The Month of Walking
It feels like the last half of November simply flew by. It’s even more funny because nothing spectacular really even happened.
And it’s at this part of the “culture shock” phase I feel I’ve hit the adjustment stage (famous last words). I’ve explained to some people back home that, it seems, everything has simply become normal. I have a set schedule and, besides from what classes I teach, it does not really deviate.
Which makes something like a blog even harder to write. It’s not that I don’t have things I would like to write about (I have plenty of drafts), but I don’t feel that they’re ready yet. The proverbial cake is not fully baked.
Also add in that I’ve been trying to plan my winter break, which is an event within itself. The following is not a stab at anyone in particular, whether on the island or any other friends in the country, but it seems that everyone is leaving for the Christmas/New Years break, doing their own thing. I’m seemingly alone. Now, many of them have their own guests to attend to or already planned their travels months ahead of time and to complain as such would be nothing short of childish. But it’s still the fact I will still be, for most purposes, by myself for the holidays.
Quickly attempting to pry myself from the sorrow of it all, I decided I needed to go out and do something too, but realistically it would have to be in Japan and have to work in the confines of New Years, since many national places (understandably) close. It was then I remembered the Shikoku 88 Temple Walk.
The walk was most famously paved (literally? not literally? it really depends on how you look at it) by a man named Kobo Daishi (or Kukai, depending on who you talk to), who traveled to 88 Buddhist temples on Shikoku, even creating some of them along the way. He’s also credited for many other Japanese-Buddhist facests, with just a short mention being bringing Esoteric Buddhism from China and developing it into the Shingon sect. Following his passing, his pilgrimage became the stuff of legends and it is now estimated about a hundred thousand Japanese people do the pilgrimage every year.
While many of the pilgrims are Buddhist, there are plenty of others that are not. Dave Turkington writes on his site shikoku henro trail, “The fact is, this is a Japanese pilgrimage and for many that is a part of the mystique. Like myself, there are probably others who never considered doing a pilgrimage anwhere — until they heard of this pilgrimage in Japan. And given their strong interest in ‘things Japanese,’ and their desire to learn more about Japan, they find themselves deciding to go to Shikoku.”
It’s here that a statement like that can carry a lot of criticisms, mostly reminiscent of “OH WOW, IT’S SO FOREIGN. IT MUST BE MAGICAL,” but I’m not simply doing this because it is Japanese. If I truly wanted to convert or have some “spiritual awakening,” there are more than enough temples/shrines around my house that could fulfill just that. In all honesty, I’m going the walk for very selfish reasons. The first 23 temples in Tokushima (and the only temples I will be able to see) are called hossin no dojo or “The Dojo of Awakening Faith,” but I believe Turkington has another great way of summing it up. “I wish they had simply called this province the Dōjō of Awakening. This is the key, in my opinion. Simply being awake. Most of us aren’t when we first get here. And, you can’t proceed to the second step until you have at least awakened. Awakened to the possibility of doing something different. Awakened to the possibility of learning something different. Awakened to the possibility of possibilities.”
I simply want to get out; get out of my apartment from what could easily become a week and a half of self-loathing. I want to find out more about an area in which I’m traveling and the people and culture that inhabit it. I want to find out a little more about myself along the way, too.
However, I believe a part of the decision is also that wanting of the human spirit to be of something greater than themselves. 2014 is the estimated 1,200 year anniversary of the pilgrimage, so there will be lots of special events happening at the temples, but it’s also being able to experience the culture of the road when the New Year comes. Right now, the plan is to go from the last week of December right until the first week of January, giving me merely a week, but being able to see the first 23 all during the holiday season.
So, for the rest of the month, I’m going to try to write about my preparation for the trip and then, come the new year, write about what happened. It will be a bit post-mortem writing, as I am not expecting to have much internet access, but I’ll be taking notes from Damien Echols’ book Life After Death and combine both at-the-time diary entries with some self-reflection comments afterwards.
In the month where it seems everyone is slowing down, preparing for a task such as hiking a prefecture makes me more optimistic about what was going to be a melancholic holiday season. Needless to say, it will give me something to write about too.
(Additional note: if you happen to stumble across this post and have previously experienced the trek, please leave your comments and recommendations in the comments below! Or even email me. I would be more than happy to pick some brains.)