Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains

Paul Barach had his adventurous pilgrimage around Shikoku back in 2010. For him it was an experience of mixed impressions, feelings, and revelations. His book is entitled, “Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains”, and if you are thinking of coming to Shikoku to experience the pilgrimage yourself I very much recommend this book.

I liked this book for a number of reasons. The first is that it is brutally honest. The author has his perspective and has little inhibition in telling you what he thinks. But this honesty is not one of projection alone. He turns the focus on himself as well and has little trouble showing a harsh light on the darker parts of his thinking and feeling too. I think that takes a lot of guts, maybe even more than mashing your feet to hamburger over six weeks walking the hard roads of Shikoku. 

Like other writers who choose to walk the Buddhist pilgrimage of Shikoku there is not enough opportunity to explore and describe the temples themselves in detail. If you are looking for that, this book will not satisfy your thirst for that knowledge. Most “aruki-henro” (walking pilgrims) are on tight, albeit self-imposed, schedules, and must hustle from one temple to the next in order to collect the calligraphy stamp for their “nokyouchou” (stamp books) and are also far too often plagued by boar, snakes, insects of all sorts, narrow tunnels, rain, slippery rocks, incidental injury, and long long stretches of road where they are left alone to their dark dark dark thoughts. 

But, that does not mean you should skip this book if you are researching the Shikoku Ohenro trail. I would say quite the opposite. This book will introduce a lot of things that guide books do not, and there are some great pieces of information and insight dropped in throughout. You are encouraged to sift through this pilgrim’s tale to pull them out. There are some valuable nuggets in there worth digging for.

If I have a criticism of the book it is that the author himself did not take enough precaution and make suitable preparation for his trek through Shikoku. For him, Shikoku was the adventure and the place to explore and trundle through on the way to self-enlightenment and personal discovery. 

In Paul’s very descriptive and self-revealing tale he mentions several times that he was not ready for some elements of his trip. He was injured quite seriously when he foolishly caused damage at one of the temples, and his shin was opened up leading to infection. Postponing medical treatment due to a lack of medical insurance made his situation quite terrible. Luckily for him he received proper medical treatment (only costing him 50 dollars US) and then was back on the road. This needs to be highlighted in your book as a cautionary tale. GET HEALTH INSURANCE before your travel to Shikoku.

There were times in his book where he was out of money. This is also something which is somewhat not easy to overlook. Why did Paul think it was okay to come to Shikoku without enough money? Why did he think it would be okay to just sleep outside wherever he thought might be good enough? Why did he have some subconscious expectation that “osettai” (charitable gifts from local residents) would see him through the day? Why did he think that ramen places would let him skip on the bill at the end of his meals? He certainly does not say “Hey, come to Shikoku. The food is free and you can camp just about anywhere. Everyone loves it, so come out for a homeless vacation!”, in any direct way. But there is a subtext there that it is just fine to throw caution to the wind, camp where you like, have some deep spiritual experiences as a result and everything will work out just fine.

Paul does not get to sit in on the meetings that I do with Ohenro Association people, or monks at the temples. He doesn’t have a clue that his “adventure” is a local burden. It might work for the very rare person coming through, but should hundreds and hundreds come after him, the situation for local communities would be pretty rough. There are people here in Shikoku who have some very serious concerns about this, and they can hardly be blamed for it.

In one part of the text, I like very much the realization that he has when he is inside a Japanese family’s home that would not leave him out to sleep under a bridge. They take him in, feed him, let him bathe in their home, have him sleep in a beautiful part of their home, and do their best to host him despite Paul not having any real Japanese ability to communicate or to express his gratitude. In some frustration he says, “I can’t give them anything”. In that moment he realizes that he has been traveling as a “taker”. It is an ugly moment, but an incredibly insightful and blindingly truthful moment. 

It made me really respect the man he was becoming in that moment. 

With the Shikoku Pilgrimage becoming more and more popular and visible each year it is quite critical, for the preservation of this great cultural artifact and journey of the soul, that each traveler take themselves into account. It is great to see the world and adventure. We should all do it, but we also need to do it in a way that we do not have our hands out to others. How can we contribute to the hosts of our experiences? How can we be gracious and welcome visitors? How can we make good benefits to those we encounter on the way?

Our experiences and growth ought not come at the expense and inconvenience or trouble to others. We should enrich one another as best we can, whenever we can. I think this can be done in some very basic ways. If you travel by foot or local transport, stay at local inns, ryokan, guest houses, and hotels. Slow your pace down. Take some time to see local things. Eat local food, and find out what festivals or activities are going on around you. Hire a guide for a day with a group and learn more about the culture and history. Join a Japanese friendship association and make connections with new friends that you will treasure forever. If you receive something from someone, like an “osettai”, that is great but put something back into that person’s hands. A trinket from home, a key chain, a pin with the flag of your country, a bookmark, or anything else easy to pack and carry. Be creative and give when you can.

I think that if Paul were to come out this way again he might travel very differently. And if he does, I hope he gives me a shout. I’d be happy to take him out for dinner. Not as “osettai”, but just as a thank you for this great book.

I’m grateful that Paul Barach wrote this book, and I think it is a great read. He is funny and made me laugh out loud a few times. That is not surprising as in his credits I learned that he is also a comic. 

Yamacha Ohenro Channel

Right now there is a rather nice channel you might want to follow if you are interested in walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage. You will get a day-by-day account with Yamacha! I’ve just started walking the videos and they look great. I also really like the music too.

If you have some time, sit back and let Yamacha Ohenro walk you through the daily journey of “Aruki Henro”, the “Walking Pilgrim”.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIUFJJYTiGZ2129tw0CZTMA/videos

Screen Shot 2019-10-24 at 10.40.44 AM

Hard Copy of Your Pilgrimage in Japan

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:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1701297779/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=your+pilgrimage+in+japan&qid=1571792058&s=books&sr=1-1

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 1.03.40 AM

Gareth Leonard in Shikoku!

A rather substantial and influential Youtube creator, Gareth Leonard, comes to Shikoku. At the behest of the Shikoku Tourism Board, Gareth puts together a series of pretty impressive videos to promote and show off the splendours of Shikoku.

I love the open-mindedness of Gareth, the desire and enthusiasm to learn and explore, and the pure enjoyment of the moment. I loved very much that he stated from the beginning of his videos that although he had greatly enjoyed the Tokyo-Osaka-Kyoto experience of his first time in Japan, there was some “unfinished business”. That would be Shikoku!

Check out the above video, and the other two that make up Gareth’s Shikoku adventure.

 

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

Top Ohenro Information Site

If you are coming to Shikoku to walk the 88 Temple Pilgrimage route there is one website that stands way above the rest. It is this one:

http://www.shikokuhenrotrail.com/index.html

David Turkington is the mastermind behind the site and he is tremendously well-read, articulate, helpful, non-preachy, and a regular good guy. I even corresponded with him recently and asked for some help in advising ohenro coming this way and he said, “Sure thing. No problem”. That is very good news.

So while you likely have a ton of questions about the pilgrimage, what to wear, which way to go, what to look out for, how to get from place A to place B, do yourself a HUGE favour, bookmark his site, and read everything there. It’s pilgrim gold.

And here is Dave’s blog and contact information:

http://www.shikokuhenrotrail.com/shikoku/contactInfo.html

http://essentiallynothing.blogspot.com

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.

sesshin_de_inverno_2008_062

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.

metp_my_1510_pg3_yvonneleemy_1

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