Gaijin Snub

The other day I was out picking up some lunch from a convenience store. It is still surprising to me how it is possible to find several things that are actually edible in a convenience store. In my home country of Canada, I would not expect much. Maybe there are some donuts and coffee to grab with gas, but I have long been wary of those plastic covered sandwiches in the white bread. Or the hotdogs…. I just have to give it a pass.

But Japan is pretty good. I can buy spaghetti in meat sauce, sushi, rice balls, and even oden (a kind of broth that can have meats and vegetables, like a stew, kind of). Anyway, I am in the shop getting my purchases together and a foreign ohenro comes in. I look up from my orange basket and look in his direction. He sees me. I smile. I raise my hand to wave and say hi….. and then that guy turns to his right and just walks away…

ignoreMaybe he didn’t see me. Maybe he did not see the tall 6’3 guy with the goofy smile waving to him in a small convenience store. He did have sunglasses on after all…. I turned and saw him at the end of the aisle, and I could sense, maybe, just maybe with his hunched up shoulders and his feet purposefully pointing in the opposite direction that he did not want to interact with me at all.

Maybe it is me. Did I smell. Maybe… I did bathe this morning, and deodorant… yes, okay, check! Bad breath? Hmm… I did have a mint just a few moments ago.. Probably okay… Maybe it is the “cut of my jib”. Maybe I give off a bad vibe. Maybe ….

Maybe I shouldn’t worry about it too much. After all, I have seen this kind of behaviour a whole bunch of times over the past 20 years here in Japan. I even have a clever name for it. I call it, “gaijin snub”.

RUDEGaijin snub is when you meet a fellow non-Japanese person and when you say hi, or make eye contact, or wave, you get blown off, and just flatly ignored. The other person may even sigh, or roll their eyes, or mutter something under their breath as they pass by. In all cases, you have become beneath their notice. You have been gaijin snubbed.

Gaijin snubbing is different than regular snubbing. Gaijin snubbing is when you are offended that other non-Japanese people are actually in Japan and somehow, in someway, interfering with what should have been YOUR cultural experience. Other foreigners get in your way. They want to say hi, probably in English. They smile. You hate smiles. They wave. How un-Japanese and insensitive. You hate them. You hate them because they intrude in what should be your pure Japanese experience. You are like that guy in the book “Shogun”, and here those other nasty foreigners are, cluttering up your mossy landscape. Irritating….

I don’t know how you guys cope with this, or if you even care. For my part, I have been in Japan for a pretty long time, and whenever I see ANYONE who is obviously not from around here I try to say hi, or make friendly contact. Being an expat in Japan can be rough, and sometimes you need a friend. Over the years I have been able to help out a few people along the way. There was a woman who couldn’t get to the airport because her English school bosses screwed her out of her last month’s salary. I could put her on the bus. There was a guy who needed someone to help him talk to the police. I could do that for him. There have been a lot of people who were just lost on the street and I could point them in a good direction. And I made some friends along the way too.

I am not terribly offended at the gaijin snub. I think it says more of the snubber than the snubbed (that would be me). I am not diminished in my willingness to say hi, or ask how can I help. That’s just how I am built. But if you are coming to Japan for the first time, or getting out to travel outside your country, I hope you will refrain from the gaijin snub. It is kind of a jerk move, and you never know who you might meet on your path.

rude-personIt could be someone who may change your life. It may be someone who becomes a friend. It may be someone who gives you information that you need. It may be just someone who you can be kind to, civil to, and normal towards. You just do not know who you will meet on the road.

In my case, I had a situation where my company was in need of hiring some new teachers. One applicant contacted me and we met at a coffee shop. I recognized him as a guy who had gaijin snubbed me some time before. I am sure he did not recognize me. But I knew who he was. And while he was very kind and thoughtful and pleasant for our interview, I did not hire him. He was a guy who snubbed people who could not obviously benefit him in any perceivable way. I can’t put that kind of guy in front of our students. I didn’t snub him, and I gave him our standard gentle refusal, but we hired someone much better instead.

You never know who you meet.

