This is a brief guide for English-speakers who plan to undertake the 88 temple pilgrimage of Shikoku. The following thoughts might help give you some perspective of what you will encounter on the walk. I did not know any of this prior to the walk and I wish someone had told me these things.
This guide is divided into short chapters and filled with the thoughts of those who have walked the pilgrimage before you. After you finish the pilgrimage and you have some other ideas which you think the next henro (pilgrim) would appreciate, please feel free to make your suggestions to the priest, SHUZEN YOSHIMURA who speaks English well at temple #1, Ryozen-ji when you complete your pilgrimae. If you are reading this over the Internet system, you can leave word with Don Weiss ( e-mail address = firstname.lastname@example.org. ) or to Jeff Hackler ( e-mail = email@example.com )
There is a book of maps which shows the walking route. It is invaluable. Do not walk the pilgrimage without this book.
Mr. Miyazaki of Matsuyama, Shikoku has published in two volumes a good guide for walking pilgrims. The two volumes are sold together for 3,500 yen (plus 870 yen postage if you order from the author). You can buy them at selected bookstores, from some temples, including Temple #1, and from the author directly. ( Write to Mr. Tateki Miyazaki, 15-5 Hibarigaoka, Matsuyama-shi, Ehime-ken 791, Japan and ask for "Shikoku Henro Hitoriaruki Dogyo-ninin").
The second volume is the most important for you. Although it is written entirely in Japanese, it is a series of maps which, if followed correctly, will lead you from one temple to the next, around the island with the minimal amount of time spent walking on highways and a maximum of time on trails of nature. The first volume is all in Japanese and unless you read Japanese, it will not be of use to you. That is why this guide book is being written and you are reading it.
Do not lose your map book; it is filled not only with routes to take but also a list of possible places to stay - their telephone numbers and addresses.
Spend a lot of time with this book before you begin your walk. Remember that the book is a Japanese book; it is read by turning the pages from the left side to the right ( You will spend time reading it every night on your walk, as you plan the next day's walk, but get familiar with it before you start.) Figure out how to get from page to page. ( It took me about 5 hours one day just to understand the correct order of reading the maps.) Maps are usually put in sequential order but sometimes smaller maps are placed where space is available. Therefore, you, at times, may have to look at the bottom map first and then at the top map and read from right to left or left to right.
Both books are recommended reading if you want to get a feel for the pilgrimage. Oliver Statler offers a historical and personal overview of the Shikoku pilgrimage. The author spent 72 days walking the pilgrimage, talking to many of the priests and local historians in order to collect the information for his book, The Japanese Pilgrimage. It is easy to read and well worth your effort to find. It should be in most bookstores and libraries.
Donald Weiss wrote the second book, Echoes of Incense. This book was published by the author so it may be difficult to find and buy. However, this book can be purchased from Temple One and is an easy read. It is Weiss' personal account of walking the pilgrimage twice, once in winter, counterclockwise and alone, and once in the spring, clockwise, and with another henro.
The more you can read about the pilgrimage before you begin the better off you will be. Once you start walking, you probably will want to limit the weight you are carrying; therefore, you may jettison one or all of the books mentioned.
A Henro Pilgrimage Guide to the 88 temples of Shikoku Island, Japan, by Rev. Taisen Miyata includes information about the Shingon Religion and about each of the 88 temples and some "bangai" (unnumbered temples). It also has the "Heart Sutra" or "Hannya Shingyo" on the last page. ( I carried this book with me and wrote my notes about each temple in this book. ) Write to Northern California Koyasan Temple, 1400 U Street, Sacramento, CA, 95818, USA.
AWA HENRO: a bilingual guidebook for pilgrims in Tokushima, published by AWA88 is a wonderful book full of information about the first 23 temples, the temples in Tokushima prefecture. It also offers a wealth of related information about the pilgrimage, such as the Shingon religion, the origin of the pilgrimage and pilgrimage customs including how one should behave at a temple. I found this to be a great primer. (I did not carry this book, preferring to take notes and putting them in my "Map" book.) Write to:
The Office of AWA88
Tokushima 770, Japan
The price is 1500 yen.
