Japan, Long-Distance Walking, The Backwards 88
Comments 11

Going Against the Flow: Pilgrim Portraits on the Shikoku Henro

ON A HASHIHAMA-BOUND TRAIN, THURSDAY MORNING

Hi again, all. Well, my pilgrimage may be over but the journey and adventure roll on. I stayed two nights in Matsuyama, back at Sen Guesthouse right near Dogo Onsen, after a 3.5-hour bus trip across the island from Tokushima.

It was great to be back there, and hosts Nori and Matt greeted me warmly. Many stories from the trail were shared. Danielle, my saviour from several weeks ago when she rescued me from that Family Mart and took me to Sen to recuperate, came over last night for a visit.

First night was spent here…

My tent on the rooftop at Sen Guesthouse, Matsuyama on my first night back. The rooms were fully booked so I got to enjoy another night in my latest little Club Mountaingoat.

My tent on the rooftop at Sen Guesthouse, Matsuyama, at dawn after my first night back. The rooms were fully booked so I got to enjoy another night in my latest little Club Mountaingoat.

..but last night I moved downstairs to a tatami-floored dorm room.

I replaced some of my gear (nights are getting chilly), sent some home, and had two more hot-spring baths while I was there, and last night we retired to the rooftop for sunset with a journalist who was in town to do a story about the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

Her timing was impeccable and she nearly ran out of iPhone juice recording my rambling answers to her questions. Matt kept us supplied with local microbrew beers, an Indian Pale Lager and a Pilsener, and despite her desire to eat “something local”, I convinced her that the Italian place a few minutes away was local enough.

We had our fifth beers there over pizza and salad that reminded me what vegetables were. I was pretty vegetative myself when we left but when I observed that “You can really knock ’em back,” she replied, “I’m from Seattle.”

I have a week left in Japan and with suitable encouragement from Matt, I’ve decided to conclude my adventure in style, and with no little symbolism: by walking to the Honshu “mainland”, across the western Inland Sea via the Shimanami Kaido, the 60km road/bridge chain (70km for the bike & pedestrian versions) that island-hops between Imabari, Shikoku and Onomichi on Honshu.

The route leapfrogs over 6 islands, and there are ample opportunities to detour off the road and explore whichever ones take your fancy. I’m thinking of spending three or four days on the walk, with some beachside camping, before reaching Onomichi and getting a shinkansen or bus up to Tokyo.

Should be a blast, and the weather lately has been sensational.

Meanwhile, I’ve finally put together a selection of pilgrim shots. One of the pluses of doing the walk “backwards” is that you pass just about every other henro on the trail. Towards the end I was on a henro freeway and got to stop and chat with several each day.

There’ll be plenty more Shikoku posts to come in the weeks ahead as I work through my images. I’ll have some posts about this next little ramble as well, and an attempt at a description of the dark side of my recent history, which made so much of my pilgrimage walk a bitter internal battle.

At the moment, though, most of my memories are sweet, and I’m immensely proud that I pulled it off.

Thanks for your reading and encouragement and I’ll talk to you soon.

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Kazuhito from Ibaraki Prefecture. His daughter was studying in Australia, but he couldn’t remember where.

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Kayoko, from Matsuyama, Shikoku, at Temple #5, Jizoji, under an 800-year-old ginko tree, and excited about beginning her pilgrimage.

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Kazuhito from Ibaraki Prefecture. I gave him a Calorie-Mate as o-settai to go with his coffee & cigarette.

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A genki henro shares some positivity.

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Merinda, the first Australian I met, on the Muroto coastline with locals Prince & Diana (New Zealand). Merinda had recently done half the Appalachian Trail and a stretch of the Camino de Santiago.

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Masatoshi, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

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Harayuki from Yokohama gives me a satanic salute, which cheered me immensely.

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Yna & Mels, from Holland, relaxing at one of the first (for them — final for me) temples as they begin their SIXTH pilgrimage circuit. They’ve done it once in the reverse direction. We had a very pleasant chat.

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Taro from Osaka on a 10km climb (for him — I was on the way down). He was obviously deeply depressed about where his life had taken him.

Masataka from Gunma Prefecture, just starting out on a section of the Henro. He tolerated my half-assed Japanese for a short while, then hit me with some pretty decent English and saved us both the pain.

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View from a bus-shelter lunch stop as a pilgrim passes in the opposite direction. He thought I was readying to stay there — in the middle of the day. It was tempting.

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Koji & Shima from Osaka. They did the Henro last year on bicycles. This was on my final day as I approached the end/beginning.

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Two bicycle henro, doctors, at a temple one rainy morning. The one on the left asked me, “Do you need any drugs? We are carrying many drugs.” My mind raced with possibilities, but they had nothing for sleep, and I settled for some medicated patches for sore knees.

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Adrian (Oregon), Yuki (Japan) & Thomas (France). We shared the tiny train station at Tatsue, them on the waiting room floor, me in my tent outside, next to a thicket of cosmos flowers.

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Benjamin, a French henro. With almost no English but a gift for mime, he attempted to warn me about a beehive or wasp nest in a henro goya down the road. It was excellent comedy.

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Oh damn, forgot to write down their names. She had lived for 10 years or so in Washington DC, and he’s an Austrian vegan. He didn’t have a map/guidebook so I gave him my old edition. This was a hot day on Cape Muroto.

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Mathias, an experienced traveller & Camino veteran (he returned to his Swiss village with a donkey!), in the woods between Temples #11 & #12. After the Henro, he’s going to do some volunteer work in the mountains of Nagano.