So while you are on your ohenro route, walking the miles, I hope you will be kind to, and greet every person you meet. Be pleasant. Be of good cheer. It can open some doors you never imagined.4385543669_bb3d0d7315_b

In A Flash

This week has been a little rough. I got a phone call from a dear friend of mine who lives in Ishikawa. His name is Gart. His voice on the phone wasn’t his normal exuberant self. Something was clearly wrong.

“Mark is gone.”

Mark E. was our friend. In many ways, he was the glue that held a lot of people together. He was an instigator in gathering different people and being the host to a lot of lunches, hanging out, game playing, and just being silly together. And then, in a flash, he was gone. He had a heart attack while at the hospital for an unrelated treatment. He was only 55 years old.

I met Mark E. a little more than 25 years ago. I was very new in Japan, just a couple of weeks in. I spoke almost zero Japanese and I was just starting the adventure of being here. I had time off and I could explore the area of Terai town, complete with its endless rice fields, hills and mountains, and little roads that went into neighbourhoods. A new friend of mine, Michael, called me up. He was a couple years my senior for living in Japan. He knew the ropes a bit and he wanted to introduce his friend to me. He said, “You’ll like my friend Mark E. He is very cool and has been here for seven years already. He knows everything! Let’s meet and have lunch together at this eel restaurant in Komatsu.”

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Sounded great. I never had eel before and I thought it would be a new adventure in dining. I hopped on the motorcycle which was left behind by my job placement predecessor and scooted off in the direction of Komatsu.

On the way down you need to travel on a main road, called Route 8. It is pretty busy with cars so you need to be a bit careful. I was getting to the intersection I needed to turn and slowed down, making sure to signal. I then heard a groaning of tires on asphalt behind me. I looked in the little rearview mirror on my right handlebar. I saw the grill of a truck.

The only thought that came to my mind was, “I’m dead.”

Then there was impact.

I was thrown from the bike forward and was sailing upside down. My helmeted head hit the road first and then I spun. My knees hit the highway next and I skidded a little. Denim melted away and I rolled a little further until I came to a full stop. I was lying on the busy road looking up.

I’m not dead.

“GET UP!” my brain yelled. So I got up.

Ahead of me, trailing up the front of the truck that struck me, were many fragments of motorcycle lying in a stream of gas. It was a marvellous thing to see. It was marvellous because I was still there to see it. I wasn’t dead. I was, in fact, standing.

iStock-180812046I pulled off my helmet, and sure enough there was a pretty good crack right going from the front edge to the top. A man, shaking jumped down from his truck. In one smooth motion he pulls out his wallet and opens it. He is gesticulating to me to take the money inside. I look at the mess on the road. I look at my bloody knees. I realize that I have no idea what to do next. But I am alive, and I am grateful for that.

I am thinking that I might be late for lunch. So, I figure, I may as well go and eat some eels. I wave the guy off and say the one word I think he will understand, “Go.”

He is startled and unsure what to do. I repeat myself and gesture down the road for him to go ahead. He turns and gets back in his truck and takes off. I don’t even look to see where he goes. Slowly, I pick up the biggest pieces of motorcycle and drag them to the side of the road.

Then I go for lunch.

It was great to meet Mark E. He is kind and thoughtful and generous. I am very much enjoying the time with my new friends Michael and Mark. But then the adrenalin starts to wear off and I start to feel achey and woozy. Maybe it was the eel. Or maybe the beer. But I need to call it a day. I told Mark and Michael about my recent adventure and they take it all in. Mark gives me a ride home in his cool Toyota Sera. I felt guilty about being such a mess in his snazzy car. He didn’t seem to mind. I sat in the tub and checked out all my new purple spots up and down my back and on my arms.

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It was an adventurous way to start my time in Japan.

Mark and I remained friends for the next 25 years. There were gaps in our connection, due to graduate studies, my unravelling marriage and then divorce, and all kinds of other similar nonsense. But each time we reconnected it was great, and there was no feeling of “Why did you wait so long to get in touch?” None of that. It was a very mature and fun relationship we shared. Mark’s politics and opinions about everything were highly informed, biased, and irritating at times, but he was the kind of man who always separated the person from the opinion. Happy to debate and discuss all matters of things, and would listen when you were persistent. But under it all, deeply compassionate and kind to others, often over-extending himself to accommodate people around him, and fiercely loyal.

