pilgrimage

Miyajima: Island of the Gods

The gods may be in hiding this week.

It’s a brief train and ferry ride from downtown Hiroshima to the small island of Itsukushima, more popularly known as Miyajima or, perhaps, Miyashima. And popular it is. The ten-minute ferry ride is jam-packed with tourists, Westerners like us but primarily Japanese nationals. As we pour off the ferry, there is a sudden realization that this will be far from a tranquil visit. The scene is carnivalesque. Children and adults run about madly. Tame deer follow, hoping for a handout. Unknowingly, we have arrived at Japan’s top tourist site on the first day of Japan’s most popular vacation period, Golden Week. (more…)

Shikoku: Three Temples and an Izakaya

April 21, 2017

Walking a pilgrimage can be a solitary activity. Gail and I have each other for company, but many travel solo. On occasion our paths mesh for just a moment, loosely intertwining on the trail or at a temple. We exchange pleasantries as best we can, considering we speak only English and they, with few exceptions, are Japanese and speak only Japanese. The 88-temple route is, after all, a pilgrimage deeply engrained in Japanese history and culture. This is their pilgrimage and we are the Western interlopers.

But there are growing numbers of foreigners plying this path. Just as we discovered the Henro-michi back home, so too have any number of other foreign nationals. We have met pilgrims from the United States, Australia, China, France and the Netherlands.

Today, our route will cross paths with Simon from Germany.  (more…)

Shikoku: Why We Walk

April 19, 2017

The next two days will see us walking down the very same highway we sped along by bus yesterday. Then, it took a little over an hour to be whisked to Uwajima. Today’s 28-kilometre walk – 5 hours of solid walking at a brisk pace – will only get us part of the way there.

So why walk? Why not just take the bus? Today’s trek speaks to those questions.

As slow as two-footed locomotion may be, there is an intensity to the experience where every step can reveal something new. A chance to look up, down and around, to catch aromas from someone cooking as we pass by, to hear all kinds of sounds – to reflect – minute-by-minute.  (more…)

Shikoku: Osettai

April 15, 2017

The hosts at Seiryu, our well-worn lodging in Tosa-Shimizu, sent us off for the day with a wonderful Japanese breakfast. A good thing considering this will be a long 39-kilometre day of walking.

We will be traversing a particularly remote part of Shikoku. Accommodations are both rare and well-booked. Tonight’s accommodation took perseverance to secure and required the assistance of an English-speaking women at the tourist information centre, way back in Kochi City.

We watched intently and hopefully as she phoned various minshuku and ryokan lodgings near our preferred destination, Mihari Village. We listened to the lengthy, rapid fire Japanese conversations, not knowing what was being said until, ultimately, she would disconnect and, with a sad shake of her head, say “so sorry…” It took several calls, several long discussions before the host at Shimuzugawa-sō found room for us. (more…)

Shikoku: Angry Seas

April 11, 2017

It rained all night. Waking up this morning, looking out over the forlorn landscape and watching more rain pelting down on the road we would follow, there seemed little hope for a pleasurable walk.

We sat down for our Japanese breakfast in the dining room of Kobushi-no-sato, a feast designed to take our minds off the weather. While we grilled fish over the open flame of a tabletop brazier, nature was relenting…somewhat. By the time we had suited up in our foul-weather garb and exited the comfortable confines of our inn, there was barely a drizzle. (more…)

Shikoku: A Royal Procession

April 10, 2017

We are reluctant to leave the luxurious digs of Kuroshio Honsen. After all, here we are enjoying our Japanese breakfast and, just outside our table-side window, rain pours down over scenic Kure Bay, reducing it to a sorry display of blue-greys. But there are 28 kilometres to cover and we know there’s a reward at the end of this day’s trek.

Rain is no longer our nemesis. It has become more of an unshakable partner. It may not have been invited to our adventure but it adds to the conversation. A ceaseless downpour accompanies us all day. In its shadowless light, bright flowers – yellows, pinks, reds, whites –  glow against a backdrop of muted greens. Rain drops cling to the soft pink and white petals of magnolia blooms. Cherry blossoms, nearing the end of their brief spring performance, tumble to earth under the weight of the steady rain. Clusters of vivid red camellia florets carpet our royal procession along the henro-michi.  (more…)

Shikoku: Minshuku Micchan

April 8, 2017

It would be a hard day.

We knew this before setting off from Haruna Spa. Comfortable beds, refreshing hot baths, filling meals are all fine reasons to spend the night here. But it is off the henro path and, at the outset, adds two kilometres to this day’s trek. We had originally planned to stay the night at Tosa City, five kilometres further on. But no rooms were available so we had to choose the spa as an earlier stop. That’s an extra seven kilometres, stretching today’s walk into the thirty-kilometre range.

When we do reach Tosa City, another reality sets in. The usually reliable trail signage is now vague or non-existent. We soon lose the path as we make our way through town to Kiyotakji, Temple 35. More time, more footsteps are added to this day’s ever-lengthening journey.

After a modest climb, Kiyotakji rewards us with its fine setting of temple structures tightly clustered around the rocky terrain. It’s another wet day but, up here, the morning fog adds a layer of mystery to the scene. A large bronze statue of Kōbō Daishi looms, enshrouded by mist. A tracery of flimsy limbs laden with soft pink cherry blossoms cross the light grey backdrop of trees and temples. (more…)