by Alicia Wszelaki
1200 km (more like 1400 km if you count a lot of wrong turns and extra steps), 46 days, 4 prefectures, one typhoon, numerous blisters, human interactions and unforgettable discoveries; walking around Japan’s fourth largest island of Shikoku on a visit to 88 temples was a once in a lifetime experience that I can’t wait to repeat.
In my six-month preparation for the pilgrimage there were many things that I learned to expect: sore feet, fatigue, getting lost, sleeping in unknown places, among many others. What I didn’t expect was what I came to call exchanges, brief interactions with people of every age. My exchanges helped make a stranger like me feel connected to an island and its people.
My initial exchange (although I did not know to call it that then) occurred on my first day at Temple one, Ryōzenji. My research had told me that this was the temple to gather my henro supplies; sedge hat (sugegasa), white henro jacket (Oizuru), Walking stick (Kongō Tsue), Temple stamp book (Nōkyōchō), name slips (Osame Fuda), candles, and to carry it all in, my Fuda-basami or bag. Eager and excited, I proceeded to nervously sit on a bench for over an hour.
Scared? Not really. Unsure of what to do? Yes. A little intimidated. Definitely. Eventually I built up my courage and gathered my things. My destination, the main Hondo. I must have looked like a lost child in a shopping mall when I heard the faint voice of an older lady repeating something. I turned around and there she stood, about 65 years old, wearing a purple shirt, carrying a cane and motioning for me to climb down the stairs to her. I did as asked, a little confused. “What did she want?
me and my Temple Sensei at Ryozenji, Temple One Had I done something wrong?” After some more gesturing from her I began to understand that she wanted to help me and guide me through the temple procedure. She took me to the front gate and told me where to bow, with her slow limping pace we walked to the main Hondo again and she showed me where to put my offering. Soon we were lighting candles and burning incense, bowing, and reciting The Heart Sutra (Hannya Shingyō). Together we went to the temple office where I received my beautiful temple stamp. The awkwardness that I first felt with her melted away. When we were finished with my lessons I bought her a coffee from the vending machine and she gave me a pear. We sat on a temple bench together, not communicating well with words but understanding each other through our actions and smiles. The two hours since we had met seemed more like a few minutes. Before we said our good byes, I asked to have my photo taken with her. We said thank you many times and eventually parted. I walked away headed for Temple No. 2 with a smile and lucky feeling to have started my walk so auspiciously. From that day forward I spoke of her many times and began to lovingly refer to her as my temple sensei.
Without her instruction and kindness, without our exchange, my pilgrimage, my journey would have been a very different one. Because of her help I had completed my first temple successfully. I had 87 temples to go and I often wondered...would I ever see my temple sensei again?
#131 Parkway Vol.25 No.1 January-March 2010
1200キロ（道を間違えて余計に歩いた距離も入れれば、1400キロ）、46日、4県、台風、何度もできる水疱、人との関わり、忘れられない発見 ー 日本で4番目に大きい島、四国を歩いて88の霊場を回ったのは、一生に一度とも言える経験であり、それでもすぐにまた挑戦したいと思う経験です。
#132 Parkway Vol.25 No.2 April-June 2010
#133 Parkway Vol.25 No.3 July- September 2010
88 Temples: the beginning
It’s difficult to define where a circle starts and almost impossible to determine its end.
As I write the last entry about my experiences as a Henro on Skikoku’s 88 temples, I am reminded of the first time I heard about the pilgrimage. My friend Noriko and I had just finished lunch in Hiroshima and were looking out at the beautiful Seto Sea. Listening to her describe a centuries old pilgrimage encircling Japans fourth largest island, I thought to myself, “What type of person walks nonstop in a circle for 60 days?” Before I attempted to Completion Certificate answer, I already knew, I was that kind of person.
Almost 3 years from the date of that query, I stepped off a bus into an empty rest area in Tokushima, a 20 minute walk from Ryozenji or Temple 1. For the next 50 days I walked through lush mountains, congested cities, and sandy seashores. I dodged snakes, laughed with people, tested my directional abilities, learned why the employees at the store I bought my hiking boots praised Mole Skin, and best of all experienced existence on a simpler level.
The final prefecture of Shikoku’s 88 Temples Pilgrimage is Kagawa. This part of the journey is known as The Dōjō of Enlightenment. I agree. It is here that I visited one of my favorite temples: 66, Hovering Clouds Temple. Like most mountain temples the climb up was demanding but I knew that at the top awaited my reward -- breathtaking Almost to Temple 88
scenery and the hypnotic sounds of nature that I
had become so fond of. In this prefecture I was visited by my boyfriend Matt. We walked together the last 10 temples, returning to Ryozenji and then to Kyoto and Mt. Koya to give thanks. His visit was another reward.
To write about this part of the journey I find myself at a loss for words. Its feelings that I want to share but feelings are difficult to convey. Its been almost a year since my pilgrimage
and it seems as if the experience of being a Henro has not stopped. I have regular flashbacks of smiling and curious faces, indescribable scenery, amazing experiences, and yes, even blisters.
I’d like to thank Parkway readers for allowing me to share my journey with you. Being able to write about my time in Shikoku has strengthened its impact on me and I am grateful for the opportunity to have written about them. I’m especially thankful to Yasuko for asking me to write my story.
you to Mieko Yamada for her dedication to providing the best Japanese translation for the video. She captured my words perfectly. I hope you will enjoy watching.
During my walk, I met many other Henro. For some of them it was not their first circuit around the island. As they proudly showed me their pilgrim books with numerous temple stamps, I thought to myself, “What type of person does a pilgrimage like this more than once?” I think I know the answer.
#134 Parkway Vol.25 No.4 October-December 2010