Gareth Leonard in Shikoku!

A rather substantial and influential Youtube creator, Gareth Leonard, comes to Shikoku. At the behest of the Shikoku Tourism Board, Gareth puts together a series of pretty impressive videos to promote and show off the splendours of Shikoku.

I love the open-mindedness of Gareth, the desire and enthusiasm to learn and explore, and the pure enjoyment of the moment. I loved very much that he stated from the beginning of his videos that although he had greatly enjoyed the Tokyo-Osaka-Kyoto experience of his first time in Japan, there was some “unfinished business”. That would be Shikoku!

Check out the above video, and the other two that make up Gareth’s Shikoku adventure.

 

Dr. Ludvik and The Shikoku Pilgrimage

Here is a new and excellent article on the Shikoku 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage:

https://kyotojournal.org/culture-arts/journeys-of-reverence-a-daughter-and-mothers-decades-on-the-shikoku-henro-pilgrimage/?fbclid=IwAR3EvNRc1ae7gxWGs6aMybACzsdOwXjLzceHKPXFksHh3MWpmgyWG0N3N34

Very intelligently written, and a beautiful testament to a mother and daughter life on the Shikoku Pilgrimage. I was going to write “experience” or “journey”, but that sounds too lightweight for what these two women have done over the years. Professor Ludvik and her mother have walked the pilgrimage more than a dozen times, not like this chucklehead who only did it by bus, and that was on the weekends over the course of a year.

There are some serious people who come to walk the paths of Kukai, and I am absolutely fascinated by their stories. I am tempted to pledge that I too will one day do it on foot, but such promises ought not be made lightly. Walking the pilgrimage and enduring that kind of suffering is no easy matter.

I might do it on motorcycle though…

Thank you Dr. Ludvik for the great article, and the beautiful photography within. The writing is excellent. By all means, please read the article to see how a serious ohenro gets it done.

Taken from the Kyoto Journal article, Dr. Ludvik’s bio:

CATHERINE LUDVIK obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Toronto and teaches Japanese religion, visual arts, and culture at the Stanford Program in Kyoto, Doshisha University, and Kyoto Sangyo University. Spanning Indian and Japanese religions and their visual arts, her research interests focus on the metamorphoses of the originally Indian goddess Sarasvatī/Benzaiten in the texts, images and rituals of Japan (see KJ62), as well as on the circumambulating practice (sennichi kaihōgyō) of the monks of Mt. Hiei and the Shikoku Henro pilgrimage.

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The Invitation

At this time we are in the process of getting things formalized for inviting tour groups to come to Kagawa to experience the incredible Shikoku Pilgrimage. We have worked very hard this last year and things are coming together nicely.

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If you are new to this site, and are here to find our more about what the Shikoku Pilgrimage is about, I hope you will take some time to look through some of these pages. There are a few caveats I need to give you right away.

  1. This website is far from complete. Last year I finished the 88 temple pilgrimage and I am still updating information on the site. Last year was a “gyaku-uchi” year, so we traveled the pilgrimage in reverse starting at the last temple, number 88. So, if you are looking for my own journey, please start there. I have been updating the information as I have been going along and I am down now to the early 30’s. I hope to get this all updated as soon as possible. The pages all have photos, just no explanations or history–YET.
  2. I am not a tour guide operator, but I work closely with a group of business people and one of our members is a tour operator. If you are a travel agency, please contact me via email (cometokagawa@gmail.com or englishbiztakamatsu@gmail.com) and I promise to respond in a timely manner.
  3. Should you decide to come to Shikoku, we believe you are going to have an unbelievable experience. Coming to Japan is a marvelous thing in itself, and you will surely enjoy the great sites of Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka. I love all those places myself. But coming here you will find a certain closeness and “hands-on” experience that you will not get in the more high traffic tourist places.

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There are also a few things I want to tell you about our great Come to Kagawa project as well. Some of it is pretty cool so I can start to let the cat out of the bag early on. We have been in conversation with several people who are masters or artisans in their specific fields and each is very interested and keen to share their knowledge and passion for art with groups that will come.

Our team of artists and experts are in the following fields:

–tea ceremony

–calligraphy

–zen meditation

–Shintoism

–udon making

–bonsai gardening

–kimono wearing

We are absolutely blown away with the intensity of interest these artists have in their desire to share their knowledge and passion with visitors. Many have said the same thing, that they have a certain “urgency” to share with others. They have the knowledge of art in their hearts and minds and just want to share that passion with others so that their art will continue beyond them.

