Book Report: The Way of the 88 Temples by Robert Sibley

This is a book that I have really come to love, for a bunch of reasons. The author is articulate and intelligent. His writing is very much “present” and “in the moment”. He is a Canadian. He is a writer steeping in philosophy, and continually learning and growing. He comes from Alberta, which is where I grew up. He traveled around Shikoku at a time I didn’t even know he was in the area. He could have walked right by my house.

And then there is this book. Compared to a lot of traveler accounts of “the road not taken” he stands head and shoulders above most. But as you read this book it is important that you are reading more about the pilgrim’s experience than temple information. Most certainly, there is a LOT of great background and snippets of culture, language, Buddhism, folklore, and personalities throughout, but they are all intrinsically linked to the immediate experience of Sibley. This certainly does not take anything away from the book. In fact, it serves to make the reading more intimate and intense. This is a book that inspires and touches, rather than lecture and expound.

There may be critics who claim that the book is light on data and information about the temples. This is not a guide book. This is Robert’s book, and his story. And he tells it well.

Highly recommended. I loved it. And he made me laugh out loud several times.

He also surprised me with a few moments that were particularly touching.

Thank you, Robert! When you come again, please drop me a line. Dinner and beers are my settai waiting for you here in Kagawa!

Robert Sibley has written a few other books as well, including one on the Camino. Please check out his site: http://www.rumourofgod.com/index.html

Mainichi Shinbun on Best “Omotenashi”

Check out this article by the Mainichi!

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20200112/p2a/00m/0na/002000c

“Omotenashi” is an expression you hear often in hospitality circles. It can mean a lot of things, but it is the term to best express the thoughtful and gracious reception we get as foreign visitors to Japan. There is kindness, empathy, care, and a desire to “share the moment”. Elegant, and very Japanese.

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.

Kumano: The Next Stage

It has been an unbelievable month here in sunny Kagawa-ken. And I really have much to be grateful for. I managed to launch my book, Your Pilgrimage in Japan: A Regular Canadian on the 88 Temple Buddhist Pilgrimage of Shikoku (available through fine Internet connections everywhere). And the response has been very very good.

In one recent interview with a major news outlet (article to be released soon) I received the comment, “Regular Canadian! That’s great!”, as we talked about what the difference is between my book and what is typically out there by “experts” who wax longwindedly about their tremendous insights and personal revelations. The book is a bit “off the beaten track” as it were, as the starting position as a writer is not a “I know everything so now I need to educate you”, kind of approach. Rather, the style, as well as my own personal philosophy in living is “I don’t know much, and will not pretend to. Instead, let’s go and see what we can see together, and have an incredible fun and rewarding experience along the way”.

Word of the release of my book has reached ears has reached a few more writers and there are more interviews and discussions coming in the weeks to come.

Another incredible development is that I received an invitation to go out to Mie Prefecture for a meeting with business and local government people who are involved in the promotion of the Kumano Koudou. They have invited me to come to see and experience that pilgrimage and to attend meetings to discuss how pilgrimage experiences can be more inviting and supportive of foreign travellers to Japan. Of course I am deeply honoured and thrilled to be part of the process. That adventure will be later this month so expect to be bombarded with more photos and reports of that experience.

I am now thinking that I have had some kind of great subconscious inspiration for naming this website, “YOUR pilgrimage in Japan”. Who knows where the road will take you and I! I am excited to be of service to Japanese hosts, businesses, and communities who want to share their rich and vibrant culture. And I am delighted to help my fellow pilgrims from overseas get to the doorway of their new adventure in Japan.

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Shikoku Pilgrimage Wigs

As someone who is now over 50 years old, I have to be understanding with the fact that my hair, which was once long and flowing has now escaped from the surface of my head. Oh, there is some left, the sad lonely few strands of hair, but most of the hair of my youth has long abandoned me. Some has resettled in my ears and on my back, in places where hair did not grow previously.

I might despair that I may no longer have flowing locks to decorate my head, but I need not be in darkness for too long. Shunsuke Meguro has come to my rescue. Inspired by Kabuki, and yes, the Shikoku Pilgrimage headwear, he has found a way to help me walk further down the trail untouched by sun, and yet still fashionably decorated.

Read on if you dare: https://www.dazeddigital.com/beauty/head/article/46176/1/shunsuke-meguro-celebrates-japanese-culture-through-the-dynamic-art-of-wigs

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

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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

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