Japan, Long-Distance Walking, The Backwards 88
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The Backwards 88, Day 40: Pilgrim Postcards

[You might have received this post in your inbox erroneously titled “Day 39”. I just realised I’d lost a day! It happens on the blurry path to wisdom!]


Morning, all. As threatened, here’s another batch of shots from the last week or so, mostly of scenes and subjects encountered between temples.

I enjoy both my subject areas, the temples themselves and the stretches of road and path linking them, for different reasons.

The temple one is far more challenging. My aim is to capture a sense of the place that is different from the others, and respond to it artistically in the conditions in which I find it. Believe me, with 88 of them to deal with, that can get pretty tough!


Motorcycle henro approaching a Kochi temple. They slip on their pilgrim clothes on arrival.

As someone who doesn’t believe in anything, I’m obviously not reacting to the places in any spiritual sense. I’m interested in them as places, and judge them on aesthetic grounds, how they relate to their environment, their architecture and landscaping, historical elements etc.

Avoiding repeating myself is a challenge! I could take essentially the same shot 88 times of the hondo seen through the temple gate, or pilgrims lining up to pray etc. I do some of that, but I tend to look for smaller-scale details.

Chance plays a big part as well. I might be tearing my vestigial hair out, trying to find a new angle on a “boring” temple, and suddenly a bunch of goofy bus henro will arrive and change the whole vibe.


My beautiful little tent at the “Lovers’ Sanctuary” a few nights ago. It’s freestanding and the fly clips on, so no stakes are needed, making it excellent for stealth-camping on hard surfaces (except for the un-stealthy colour!).

Light is the other big factor. I despise harsh midday sun for most of my photography, but lately that’s all I get, unless I fluke an arrival early or late in the day. So I have to make do. Sometimes I’m stuck at a temple for an hour or more.

Some temples are just instantly magnificent, the type they show in tourist brochures. But you want to avoid taking that brochure shot. A few are dull, or neglected, or offer nothing. Catch them in bad midday sun and you just want to give up and go home.

So my other broad “theme”, the in-between sections, is far more relaxed. If the light’s crap, I might just forget the shot altogether. If I’m in the mood, I might dump the pack and wait. These random encounters are what keep any long walk interesting, and make the photography for me on this trip a joy.

I always walk with one camera in my hand. I rotate the three throughout the day, and adjust my mind’s eye to match the lens and field of view, etc, of the one I’m holding. If I see something way inappropriate for the camera in hand, I might drop the pack and dig out a better choice.

Which brings me to these ones. But first a bit of a recap.


Approaching Temple #23, which I’ll reach at last today if I ever finish this post, and my recharging, and my second coffee, and my fourth donut, and get back on Rt 55:


The circle is ominously close to completion.

As you can see, I’m back in Tokushima Prefecture, where this whole thing began. Now note that 70-odd km stretch between #24 and #23. It’s one of the longest on the henro, and it coincides with my sloppiest, most languid and laidback walking on the walk — in a good way!

It will have taken me the better part of three days’ walking to get there, even with a reasonable 18 miles on the first day. But that’s cool. As I approach the conclusion I’ve been slowing down, immersing myself in time-wasting photo sprees, sitting and chewing the fat with other pilgrims I meet.

It’s been great.


View from one of numerous campsites under bridges, this one at Iwamatsu, dawn.

I’m actually worried about finishing, weird after almost quitting a few times earlier on. But after #23, the temples are pretty closely spaced, and near the start/end you can knock off five or six in a day.

This latest stretch has been frustrating at times. After rounding the tip of Cape Muroto, the coastal road was eerily quiet, with traffic on Saturday so sparse I wondered if everyone else in the world had been vaporised. (Mixed feelings.)

Henro shelters, water sources, and above all vending machines and convenience stores are thinner on the ground than just about anywhere else on the circuit. The sun was baking hot, with little shade on offer.


A politician & other scarecrows.

But the coastline, beyond the concrete wall and tetrapods anyway, is lovely…


I’ve lost several hours trying to take shots like this. Coastal Kochi.

..and yesterday I passed a couple of the best beaches I’ve seen in all of Japan.