This is a great book and really helped me get ready for the pilgrimage.
You do not need to speak and read Japanese fluently, but you should try to learn as much as you can before settting out alone on the pilgrimage. Every little bit of Japanese helps. English is not spoken by most of the people you will bump into on the pilgrimage, such as elderly henro, country and village folk, and temple priests. There are exceptions; good luck finding them.
Here are a few words and phrases which you should master before you start your trip. You should also learn how to recognize their number system, especially their time system.
(I only know a smattering of Japanese, something I called 'survival" Japanese. Because I travelled alone and met so few English-speakers on the pilgrimage and because I could not carry on a conversation in Japanese, I had many quiet days and evenings. Be prepared for the silence.)
Miyazaki-san not only wrote a book of maps to help henro walk the pilgrimage but also erected directional signs and placed stickers around the island. The signs are invaluable. At times, there are too many signs and at other times, not enough. I got lost many times, so get used to it, but without his signs, it would have taken me many more days to complete the walk. The signs are either round white stickers or metal or wooden rectangular white signs attached to a post, both imprinted with the image of a red henro. The sticker is only the image. The squares have information on it, such as the name of the next temple temple. Read the characters carefully because sometimes there are two rectangular signs next to each other, pointing to different temples. There is a code to reading the stickers. Once you start walking, you will figure it out. However, if a sticker is placed to the left, center or right side of the pole, you will be turning or veering left, walking straight, or turning right. At most bridges or potential turning spots, you will find a sticker. From that sticker, you should be able to see the next sticker.
No. You will find taxi, bus, car, bicycle, train, motorcycle and walking "henro". All means of transportation are acceptible. You can walk the entire way, the "pure walk" as Don Weiss calls it in his book, or you can combine walking and riding, or just ride. The choice is yours. It is your pilgrimage; you can do it any way you want. To get a bit philosophical, a pilgrimage is like life - we all lead it in different ways. So when a bus load of "henro" passes you as you walk, that is how those people have chosen to lead their lives. Walking is how you chose to lead your life for that day. Any method of getting from the start to the end of the pilgrimage is fine. Just as we are all born and die, it is the in-between which makes each of our lives different. In my opinion, to walk as much of the pilgrimage as possible would be the best way to appreciate the beauty of Shikoku as well as give you some time for inner reflection.
Go at your own pace. I met a university student who had a deadline. He had to return to Tokyo in order to attend his graduation ceremonies; therefore; he finished in 37 days. He went only to temples, no "bangai." I visited all 20 "bangai" and 88 temples and it took me 51 days. Don Weiss visited all 88 temples and it took him 42 days.
In most instances, you are free to begin walking after your breakfast and you should arrive at your lodging before 5pm. Call your lodging place if you will be late. I usually began walking at 7 am and finished between 3 and 5 pm.
Some "henro" take no "rest" days; I took 6 "rest" days, two in a row because I had stomach flu, three one-day rests after particularly arduous long walks, to Cape Muroto and Cape Ashizuri, for example, and one was a "rain" day. I also included some short days, for example when I arrived at my lodging at 1 or 2pm, in essence giving myself the afternoon off.
On a more practical note, 20 - 30 K a day is about right. I learned that I walk at a 5K pace. Yet, with temple visits and other stops, my pace averaged over an 8 hour period became more like 3K an hour.
Don Weiss' advice on mountain walking stuck in my head. I paraphrase, "When the only noise you hear is your own breathing, you are walking too fast."
Keep one. Develop your own system, but write every night, or every other night. Write by themes, by a diary entry, or by ideas you have while walking. Write 100 words, write 500 words. But by all means, try to write often and write everything that pops into your mind. It is hard to tell what is important and what is not important on a day-to-day basis. After the trip was over, I was surprised how my thoughts had evolved, and what topics kept reappearing. In my case, only in hindsight did I notice the threads.
