2010 Archive

14Nov10: Lorianne Reuser

Let's Henro! A Shikoku Experience
              On November 14th, a culturally diverse group of twenty gathered at the Kokubu Station to participate in a slice of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. We had signed up to hike a good 25km through the area of Kagawa known as Goshikidai. In the course of our hike we would visit three temples, and listen to culturally relevant lectures on the nature of the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage. In Japanese, this pilgrimage is called 'henro', so in the nature of the ALT language, a mix of Japanese and English, we were all ready to henro!
              The day began rather hectically, as an incorrect train schedule led some of us astray, but we arrived with time enough to don our henro gear: a white coat, a purple sash, a hat, and a staff. While the hats were quickly demoted to hanging off our necks, (henro hair, anyone?), the staffs were proudly displayed as an item both functional and symbolic. The staff is a physical symbol of Buddha himself. As the pilgrim hikes along the henro path, he does not walk alone, because Buddha is always with him in the form of that staff.
              The first leg of the hike began with hardly a slope, and I scoffed at the supposedly difficult hike. After all, I live on Shodoshima, and we have our own mini-henro - 88 temples and a henro path all our own! I have hiked the mountainous trails of my own island, and 25 km a day really didn't seem like anything different. But my arrogance was quickly rewarded with pain, as I learned how epic the Shikoku 88 trail is. Luckily we stopped to feed some birds, a lovely experience that cost us a good half hour of time. Those who stood quietly and sported a peaceful aura seemed to have the greatest success. To be that close to the surrounding nature is, I admit, a fantastic feeling, and one that recalled my own childhood memories of similar experiences in Canada. I was not expecting to experience something so familiar during this Japanese excursion. 
              The three temples we saw that day were stunning, particularly the last, but I admit it was the hike and the promise of autumn leaves that drew me to participate in this event. I wasn't disappointed. Goshikidai is a beautiful area in Kagawa, and I understand why the Junior High School second years travel there. Each participant had their own pace, and our group quickly spread out over the path. I took advantage of the space to walk on my own for a short while. With no voices to hinder them, the birds and wind in the leaves overwhelmed my senses, and transported me to a state of mind that I find increasingly difficult to find in my hectic Japan life: quiet satisfaction. I knew there was nowhere else I would rather be, and nothing else I would rather be doing.
              The greatest pleasure of the day, however, was to be found in the company. Despite its small size, Kagawa's foreigner community rarely comes together, but when it does the results are to be applauded. The enjoyment we found in each other's company was palpable, and our camaraderie was strengthened through our sweat and pain as we tread up and down the mountainside. A Canadian from Shodoshima chatting with a Brit from Marugame - it can happen here, in our tiny and often overlooked prefecture. The chance to bond with seldom-met friends through a quintessential Japanese experience is one we should all take seriously. The Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage Event is now a not-to-be-missed event, scheduled into my calendar, for as long as I am in Japan.

14Nov10: Jeremy Lanig

Sometimes words are insufficient to describe the beauty, mystery, and feelings associated with the henro experience. For this reason, I will use my photos from the most recent pilgrimage to temples 80, 81, and 82 to tell my story of the henro.

14Nov10: David Moreton


DSCF1599.JPGThoughts and Impressions about the 6th Henro Walk - November 14, 2010
              First of all I would like to thank the organizers for allowing me to join this event and to offer a brief talk to everyone about my research and activities related to the Shikoku pilgrimage. With my daily work, family life and various academic projects, I am not able to get out into the field and experience the pilgrimage as often as I would like, so it was great to be able to participate with everyone today. Seven years ago I visited Temples 80, 81 and 82 by car, but this was my first time to walk from one temple to the other. All went well until I hit the steep "henrogorogashi" (lit. pilgrim fall down) part on the way leading up to Temple 81 and I was quickly reminded of how arduous the path can be. But once I got to the top, I could really enjoy the rest of the journey through the tranquil forests.
              Throughout the day I was often reminded of a comment made by Oliver Statler, author of Japanese Pilgrimage, about forty years ago when he made the Shikoku pilgrimage. He said that the temples do not make up the pilgrimage, they only punctuate it. I would agree and I was saddened when we approached the temples because I was thrown back into the "real" world of noise and traffic of humans and vehicles. It was surprising to see the parking lots full of cars and buses, but this clearly proved that visiting one or a few of the temples along the Shikoku pilgrimage is a popular weekend pastime. At Temple 82 there was also a bustling atmosphere with many visitors wandering around the temple grounds, but I am grateful to the assistant head priest who spoke to our group and offered us a unique chance to learn about details of the temple that we could not have known by just looking around.
              Unfortunately the time went by too fast and our brief pilgrimage quickly came to a close. I reached my car to head home and found it hard to strip myself of the pilgrim attire and return to the "real" world. A few years ago I wrote, "The Shikoku pilgrimage is a journey of the soul - a time to think, a time to focus on oneself, a time to forget the world from which you came, a time to selflessly support and encourage each other, a time to learn to be grateful, a time that will you will remember forever." And I still believe so today. I eagerly look forward to when I can return to the wonderful world of this pilgrimage either by myself or by participating in an event similar to this one.
David C. Moreton


14Nov10: Ryan Keeble

IMGP4899.JPGHaikus from a Henro Hike

6am alarms,
conbini food for brekkie.
This better be good.
A bird in my hand:
my back turned to the mountains,
hidden in the mist.
Recent friends, smiling,
as the mountain`s mist unfurled;
walking the Henro.

