Ohenro ,the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Japan is a 1200-1400 km circumnavigation of Shikoku, Japan’s fourth largest island. Pilgrims, mostly Japanese Buddhists, have been walking the pilgrimage for 1200 years since it was created by Kukai(774-935) who was posthumously awarded the name Kobo Daishi by the Emperor at the time. Kukai helped create Shingon Buddhism from his studies in China and from his interest in nature. He made Buddhism available to all. He was an engineer, poet, philosopher, he created a new style of calligraphy, created a Japanese dictionary, started the first public school. You have to honour people like Kukai.
Ohenro has been percolating in my mind for about 15 years since I first began researching adventures in Japan. While on my 2010 cycle trip I rode a part of Ohenro and visited Temple #51 and Temple # 75, Kukai’s birth place further stimulating my interest .
Today most Henro, the name used for pilgrims on Ohenro, will take some form of motor transport, possibly most commonly on a bus tour with a group. Some cycle. Many will complete the circuit in stages over a number of years. A great many complete the circuit many times. All approaches are considered legitimate. In the spirit of Kobo Daishi there is no differentiation amongst henro but it is the walking pilgrim, Aruki-Henro, that is most traditional and that appeals to me.
This egalitarian notion extends beyond your pilgrimage approach to your station in life. Two henro practices illustrate this. The first is called Osettai: The practice of offering gifts like food, drinks even accommodation to henro. The second is Takuhatsu: Begging for food, money or Lodging. Takuhatsu is not much practiced anymore but osettai is very common and henro are encouraged to accept offerings to show their humility.
The cultural aspects are probably the most important reasons for my attempt. But the physical and logistical challenges are very appealing and I guess if I happen to “find myself” or “become one with Kobo Daishi or the Buddha” that could be good as well. They say that there are as many reasons for attempting a pilgrimage as there are pilgrims.
Whereas this is the first formal pilgrimage I’ve attempted it is by no means my first pilgrimage. When I stood on top of a small mountain in the Gokyo valley in the Himalayas absorbing the scene that included 6 of the 10 highest mountains in the world I began to realize that the 25 days of trekking in the Everest region with Rich King was for me a pilgrimage. Viewing through my telephoto lens the Khumbu Icefall, the South Col, on up over the Hillary Step to the summit of Mt Everest I was connecting with Mallory, Hillary and all of the early mountaineers who had preceded us. While we were not attempting these highest pinnacles of the world’s mountains we could worship, if I can use that word lightly, at their feet. Many of the long trips that I have done over the years can also be considered pilgrimages to relieve a need that had been stimulated within me, most often from my readings and the interests that they have fostered. So…
I am booked to fly to Shikoku on March 13th and will begin walking . I have enough time to walk the full 1200 km but who knows what might happen. There is a high probability that I will have physical problems.. feet, knees, hip.. It is possible the weather will get to me or I just might run out of gas. If I have to take a bus or train it will not be the end of the world. I’m sure Kukai will forgive me and possibly I will be able to as well.
It is considered good practice to make a few resolutions before beginning Ohenro. Knowing myself I will attempt to …
• walk slowly
• take time at all and stay at a few temples
• observe and enjoy all things and be patient
• talk to people but enjoy my time alone
• drink and eat well
My postings may not be very frequent or interesting to read as in the interest of simplifying my trip I will replace my laptop with a tablet. So cursory notes and possibly cell photos but I invite you to join me anyway.