Land of Oblivion

After checking out Sherry in Ehime’s great hiking and exploration YouTube videos I found this gem:

 

I figured out that it is in Spanish and that the title, “La tierra del Olvido” means, “The Land of Oblivion”. Very catchy song, beautiful lyrics and these two guys are super cool for putting this together.  Well done, gentlemen! And thank you very much for this!!

Como la luna que alumbra
por la noche los caminos
como las hojas al viento
como el sol espanta al frío
como la tierra a la lluvia
como el mar espera al río
asi espero tu regreso
a la tierra del olvido

Como naufragan mis miedos
si navego tu mirada
como alertas mis sentidos
con tu voz enamorada
con tu sonrisa de niña
como me mueves el alma
como me quitas el sueño
como me robas la calma

Tu tienes la llave de mi corazon
yo te quiero
mas que mi vida porque sin tu amor
yo me muero [bis]

Como la luna alumbra
por la noche los caminos
como las hojas al viento
como el sol que espanta el frio
como la tierra a la lluvia
como el mar que espera al rio
asi espero tu regreso
a la tierra del olvido

Tu tienes la llave de mi corazon
yo te quiero
mas que a mi vida porque sin tu amor
yo me muero
Yo me muero

And in English:

Like the moon that shines
night roads
like leaves in the wind
as the sun frightens cold
as the land to rain
as the sea awaits the river
so I hope you return
to the land of forgetfulness

As wrecked my fears
if I navigate your eyes
as alerts my senses
love your voice
with your smiling little girl
like me you move the soul
as you take away the dream
as I steal calm

You have the key to my heart
I love you
more than my life because without your love
I die 

As the moon shines
night roads
like leaves in the wind
like the sun that frightens the cold
as the land to rain
as the sea waiting for the river
so I hope you return
to the land of forgetfulness

You have the key to my heart
I love you
more than my life because without your love
I die 
I die 

KYOTO!

The last few days have been a bit busy. I have been hosting friends who are visiting from America. It is great to see them. My friend, Elmar, and I have been friends via a shared passion for karate for coming on about 15 years. We have known each other by long distance, and a couple of years ago we had the chance to finally meet in Georgia State in the U.S. That was really great. Our friendship deepened and Elmar and his lovely wife, Jean, came to visit us here in Japan.

After a whirlwind tour of Kyoto, making sure to hit the big sites, (you may know some of them), we came back to Kagawa and visited a few things here. They really loved all the sites in Kyoto, naturally, but were also very taken with the Shikoku Mura, an historical park that rambles through the forests near Temple 84 (Yashimaji). That was great.

One very important place we stopped at in Kyoto was Touji. Touji, in case you do not recall the name, is the “East Temple” in Kyoto, and is closely associated with Koubou Daishi. In the year 823, Emperor Saga gave the temple to Koubou Daishi and Touji became the central seminary for Shinbone (Esoteric) Buddhism. Several buildings, as well as the spectacular pagoda, were added. When you come to Touji you can see a huge hall with statues of Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine Buddha.

If you are familiar with Kyoto, or seen advertisements for it, you may have see the huge pagoda of Touji already. It is often used as as symbol for the city.

Kyoto is great, but I am glad to be home here in Shikoku. The next round for the pilgrimage is coming soon, so I am looking forward to that as always.

Hope my note finds you well, fellow travelers. Thanks again for coming by!

 

Mark

Brisk Paces

IMG_5649The other day I got to get out on the tour bus again and be whisked around the next 7 temples on the pilgrimage. It is a bit of a busy pace, and I lament that the group is pretty gung-ho to move through the temples quickly. I do my best to capture what I can with my cameras, and to gather the information I can. It is like assembling a massive jigsaw puzzle, and I think that when I get it done it will be the sum total of only what I, as a single solitary observer, has experienced.

But perhaps that is okay in itself. That is all we truly have, our own particular experiences, and perhaps knowing that from the outset has some value, keeps us humble, and makes us closer to our fellow human.

This week has also been very good to have some more people on our Ohenro Ambassadors page. There is really some awesome stuff there for you to check out!: https://yourpilgrimageinjapan.com/ohenro-ambassadors/

A great karate teacher told me that perfecting something is like carving a cube into a sphere. Each time you learn something you can cut or shave or polish a corner or edge. Little by little the sphere take shape. I believe that this is what we are doing with our collective voices and experiences. Together we are making the cube into a sphere.

I also met another foreign ohenro on the road. His name is Manfred Attner and he is here from Germany. I met him way out in Kochi-ken and he is traveling by foot, without Japanese language skills, and by himself. I thought that was just marvelous. We had a very all-too-quick meeting, exchanged contact information and promised to meet when he comes up through Kagawa. I hope he gives me a ring. Will keep you all posted if he shows up! In the meantime, come on Manfred! You can do it! Ganbatte kudasai!! (You can do it! Fight!)

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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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Half Way Through

This weekend was a great weekend on the Ohenro trail. On our very cool tour bus of the 88 temples we had a two-day trip through Ehime and to the south of Matsuyama City. As usual, the trail did not disappoint and it was a remarkable time.