I was shocked to hear of my friend’s passing. I surprised myself as I burst into tears. I hadn’t wept even when my own father passed, but Mark touched my life in a very unique and important way. He was a mentor to me, and a guide. He was always quick to laugh, and was ever thoughtful of his friends. He read endlessly and widely. He loved his wife and son deeply. He was a teacher to many students over the years, and despite all kinds of pressure from many quarters often did only what he wanted to do in the first place. He made me laugh, a lot.

He will be missed. And while I mourn his passing, I am also cognizant of something under all of that. I am grateful. I am deeply grateful for a good friend. I am grateful for a friendship that lasted over 25 years. I am grateful to have had the times together that we did. I am grateful to know what real friendship looks like.

Thank you, Mark.

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Overdue with Updates

Hello friends and neighbors!

Once again I find myself in the position of needing to apologize for being so slow in updating this site. As mentioned elsewhere, I am the head honcho of a group of language schools here, and the Japanese school year ends in March and fires up again in April. As a result, my wife and I spend many many late nights working like crazed ferrets on fire (not quite the metaphor you had in mind, but you get the picture! LOL)!

Anyway, we are now in GOLDEN WEEK (a bit of a misnomer as it lasts less than seven days), and we have some free time to sleep late a few days and let the dust settle.

On the school-side of things, I have the great satisfaction of being able to upgrade our staff substantially. As a young company we made some mis-hires in the past and have made all the necessary adjustments to attract and keep some extraordinary talent. It is nice to go to work with pleasant, kind, thoughtful, selfless, professional, people again. And my faith in humanity has been restored.

This project is hardly forgotten, in fact it has made such an deep and profound mark on my life that I am completely committed to seeing it through as far as I can. There is much work to do, and there is much I can do in the unique position I am privileged to hold. I wonder what I can do to be of service to you as you travel here to Shikoku, and how I can be of good cheer and company to you as you walk the miles. I am keenly interested in learning of your experiences and thoughts, so please do not hesitate to let me know.

There are miles to go before we sleep.

More updates to the individual temples are in the works, and I hope to have the base of this site rounded out so that it reads better, and has a good feel to it.

In the meantime, stay between the ditches, and travel safe.

Yours,

Mark

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Happy 2017!

Happy New Year! One year ago I decided to start the Shikoku Pilgrimage and I managed to get it all completed in one year. I look back fondly on the experience and I am glad that I did it. Each day out on the Ohenro path was unique and interesting and very special. I have to say that I feel very lucky to live in a place such as Kagawa.

So that leads me to the next thing. Now that I hhappy-new-year-2017-hd-wallpaper-gold.jpgave completed the pilgrimage, what is in store for 2017? As I mentioned before, I never felt comfortable in an existence of continually moving in a circle, not at this time in my life anyway. I feel that there is much for me to do this year, and I have been given something, some knowledge and experience that I need to use to be of good service to others.

One very important thing to do is to get the pages for each temple updated and complete. Well, not “complete”, but in shape enough for visitors to read and to enjoy. There are quite a few (temples 1-52) that still need text and editing done on them. I will work hard to get it done in the days and weeks to come.

The next thing is for us to work aggressively in developing our connections with overseas tourist agencies and local business to be able o host and support overseas visitors to the pilgrimage. Meetings are scheduled for next week and beyond to meet with local business leaders, so I think that we will be able to make some progress this year.

2017 is the Year of the Rooster. It is my year. It is the year of my astrological sign and I am turning 48 this year. I am full of life, of energy, and a passion to bring this project to a greater stage. I welcome you to come along, to advise and suggest what we should do to make this site better, and how we can, as a group and a collective of pilgrims, to make the Shikoku Ohenro something that can serve others and push us forward to the next thing, and to help us carry on, moving forward.

All the best for 2017! Let’s make it good.

Yours,
Mark

Better Late Than Never

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201701030006.html

The above link is a story in the Asahi Shimbun about an elderly couple who completed the Shikoku Pilgrimage recently. This is just another in a long list of heart-warming stories of people who have traveled long and hard on the path of Kukai.

I suppose that it is never too late to do it. But also, maybe the other side of the statement is don’t wait too long before you do it yourself.

Welcome to Shikoku! Koubou Daishi is waiting for you on the path!