I had a swim in the ocean, and had a nice encounter with my first fellow Australian walker, Merinda from Melbourne, who’s just done long walks on the Camino and the Appalachian Trail and is finishing an epic journey with the Shikoku pilgrimage.

We also met a local couple, Prince (Japanese) and Diana, from New Zealand, who’s lived here for 25 years or so. As happens a lot lately, another hour of walking time was thrown away as we chatted, and once again I found myself walking a dark and lonesome road in search of somewhere to throw down.


I’ve noticed that there are certain subjects I love, the ones that make me pull off the lens cap no matter how many times I’ve shot them before.

Offhand here are the ones adding spice to this trip. You’ll have noticed examples of several on my henro posts. I’m hoping that when I put together a collection of shots from the trip, these will break up the temple pictures and add some thematic consistency:

  • Election posters
  • Praying mantises
  • Bad English
  • Vending machines
  • Convenience stores
  • Stray cats
  • Scarecrows
  • Trail signs & markers
  • Poetic anti-smoking messages — emblazoned on outdoor “stand ashtrays” (!)
  • Clean-up-your-dog’s-shit signs
  • Spiders
  • Roadside henro portraits (planning a post featuring them soon)

Many of these are obsessions I nurtured even before Shikoku. The cat one is my favourite. I seem to have a knack for finding them. I’ve probably “lost” a couple of hours of walking time in the last few days hanging out with initially wary gangs of these charismatic guys:


A shy kitten in a temple graveyard down on the tip of Cape Muroto.

Alright, that’s enough from me. Talk to you soon, and thanks for reading!


There’s Always Hope/A Beacon of Hope/All Hope Is Lost/Hope Dashed on the Rocks: You name the caption.


Fisherman, Niyodo River. Approaching Kochi City.


There must be a salon or “cut shop”, “hair resort” or “hair & make” for every citizen of this country. So you need to find a niche, I guess.


Dawn dewdrops on a taro leaf.


Cigarette machines beckoning in the dark.


Niyodo River Bridge Through the Grass. Basic path maintenance, even sidewalks on major roads, is often non-existent.


The Halfway Point. One of dozens of road tunnels you have to walk through, this one exceptionally long. Sometimes you have the choice of climbing around & over, but I like the thrill of near-death under a screaming semi. It enhances my love of life.


Henro Footprints. My own, in a section where you could take to the beach and air out tired feet in the sand.


Foul Weather on the Kochi Coast.


A Quick Detour from the Path to Enlightement.


Henro Exiting the Underpass.


Rugged Coastline, Kochi. I walked the same stretch the other way in 2008.


Coastal Road, Kochi. The same area as above.


On the second night of the “Blood Moon” I reached the most famous beach in Kochi, Katsurahama. That was a great evening. Tons of locals were out to view the moon over the water, and I enjoyed the spectacle of some local teens trying to drown themselves under breaking waves.

The only sad note was that thousands of fundamentalist christians didn’t vanish heavenward in any Rapture, nor did the Mormons evaporate into the apocalyptic sky as many had apparently expected:


Another Konbini Supper, Kochi. Just before the Blood Moon rose.


Crazy Under the Blood Moon. Bored teens prepare for mischief.


Playing Chicken. What could go wrong?


An Unwilling Participant.


Swamped. Shortly before a local man screamed at them to get out of there, and my photo fun was thwarted before I had to attempt a rescue.


Blood Moon. I don’t have the equipment or time for proper moon shots, sadly.


Blood Lust.


Blood Moon Lunar-cy. You tell me.


The next morning, at another superlative campsite.


The Fishing Fleet. View from that campsite.


The Japanese are big fans of blaring public announcements. They also chime (the “doorbell theme”) to announce 7:00am, 5:00pm, and sometimes other times, in villages all over the country. VERY FUCKING LOUDLY.


The usual suspects, a menagerie of roadside fellow travellers:


Wary Stray.


Hold That Pose.


Road Crab. All along this coastline, you find scuttling crabs on roads, even high in the hills and miles from the water.


The Magnificent Seven. I’m guessing these were semi-strays, as they looked well-fed, but were exceptionally nervous. I had to bribe them with snacks to gain their cooperation.