To dress in the garb of a henro means that you have decided to walk the 88 temples of Kobo Daishi. Everyone will recognize that you have made a personal sacrifice and have chosen to leave the everyday work. As such, people will treat you differently. They will react to you as a religious person and you in turn must never violate their trust. They may only bow and say "hello" to you. They may go out of their way to be polite to you, or to show you which way to go. They may even give you a free small present called "o-settai." But you will be looked after, looked at, and in some instances, asked to do something. There's no better way to see how people treat you differently than to appear in a restaurant or store, for example, dressed in your "henro" whites and then appear in the restaurant or store some hours later dressed in regular clothes.
It is up to you and it is safe to walk alone. Donald Weiss travelled once with a partner and once alone. Many "henro" walk alone. I did. There are some days when one finds other "henro" who are walking the same route and one can choose to walk with someone or not. Your pace and your temperment, a social or a quiet walker, will determine your preference as to whether you walk alone or not.
Of course. I know a woman from Hawaii who walked the pilgrimage, both clockwise and counterclockwise, alone. She spoke Japanese which certainly helped her in her experience but she felt safe throughout both walks. I met several other women "henro" during my walk, usually at the ryokans.
The general rule of thumb, which I learned from Miyazaki-san, is carry only 10% of your weight. I tried it but found I carried a bit more than that. AND it was too much. So I developed my own rule. If I did not use an item, like a pen or book or food container or bathing suit at least every other day, I classified it as a luxury item. When my shoulders began to ache, I then reflected on those luxury items and determined if its additional weight was worth the pain in my shoulders. As a result, I discarded a number of personal items. I also regularly mailed home accumulated papers. I found that shampoos and soaps are not necessary to be carried. People offer trinkets along the way which I either passed on to someone else or sent home.
Other than what I wore during the day, I carried a second pair of long johns, to act as my pajamas or to wear on really cold days, a pair of khaki pants and a flannel shirt for eating in a restaurant, three pairs of socks and three underwear, a small bag with my toothpaste, toothbrush and items which I would need to use in the bathroom area and another bag with items such as bandaids, medicines, foot powder, aspirin - don't forget that.
Select your pack with care. You will carry everything you possess on your back from 40 to 60 days. So treat yourself well and buy a good pack. The last thing you want is to have a bad back on the walk. The pack should be medium size and light. Be selective.
As much as possible, it should be waterproof, or buy a waterproof covering for the pack. It should have several pouches so that you don't have to unpack the whole pack in order to reach for your map, guidebook, money or "nokyo-cho" (the signature book). It should have a waist strap so that the weight can be distributed to your hips. It should have padded shoulder straps. It should have a padded back support system.
I walked in the spring. I walked through 4 snowstorms and 17 days of rain. Despite the temperature, I wore the same clothes every day. On my legs, I wore a thin pair of long johns and nylon pants, to protect me from the rain and the wind. On my feet, I wore a thin pair of socks and then a thicker pair with Gore-tex lined shoes. Low-cut or high cut shoes is a personal preference but make sure it is a "walking" shoe. In the upper part of my body, I wore a Capiline T-shirt ( it absorbs the sweat and wisks it outward), a thicker longsleeved white T-shirt, and my white "henro" jacket. On colder days, I wore a scarf and cotton gloves. If it was really cold or wet, I put on my Gore-tex lined rain jacket.
I imagine that this arrangement would work well in the fall and with thicker long johns for the winter and without long johns in the summer. Don Weiss walked in the winter and, as he writes in his book, he never was bothered by the cold once he began to walk.
Take care of your body. Stretch faithfully every morning and every night. I created my own 20-25 minute in the morning regime of stretches, primarily to make my back and legs more flexible. I took particular care to stretch my back, my hips, my groin, my hamstring, my calves, and my shoulders. I always seemed to creak when I started stretching, but once I was finished, I felt ready for the day's walk. In the evening, I stretched in the furo and in my room, primarily just to ease the day's lingering pains.
