is a bit overwhelming. It is hard to put everything in careful perspective when so many temples and countryside is whizzing by. At Kirihataji (temple 10) I met two very nice French visitors. We did not have a chance to talk much, but they sure seemed interesting. They are only here for a short visit, to see a handful of temples, but they could both speak very passable Japanese. Years ago, as students, they used to live in Japan and are now back for a visit. I would have liked to talk more, but the road called them forward and our tour bus took us onward. I  liked that they chose to do fewer, rather than more. They wanted to enjoy and know more of what they were doing, rather than racing to a  finish line to “get it done”.

In the same way, I feel that about this site. This is the first time through, but it feels like preparing the background of a picture I am making on canvas. The first pass needs bold lines and blocky shaded areas. The forms will take shape over time. They will have their own hues and tone. Then the details, slowly and meticulously will fill the finer gaps within. Who knows what it will look like later.

Something entirely unexpected I suppose…

 

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

Latest Lamentations

Oh… this site needs much more work. Oh…. I have no idea when I will get the time to really get it looking better. Ohhhh… there are so many topics and things that need to be addressed here. Ohhhhhhh….. I am still not finished the first time through the 88 temples.

What are you gonna do? In Japanese you can say, “Shikata ga nai” or “Shouga nai” (which as a gag can also be translated as “I have no ginger.”

I just got back home after a two-day installment of temple 27 (Kounomineji) down to… temple 18 (Onzanji). Remember, that this is a “gyaku-uchi” year so many pilgrims are visiting temples in reverse order. This was an overnighter for me, so I was away from my family, and I stayed at a very “Showa-era” standard hotel in Tokushima (The Rivera) with all the flavors and textures that go with that. It is just across the Kochi border looking out on the sea. The view from my window was marvelous. The onsen, however, was divine.

I get out on the ohenro trail once a month, but it is very much like a kind of respite from running our company, and gives me a little space to think, to daydream, and to think about what we are all about, and how we must focus better on serving our students, and beyond that-serving our fellow humans.

I fill up my camera with unbelievable pictures and I love doing that. This last trip has some real gems in it, and it was a very good time for me to learn, to stretch my mind a little, and to calm my overly anxious heart.

I will try to get the photos up on the site, and get back to the grindstone of filling in some blanks too. I really need to thank you guys who visit for being so patient as I slowly stumble along here.

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Please stay tuned!

Mark

Your Essential Guidebook

This guidebook is a must-have for anyone who is traveling on foot for the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage. If you are planning on coming out this way, you simply must have this book in your pack. There are times that cell phone batteries die, internet access is not possible, or if you are like me, you actually lose your phone in the sea. It is times like this that you must prepare to go “old school”. Yes, that means that you will need to harken back to the “good old days” when our knowledge was somehow stored on pieces of paper which were fastened in a stack either by thread, staples, or glue. You know what I am talking about! You got it!

Books! Yay. I love books.

So, this book is full of maps and little synopses of the various temples and surrounding area attractions. It is really quite a marvel that so much information could be packed into a single book. It is very inexpensive too. Mine cost 1,600 yen, so that is about 16 bucks.

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But this book is not without controversy! Yes, indeed. There is scandal. There are divisive voices as to its worthiness for taking precious space in your backpack.

The first criticism I heard is that the information is not completely accurate as to what places are open for lodging and which are closed. The people who make this criticism are unhappy that the book does not behave as an electronic data holding machine that updates its information instantaneously. It is an outrage! Yes, how can a book not be like the internet! I demand all my books to behave like my computer!

The second criticism I heard is that the book is too heavy. I read of a critic who suggested that the book be printed on lighter material, perhaps the glue in the binding could be cut down, or that there is simply too much useful information that had better be deleted. Another outrage! Yes, we all know that the movement of ohenro is much like an Olympic competitive swimmer who shaves all their body hair off so that they can move much quicker through the water. We need the ohenro to be more streamlined and aerodynamic.

My own response to these two criticisms is 1) Books are not computers. Plan your trip better and get the information you need from a bunch of sources before putting the responsibility for YOU have a place to sleep on the guys who made this book. 2) If you think you will be too tired to carry around this “heavy” book made of sturdy useful pages of maps, just imagine how tired you will be walking 20 kilometers off course when you have nothing on paper to properly guide you.