As I mentioned in the last blog, there is something pretty awesome about the ohenro that travel by foot through the long days and weeks around Shikoku. They look so determined, so ready, and sometimes so exhausted too! It’s a rough way to go, and not one to be taken, or treated lightly!

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But there is a certain luxury and “space” when traveling to these temples by car or bus. What I mean is that when you are not struggling with a heavy bag, cursing your blistered feet, or hustling through from destination to destination because you may not be able to reach your lodging in time, you miss things at each temple. This is a common lament I hear from the Ohenro who travel by foot. Their accomplishments to tough it out on the road are formidable, but they are given such little “space” to see and record, and to be in the moment due to the stress and strain of the travel itself.

I am hoping that this blog and site will serve as a place to capture what many people cannot share with you as they roam through the temples and down each long hard road. But what you may see here is only but a thin slice of what you will experience when you come yourself. So, do make your plan to come out this way to Shikoku. And do take what you need to travel safe. And do heed the good advice of the road travelers who know what to carry, what to wear, what to leave behind, and what pace you need to move. But, if possible, also do take some time at each place to breathe in the air a little longer, linger around the buildings and temple bells a little longer, and seek out the hidden corners of each site.

This last weekend marked the half-way mark on my own first Ohenro experience. We are on the “reverse course” year of the the Shikoku Pilgrimage and have traveled thus far from 88 to 44.

The first portion of this experience has been phenomenal. I look forward to continuing down the roads, and up the hills and mountains for the next installment. I do hope you will come along with me!

Travel safe!

Mark

 

Spring is in the Air

March is the busiest time of year for us. As you might know, we run a chain of language schools here in Sunny Kagawa. We love the work we do, and we love working with students, meeting parents, and making a really interesting English language program for kids and teens.

This month is busy because the Japanese school year ends in March. There are a lot of graduation ceremonies, end of the year parties and meetings, and a lot of meetings too. We see lots of parents think about what they want for their kids for the next school year, so we have tons of trial lessons, meetings, phone conferences, hiring of new staff, training sessions, and curriculum preparation. It is a little wild, but still even in the midst of the craziness, I have been able to still get out and continue along with the 88 Buddhist Pilgrimage research and experience.

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The other week I went on the third installment of this years mission (to visit all 88 temples!) and it was simply spectacular. I really had no idea there was such a wealth of information and nature. The temples are spectacular, the people on the route are interesting and kind. Everyone has their own story. I really can’t express how lucky I feel to be doing this, and to learn something along the way. I think I am finding out some things for myself too. I feel a little calmer than I normally would, especially  at this time of year. I must also credit my wife, Kazuyo, for that. She centers me a lot. She “reels me in” when I am feeling a little hot under the collar.

I have been a school teacher for a long time. I have had the chance to do a few fun things along the way. I could go to grad school. I could practice and teach karate for a lot of years. I could see much of Japan. I could teach from day school to grad school, and everything in between. I could study Japanese. I could travel the world. But even so, even though I could have the incredibly privileged position of doing some of these things, there is still so much to learn and do along the way. Keeping a “student’s heart and mind” is really essential to my own happiness.

It is a good mental place to be too, I think. When we take the position in our lives as “learning as we go” it absolves us of the false belief that we need to be “experts” about everything, to talk like an “expert”, to always have all the right answers for everything. Taking the position of “I am going to learn something as I go along here….” gives us permission to lose the swagger we are expected to have. It gives us permission to be in the moment, to make friends, to laugh, to burp out loud, to have fun, to sing to yourself, to meet someone new…

I think that I would like this website and blog to keep this feeling, if possible. I must confess that I felt a little weary reading some other material on the Ohenro experience from “experts” who lecture, and tell us how we must behave and be, and all the intricacies of Buddhism and its many artifacts we must know intimately in order to be “worthy” to be on pilgrimage.

I resist this idea, and I think that it is antithetical to how we are naturally as people, and also from what I have heard from others who are on this path. Everyone comes to the pilgrimage in their own way, with their own knowledge and experience, with their own weaknesses and shortcomings. We are not given permission to qualify and “grade” those around us.

Mercy. Compassion. Thoughtfulness. Unconditional Love.

These are the things I believe have more value than being “right” or “overly clever”. Sometimes we feel cheated or unappreciated. Maybe we think that others should better appreciate our genius and tremendously unique personalities.

That is not going to happen, I guess. But rather than worrying what others do around us, maybe it is a better idea to be a little “selfish” and think about what you need to do for yourself.

Ok, enough for this blog today. I need to get busy and get more updates on the temples I have visited so far. Thanks so much for coming to visit. It is a privilege to have you here, and if you have comments or insights you would like to share, drop me a line.

Travel safe.

Mark

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A good day to be in Shikoku

Why we started this thing..

Every story has a beginning. Every pilgrimage has its first steps. I think I should tell you a little about how this website came to be, and what this is all about.

So, I came to Japan at first many years ago. My first experiences in Japan were as a language teacher with the public schools. I lived in a rural part of Ishikawa Prefecture, and this was all prior to the Internet, and I was very much in a place where I had to “sink or swim”. I was a young guy in my early 20’s and I met some wonderful people there. I studied karate for many years, taught thousands of kids at the local high school, and started to find myself content in a world far away from the northern plains of Canada, where I am from.

