Walking around Japan

You may or may not have heard of the Japanese island of Shikoku. In case you don’t know, the “mainland” of Japan is made up of 4  islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu.

There is a famous pilgrimage on Shikoku that thousands of pilgrims have walked and continue to walk.

This website–( http://www.shikokuhenrotrail.com/) has great information about the pilgrimage.

If you haven’t seen it- the PBS show Sacred Journeys had a special about the “Shikoku 88”. You can watch the full episode here:


And one more link I’d like to share will take you to a WordPress blog called Grace is Walking Around Shikoku-a personal account of having walked the pilgrimage:


There are several personal accounts written by those that have walked it. Tales of a Summer Henro by Craig McLachlan comes to mind. It’s so-so but I did enjoy reading about his experiences.

Oliver Statler’s book on Shikoku, Japanese Pilgrimage is excellent but it seems to be out of print. I managed to order a used copy on Amazon Japan.

Just a note-I can’t seem to insert hyper links that’s why the raw links are posted.

BUT-this post isn’t really about the Shikoku pilgrimage. What got me thinking about it was my dream of walking it while I was walking around town on Friday. I walk everywhere because I don’t drive in Japan. I do drive but, not here-exactly why is a story for another blog post.

So, I walk everywhere. I walk to go to my various appointments in town. I walk to do my shopping. I have the cutest little shopping cart on wheels-total necessity here for us house-wife types.

I also walk just to wander. Those are my favorite walking times. During the rainy season I can’t really do that much because we get sudden torrential rains accompanied by thunder and lightening and you really don’t want to get caught walking around in “O-ame” (torrential rain).

On Friday I walked to the pool / gym center and then I decided to walk up to Trial. Trial is the Japanese version of KMart, I guess. There is no version of “Walmart” here.

I wear a sports band so that I can keep track of my kilometers and such. Friday’s total walk was 6 kilometers, almost 4 miles. That was just walking to the pool, the store and home. It just happened to be the start of the hot and sweltering Japanese summer-meaning it was the first really hot day. The humidity is around 89-92% during the summer months. I’m always drenched.

Friday’s walk was a challenge, the humidity was around 90%. As I was walking up hill to Trial I kept thinking-what if I was walking the henro trail? Henro is the Japanese word for pilgrim. In order to complete the pilgrimage in around 45 days on foot you need to walk at least 25-30 kilometers per day. I was having a hard time just walking to Trial with my light backpack that I carry my swimming gear in.

On the henro trail you are carrying a pack on your back that contains everything you need for at least 45 days. Could I do that? Maybe?

I don’t know. My hip started bothering me on the way home. I’ve had it checked out a few times but they have no idea what it is. It’s most likely my scoliosis. It’s Sunday and it still hurts. Could I walk for 45 days straight 25-30 kilometers a day?

You might be thinking-why on earth would you WANT to?

That’s a good question. Have you heard of “wanderlust”? The urge to travel or wander. The word’s origins are German, from the word wandern to wander + Lust desire, pleasure.

I’ll admit it-I am a wanderer. I have been since childhood. The reality of it is that I can’t just wander around this planet at will, coming and going as I please always in search of new adventures. Wouldn’t that be grand though?

Yes and no I suppose.

The thing is wanderlust lives inside of me like an unquenchable fire. Now a days a full day of trekking to nowhere in particular seems to satisfy that wandering urge inside me for a time. As I age I realize what I can and can’t do and if I don’t realize it, my hip reminds me.

But…the Shikoku 88..now that would be an experience. There are so many pilgrims wandering around there. I dream about walking and sharing experiences. Talking story while sitting in some road-side shelter or at a temple tsuyado after a long day of walking. Sharing a cup of tea and a mikan received as settai (alms) from a stranger. Slurping udon in a hot noodle shop and listening to stories of the trail as told by the owner while a greasy dust laden fan whirs softly on the counter.

I could wander freely for 45 days. A structured wandering. A safe wandering.

I thought about it as I walked home Friday. I took the back road that runs in-between a narrow bamboo thicket and rice fields interspersed with cottage gardens. The wind blowing through the bamboo trees made a unique clacking sound. I heard chanting and as I turned my gaze across the flooded rice field towards the ancient temple on the hill, the priest began to strike the temple bell. Two white cranes, startled by the sound, looked up from their insect hunt and flapped their wings.

Stopping for a moment, I smiled. I’m not unaware of what’s happening on the planet. The evil and terror but, here in Japan, I can wander. I can enjoy the beauty and wonder of this beautiful place.

Maybe I’ll forever be the pilgrim of short pilgrimages. Leaving early in the morning after chores are done to return home in time to cook dinner. Kind of a part-time pilgrim.

By the way…because so many people emailed me and asked me not to turn off comments they are back on. I just may not have time to respond to your comments right now but you are welcome to tell me what’s on your mind….



5 thoughts on “Walking around Japan

  1. This has to be one of your most eloquent posts. Such beautiful thoughts and prose. I, too, would like to finish the Shikoku henro, but don’t think I could keep up a 25 km/day pace. It is something to dream about though.
    I also love the sound of bamboo forests, the musical sound the hollow bamboo stalks make when the wind blows through.
    When you mentioned the chanting priest, I recalled a funny experience. I was out on my daily walk in the countryside on Awaji Island when I passed a small neighborhood cemetery. It was usually empty but on this day a man was praying there, visiting his ancestors. As I walked by, I heard him chant, “A foreigner just walked by… A foreigner just walked by…” in that monotone chant they do. I thought it was nice that he was telling his ancient ancestors what was going on. 😉


    1. You know- maybe someday we should seriously plan a trip there and walk what we could. I honestly do not think I could walk it all at once – mostly because I’d be too worried about hubby not eating properly for 45 days ( his diabetes..) I could probably walk the 25 km -around 15 miles a day… Maybe not everyday but close. But I’ve been practicing. However the time/ expense etc to complete it all in one long stretch is where I have to say- nope. I think I read somewhere it would cost around 4-5 thousand ( dollars) ( easier for me to think in dollars sometimes) to walk the 45 days. Unless you want to camp out every night. I like camping but not that much. But it would be fun to do it for lets say- 2 weeks. That to me would feel like I’d been in a pilgrimage. A whole month would be awesome but again- my husband really needs me here so I can only dream about that.


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