Make the effort to say the "Heart Sutra" at every temple, at least once.
This Sutra or chant is one of the oldest and most famous of all chants in Japanese Buddhism. It is short and simple and supposedly contains all the truths one needs to know. AWA Henro and A Henro Pilgrimage offer more information about the Sutra as well as a translation of the Sutra. It is said by nearly all "henro" at both the Main Hall and the Daishi Hall and at morning and evening temple services.
I copied the "Hannya Shingyo" in Romaji so that I was able to say it in Japanese at every temple. Although AWA Henro says that even a child can memorize it, I could not. But I enjoyed saying it. Sometimes if I was lucky, I would say the Sutra at the same time a group of "henro" was saying it. There seems to be some extra vitality when one says it in a group. My only reluctance to saying it with a group was if the group's pace was too fast.
This is a special book in which one collects the signatures and seals of every temple. It is your record that you visited each temple. It will become your prized possession once the pilgrimage is over. When you are at each temple, take the time to watch each priest sign your Nokyo-cho. Fascinating brush strokes. (Cost 200 yen per stamp. One stamp per temple.)
One only needs to say a few things in Japanese in order to complete the "walk." Because I know only a little Japanese, it meant that I walked in relative silence. That was my fate. Of course, the more Japanese you know, the more interesting you are to others.
With my limited Japanese, the key phrases that one must say upon arriving at a ryokan, minshiku or temple, are "At what time is dinner?" "At what time is breakfast?" "At what time is the religious service (Otsutome)?" "When is the furo ready?" "Can I pay now?" That's it. In the morning, you really do not have to say anything except "Good morning." "Everything was fine." "Thank you for everything. Goodbye."
During the day, you might have to ask someone, " Where is the henro trail?" "Where is the bakery or noodle restaurant?" "How much is this?" and that's it.
It is surprising how quickly your nice white outer jacket gets dirty. The clothes that were a MUST wash were my four pairs of underwear, of thin socks and of thick socks. By day three, I was looking for a place to wash my bundle of clothes. By day four, I had to wash my bundle of clothes. If I could, I would include my thin long johns and T-shirt.
I never really had a problem finding a washing machine. Many ryokan, minshikus and temples have a machine; a few are free and many charge 100 yen. What most do not have are dryers. When I found a place which had a washer and dryer and it was free, I washed all my clothes, everything. Sometimes, a minshiku owner will ask to wash your clothes at which time I would hand her just my little bundle. So how does one dry one's clothes? Hang the clothes in front of the room heater. What helps is if the clothes are made from "quick dry" material. My socks and long johns were made from a material that almost seemed dry after the spin cycle. Just a few minutes in front of the heater and they were dry. My long-sleeved T-shirt and underwear took longer to dry.
It is really important that you take excellent care of your feet. Start by investing in some excellent shoes. I chose Gore-tex lined Rockport shoes, known for creating excellent walking shoes. During the first half of the trip I wore hiking boots, due to my concern about snow in the mountains. By the end of March and during April, I wore their low-cut walking shoes. Gore-tex is meant to let the sweat out as well as keep the rain out. Look for a pair of shoes with thick, comfortable soles. If your shoes are good, you should have no pain or blisters.
Every day, you should begin and end the day by massaging your feet, especially the muscles by your arch. When I stretched in the morning, I also included a foot massage. While soaking in the furo at the end of the day, I massaged my feet. One of the last things I did at the end of the day was one last massage.
I did get some blisters and so I spent about 10-15 minutes every morning taking care of my feet, putting on bandaids for blisters, real and imagined. For examle, I thought I was getting some blisters on my heal, but the bandaids I put on prevented any.
While the common container bought at a KUSURI (pharmacy) has a number of precut bandaid sizes, I found that I liked to buy were long strips of band-aid which I then cut into the size I wanted, depending on the area on the foot I wanted to protect.
Many "henros" travel in the spring. The temperature is getting warmer, and the midday sun is not too cold and not too hot. It is quite cold at night. It rains frequently, about once every three days on average. While it may inconvenience you, the farmers need the rain. Just be sure to wear good protective raingear. It still snows in the mountains until the middle of March.