 

Step by Step

So, the last day has been pretty interesting. I put the word out a little about the existence of this site and got a whack of new visitors. That is really nice. Thanks all for coming by! I want to remind new visitors that checking out the lists of temples right now will lead to some disappointment. I am currently working through the pilgrimage in reverse order from Temple 88 down to 1. The reason for that is that this is a “gyaku-uchi” which means to “visit in reverse”. The “gyaku-uchi” is done every fourth year, and it is in remembrance of Emon Saborou, a wealthy farmer who turned away Kukai from his door. From that time forth, his sons died one by one. In order to beg forgiveness he traveled out on pilgrimage to catch up to Kukai but never could quite do it. In the year of the Monkey, he went in reverse direction and finally met Kukai where he was granted the forgiveness he sought.

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So, I must ask your forgiveness as well as many pages here are not yet finished, and I am putting them together as quickly as I can. If you would like to see what pages are finished, start from Temple 88 on this site and go in reverse order. I have managed to clean things up a bit to Temple 74. There are photos of temples down to 35, and I will keep adding the text as I go along.

In addition I am adding an “Ohenro Guidebook” page that should have some practical information and terminology, and I am finding more wonderful Ohenro Ambassadors along the way. I am currently reviewing one very cool site in particular and hope to have that linked up later on.

Will check in a bit later. I am off to one of our schools this morning to clean up the garbage and some other maintenance. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line at: englishbiztakamatsu@gmail if you have some information, suggestions, or just want to say Hi.

Have a great day!

Mark

Shyness is nice …

Shyness is nice, but shyness will stop you from doing all the things in life that you’d like to., croons my 1980’s  rose-bouquet-twirling hero, Morissey.

I have been a little slow to “put the word out about this blog and site”. I have felt, and still do, that it is so much unfinished, and that it really needs much much more work, and thought, and someone smarter than me to put it together.

But somehow, through a twist of fate, or a strange divine joke, here I am, working on this crazy project that I am most certainly falling in love with. I test out the photos I am uploading with my Facebook friends and they all say, “Wow. I want to come.” Then they tell me how lucky I am and that I don’t deserve it. Then they remind me about the 20 bucks I borrowed back in high school and kind of forgot about. Then I show them the next set of photos and they forget all about that 20 bucks….

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I think a reason for the shyness is that I worried about what you guys thought about the work in progress. Maybe I thought too much about the folks out there who have all the “answers” about the Ohenro experience, and I just didn’t want to give them any rope with which to tie me up, or make me look inexperienced or foolish.

Perhaps the best thing to do in response to these unfounded (I hope) reservations is to simply state that I am indeed highly inexperienced, and basically an idiot. That is not too much of a revelation. But this project somehow needs me to work on it, and I have people who have expectations of me to get it done. So onwards I will push.

I am delighted, however, to make contact with people who have been on the trail and who have so kindly allowed me to link to their websites and videos so that we can all share in those experiences, and cheer on their great accomplishments.

If this project could be more collaborative, and have space for people to send up a flare of where they have been and what they have seen that would be great. In the meantime, I will keep at updating the temple pages I have seen and clean them up, as well as keep reaching out to blog writers and pilgrims on the way and see if they would mind having their stuff show up here for you guys to enjoy and get inspiration from.

Travel safe. Be well.

Mark

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O-Settai: The Discussion part 1

IMG_5504So, this week I received in my inbox a request from someone involved here in Kagawa with the Ohenro network. A very nice young man who is bringing his expertise in web design is helping others figure out how to get the most information out there about the Ohenro experience, complete with maps, instructions how to get from temple A to temple B, and at times asking from us some help with the translation material. We are all volunteers in this project, and while my own computer skills are basically non-existent, I am glad to help where I can.

The topic that is currently being addressed is that of “o-settai”. If you are on the Ohenro trail you already know what this is. If you are not here (yet), I will do my best to explain what “o-settai” is, but there are more authoritative voices on this topic so listen to them too.

What an “o-settai” is, is really just a gift. It is a gift of something like an orange, or a cup of tea, or a ride in a car to someplace you need to go, or a place to crash out at the end of the day. It could be a few coins to buy your lunch, it could be the use of someone’s washroom when you really got to go, it could be a cookie, it could be gentle advice. “O-settai” is something given from the heart and received with gratitude by the heart.

