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.