A Tale of Two Reviews

Well, the reviews are slowly coming in, and naturally, like all writers, they make me a little nervous. What I discovered today, however, is quite interesting and I hope to share it with you.

As I checked on Amazon to see if anyone had reviewed my book I was met with this unhappy assessment of my writing:

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Naturally, it is an unfortunate experience to see that so many hours of hard work and effort have been summarily dismissed as “hacky” (not sure if that is a word). I am very sorry that Mr. Briscoe997 did not appreciate the book and discovered it laden with grammar and writing errors. I do admit, I did find a couple awkward passages that could have been written better, and I have to explain that the book was finalized a little more hastily than what I would have liked.

You see, the writing of this book needed to get done in an expeditious manner. In our work as Inbound Consultants we work with some rather large institutions, particularly in the banking and transportation sectors of Japan. At the time when we had begun our consultation with these large entities we were being, how can I say, “bad-mouthed” by seriously by a couple of “experts” on the Ohenro experience. These “experts” saw our work as threatening to their position and instead of doing something like calling me on the telephone to talk or finding ways to collaborate there was a rather ugly on-line campaign to smear us and our work. I hurried to get the book to publication to secure our local consulting work here. I am very relieved and glad to say that this effort was successful and we have been able to keep excellent relations and develop a deeper rapport with our clients.

To be honest, I do understand that people can feel threatened when their “territory” is being explored and promoted by others outside of their sphere of influence. I have to also be further honest here when I have always been very plain about the fact that I am no “expert” myself and am always keen to hear what true experts have to say.

The critic here, “Mr Briscoe977”, has a handle that I recognize from other Ohenro online activity, and is friendly with the local expert who has been on this smear campaign. I am sad to see him try to damage the reputation of the book. I am hoping that subsequent reviews will help balance it out a little.

And then, when I was about to psychically plunge head-long into despair that I had not met Mr. Briscoe977’s expectations, I found this on the Japanese Amazon site:

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A nice review by a Japanese reader who thinks my book is something that can be of value to people new to Shikoku. How nice. And full marks too!

So there you have it. One review by an angry disgruntled “I got here first” type of critic. And one review from a local Japanese person who feels I did some justice to introducing their culture, history, and heritage.

Maybe the true value of the book is some place in-between. I hope you can read for yourself and decide what you think.

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Health Insurance: You MUST have it

Hello again.

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”.

Wow.

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.

Dangerous Typhoon Approaching

Hello all,

This is an important public service message for any and all hikers and pilgrims on the Shikoku Pilgrimage at this time. You may not have access to news reports, especially in Japanese, and could possibly be unaware of the typhoon that is steadily approaching Japan at this time.

The size of the typhoon was classified today by Meteorological experts as a “Super Typhoon” or a “Class 5” typhoon. The course of the typhoon is to reach Japan sometime during the weekend, but speed and direction of any typhoon can only be measured in estimates. The centre of the storm may be to the east of Shikoku, but there are very strong cautions regarding dangerous winds that need to be considered.

One of the most dangerous elements of a typhoon is not so much the wind and rain itself, but rather, wind strong enough to move debris. As you may have noticed, many rural houses have clay tiled roofs. These can fall apart and become projectiles in heavy wind and have been known to cause serious injury to people. There is also a danger of falling trees, light posts, and power lines. It may not be safe.

If you are on the Shikoku Pilgrimage I strongly suggest that you make your way via train or bus to the nearest city to you. Takamatsu, Tokushima city, Kochi city, and Matsuyama are the best places for you at this time. In the wake of a disaster there can be a great deal of infrastructure trouble and damage. I would recommend that you take a three day break and enjoy and explore the local restaurants and amenities of Japanese city life until it is safe enough to get back out on the trail.

While it may be true that this giant typhoon may adjust course and have minimum impact on Shikoku, your health and safety are not things to risk. So, please be prudent and smart and stay out of the weather for a few days.

How to Get to Takamatsu!

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!

Giving Advice to Ohenro

… I am not a number… I am a FREE MAN!

Hello and welcome from sunny Takamatsu! The weather is still a little warm, but summer seems to be lessening its grip. The evenings are cooling down, and my dogs don’t seem too much to walk outside as much as before. Autumn really is my favourite season. It is divine. And if you are considering coming to Japan for the walk of your life around Shikoku, THIS is the season to do it. Autumn just goes on forever, and when the typhoons have settled down for the duration, you have some of the greatest outdoor walking experiences of your life.