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Sadly, I’ve lost his name, but he was very excited about Japan winning a rugby match, and explained that the change in cicada sounds signalled the end of Summer.

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Matsuhiro from Yamagata Prefecture, ready to depart the “luxury henro goya” on Cape Ashizuri. He gave me 500 yen as o-settai.

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Francesco, a Mexican pilgrim doing the second of a planned four sections. He comes back each year for the next bit.

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Michiko from Sendai, taken from high on the tsunami-defence seawall. She said she’d thought I was a tourist because of my lack of pilgrim attire, which is one of the worst things anyone has ever said to me.

french pilgrim on shikoku henro

Alan, a French pilgrim with excellent English and a very nice guy, just starting out as I approached the final string of temples.

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Takaki, from Yokohama, the first of only two gyaku-uchi (reverse) henro I met. He could only get time off for short sections, and returned home the following day.

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Markus, a German with great English. We had a long roadside conversation near the Shimanto River mouth.

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Tetsua from Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture,where I once worked for three years.

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Mr Takeuchi from Yokohama at the “luxury” goya near Temple #38.

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Shanti (“My parents were hippies”) from Los Angeles, a fresh pilgrim between Temples #11 & #12. She gave me a can of mikan (mandarin) pieces as I’d eaten my last food, a Snickers, for breakfast. In return I told her where she could plug in at the shelter I’d stayed in the night before.

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A clean young pilgrim at a Kochi temple shoes off his gleaming pilgrim gear & fluorescent sneakers.

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Brothers Matthew & Brendan from Geelong, Australia, pretty early in their pilgrimage. The can of beer was o-settai from me — I’d just won two cans at the previous convenience store. I doubt any pilgrim in Henro history ever received a finer present.

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Mamiko from Tokyo on a sunbaked stretch of road. Note the kawaii (cute) accessories!

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Organising a group picture near Temple #12. This was a great meeting: Yoshi from Kanagawa (centre) saw my Sony a7 & said, “My friends designed that camera.” He’d also been a Sony camera designer but was now unencumbered by employment. I told him that though I loved the shutter sound, many reviewers had complained that it was too loud. “I heard them discussing the shutter sound many times,” he said.

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And putting the a7 to good use: Yoshi, Marie (Bordeaux, France) & Furuichi from Chiba Prefecture.

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Yoshi decided I should be in the picture, and took my camera to take this. I felt it was in safe hands.

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Anonymous pilgrim I snapped from the other side of the road.

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A meeting in the forest on a brutally hot day.

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With Zono from Kyoto at a 7-11 near Kochi City. He was doing the walk very cheaply and the poor bastard was making instant coffee to save money. That almost brought tears to my eyes so I went in and bought him a real coffee and a selection of snacks as o-settai.

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You don’t meet many Turkish pilgrims. In fact this is all of them: Can (“Jan”) & Emel near Temple #13. Really nice people; I was very sad for them when the terrorist atrocity in Turkey made the news a couple of days later.

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Hiro from Tochigi Prefecture. He was both excited & astonished that I would walk the Henro in reverse on my first time. It’s usually only done, if at all, after doing it at least once the “normal” way.

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Rebecca & Chris from Mansfield, Victoria, Australia. This was on my final day — they’d only decided to do the pilgrimage three days earlier after finishing some travel in Spain including the Camino. They knew almost nothing about what was involved and I gave them a half-hour “Intro to the Henro” lecture.

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For some reason, not many locals wanted to chat with me. Self-portrait in roadside mirror showing hot-weather attire on a late-Summer day.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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11 Comments

  1. Congrats on your accomplishment of Shikoku 88 pilgrimage. It’s kind of weird to see my pict on the web, but thanks to post it.
    You are going to the Shimanami Kaido. I’ve been there many times and am sure it’s a place worth concluding your pilgrimage!
    Have a safe trip. A journey does not end until you go home, you know!

    • Koji, thanks for the comment! That picture of you two is among my favourite henro portraits. I hope your walk is going well — I was tempted to turn around and do it again in the other direction, but decided to wait and do it in the not-too-distant future. Happy trails!

  2. Jessie Martinovic says

    Wonderful. Love all the people accounts. Especially the drink bottle cicada whisper!

  3. Tremendous photos, what a captivating gallery of characters.

    Great to see you in several shots. Love your captions – insight, observation, respect and (slightly) sardonic humour, a good combination indeed. I don’t think you could ever be thought of as a tourist.

    Expected a mantid on someone’s shoulder.

    Cheers!

  4. Congratulations on finishing, Ian! This is a superb collection of pilgrim portraits. As I’ve written before, you do a great job of this kind of shot, even if it may not be your preferred subject matter. Have a safe flight home. Best wishes. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jane! I realised on the trip back that I definitely do have (as suspected) Restless Leg Syndrome to add to my list of ailments. Only one solution for that, (un-) fortunately…

      • Oh dear… Hope it gets sorted out. I get that because of iron anaemia. It doesn’t help the tiredness levels at all.

  5. Danielle says

    Ian! Just yesterday October 18 I walked the Shimanami Kaido bridge from the beginning to Oshima! 15 Kms return. I’m so proud of myself! Did not walk with my dogs this time. Actually, did not see any canines all day.

    I’m back in my walkabout mode and I have you to thank for the inspiration. Merci!

    The photos are inspiring too.

    Keep well

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