Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Once-in-a-Lifetime-Encounter

There's a new word in my Japanese vocabulary today - Itchy-Goi, Itchy-Yay! meaning something like 'this has been a once-in-a-lifetime-encounter.'  Handy for me, I'll be able to use it everyday.  Pilgriming in Japan is fantastic.  The people I've met have been over and above hospitable.  I've also learned 'Ee-Pi' = enough! please, I can't eat anything else!
I've wandered though thickly forested mountains and along long sandy or rocky beaches.  I managed to send my snowshoes ahead to Tokyo with a Redemptorist priest, so they'll be waiting for me when I arrive there just before Christmas (insha'allah).  It's still so warm that I'm wearing only my first layers and am carrying all of my winter clothes, a heavy burden that will disappear in the coming weeks as I continue to head north.  Leaving Nagasaki, I've traveled through towns and villages perched on the edge of the South China Sea, and the breezes have been more balmy than fierce.  The fragrances of the mountain flowers are heady, and I'm delighted to step on mint growing wild along babbling streams - nothing like a handful of mint stuffed in the boots at night to keep the locker-room odors at bay.  I've heard and seen many wild pigs foraging for acorns, and fat black long-haired squirrels, and pods of dolphins surprisingly close to the shore, but the snow monkeys have eluded me so far in the wild.
The trees are just beginning to turn at the latitude I'm passing - about 34 degrees north - but they'll turn quickly as I've rounded the islands to face the open Pacific Ocean and island-hop toward Osaka.  I'm torn - do I prefer the mountains - rugged, exhausting and providing great views - or the coast - serpentine and bustling with fishing boats and ferries and interrupted with picturesque villages and tightly packed bedroom communities around the bigger cities?  Sorry I can't be in two places at once... one day, maybe I'll come back and do a second lap.
The architecture is mixed with ultra-modern clean-lined townhomes with gardens bursting with pumpkins, daikon radishes, lettuces and potatoes, and the ancient Samuri-style timberframe homes with layered tiled roofs and upturned cornices surrounding perfectly manicured cultivated gardens.  I've slept in quite a variety by now.  Buddhist shrines, monuments, and cemeteries are everywhere, sometimes in the most out-of-the way places, moss-covered and seemingly abandoned, and somehow tidy nonetheless.  I've caught the tail end of the rice harvest and often walk along the paddies and terraces where bundles of upturned stalks hang drying in long lines between stubbly remains. 
The only thing I've encountered that's a bit untoward has been the multitude of spiderwebs, as big as bicycle wheels with complex multidimensional guylines stablizing them in fabulous geometries - cotangential hyperbolic paraboloids... they'd make Euclid downright giddy.  While I see some high in trees and powerpoles, most seem to be right at my face level, invisible until I'm a victim.  Yet, the thoraxes of the spiders themselves, always present in the center of the web, are as big as almonds or dates, black and fluorescent yellow, with evil red markings, and long black and yellow striped legs... menacing indeed... are they poisonous? I keep getting caught up in their stickiness when I'm walking along a mossy mountain lane... if they were poisonous, surely they'd have been eradicated, right?  Maybe not... what would Buddha say?  I've asked and asked, but few people I've met have experience in the out-of-the-way places I walk and - well, what newbie to a language learns vocabulary words like 'poisonous' and 'spider'.  Ah well, so far, so good.  Itchy-Goi, Itchy-Yay!
[I don't get to computers often - the local libraries I've visited restrict use to news and database access.  I've tried four times in the 17 days I've been walking around the southern tip of Japan, and today is the first time for success to update this blog.  More soon.]  Really, I don't think there could be a happier pilgrim =D

Friday, October 28, 2016

Heading to a Pilgrimage through Japan

The long winter walk begins in Nagasaki on Tuesday, November 1st, All Saints' Day.  I hope to arrive in Nagasaki after changing planes in Tokyo from San Francisco.  I'll make inquiries and take a guess and send my snowshoes on ahead to a monastery further north where I'll likely encounter snow before it gets too deep.  I've broken my journey into 15 stages between the shrines and cathedrals I plan to visit and -- insha'allah -- arrive back in Nagasaki for Easter.  Where will I find the snow monkeys?  Will they throw things at me like the monkeys in Central America did?

I've devoted a good deal of time over the last several months preparing myself for this pilgrimage.  Last winter, while walking rather ungracefully on my snowshoes in the region north of the Great Lakes where the 17th-century French Jesuit missionaries were doing their thing, I considered the tremendous difficulty of their efforts - not only were their worlds full of some many more unknowns than mine, but they had enormous cedar-and-gut-string snowshoes that were a whole different story than my lightweight little aluminum ones.

I remember last winter, crossing some snow-covered frozen lake inlets east of Georgian Bay, I let my thoughts drift... 'this place could use a few hot springs'.  During the same time period that the French Jesuits were in the wilds of North America, rightly or wrongly on their mission of cultural exchange, Spanish and Portuguese Jesuits were over in Japan with a similar mission.  Japan has hot springs.  Hot springs in deep snow, with an overlapping cultural history from last winter's pilgrimage, here are the ingredients for this winter's pilgrimage.  I've never been to Japan before.  Every step will be new to me, every vista I overlook a new one, every person I meet a potential new friend, and good and interesting food. ...and snow monkeys.

I've learned a few phrases in Japanese and learned to recognize at least a handful of kanji characters.  I'm comforted by the reputation of the Japanese to be particularly kind to strangers.  Although a nation at the mercy of earthquakes and volcanoes, I'm happy that, like Canada last winter, I'll be traveling in a place with a peaceful and stable government.  I've gotten a letter of introduction from the Archbishop of Denver, and had it translated into Japanese.  My winter pilgriming clothes and equipment are repaired and refreshed for the anticipated harsh winter of the mountainous regions -  though I've been gently informed that my backpack is looking a little shabby - I'm ready for the pilgrim season.  All Saints' Day until Easter.  Follow me, I'll try to update every few weeks.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Day 146 - The bells rang out...

The bells rang out in Old Town Quebec to welcome me - yeah, me! - to the almost-final destination of the Basilica Cathedral of Notre Dame.  A group of about 15 pilgrims met me outside of the city at a lovely little shrine of St Therese de Lisieux, with its own Year of Mercy Holy Door.  We walked together for the final stretch down into the old quarter of the city to the oldest cathedral in New France... the bells rang so loudly it interupted conversation and when I looked up wonder why, I was suddenly and heartily greeted by the big guys of the Basilica... to say it was a very nice welcome would be a tragic understatement... it was wonderful.  Events followed, interviews - I was again in the local paper v. nice, indeed - the world needs to hear about pilgrims and pilgrimage... Bottes et Velo have organized a lot to promote the idea of pilgrimage in North America, and the Cathedral itself is also trying to get the word out.  I've had a great time since coming back to the St Lawrence River from the northern part of the province, and the extra distance put me over the 5,000 kilometer mark for this pilgrimage... more later, Good Friday events and then the final little leap of the pilgrimage to Ste Anne de Beaupre for Easter Sunday... I'll try to get some more photos sent in...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sanctuary of Ste-Therese - Québec


Thank you again for your visit. It was very appreciated to exchange with you and to hear about your pilgrim experience.

Here is a picture of us in front of the door of mercy of the sanctuary of Ste-Therese. Also you can find the article relating your visit on our website in the section « Actualités ».

May God bless you,

Father Réjean Lessard