Friday, December 9, 2016
Even I am impressed with how fast I'm traveling through Japan. Autumn has come, surprising late, and the cool nights are offset by the brilliant colors of the Japanese maples. Since my last update written in Oita, by which I had walked 576 kilometers, I've walked around the island of Shikoku - famed for its Buddhist pilgrimage of 88 Temples - and onto the big island of Honshu. Now just past Nagoya, I've walked a total of 1,300 kilometers, nearly a quarter of my planned total for the pilgrimage. My only struggle remains finding computers with internet access and without email restrictions. For all its technological advances, Japan has a few quirks. Updating my blog has a lesser priority than talking with breathing people, so explains the long gap in time since the last update.
My route through Japan is determined around the 15 cathedrals, going north on the Pacific Ocean side, turning around the northern island of Hokkaido, and returning south on the Sea of Japan side. So far, I've gotten stamps from 6 of the cathedrals - Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Oita, Takamatsu, Osaka, and Nagoya. I'm heading now toward Yokohama. The population density is noticeably higher as I travel north, so rarely since leaving Shikoku am I in nature during my day's walk. Not as nice for me, but still very interesting. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are everywhere. While on Shikoku, I saw plenty of pilgrims going to the 88 temples, a traditional circuit with a resurgent interest since the tourism board go involved - with advice from the tourism board of northern Spain. Funny that the Japanese pilgrims I saw were either getting out of cars or at the bus stops and the foreign pilgrims were walking the mountain paths in the rain. A Japanese man I met at one of my private home-stays one evening told me that the Japanese value the unique stamps and calligraphy they get at each shrine over the time it takes to walk. The ends justify the means.
I've managed to visit several of the 16th-century pagoda-style castles and fortresses that popped up when Japan was becoming unified. The history lessons are varied and interesting. About 60% of the nights I've been staying at parishes or convents, speaking equally Spanish, Italian, and English, with two drips of German and one of French. The balance of the nights in family homes and as often in my growing but pathetically weak Japanese as Spanish with Peruvian immigrants or very basic English. It's always a good time with plenty of spontaneous parties. Nearly every day, people continue to offer me origiri - rice balls - and fruit - oranges and persimmons. Japan continues to be a terrific place to be a pilgrim.