Summer is hot and buggy and I would recommend that you not travel during this period. However, if this is the only time you can walk the pilgrimage, please wear appropriate clothing and drink lots of water.
I have heard that walking in the fall is also a great time. It is similar to spring but instead of watching the countryside turn green, one watches the landscape turn fall colors and then brown. In winter, waking up in cold rooms and walking in the early morning cold may bother you. It does not snow much in Shikoku on the average, but it will in the mountains. The days are short. Not many walking "henros" during this time period and that means that some minshiku or ryokan may be closed. But as Weiss observed on his winter pilgrimage, "I was never cold and I never caught a cold."
It rains in the spring months once every three days, sometimes all day, sometimes for only a few hours. Sometimes it will be dark and overcast for days on end. Get used to it. Wear good protective gear and walk on.
Think about this carefully. Miyazaki-san told me that every "henro" starts out at temple #1 with great optimism. By the time they have completed about a week's walk, they question why they are on the walk. After spending two hot days of walking to Cape Muroto, many "henro" decide that the "walk" is too much of an ordeal and they abandon their "walk." They then get on a bus bound for Kochi and return to their homes.
There are many reasons for taking the pilgrimage. Some pilgrims undertake the pilgrimage to learn more about the Shingon religion and follow in the footsteps of Kobo Daishi. Some walk to enjoy the nature and beauty of Shikoku's trails, or to give oneself some time for inner reflection away from business and family pressures. Many Japanese "henro" walk in order to pray for one's own or for someone else's recovery from a physical illness.
If you think the walk is some romantic notion, please be advised that it is a painful experience. It is an arduous experience and not an excursion to be taken without considerable thought and preparation. If your will is not strong, you will not finish the walk.
AWA HENRO and A Henro Pilgrimage Guide offer good instruction as to what to do once you arrive at a temple. If you are a strict Buddhist, do as the two authors suggest. At temple #1 or where you start, you will quickly observe how the "henro" pray. If their system meets your needs, great. I wanted something more.
I created my own system and I followed it faithfully. After I arrived at a temple and purified myself by washing my hands, I put my pack down near the Nokyo-cho area. (if there was nobody in line, I had my Nokyo-cho signed right away; otherwise I had it signed just prior to my departure.) Then I entered the religious part of the temple visit. I rang the temple bell as hard as I could, twice ( I have a personal reason for doing this). I then dropped my money and my 'OFUDA' into the waiting receptacles before I prayed at the two main temples - the Hondo and at the Daishido. At the Hondo, I recited the "Hannya Shingyo" and my own prayers. At the Daishido, I did not say the Hannya Shingyo again but rather spent my time completing my own set of prayers.
After my prayers, I gave myself some free time, to sit, to wander around the grounds, to take photographs, to eat. Based on my day's schedule and weather, I would then have my "nokyo-cho" signed, repack, and then be on my way
How to use it best became my concern. I used it to carry a variety of small things such as a small notebook with plastic covers, a pen, and some sunscreen lip gloss. As one walks, ideas come and go. When I wanted to catch them, having my small notebook handy was invaluable. Plastic covers keep the sweat off the pages. Also, when I took a picture, I could easily write down the key image and explain why I took it. That evening , I transferred my notes into my journal.
I lost between 5 and 6 kilos of weight during the walk, down from 75K, although I ate 4 to 5 times a day. At a ryokan, minshiku or temple, breakfast is usually served around 6 or 6:30. I found the breakfasts to be inadequate. ( One eats the raw egg by cracking the egg into a hot bowl of rice and then stirring it all around. The heat of the rice will turn the egg into a scrambled egg. Make sure the rice is really hot, or else you will slurp a liquidy rice.) Around 9:30 or 10, I would look for a bakery ( "pan-ya") or a small Mom and Pop store where bread goods ("pan") is sold. If I found a bakery, I would buy enough food for my 10am snack and my noon meal. I rarely took the time to sit at a restaurant for a lunch break. I ate another snack at 2:30 or 3pm. I ate well at dinner, usually served at a minshiku, or temple at 6pm. In the second half of my walk, I chose to leave my minshiku and eat at a nearby restaurant, if one was available, only because I needed more energy rich meals than what I was being offered at the usual lodgings.
