Hello one and all.
I am afraid that this blog will be set on an unpopular theme. The theme is that of foreign Ohenro coming to Shikoku and behaving like homeless people. Let me put out the caveat right away that I am deeply troubled to see homelessness in any country. As human beings we ought to have the right to have adequate shelter from the weather, a place to retreat to stay warm or cool as the season dictates. We need to have homes to be safe from people who might do us harm. We need homes for all, especially kids, older people, and the mentally ill who are too often thrown out into the street as trash.
Progressive countries around the world understand that homelessness is a social disease, it destroys the human heart, is bad for society as it becomes more dangerous, is inhumane, and is also counter-intuitive economically. People who are safe in shelters and homes can focus on other issues for life, employment, education, and participation in society. We all become better and safer for our active participation in wiping out homelessness.
So why is it, for the love of all that is holy, that we have foreign visitors coming to Shikoku to behave like the homeless? Why would anyone want to behave like that? I simply do not understand it. But here they come… and there are quite a number of reports that come to our ears about some very poor behaviour. Throwing trash on the path, sleeping in public places like schools and cemeteries, and using public handicapped toilets as showers and wash stations.
As an active advocate for the Shikoku Pilgrimage, an inbound consultant for local financial institutions, the JR Shikoku, local businesses, hotels, and merchants, the “homeless Ohenro” is something that we really do not need to see too much of. It has been a problem in the past and I hope to do my part to nip some of these lousy behaviours and attitudes in the bud.
There seems to be some former encouragement by “Ohenro experts” that anyone can come to Shikoku, wander through the route, beg for food and necessities on the way, and have an expectation of “osettai” as they hike down the road. This has been a very economically and socially damaging source of foolish advice. I strongly protest this message that has been sent out into the world so far that “osettai” is like some sort of “free lunch” or an “Ohenro entitlement”. It’s ridiculous, and stupid. I wish it would stop.
Yet, there are complaints from “Walking Ohenro” (called “aruki henro”) of how expensive the Shikoku Pilgrimage is. They complain that drink machines charge them money for drinks. They complain that a beautiful calligraphy stamp (which they will keep as a gorgeous and unique souvenir forever) in their beautifully embroidered stamp book (which costs only 25 dollars) will cost them 3 dollars. They complain that they might be “expected” to drop a coin into an offertory box when they come to each (access free) temple to pray. They complain that a hotel or inn is too expensive at about 30 dollars a night. They complain that buses and trains may ask for money for services. They use a vulgar term “Pay to Pray” as some kind of description that they are abused financially as they go around the whole of Shikoku, sleeping in public tax money funded parks and schoolyards, cemeteries, and bathe themselves in handicapped toilets.
Then there is the garbage left behind in their wake.
There is some kind of weird expectation that while a Walking Pilgrim can completely lay out several thousands of dollars for high-tech backpacks, tents, sleeping gear, walking shoes, hiking underclothing, cell phone, sunglasses, hiking poles, and all manner of accessories, that when it comes to the actual walking the trail, staying at proper lodging each and every evening, paying for food and drink, and purchasing the most simple Ohenro materials that suddenly everything is “too expensive” and “Japan is trying to rip me off.”
Then they should feel that it is somehow their “Ohenro right” to sleep in the schoolyards that belong to the children who go to school here in Shikoku, and has been funded by their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. And the trail of garbage left behind should be picked up and disposed of through public funds and services. I think that most Japanese people are too polite to say anything directly, so I’ll help out a bit with:
Who do you think you are?
Part of the problem is with the efforts to date to identify and explain what “Osettai” is. Yes, yes, I know that there are “experts” who tell you that as a pilgrim you receive the gift from people so that YOU can help THEM fulfill their wish that they take their burdens with you on the pilgrimage. That is a very nice image to have in mind. Sometimes that might be true, but sometimes a cup of tea or an orange is just a “have a nice day” kind of thing. You can say “thank you” and be grateful, and not behave that you are doing them some big favour by accepting things.
Most people receive an “osettai” and they are truly deeply thankful. That is beautiful, and wonderful, and a treasure for your experience in Shikoku. When done right, and approached right, it’s marvellous. But when there is an inkling of expectation in the osettai moment, the whole thing just turns to dirt.
If you are a walking pilgrim reading these words I hope that you understand the simple fact that no one owes you anything. The hope for osettai, or expectation of receiving osettai, or the unhappy feeling of not receiving osettai, should not be anywhere near your brain. Just walk your walk. In fact, it would be more psychologically useful to you to not want to receive anything from anyone. This is your walk. Go walk it. Focus on yourself and who and what you are. Think about what you can learn. Not what you can get.
Too harsh? Too much “on the nose”? I can’t say I am sorry about that.
I think that if you come to Shikoku you should pay for your vacation here. Just like you pay your bills wherever you go. Pay for your airplane ticket. Pay for a hotel, or inn, or AirBnB each and every night. No camping. No sleeping outdoors. No washing up in handicapped bathrooms (What if someone NEEDS to be in there while you are washing away? Why should anyone need to suffer in their wheelchair because you took their toilet unnecessarily? Please give that one a think.) And please, no “Well, I just used it for a minute. What’s the problem? trash talk. Is that the kind of thing a “real” Ohenro does to their fellow human? This is your walk of human discovery towards enlightenment?
I think that you should eat proper meals when you are here whenever possible. Sit down in a restaurant or a cafe and order off the menu. Eat something good and healthy and local. Support the Shikoku you say you love with your wallet. For real. The food is very reasonably priced. The accommodations are very reasonably priced. The only unreasonable thing is a homeless foreign Ohenro who eats in parking lots, washes in public spaces, and pretends that their public behaviour has no impact on others.
Oh, now here comes the objection….
“How can I possibly afford to walk the entire Shikoku Pilgrimage and pay for lodging all the way through for 6 to 8 weeks? That’s not fair!”
The answer is, my dear pilgrim, that if you cannot afford it, you cannot afford it. Just like if you can’t afford something in a store you don’t get to buy it. If you can’t buy a new car, or an old car, or any car you have to take the bus. If you can’t afford to buy super fancy shoes you will have to buy regular shoes. If you can’t afford to do the whole pilgrimage you can do part of it. That is simple. And it is what adults do. Whether or not it is “fair” is not even an issue. If you are determined to spend thousands of dollars in airfare and gear for yourself, you could probably find a way to take more time to work a job and save enough to come and have a zero-negative impact experience here in Shikoku.
Otherwise, you are arguing why the people of Shikoku need to take care of you, pick up your trash, and subsidize your vacation. I can’t think of any place in the world that permits a visitor to the country to behave in such a manner.
Grow up already.
If I have offended your sensibilities I can’t apologize for saying some things that just need to be said. Of course you are welcome and encouraged to explore Shikoku and have the walk of your life. That is great, and I really wish you all the best. But please do so at no one’s expense but your own. Do no harm. Do no damage. Make a place better by you having been there. Take nothing from anyone, except in a true osettai moment, but give your kindness and support to things that make a difference.
I have children that are growing up here in Shikoku. I don’t think that part of their future, and public obligation towards paying taxes needs to go anywhere near the subsidization of foreign ohenro experiences. We are supposed to make our world better for the next generation coming after ours. That is something that we as adults need to do better, effectively, relentlessly, and selflessly.
Pay your bills, and be a positive contributing member of the thousands and thousands of others who support the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Don’t be “a taker”. You’ll feel better for it. And you know it’s the right thing to do.