These would be things that visitors could surely enjoy and participate in, in addition to the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage itself. We think that we are cooking up a very unique and supremely fun experience here. So, if you have received an invitation to come to our fair prefecture of Kagawa, and if you are interested in talking about the specifics, please get in touch with us. We are very much looking forward to talking with you soon.

Yours truly,

Mark

Finish Line?

This week I visited the final three temples on the pilgrimage. I “got it done”, so to speak. It was a very nice morning when I headed out, and this time I did not go with the tour group. I got up in the morning, had a quick breakfast, jumped in my car and was at temple number 3 (Konsenji) in Tokushima within about an hour. Simply beautiful. No one was there yet and it was quiet, and peaceful, and perfect. After that I zipped down the road to number 2 (Gokurakuji) and that was nice too. The final visit to number 1 (Ryouzenji) was met with a lot of people, tour buses, and foreign visitors too. I was surprised as to the contrast between number 3 and 1. Of course, it is understandable that at the very first temple people need some kind of orientation, places to buy their ohenro gear, and to get the whole process started, but it was surprising how busy it was, and how the energy seems a bit nervous and unsure as groups lumbered in and out.

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But I “cleared it”. My “noukyouchou” (temple stamp book) was complete, I performed my final sutras (for this trip) and I was done.

Was there an epiphany? Was there a moment of satori (Buddhist enlightenment)? Was there the movement of clouds above while the light of heaven shone down upon my upward beaming (and unshaven) face?

Nope. None of that. But I did feel something, or maybe I just thought something. I can’t be sure. I felt that I had done the thing I was supposed to do. I felt that now that I finished my first pilgrimage around the whole of Shikoku, I was ready to get back to my life.

I felt compelled to leave. I felt like I was given something that I needed and that I now needed to do what I could in my work and my everyday moving about to be of use and purpose for those around me.

Even a few days later I still have the same feeling. So, there are few things to get done.

  1. Keep working on this website and fill in as many gaps as possible. Promote this website and invite other to contribute where they can. The pilgrimage is something that is best shared, and although many have private feelings and reasons for doing it, there is something of a communal experience that occurs and needs celebrating.
  2. Keep doing the job I am doing in building and growing our language schools for kids. I am lucky to have a job where the results of “giving” to others can have very quick and tangible results. Teaching is a noble and important job. I am delighted to work with a great team of teachers in building our schools and serving our community. There is much more to do, so I need to get back to doing it.

The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage is in a circle. The metaphor is not lost on me. You finish the circle, but you could easily go through again and again and find more to learn and discover. I appreciate that, and I find it beautiful and attractive. I can see why there are people who are dedicated ohenro and why they walk this path for as long as they can put one foot in front of the other.

But for me, I am perhaps not designed to be in a circle only. I come from a culture where linear movement has its own value and place. In a circle you can let the situations and circumstance “be” while you move through them, and you are changed in ways you do not realize or fully understand. A linear movement is more like a rocket trajectory perhaps. I feel compelled to move in this way, for now.

My work, our schools, the students who need our help and service wait. If I am to remain in the circle they would not be there by the time I went around again. For me, it is time to come out of the circle and to use what I have in my mind and heart to do what I can to get kids better in English. I have a privileged position in this world, and I intend of leveraging my abilities for these kids. They need it and deserve it.

After the trajectory of these years to come may falter and slip, I will need to come out of the linear world again perhaps when I am forced to retire. I know where there is a circle where I can walk and think and reflect on the person I am, and how I may participate in the world around me. I know where I could start, and the path stretches out ahead, like an old friend who is inviting you to come along for the walk of your life.

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Pilgrims in SPAIN!

Well, dear friends and neighbors, I just got back from Spain. It was, as you may already know, a very very cool place to visit. It was my first time to Spain and I have not been to Europe for many years. Everything was interesting and everything was new for me.

I had set out with a local group from Japan with the purpose of promoting the Shikoku Pilgrimage. There was a lot of moving around, and I had to drive quite a bit during this journey, but it was totally worth it.

Our first stop was to Santiago de Compostela. This is the “end” of the Spanish pilgrimage for many, but it was our first stop. It is a very inspiring place to visit. Here are a few of the pictures I took when there:

 

After that visit, we were off to the city of Sarria to meet the mayor there. This was a great time and opportunity. The mayor, Ma del Pilar Lopez Yanez, was tremendously graceful  and very classy. After a lunch together, she invited us to her office where our group was able to talk about the pairing of the Spanish portion of their pilgrimage, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, with the Japanese portion of the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage, from Kannonji to Okubouji. Initial discussions were very fruitful, thanks to our stellar translator and travel support, Shoko-san.