It is a bond. It is unconditional love and kindness offered for our fellow humans on the path.

It is something received that you get when you have no expectations of getting anything at all. It is something given with no expectation of something received in return.

So, in essence, it is a beautiful circle of giving and receiving. It can be anyway.

My good friend with the translation request asked me to look at something that has developed from a situation on the path where “O-settai” seems to be somewhat misunderstood. So, with that in mind, I want to share that with you here so that we can understand it better, and do what we can as a community of travelers to keep the Ohenro experience good for everyone.

The problem is in regards to ohenro arriving in a small town, and instead of arranging for suitable lodgings in advance, plan on roughing it. There have been cases of young women ohenro setting up camp at the local bus stop, much to the surprise of local people. When someone of my generation, or older (which makes up a lot of the population of Japan) sees a young woman on the road setting up camp to sleep outside, the first reaction is to go out to that person and ask them to come indoors. I have daughters, and that response is now hard-wired in my brain. I would not want them, or anyone near their age, sleeping outdoors. Yes, Japan is safe, but there is no guarantee of safety. And there are weirdos out in every country, even super-safe Japan.

So, the problem is that the young pilgrim, grateful to be out of the weather, having a chance to use a proper toilet, have a shower, and get something to eat, wants to share the experience with friends. The blog is updated, coordinates are locked in, and now the report is semi-permanent on-line. The next day our young grateful traveler is on her way, much buoyed by the “O-settai” received, and the kindness of strangers.

And then, a few weeks or months later, more pilgrims arrive from far away believing that this location, the place where there was nothing more than a bus stop, is a place where people can stay for the night, and perhaps even get something to help them on their way. They ask to use the toilet. They spread out into the park, or in a vacant lot. It causes stress and worry for the local people who do not have the facilities, or language, to communicate with people suddenly showing up on their doorsteps.

When they manage to communicate their concerns, and suggest that these surprise visitors keep heading down the road to better accommodations, they get the response, “We read on the Internet that this place is okay for us to stay”. Now it is evening, and too dark to safely continue on.

What should the locals do?

In their culture it is bad luck to refuse to help those in need, but how many can they help? And is going to be a daily part of their lives now? Is the custom of “O-settai” now becoming understood as an expectation of lodging, clean water, and food?

If it is a few people, the locals seem to be just fine with it all. But what if 100 people come through? What if there are surprise visitors knocking on the door at all hours from here on?

The worry about being a good host, about being able to communicate, and about all the unknown elements that arrive when out-of-country strangers show up unexpectedly day and night is a very real thing for many of these older folk.

We need to take a moment to put ourselves in the shoes, sandals, or hiking boots of the other person. “O-settai” should be spontaneous and a happy opportunity to “be in the moment” and to share the Ohenro experience. The situation described above lacks this feeling.

The solution is not simple, and it needs some work. So, for my part we are going to do what we can to figure out in detail, and to calculate for different speeds of walkers what accommodations would be best suited for Ohenro on the way.

It will prove to be a cumbersome project, but I think it is important. I hope that if you have been on the Ohenro path and have suggestions for housing at any place along the route you will let us know. We will do our best to organize all possible places for people to stay so that pilgrims on the road can get safe, clean, and suitable housing based on their needs, and people in the community will be glad to see us on the road, and cheerfully willing to have us come through their towns and villages as we make our ways down the road.

If you are an experienced Ohenro reading this page, and have data that could be helpful for this project, especially about your walking speed/times and locations where you found suitable lodging as you traveled, please consider sending me your information. We are going to take the next few months to put as much information together as possible so that people who travel after us will have the best experience possible, and also be of service to those whose homes and neighborhoods are on our path.

You can send your info to: cometokagawa@gmail.com .

Thank you very much for your kind consideration.

Mark

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Sometimes You Don’t Travel Alone

A friend of mine in Canada, we actually know each other through a shared passion for karate, had the most heart-wrenching tragedy happen to him and his wife. They lost their young daughter, Calista. The cause of death was sudden cardiac arrhythmia. Calista’s parents lost so much, and it is a pain that parents around them, and around the world can barely fathom. She was just about to graduate from college.