A few things have changed for me personally this year. The first is that I turned 50. I can’t believe it myself as I still sometimes feel like a junior high school student, and sometimes I feel like I really don’t know so much, or that I should have studied or tried more up until now. But the other side of being 50 is that I am on the cusp of being “respectable” or “seasoned” or “grizzled” or something like that… It’s a blast, and it’s a riot. But I feel good, and I am grateful for health and a sense of humour relatively intact.

Maybe there is something about being half a century that I am finding that “my advice” is sought out, and much more so than I expected, or particularly enjoy. It’s a new thing, and I do not particularly think I have much “advice” to give anyone, about anything. But life does seem to kick you down the road where you need to be sometimes.

At my half-century mark, I am a boss of a company my wife and I created. We run language schools and serve universities, high schools, junior highs, elementary schools, and daycares. I love it. I love our work, our team, our students, and every time I sit with kids and make them laugh while encouraging them, and revealing to them, how smart they really are.

In the past I’ve been a university professor (in another life), a teacher, a counsellor for street kids, a guide, a coach, a karate sensei, a writer, and a terrible guitar player. I’ve had a lot of hats on my balding head, but I never thought that I wore them to become “authoritative” or an “expert”. I still feel like I am flailing about in all my interests and professions. I’m still learning. I’m still “tripping up the stairs”.

I don’t think that this is particularly “modest”. I am just basically not a master at so many different things. But I have fun as I go along, stubbornly.

And maybe there is something in my half-century old spine that is still that teenager in the 1980’s that could not be told what to do. I have always rejected authority. I never like being told what to do and often ignore “sage counsel”. I have defied both church and state. I have “rocked the Casbah” and I might do it again.  I’m not an anarchist, but I’d rather die free than live in a cage. I rage against the machine, but now with dad jokes, mirth, and pint of beer.

So, as we are working on this Ohenro project with local business, government, and financial institutions, and there are various groups and interested individuals, who have proffered themselves as “experts” and “authority” on what newcomers to the experience of pilgrimage ought to know and ought to do and ought to feel. They clamber for adulation and spotlight. They bow their heads in mock obsequiousness, chant the “Heart Sutra” in public, yet backbite, make ultimatums, and gossip in private. They enter the room and it’s much more of a “waving about their flimsy credentials” than figuring out how together we can work best towards a common purpose. Honestly, it’s gross.

It’s a sad state sometimes when “politics” and jockeying for position distract us from the important task of making this incredible Shikoku Pilgrimage project something accessible, enjoyable, and meaningful for those who come to walk the miles. I don’t want to have my time and energy wasted in vain and frankly, vulgar, pursuits.

I’m too old to be baited out for public nonsense, but am still stubbornly set on trundling ahead, and just doing my job. And that job is to be of service to my fellow human creatures, unapologetically, unflinchingly, and to see whatever project I am in to completion. I cannot be deterred. There’s a lot of people out there who would love to learn more about this incredible thing in Shikoku. My job is to get to as many of them as possible.

So, if you are a soon-to-be, or already-here-in-Shikoku pilgrim, you are most heartily welcome here. You do not need to bow to authority. I don’t think that is what a pilgrimage of “self-discovery” and “self-exploration” is all about. You just may want to get on the road and find your own way. You don’t need to be told how to show respect, how to show kindness and gratitude, how to appreciate the culture and how to be a good person. I’ll bet that you already have a good handle on most of that. And if you don’t know yet, you’ll find out just fine, all by yourself.

And I’ll cheer for you! I always do.

If you need additional information to read or watch, please come out and check out our Facebook GROUP (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1318545221639576/) or our Facebook PAGE (https://www.facebook.com/Shikoku-Pilgrimage-Your-Spiritual-Journey-in-Deep-Japan-101681104549470). I would love to hear your experiences, see your photos, enjoy your videos, and learn from you.

Because isn’t that we ought to be doing anyway, learning from one another?

Your comments are most welcome, and feel free to email me if you are so inspired:

cometokagawa@gmail.com

Thanks for listening to me rant a little here.

Travel safe and travel well dear pilgrims.

Mark

Typhoon on the way

Hello Friends and Neighbours,

Just a quick friendly Public Service Announcement (PSA) for you. A pretty sizeable typhoon is coming this way and expected to make landfall later on today, perhaps this evening. Typhoon warnings, even when not seeming so bad at the moment, ought to be taken seriously. The weather can change suddenly and there there is no need to find yourself in an unsafe situation.

Various summer events, including the Awa Dance Festival, have been canceled or rescheduled.

So, in the meantime, please find a good place to stay dry and sheltered for the next day. Drink well. Eat well. Have a rest.

And stay safe!