By Ryan Keeble

14Nov10: Justin Bussies


DSCF1584.JPGBirds go tweet,
Its seeds they will eat
From your hand

Fall colors
Many shades and tints
Green to Red

We are hot
Henro Clothes are hot
Yeah! Kukai

Where are we?
Is it much further?
I need food.

Scenic sights
Japan's tradition

By Justin Bussies

14Nov10: Richard Kinsella

IMGP4871.JPGA Heritage of Storytelling
Richard Kinsella

     One of the most interesting aspects of walking the Shikoku Eighty-Eight Temple Circuit is discovering the local stories associated with each temple. If you have the opportunity to talk with a Buddhist priest, you can sense their eagerness and willingness to share their temple's legends. On our most recent section of the pilgrimage,on the Goshikidai Plateau, we were told tales of demon cows and angry spirits.    
     Japan's relationship with storytelling is long and well documented. I can't help but make parallels between Japanese stories of the past and the incarnation Japanese stories take today. After living on a small Japanese island for over a year, I have built friendships and relationships with many of the island people. Like the Buddhist priests they revel in sharing their local tales, which are always in abundance. One story comes to mind of a demon that lived by the edge of a river. After watching a man eat a bowl of somen noodles, the demon attacks the man and proceeds to rip open his stomach, so as attain the consumed noodles. The demon then washes the noodles in the river before eating them. To this day the river is still referred to as Somen River.     
     This heritage of storytelling has helped to shape much of Japan's culture, both in the past and the present. The Japanese people's desire to tell and record their stories lead to large scale distribution of printed material during the Edo Period. It defined the aesthetic of the era as wood block prints became a popular medium. Scrolls depicting the stories of the time would also play apart in the aesthetic of modern day Manga. The Manga industry now makes millions of dollars, demands miles of self space in book stores and continues to be a popular form of entertainment. Japan's love of storytelling is alive and well in contemporary culture  but what makes Japanese storytelling so unique and why does it continue to play an important roles in modern day Japanese society?
     Since coming to Japan, I have sought out many traditional Japanese tales. After growing up with stories such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood, I find it fascinating to find the same themes and ideals expressed in Japanese stories. Both Western and Japanese stories attempt to communicate a valuable life lesson to children. However, I find Japanese stories to be lighter in tone. They are often amusing or jovial and have very engaging characters. The monsters and villains depicted in Japanese stories are not two dimensional beasts. Many of them are lost spirits or demons willing to compromise. The depiction of these characters are often very entertaining. It is clear to see that the Japanese people are drawn to these wayward souls. Perhaps they empathize with their misgivings or perhaps the terror of encountering one of them is exhilarating. Either way, they play a key role in the success of Japanese storytelling and can still be seen in Japan's modern day stories.
     Discovering and finding the stories behind these monsters have helped define my time in Japan. By speaking with the local people I have glimpsed the ideals of Japanese life and found the people to be warm and jovial in their manner of storytelling. In no place are the stories so vividly told as in the temples along the Shikoku Eighty-Eight Temple circuit. These local legends live on through practicing priests and pilgrims that pass through. The pilgrimage is a valuable resource that ensures that local stories endure. As long as people continue to visit these bastions of local heritage, the stories that have helped shape modern Japan will continue.     

14Nov10: Chris McCabe

Adventure On Goshikidai

Chris and Bird.jpg                           (Photo courtesy of Richard Kinsella)


Our group of foreign resident "Henro" pilgrims assembled on Sunday November 14, 2010 in the quiet space of Kokubunji Temple.  After paying our respects there, we set about climbing the steep path up Goshikidai Plateau.  As we made our approach to the summit, many of us were breathing quite hard.  However, we all experienced something just below the peak that really lifted our spirits back up.  We had heard that if you hold out birdseed at a certain spot on the trail, then small birds called yamagara (cyanistes varius) will flock down from the surrounding trees.  When we actually tried this, we found that, sure enough, it worked!  Having these birds lithely perch on and peck the seeds from our hands was a thrill that brought us all a very warm feeling of happiness.  

山雀に 種ささげては 歓喜かな  

Such wonderful joy!
Offering up birdseed to
The yamagara

Richard Shackleford.png

It is morning light
What does a Henro carry?
It is quite heavy

The air moving wet
We climb the invisible steps
Up! We disappear.

Green and light mixing
It makes infinite colors
Gifts for eyes and soul

"Daijobu?" they ask.
I am slow but I breath fast.
"Now, I am living."

The leaves glow red air
A voice sings of the searching
The bell is sour tone

"It is time to go."
I do not understand why.
Daishi had no watch.

They are only steps
Like the colors before them
They are each a gift

~Richard Shackleford