Calista’s dad, Bryce, started projects to celebrate the life of his daughter. She was deeply into photography and art, so Bryce started projects to commemorate his daughter. She was so incredibly young, and had everything great and wonderful and exciting ahead of her. It seems so cruel to have it vanish just before she really got her feet under her.

Bryce wrote this blog to talk about his daughter, the loss, and what was remaining from the day of her death:

http://losingcalista.blogspot.jp

One project that has been very interesting, and very moving is looking for ways to give his daughter places to travel and experience. Bryce had a set of coins bearing the image of his daughter on them. He passed the coins out to friends and people he knew around the world to carry with them. The instructions are to take the coins with you and pass them to other travelers. When you arrive somewhere you are to take a self-photo and send that to Bryce or the Facebook page that has been set up.

http://www.findingcalista.com

I asked Bryce to send me coins to carry and pass to people I meet on the way. Right now I am carrying one coin with me on the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage here in Shikoku. I am currently half-way through. Calista travels with me in spirit and I pray for her and her family at each temple along the way. She is a most unexpected traveling companion. We never met, and Bryce and I are friends through years of on-line discussion about karate, and have not met yet either. I think one day we shall. I would like Calista’s parents to perhaps come out our way some day, and see some of the paths that Calista and I have come down together. I hope they find some peace, and joy, and revisit the love they have for their child along the way.

It is a deep and profound privilege I feel to be part of the project. Tomorrow, Calista and I head out again for the next two-day installment of this pilgrimage. I hope you will follow along on these pages and see some of the things we have seen.

Overdue Updates

Hello Friends and Neighbours!

Thank you very much for visiting this page. I am trying to update periodically, but life sometimes just takes over and it is hard to do all the things I want to in the same day.

Regarding the Ohenro journey, more updates are coming to the site, but the commentary is taking some time to work on. At first I simply put up the photos I took during the visit and then return to it with my notes, a little research, and some discussion. I hope that you enjoy taking a look at the photos of these incredible temples.

I have to admit, if any of the photos look half-good, it is only because it is basically impossible to get a bad photograph. Visiting each temple grounds is a kind of submersion into a pool of culture, spirituality, and nature. I am not sure that I can find a parallel to a Canadian experience to properly compare. I think that there is no such thing.

Canada has for it, a great sprawling natural landscape. The coastline, the mountains, the prairies, the Canadian shield of stone and rock, the lakes and rivers, the hills and forests… It all blends into a seamless stream of nature. There are cities and towns, train tracks and roads, but they are strange artifacts that decorate a world that belongs to the animals, the hills, and the seasons.

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One figure of so many at Upenji.

The Ohenro journey, on the other hand, seems to be like a visit of the familiar, and each temple seems to be a welcome to another experience, or a new understanding.

Of course, I cannot comment too much on the actual journey that the walking Ohenro endure. I can see them at the temples, and I see them from the windows of the tour bus and from my car as I go about my weekly work. I have to admit that they are a marvel to see. Determined and focussed to keep moving forward. There seems to be something in each step that is a reminder to those that bear witness.

As I am currently on the “reverse course” (88 to 1) this site gets updated from the last temple moving forward. Up until last month I have been to temple 58. So, that is only 3o of the 88. Next instalment will be a 2 day trip, but I think it will be a bit easy. We are going to stay overnight at a hot spring hotel in Ehime Prefecture in the middle. I will post pictures here for you to see.

That is one thing I want to mention about this site and the blog. My intention throughout this experience is to simply “take you along” with me. I put the photos on each temple page in the order that I see them. So the first photo is usually one of walking up to the gates and taking in what I see as I go. My first few temple visits looked a bit stilted I think, particularly as I was trying to get the buildings “framed” and looking in a way as one would look at an historical exhibit. In the last few visits I am trying to change the style a little and to take pictures on a “smaller scale”. I want to see the things within each site. Sometimes it is a building, but sometimes it is a face carved in stone, a flower, weathered trees, moss growing over statues, or something in the corner that pulls me there.

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There is something in every corner.

The Ohenro experience that you will have will be your own. And you will see some of the things I have seen, and your eye will draw you out to see the things that you need to. And you will see much that I will not see, or cannot see. That is something interesting too.

In the meantime, I hope this blog finds you well. Travel safe.