This book is the labor of love of a whole bunch of people. It is updated regularly and there are Facebook groups and websites that update the status of places to stay. Mr. Tateki Miyazaki, Mr. Naoyuki Matsushita are the authors of this book. Translation done by Mr. David Moreton. Publishers is Buyodo Co. Ltd.

Remember that before you get out on the trail you need this in your pack. There is no real reasonable way around this. I can walk around with it in a big side pocket of my jacket or in a small pocket in my carry-around bag. It really doesn’t weigh much, and the information in it could really help you when you need it.

 

Sacred Journeys Documentary

If you are considering coming out to Shikoku to experience the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage, a documentary you might consider checking out is this one:

 

 

It is the episode of the television series, Sacred Journeys, which takes place all over the world and is an exploration of different kinds of journeys and pilgrimages, discussing the purpose, the journey, and those who travel these paths. This episode is quite well done and it is a good representation of what you may see should you come out this way. It is a bit long, so get yourself a cup of tea, settle in, and enjoy.

Hope, real Hope, for the Future

I am getting old. I am getting grouchy. My knees and back hurts in the morning. I am very unfriendly before I have a cup of coffee in the morning. I am what I thought my grandfather must have been like. Old grouchy man.

Young people today! Terrible! They have crazy hairstyles and listen to terrible music! Young people make trouble. They are lazy. They don’t study enough. They have no  plans or hopes for the future. Young people are a pain in the neck.

I think that might have been me when I was 16. But what you will see in the videos below are kids that are nothing like I was. These are the real shining gems of tomorrow. I watched all the speeches and I was very impressed, some of them are quite touching. I have hope for tomorrow, and I always believe that the next generation will bring good with it. Our job, as the grouchy old generation of today, is to clean up some of the debris and destruction that we inherited from the generation before ours.

Shikoku Pilgrimage Japan Heritage Council put together this speech contest. It falls under their, “Project to Promote the Attractions of Japanese Heritage”. The results of this project were probably quite unexpected. The speeches are very heart-warming and authentic. I encourage you to check out all the video on this page.

 

Here are the videos I could find of the individual speeches. They are really quite lovely. And before you think that sometimes the pronunciation is not clear or perfect, please keep in mind that Japanese, as a language, has no natural sounding “F”, “L”, “R”, “V”, or “TH”. Before you criticize, you should try to put together your own speech in Japanese that requires navigation through grammar and vocabulary that would make your eyes bleed.

I thought that these young adults did a tremendous job, and provided a marvellous and elegant service to the theme they wrote and spoke on. Not only did they create these speeches, committed them to memory, but they had to stand in front of room of people to deliver their ideas and feelings. It takes guts and courage to do a speech, and then to do it in a foreign language too… wow. The only thing missing from their high school uniforms are capes.

Awesome! And…. up … up… and away!!!!!

Check these out!

Tour de Ohenro

Momoko Ochi

Core Value of Henro

Honoka Tsujihara

The Spirit of Hospitality (Omotenashi)

Yu Aono

The Shikoku Pilgrimage: Continuing Calmly

Risa Inaba

A New Encounter That May Change Your Life

Nami Yanagihara

Teachings of Kukai

Kirara Shinozaki

From Shikoku to the World

Akari Fujiwara

Would You Like Some Tea?

Rina Oike

To Be a Person Who Can Do “Oseetai”

Sakura Sasao

Wishes from Taiho-Temple, the 44th Temple of the Shikoku Pilgrimage

Yasuteru Oonishi

“Go-en”, Yukari on the Shikoku Pilgrimage

Yukari Kubo

Awa Wasanbon Sugar

Moyuka Fununishi

I am an English teacher and I am learning more and more about the Ohenro experience as I go along these weeks and months. It is a great privilege to hear these future leaders speak about their homes, their culture, and their identity as it connects to this pilgrimage. It is of the heart and from the heart. It is great to bear witness to these messages.

These students, no doubt, make the hearts of their parents, grandparents, and teachers just burst with pride.

Simply beautiful.