One can choose to "sleep only" at a ryokan or minshiku which not only brings the price down of the night's lodging but also allows you to go to a nearby restaurant and eat what one wants. This also means that you have to provide your own breakfast, but again, convenience stores or a bakery can provide you with breakfast pastries and juices.
One can also make a point of stopping for an hour in order to eat a lunch in a ramen store. I always chose to eat and kept going, preferring to take 10-15 minute breaks every two or three hours of walking.
I drank a lot of juices and water, as well as Pocari Sweat, J. Water and Energen, a type of Gatorade drink.
One of my failures is that I did not understand how food, energy and nutrition worked together. I did not know what "right" foods to eat. Temples offered only vegetarian food and I grew to understand that my body was burning up more calories than I was putting into it. So my advice to prospective walkers would be to know what foods provide the necessary nutients and energy so that you can look for them in the stores and restaurants and perhaps ask for it at a minshiku or temple.
I began in earnest three months prior to my walk. I started off with one hour walks every day at a good pace. After I worked myself into a faster pace and felt comfortable at it, I then moved to two hours a day, every other day with a longer three hour walk on Sundays. I usually walked from 5 to 8 am. By now I was carrying a heavy pack.
I stayed on this schedule for about a 6 weeks, with longer all day walks every other Sunday. For example, one was a flat walk of about 40 K and the other was a walk up to a mountain summit which had an approximate height of the highest temple, #67, about 930m. I was lucky to walk through a snowstorm on that day so I could test my raingear and my boots.
Three weeks prior to my walk, I walked every day for 4 hours for 10 days with a pack which I thought would be slightly heavier than I anticipated it should be. In the week prior to my departure date, I let my body heal and returned to my every-other-day two hour walk.
What I now know is that I needed to put more uphill climbs into my routine. Uphill walks help the shin muscles adjust. My biggest leg problems were my shins and then blisters. I also realize that there is no substitute for training walks of 8 hours a day. As Miyazaki-san told me, " The first 3 days, you are getting into pain. The next 7 days you are in pain. After the 10th day, you leave pain (the body has adjusted)." In hindsight, I should have walked more 8 hour days and accomplised more consecutive 8 hour walking days.
In short, do as much flat and uphill walking as you can prior to your pilgrimage. This will give your body and your mind a chance to begin the readjustment process of the new physical demands.
O-settai is the giving of a gift of food, juice or money from a non-"henro" to a "henro" which a "henro" must ( or should ) accept. It is a welcomed gift most of the time. Sometimes, the gift is something which you cannot use and will only add weight to your already heavy pack. Then, it is perfectly OK to pass the gift on. For example, a temple gave me a towel. I already had one. When a storeowner gave me o-settai later in the day, I offered the towel as "o-settai." In another example, someone gave me 3 large and heavy oranges. I ate one immediately, gave one to a passing "henro", and left one the next morning at a ryokan as a thank you for letting me use their laundry machines.
Take one. Remember, you have to carry everything, so preferably use a light one. There will be many interesting shots to take, but you may want to set a self-imposed limit on how many pictures you take a day, perhaps 5-6 a day? Otherwise, you will walk a few minutes, stop, unpack your camera, take a picture, pack, get walking again and then - ah, another picture. Also, it is important that you write down what picture you just took after each picture. Remember, it will be weeks or months after the pilgrimage when you get the pictures developed.
This is not a pleasure walk, a stroll in the park. It is a long, arduous, painful, stressful walking experience. Yet, as Nobuo Morikawa, my teacher who lives near Matsuyama wrote to me in his farewell note, "Please enjoy your pilgrimage."