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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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.

 

Dangerous Typhoon Approaching

Hello all,

This is an important public service message for any and all hikers and pilgrims on the Shikoku Pilgrimage at this time. You may not have access to news reports, especially in Japanese, and could possibly be unaware of the typhoon that is steadily approaching Japan at this time.

The size of the typhoon was classified today by Meteorological experts as a “Super Typhoon” or a “Class 5” typhoon. The course of the typhoon is to reach Japan sometime during the weekend, but speed and direction of any typhoon can only be measured in estimates. The centre of the storm may be to the east of Shikoku, but there are very strong cautions regarding dangerous winds that need to be considered.

One of the most dangerous elements of a typhoon is not so much the wind and rain itself, but rather, wind strong enough to move debris. As you may have noticed, many rural houses have clay tiled roofs. These can fall apart and become projectiles in heavy wind and have been known to cause serious injury to people. There is also a danger of falling trees, light posts, and power lines. It may not be safe.

If you are on the Shikoku Pilgrimage I strongly suggest that you make your way via train or bus to the nearest city to you. Takamatsu, Tokushima city, Kochi city, and Matsuyama are the best places for you at this time. In the wake of a disaster there can be a great deal of infrastructure trouble and damage. I would recommend that you take a three day break and enjoy and explore the local restaurants and amenities of Japanese city life until it is safe enough to get back out on the trail.

While it may be true that this giant typhoon may adjust course and have minimum impact on Shikoku, your health and safety are not things to risk. So, please be prudent and smart and stay out of the weather for a few days.

Ohenro is not your Homeless Vacation

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.

Good Lord.

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.”

Unbelievable.

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.

 

Artist Tali Landsman and Shikoku

Tali Landsman is a remarkable person. She walks the earth. Really. She goes everywhere. She has walked pilgrimages all over the world. All over Europe and Asia she has trekked for many days. She is also a very interesting artist too.

I’m not an artist myself, but I like art. I like looking at art, and I like people who make art.

Her site is fun, and varied, and goes in all directions. I lost myself in here for the better part of an hour. It was well spent.

https://talilandsmanart.com/2016/05/06/and-so-it-begins-nan-jin-desu-ka-japanese-for-how-many-are-in-your-party/

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