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After some time with the group in Santiago de Compostela, I decided to make my appointments in Barcelona with various travel companies to promote a business connection and cultural exchange opportunity. Some meetings were good, but one meeting was spectacular. We are looking forward to exploring a project together of inviting pilgrims from both Spain and Japan to venture out and experience each other’s pilgrimages. It has great potential and I am absolutely thrilled to be part of the process to help facilitate these experiences.

I have always felt that the weapon against hate and ignorance is knowledge and travel. We learn more about other people when we walk on their roads, eat the food they eat, drink the things they drink, attempt in our feeble ways to use their language to communicate, and find things that we can enjoy, share, and laugh about. I am dismayed to see so much hate in the Western media and ignorance in both speech and deed with those who pretend they should lead us. So, in response, I think we should make pilgrimage in a foreign land a mandatory activity for anyone fit to travel.

It surely is a step in the right direction, wherever that direction takes you.

Getting Closer and Closer to the Beginning

It has been another great couple of sessions for getting out on the pilgrim’s trail. This blog has not been updated for a little while (sorry about that), but sometimes my work takes on a life of its own and needs my attention. But it sure was nice to get away for a little while to visit temples, to study more about the Ohenro trail, and see some things that were unique, elegant, beautiful, and surprising.

It has also been very interesting to see a few more foreign pilgrims on the road. The most amazing thing that has been similar with several is that they have come to Shikoku with limited or without any proficiency in Japanese. They just get out on the trail and start walking, filled with a spirit of determination and a lot of guts. I really admire that. I think it is awesome. I had a chance to stop a few and ask how they are doing, ask where are they from, and ask what they would like to see for some changes or improvements to the whole experience. Some travel by foot, but I also met a family that just came here, rented a car, and started driving all over the place. How cool is that?

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There is usually a brief comment about how the current English guidebook is not enough, but then another quickly following comment that the guidebook is indeed indispensable. I could not agree more. The guidebook is GREAT, but a guidebook cannot, by its very nature hold all the information that a pilgrim would like to have. So, we will do what we can here to chip away at what people want to learn and know more about over time. For me, I am still learning, so we can learn more together, and talk, and share ideas, and try to figure out a few things along the way.

There are also comments about how the trail could be better identified and also for some better computer maps. I think that those things are coming along, and in my time talking with some of the people in the Shikoku Ohenro Friendship Society, a lot of volunteer man-hours are going into those exact things. I think that despite the frustrations that pilgrims have today, things will be better for people who are coming later in the weeks and months to come.

For me, on this first time around, we got to Temple 12. Coming in reverse order this year that means that I have visited 76 temples so far. That is a lot, and they are beginning to blur a bit around the edges. From now I have to kick things into gear and get more updates on each temple. I would like to include more folklore, locals sights and sounds and flavors, and all of that will take time. But this project has given me much more than I have given it. Must get back to it to balance that out a little better, if I can.

There are a couple more outings yet scheduled, so I am looking forward to those. And then off to Mt. Koya. I am, as you can imaging, pretty jazzed about that.

Hope this blog finds you well, safe, and dry on this rainy day here in Shikoku!

 

Yours,

Mark

Latest Lamentations

Oh… this site needs much more work. Oh…. I have no idea when I will get the time to really get it looking better. Ohhhh… there are so many topics and things that need to be addressed here. Ohhhhhhh….. I am still not finished the first time through the 88 temples.

What are you gonna do? In Japanese you can say, “Shikata ga nai” or “Shouga nai” (which as a gag can also be translated as “I have no ginger.”

I just got back home after a two-day installment of temple 27 (Kounomineji) down to… temple 18 (Onzanji). Remember, that this is a “gyaku-uchi” year so many pilgrims are visiting temples in reverse order. This was an overnighter for me, so I was away from my family, and I stayed at a very “Showa-era” standard hotel in Tokushima (The Rivera) with all the flavors and textures that go with that. It is just across the Kochi border looking out on the sea. The view from my window was marvelous. The onsen, however, was divine.

I get out on the ohenro trail once a month, but it is very much like a kind of respite from running our company, and gives me a little space to think, to daydream, and to think about what we are all about, and how we must focus better on serving our students, and beyond that-serving our fellow humans.

I fill up my camera with unbelievable pictures and I love doing that. This last trip has some real gems in it, and it was a very good time for me to learn, to stretch my mind a little, and to calm my overly anxious heart.

I will try to get the photos up on the site, and get back to the grindstone of filling in some blanks too. I really need to thank you guys who visit for being so patient as I slowly stumble along here.

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Please stay tuned!

Mark