Sitting on the Fence.


Convenience Store Patron.


Tonbi on a village tsunami escape tower.


Birds on a Wire, Dawn.




Say Cheese. The same friendly mutt shown in the previous post.


Watch Those Toes. In the Shimanto area, a long way above the water.


Dawn Spider & Coreopsis.


Lone Tonbi.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


    • I had to look him up — but yeah! I’ve got an unhealthy fascination for vending machines over here, and I never use them at home. Mind you, they’re not on every corner at home either. Even in the countryside!

  1. Somehow this post went into the wrong section of my inbox so I missed it. The mysteries of the Internet! Too many beautiful and interesting photos for me to comment on individually this late at night and after an overdose of birthday party sugar. A stunning collection. Excellent work as always! 🙂

    • Cheers, Jane. Happy belated birthday if it was yours. I’m saving all the best shots for later. Be nice not to have to tool with them in my tent. I like it at first, but then my legs get cramped and I just need to stretch…

  2. I can’t work out how to get email notifications, so please forgive my erratic comments.

    Another very enjoyable post, lots in here, things seem to be going really well – apart from the tunnel near-misses and moon-bathed sea-rescues (maybe not the best extra themes to pursue :)). Looked for the ubiquitous mantid and was not disappointed. Some more really superb shots of cats and dog, beautiful beach image. Liked reading about your photographic approach.

    It sounds like you’ve spent some good time conversing with other Henros – do you ever get into conversations about their spiritual beliefs or reasons for pilgrimage? I know little about Japanese religion/spirituality. Do the motorcyle/bus-travelling pilgrims have a deep sense of spiritual duty, or is this something done by them for other reasons? Do you ever feel any connection with any spirituality of the temples, or is it just not easily discerned (or does not fit into your ‘belief structure’ at all regardless?). Such a walk must on its own be a profound meditation regardless of anything else. Sorry, too many questions, don’t feel obliged to answer, it’s after midnight, weary after hours editing images from some recent much smaller journeys following another week of working lunacy.

    Hope the road is treating you well.

    Cheers, Rob

    • Rob, the latest post should tell you where I am!

      Are you a “follower”/subscriber? If not, click the button on the sidebar — it should then send emails when each post comes out. It’s still worth going to the actual blog at that point though, I believe, as the pictures should be better there — compressed for the email version.

      I have no religious beliefs although I am what a lot of people would call “spiritual” — I just don’t like the word as it’s kinda meaningless. Buddhism interested me vaguely once, but all that self-discipline and chanting etc — no, thanks. I’d rather be outside. Plus, over here it’s definitely a religion with a pantheon of gods etc.

      I sometimes say glibly something like “Walking is my religion, mountains, coasts and forests are my churches, and photography is my devotion.” Something like that. I am a big fan of nature, but that’s probably pretty meaningless as well.

      I enjoy many of the temples as built environments that allow peace and contemplation, refuge etc. Love the landscaping and gardens, the weathered materials,the connection to landscape. The Japanese seem to me to be very susceptible to belief in all kinds of just-plain silly superstition and folklore. I like them as stories etc but not as a way of life.

      My feeling is that almost all Japanese pilgrims believe in it as a religious rite with benefits beyond the walking (which many regard as painful and something to be endured). Kukai is genuinely revered as a saint-like figure. They are painstaking with the rituals and prayers etc, though there’s a ton of compromise due to schedules and the need to cover ground!

      But I think a lot of them feel it’s something they “should” do because they’re Japanese. And they’re very prone to following custom and established routines and practices. My feeling is that most non-Japanese pilgrims are doing it mainly for the walking and cultural experience, nature, adventure etc, and less for the religion, though most do wear the clothes and at least attempt the prayers etc.

      I regard an hour or so of picture-making at a temple as meditation enough!

      By the way, the priest I got drunk with 47-odd nights ago claimed to have met Kukai on the road during one of his four pilgrimages!

      Thanks for the compliments re the pix. 17 mantids is pretty cool — wait till you see some of those shots…

  3. Oh, I figured out the email thing, thanks. Just in time to get in the first, albeit brief, comment on your last day and post number 350.

    An epic adventure, Goat – top effort indeed.

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