O-Henro extravaganza! (part 1)

So, this last 3 weeks or so has been pretty full on in terms of O-henro experiences.  We’ve witnessed O-henro beginnings, endings, documentaries (plus a  massive party) and a huge number of people from many countries putting on the vestments of pilgrimage and hitting the trail.  We’ve met so many new wonderful people, made tons of friends and really reaffirmed why we began the guesthouse in the first place.  We are constantly looking for ways to increase the exposure of Shikoku’s 88 temples to people from around the world, and both March and April have been great months for that.

So, about 4 weeks ago, we got a message from a walking O-henro from Switzerland that was having a foot problem and was wondering if we could help him find a doctor once he hit Matsuyama.  So when he arrived, Nori took him to the hospital; diagnosis-nothing serious but stop walking for god’s sake.  Most people at this point would cash in their chips, thank Kobo for the good run, and head for higher grounds (Kyoto or Tokyo).  Not my boy Mike Pfaff, he decided to rent a car and finish the rest of the pilgrimage in this most 21st century of ways.  I have much respect for this guy who decided not to do the logical thing and quit, and finished the pilgrimage in the way he really did not want or intend to; if that is not pilgrimage, I don’t know what is.

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Last October, we had an American guest (Barry) come through here, that actually heard about us from an article that my good friend Jen Sotham wrote about us in Busan’s gaijin rag, Busan Hap’s.  He was coming to to Japan and thought he might dig Matsuyama and Shikoku.  He ended up extending quite a few nights and even decided to walk 3 days of the pilgrimage.  So, we sent him to temple 44 (about 1 hour away by bus) to walk the magical route from temple 44 to 45 and back.  He was then going to walk back to Matsuyama; 3 days and 2 nights, this is our most recommended route for people wanting to get a slight taste of the pilgrimage.  So, again, it was mid-October and just beautiful weather, until Barry arrived at Kuma Kogen and it started to snow; first snow of the season and he was just caught 100% off guard.  He had to bail on the walk and come back to Matsuyama with more determination than ever to walk the whole pilgrimage.

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We get quite a few guests coming through here that say they really want to come back to walk the pilgrimage, and even some that say that they WILL come back and walk the pilgrimage.  As you can imagine, few actually do, obviously due to the time and money restrictions, so when Barry told us he would come back to walk it (possibly with a couple of friends in tote), we took it with a grain of salt.  Oh me of little faith, not 3 months after, he was booking a room here for himself and 2 friends to walk the trail; all of it.

The trio, Barry, Jim and Moni, arrived the very end of March, all three of them just super cool, wonderful people.  They took off the next morning for temple 39 (about 200 kms south of here) with the aim to walk back to Matsuyama then continue on the pilgrimage, ending up back in Matsuyama by the end of May, to pick up their excess gear plus say our goodbyes.  They kinda came back in pieces, first Moni on the morning of the 8th (she was actually just doing a week with her boys), then Barry later in the afternoon, followed up by Jim about an hour later.  As with everyone who walks O-henro, they had stories; from freak snow storms on the mountains, to random people taking them in feeding and housing them to the kilos and kilos of micans that one is bound to receive in Ehime as osetai.  So, we partied it up a bit when they were here, discussed how they were going to continue on their path, and they were involved in a PBS documentary that just to be filmed at Sen Guesthouse while they were here (more on that in the next blog coming soon…).  Obviously their story is not over, they will have all the highs and low of pilgrimage, hike all of the beautiful mountains, pray the sutras and come back and report it all to yours truly.  Even once their pilgrimage is over, these are people we definitely plan to see sometime again in the future.

 @Rod Walters

@Rod Walters