Henro Bound

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

I’m back in Japan! Don’t act so surprised.

But as always, I am doing something different. I will be walking the first 3 weeks of the 8-week long Henro, a 1200-year-old pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku that takes you along 1100 kilometers to visit 88 sacred temples throughout the island. Along the way, there are inns, business hotels, guest houses, huts, and campgrounds for pilgrims, who are a regular feature of this island. The pilgrimage follows the path of Kobo Daishi, who was sort of a cross between Joseph Smith and Thomas Jefferson and walked this path in his quest for enlightenment over 1200 years ago.

I’ve wanted to do the pilgrimage since I first heard about it about 6 years ago. But trying to figure out a way to make it happen Finding 2 months of leave is nigh-impossible, but my Korean teacher J just asked me one day why I didn’t just do what I could in the time that I had. I had no good answer to that, and started this plan instead.

My wife, by the way, had a very good answer when I asked her if she wanted to go. “Hell no.” We tried a walking pilgrimage through the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture earlier this year and, how do I put this? She HATED it. While she loved the fantastic views, lush forests, and amazing food, she rather disliked the constant foot pain and misery of carrying one’s belongings up and down various and innumerable mountains. Thus, this trip will be a solo venture.

How does it work? Basically, like the Appalachian Trail. You start walking, follow the signposts, and march from temple to temple, making little offerings along the way and earning calligraphed-stamps in a little book. When it gets dark, you’re done, you sleep it off, and then hit the road again in the morning. Nowadays, most people do it by bus or car, but the hardcore psychopaths walk it.

What does one bring if you are living out of a backpack for 3 weeks? If I wanted to bore you into throwing your computer or internet-enabled device across the room, I could regale you with those quotidian details. Heck, hearing the fascinating story of me trying various boots over the course of 6 months would be a glimpse into the madness of darkest infinity. It’s enough to know that on the Henro, you must be autarkic, but not autonomous. Meals, showers, laundry, and even relatively comfortable lodgings are available if you can speak a little Japanese and have some money. At least, I think so…

Technically my Japanese adventure has already begun. I spent Saturday night at the Hotel Kitano, a lovely Japanese hotel in Murray Hill on Park Avenue, Manhattan. The rooms were western, but had little Japanese touches, including a Japanese-style toilet. How has this device not caught on here, I will never understand.

I’ve hopped a plane to Haneda Airport in Tokyo from JFK in NYC. (Fun trivia for the day: Did you know that JFK Airport is, in fact, a raging garbage fire?) From there, I’m in a capsule hotel for the night, breakfast with a former student, then a flight to Shikoku, and a train to begin the journey.

So, more updates to come along the way!