Coming back to Japan, let’s go on a long walk
I wanted to see Japanese mountains.
That was what came up in my mind first when I started considering coming back to Japan after almost 10 years in the USA.
Funny thing is, I was not a big fan of hiking back then. In the US, I had never been to any mountains or national parks for hiking. I was very busy every day, as an MBA student in NYC for the first two years, then as a newspaper reporter in DC almost the entire time Mr Obama was president.
Even funnier, I was in the Japanese army in my 20’s, so running around in bushes and forests was my job. Probably I unconsciously liked Japanese mountains all the time, that’s why I picked the Army without considering joining the Navy or Airforce. Childhood memories of my parents taking us to nature tourist sites on vacation, not to theme parks or shopping malls stayed at the tiny corner of my brain.
Every year, on January 21st, the Shodoshima 88 pilgrimage has an annual ceremony called “Shimabiraki”.
Shimabiraki literally means “opening the island” and this ceremony is held to mark the beginning of Spring pilgrimage season.
I walked Shodosima 88 in fall of 2016. After my first pilgrimage, the Shikoku 88 in fall of 2015, I got totally hooked on long-distance walking along old historical trails and visiting old temples and shrines.
I arrived at on Shodoshima on September 16, 2016, with all accommodation for my eight days pilgrimage booked. My original plan was to walk the entire route and visit all 88 temples at once. However, the weather forecast had already shown that a typhoon was approaching Japan.
In spring 2018, David Gogh walked the entirety of the Shikoku Pilgrimage and has compiled a beautiful video of photos and short clips synchronised with a map showing his progress around the island.
For anyone who has undertaken the journey, the images provoke a lot of nostalgic feelings. For those thinking about taking their own pilgrimage, it provides a snapshot of life as a Henro and the natural wonder of Shikoku.
Dedicated to those who also may have had the same dream.
A dream where the first week felt like a month but the following month felt like a week.
I became a Henro in April 2017, on sabbatical from the company I co-founded.
I needed a break to disentangle my identity from what I’d been doing (and feeling quite passionate about) for the past 7 years. I sought to pursue a more rigorous and intentional search for “meaning,” and to explore the spiritual side of myself.
Conveniently, to be a pilgrim is to (quite literally) follow in the footsteps of people searching for meaning. Like any good workout routine, if properly adhered to, even the cynics can’t help but be transformed by the process. You’re learning by osmosis: touching and living the experience of great explorers before you. You’re interacting with people at similar junctures in life, (or more often, people experiencing hardships which downright humble your issues.) You’re mentally, physically, and spiritually vulnerable.
Like many Henro, I had no idea what to expect at first, and throughout most of the pilgrimage, I worried that I was somehow missing the point – that I’d emerge un-transformed. But three lessons emerged in Kagawa prefecture (the final stage) and since my return home: it’s how you spend your days, the obstacle is the way, and the spirit of ossetai.
Prior to embarking on the pilgrimage, I had a stressful job in Tokyo that I was no longer enjoying and causing a downward trend in my well-being.
I had first heard about the pilgrimage a couple of years prior but had filed it away in the back of my mind without serious consideration. Once I decided to extricate myself from the work situation, it didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to go for it.
Much of my work involved planning and designing things such that they can be built with minimal risk; basically the antithesis of everything a pilgrimage is supposed to be. To avoid taking the spontaneity and serendipity out of the journey, the only thing I planned was my first nights’ accommodation and no more. Read more