Almost Down to ZERO

Well, Inbound Tourism has been knocked down to the canvas. The corona virus has had catastrophic impact on the entire industry. Hotels, Japanese inns, restaurants, attractions, and even the Shikoku pilgrimage have been all ground to a screeching halt. Japan has essentially shut down all the borders. The airports are at a stand-still. Nothing is moving.

And graphs don’t lie:

holy moley

So, what are we to do now? Roll over and just die? Do we just give up the dream of what we’re supposed to do? I don’t know about what other people are doing, but I don’t feel so bad. I’ve been knocked backwards before. I’ve been knocked out cold before. A couple of decades on a karate dojo floor has taught me how to take a punch. We are going to come back from this, and there is something to be optimistic about. After all, it can’t get much worse after this. Our only direction from this point is UP.

This is the place from which we bounce up. So, I am going to keep hammering away at writing and promoting and connecting with people around the world and still get the word out about Shikoku, about this marvellous and important pilgrimage. I’m still waving this flag. I hope you see it. I hope you see it and are infected by a different kind of thing, not a virus, not something that makes you sick, something different, better. I hope you are infected with inspiration, and hope, and daydreams of your time coming to walk the path, and move between the temples all around Shikoku. I would love to hear your story when the corona cloud passes and you come here, to the end of the world, and write it yourself.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/05/19/national/reopening-borders-coronavirus/#.XsZm2C8r3PA

NEWS RELEASE

 

So, have you been wondering why this site has been a little quiet these days? There are a couple reasons. But the biggest reason is this:

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Oh yes. It’s true. This book is the result of completing the 88 Temple Pilgrimage here in Shikoku back in 2016, and takes you temple by temple through the entire route. Meant not as “the expert be-all-and-end-all” kind of book, this text serves more of an introduction to each of the temples, provides background information here and there, and gives newcomers a sense of what to expect when they come to see for themselves.

Written in a cordial, and very un-preachy manner, I hope that this book will pique the curiosity of travellers everywhere and serve as a friendly companion book to on-line map resources.

Today the Kindle version has been released. The print version is coming shortly. So, if you are keen to see what all the hoopla is about feel free to grab a copy of your own. Available on Amazon at fine internet connections everywhere:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZDPND8V/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=your+pilgrimage+in+japan&qid=1571738082&sr=8-1

Many years ago I wrote a book called, Karate: The Japanese Way (also available at fine internet connections everywhere). I’m not a karate expert, even though I trained for many years. I’m very much a student, and still very interested to learn more about karate. I love it, and always will. But in writing about something, in my case anyway, I am very hesitant to take the “role” of “expert”. Instead, I’m more of the, “Come along with me and let’s learn together” kind of writer. I hope that will not insult anyone’s sensibilities, but for me that is the more honest and truthful way to approach such a massive undertaking as the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

I’m a pilgrim in life, just like you I suppose. So if you would like to learn about “the walk that can change your life” I hope that you will pick up a copy and get your feet wet here. Then go out and read up on the history, architecture, folklore, spirituality, and customs of Japan, Kukai, and this splendid and ancient cultural artifact which is the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

There is room enough for all on this road.

 

Shikoku Pilgrimage on FACEBOOK

Good morning weary pilgrims!

Last night we finally got the green light to launch “Shikoku Pilgrimage: Your Spiritual Journey in Deep Japan”. It has been a long time in the planning and discussion.

Several months ago, Kazuyo and I were invited to join and work with the 114 Bank Economic Advisory Board to discuss Inbound Tourism for Shikoku. There are a lot of interested people in Inbound Tourism, and with a shrinking and aging population in Japan, as well as the natural pull of young people moving to Tokyo and Osaka rather than staying close to home, there are some very concerned people. Shikoku locals wonder what will happen ten years from now? Who will be here in twenty years? How will this region continue to flourish, and what about the cultural and social experiences that can be had here? Will they disappear?

These are very serious concerns, and from our view, especially as a couple who have both local and outside perspectives, we really feel that we should do what we can to let the rest of the world know what an incredible and hidden jewel Shikoku is, and the vast amount of incredible experiences in nature, in spirituality, and in people that can be had here.

The Shikoku Pilgrimage is Japans best-worst kept secret. Everyone knows it is incredible. That is, if you have been to Shikoku and have visited some of the temples on the route. But for the rest of the world, “Shikoku” is a kind of dog breed…. that is very disappointing.

So for our small part we are doing what we can to promote and develop a “concierge” service on Facebook for people who are interested in learning about the Shikoku pilgrimage, who are on the pilgrimage, and who need information to make their experience smoother.

I would like to most cordially  invite you to take a look at our group and if you would like to join to read the conversations, or better yet, to join in, that would be tremendous.

Here is the link!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1318545221639576/

Come on in!

Where to Start your Pilgrimage

This is a topic I have been thinking a lot about these days. From the perspective of someone who is in Europe or North America how do you just go and start a pilgrimage? The videos, the stories, the books, the photos… they all look so serene. And they are. But how do you make the first step? What do I do if I have trouble? If I don’t speak Japanese how on earth am I going to be okay?

These are all very reasonable, and sensible, concerns to have. While the most sturdy and hardy of us may throw caution to the wind and race off on such an adventure, the majority of us have people we need to be whole for, jobs and careers, homes, kids, family, obligations, and things to do in our own worlds. It would be great to go on an adventure, but how can I try it without risking life and limb?

I think that the first best step is to work with a reputable travel company. Book a tour. Pay the money necessary so that you don’t have to scramble around in the dark woods at night hoping to find a place to set up a tent, or a place to get out of a sudden downpour. That kind of experience is natural for tough hikers who have years of scar tissue to show for their passion, but for most people that does not sound like an enjoyable experience.

Today I want to recommend this company. Oku Japan. This is the page to look at:

https://www.okujapan.com/trip-finder/?destination=Shikoku%20Island&type=Self%20guided&page=1

I want to make it abundantly clear that I do not work for Oku Japan. I do not receive any “kickback” or fee for this blog or this recommendation. Oku Japan does not know that I like their company or recommend their tours. They don’t need to give me anything.

But I do, very much, would like to see you enjoy the incredible splendours that Shikoku has to offer. Just about everyone I have met here, with the exception of a couple or particularly surly European guys, have simply loved the experience of walking in nature, coming up to temples, smelling and touching and immersing themselves in the incredible sacred places of the pilgrimage, and having time and space to relax, think, walk, and breathe.

This video, made by Oku Japan, might get you in the mind-set of what it is like, and sounds like, on the pilgrimage trail.

So give it a think. Take some time to talk to a friend or two, and if you are all game for an incredible unique adventure in deep Japan, contact Oku Japan and talk about your hopes, conditions, and desires for a possibly life-altering experience.

Also, and this is an important note, you don’t need to come to Shikoku and MUST walk to each and every temple on the 88 temple path. You can see a few. You can see enough for a day or two. You can just do it for a week, or five days, or whatever. You could see one. People who live in Shikoku, and who are keen, might visit a few temples a year over a series of years. You don’t “have to” do anything like that. There is no obligation, other than do what is best for your own heart and mind.

I’ll leave it at that for now, and wish you guys all the best. And if you come near Takamatsu city in Kagawa, wave your flag and holler. If I can get away I would love to come and meet, have a coffee or a beer, and hear about your time here in Shikoku.

cometokagawa@gmail.com

Travel well. Travel safe.

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.

Toyota~Sera~(2)

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.

marke01

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….

morissey01

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

morrisey02

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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