After my first experiences in Ishikawa I developed my education further, taking my Masters Degree in Comparative Literature (exploring Japanese medieval themes) and then teaching at the university. It was a very good experience and there was much to learn and study. But the university teaching position, although great, was also a limited opportunity.  Foreign teachers are not able to stay long with the universities that they work with and are eventually “retired” from service. I knew that was the situation when I started but I was not ready to be finished with my time in Japan. I had grown to love the life I had been given, and there were many things yet to do.

A couple years later my wife and I move to her home province of Kagawa. Much different than Ishikawa, Kagawa is part of four prefectures that make up the Shikoku Island in south-west Japan. We are now off the beaten track, and we are starting over from the beginning. There were no teaching positions for me to take at the university. I was very much a stranger in a strange land. But we were undeterred. We believed that we were meant to try something unique here.

Then it happened. A foreign couple was selling their little language school and going back to their home country. We were interested in taking over from them and developing a school for kids. And then we started our own language school. What started as one small school with about 40 kids in the countryside has been developed and grown into a group of schools that serve Takamatsu City and the surrounding areas. We were on a unique path of bringing strong English education to children, and focussing on making them successful and on the road to being bilingual.

We have been overwhelmed with the support that this community has shown us in our schools. We are grateful for the parents who believe with us that education is a critical element for a child’s future success. Our schools did not grow by themselves, they grew with people, with parents, with kids, and with our teachers and staff. It is a marvellous thing to be in a position of working inside this community with families. I noticed as well, that this work is also dramatically different than my previous work in the university. From my office on the university campus I was somewhat on the periphery looking in. Of some use, perhaps, but far away from the community, isolated. I felt very much like I was in a box, it was a nice box, but a box nonetheless. But here, in this place, in this context, we are much more able to be of service to others. I think that makes all the difference for us. I wake up everyday excited to get to my work. I never had that experience before…

While we are glad to be of service for kids, and getting them the language skills they need, there is something else that we began to realize that we should do, and that is to be of service to the community that has supported us. We wanted to be of service to the prefecture of Kagawa, and to try to repay the kindnesses that have come our way.

Initially we had no idea what it is that we could do. There are some local industries, and from time to time we are happy to help them with documents that need checking and so on. But there was something else that would be tugging at our elbows, and we were standing in the midst of it all this time.

We looked up from our busy work of the day-to-day of running language schools and realized that we are literally up to our eyebrows in a deep tradition that is inextricably linked to nature. The hills of Kagawa, and all of Shikoku, are gorgeous. We started to take day trips on the weekends to venture out into the other prefectures of Kagawa. We drove out to Kochi Prefecture, Tokushima Prefecture, Ehime Prefecture, and were reminded and surprised again at so many turns in the road, that we are living in a very unique, beautiful, and virtually untouched environment of trees, paths, temples, hills, streams, ponds, and fields.

And then there was also the continual reminders along the way that others had been on paths through here too. The 88 temples of Shikoku are dotted throughout the landscape. There are signs along the paths pointing the way.

We stopped at temples in the hills and in the chain of towns that marked the pilgrimage journey through the country. Kukai had been through here and left his mark in many ways, and there was much to learn at every stop.

Maybe we could do something to bring this experience to others outside of Japan. Maybe we could do something with the city leaders and educators here in Kagawa to introduce this pilgrimage in a way that would be helpful, informative, and welcoming to foreign English-speaking travellers. We began to cultivate these ideas in our minds, and then we started to meet people who were “pros” regarding the “Ohenro”(pilgrimage) experience here in Shikoku. When we told them that we would like to use our abilities in language, translation, and education to be of service, we started to form some very interesting and wonderful new friendships.

There was something growing between us that shared a desire to bring this experience out into a bigger world. In addition, there have been many people working in UNESCO here in Japan to bring greater recognition to the Shikoku Pilgrimage. In fact, after the pilgrimage in Spain, the Camino de Santiago, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Spain saw a huge number of new visitors entering the country to have the experience.

We believe that it is only a matter of time before we see the same thing happening here in Shikoku. We believe that the 88 Buddhist Temple  pilgrimage is something that will soon be known to the world, and that many people will hope to come to Japan to have this very unique and special experience. Knowing this is soon to come, we feel that we can be of help and service to people coming to Japan who do not have Japanese language skills, but who would love to have the opportunity to experience and explore a culture so different from their own. We also believe that despite the language barrier between English and Japanese that there is something very important and significant about this pilgrimage that transcends language, and that there is something here for people to experience and learn.

Our small part in this is to help make the undiscovered country discoverable. What you find on your own pilgrimage is held somewhere along the walk that you will take when you get here. That is your own life’s work, to find your own meaning. Our job is to help make that path a little smoother so that you can find your way. I hope we can be of service to you on your journey. And I hope we can do a good job of it too.

Welcome to Shikoku. Let’s take a walk.

“You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” –Bilbo Baggins