Incense streaming past statues and worshipers alike, a crowd of O-henro (pilgrims) chant the hannya shingyo, or heart sutra, in eerie unison. Eyes turned downward, hands clutching prayer beads, every single one hoping their prayers and devotion will reach the inner recess of the temple where Kobo Daishi is said to reside. People come to the 88 temple pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku for a myriad of reasons; some looking for forgiveness, some to honor a commitment to a deceased family member, some merely looking to experience the beauty of Shikoku. I came to this centuries old Buddhist pilgrimage hoping to gain a foothold into my past, and insight into my future. Strapped with only a backpack, guidebook and a sense of adventure, I calmly took my first step into what turned out to be a life-changing experience.
Last week, we were invited by the fine people of Forest Canyoning to go sliding, bouldering, waterfall climbing, rappelling and cliff jumping in the spectacular Nametoko gorge in south west Ehime.
It was probably the most adrenaline-filled thing I have done in Japan.
The 50th largest island by area in the world, Shikoku is smaller than Sardinia and Bananal, but larger than Halmahera and Seram. At 18,000 sq kms, spatially, it really isn’t that big, but being completely mountainous, driving anywhere is particularly time consuming. Breathtaking, but time consuming.
Using a couple of rare days off for us, we decided to see some parts of southern Ehime/western Kochi that we haven’t been to before. Our first stop was Shikoku Karst.
We had 2 live music events last weekend…both super interesting, both very different; needless to say a good time was had by all.
On Friday the 13th (spooky) we had a duo from Spain that played Klezmer music, which is Eastern European Jewish music that is usually played at celebrations such as marriages. 2 days earlier, they also played to a packed house in the very atmospheric wanitosai.
This Blog is going to attempt to compare some aspects of the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francias) in Spain and the 88 temple pilgrimage in Shikoku. Of course, this is just my opinion only, and I am no sort of authority on either pilgrimage; I’ve just walked both and these are my observations. This was written in response to a message I received from David Moreton, asking my opinion on these topics: accommodation, # of walkers, Osettai/culture of helping and safety. The Osettai/cultural of helping section is quite long and will be part 2.
Noriko and I returned from northern Spain about a week ago, from our month long pilgrimage to Santiago. It feels like we’ve been back for years though. One thing that pilgrimage teaches, is that time is far from mathematical and that it seems to be linked directly to behavior. The first 3 days felt as if we were walking for months, the last 3 days felt like we just arrived in Spain. In the first 3 days we traversed the Pyrenees, survived a flood and waded in mud- it took us the next week just to process those days.