Whipped by the incessant rain, I’m drenched and chilly after I lastly arrive on the hillside Negoro-ji Temple, exhausted.
The hike up the moist and slippery path has been exhausting as components of the path have been flooded by the heavy rain.
Near the doorway to the temple, an previous man waves, beckoning me right into a corridor, which additionally serves as a kitchen.
Inside, there are a dozen or so women and men of their 70s, all chatting till they flip their consideration to me. One by one, they provide me a seat, snacks, sizzling tea and a dry towel as they try to ask me the place I’m from and discover out extra about this international customer.
I do know I’m in good company although we don’t communicate a typical language.
The distress of being rain-soaked rapidly vanishes as I’m immediately warmed up on this bubble of hospitality referred to as o-settai.
This is the act of sharing meals or cash with pilgrims – an historical customized that may be very a lot alive in the present day.
The hospitality of the Japanese has been evident all through my journey on Shikoku island.
I’m right here on a five-day trek on the well-known Shikoku 88-temple pilgrimage path. Mine is a condensed model as the total journey would embody 88 Buddhist temples with trails that connect with a community operating 1,200km – and would take greater than a month to finish.
Pilgrims or trekkers have to barter some difficult and steep trails, however can even wander over some simple and flat sections in small cities and villages.
The 88 temples are unfold across the perimeter of the whole island, beginning within the north-east and heading in a clockwise course.
The Japanese government companies within the Shikoku area have just lately been working to have the pilgrimage route designated as a Unesco World Cultural Heritage website. It is, in any case, Japan’s most vital pilgrimage route.
Increasingly, too, foreigners are hitting the paths right here, hoping to find Japan at its most sacred and conventional.
Indeed, Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s 4 important islands, is the epitome of Old Japan. It additionally has a few of the nation’s most spectacular mountain surroundings and off-the-beaten paths.
I’m armed with a handful of detailed maps and guides supplied by Oku Japan, which specialises in guided, self-guided and customized excursions round Japan.
My self-guided trek takes me previous forests and rivers, small cities and villages, with stops at many important temples and shrines.
I additionally encounter the locals and lots of henro (pilgrims in Japanese), clad of their distinctive oizuru or conventional white cloaks.
They carry kongo-zue or strolling sticks and zuda-bukuro – pilgrims’ satchels. These o-henro-san are largely retirees, though there are younger adults too.
Most of them travel in teams across the many temples in coaches, whereas a number of try to finish the journey solely by foot, just like the pilgrims of previous.
In the previous, these strolling pilgrims would keep at Shukubo temples which supplied lodging.
The Shikoku pilgrimage route (also called O-Shikoku) is most intently related to Kobo Daishi (774-835), a Japanese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, civil servant and artist who based the Shingon, or True Word faculty of Buddhism.
According to Shingon teachings, enlightenment will not be a distant actuality that may take eons to strategy, however is a birthright and a risk inside this lifetime.
He is commonly credited with founding a whole lot of temples on Shikoku island and all through Japan. It is believed that he additionally personally pioneered the Shikoku pilgrimage route.
The monk was confirmed to have travelled to a variety of temples, talked about particularly in his diary entries. He was considered born on the website of temple 75 or Zentsu-ji Temple.
The present circuit of 88 temples was developed and has been maintained by a terrific many disciples of Kobo Daishi to today.
One of the various highlights of the trek was spending an evening in a ravishing Shukubo temple lodging, attending a prayer session at evening and in addition relishing genuine Shojin-ryori Buddhist vegetarian delicacies.
Shojin-ryori is the standard eating fashion of Buddhist monks in Japan and grew common with the unfold of Zen Buddhism within the 13th century.
The meals are made with out meat, fish or different animal merchandise and might be loved by vegans, vegetarians and meat-lovers alike.
Although there are some strenuous sections, I’m additionally in a position to discover the island at a leisurely tempo, benefit from the seasonal native delicacies and lock myself right into a extra contemplative mode inside stunning temples.
I don’t have to attend for retirement to go on a pilgrimage. I already know the locations my coronary heart yearns for, even earlier than I set off on my subsequent trek.
Osaka, the principle gateway to Shikoku island, is served by each Singapore Airlines and Scoot twice a day.
From Osaka, there are frequent trains and categorical buses all through the day to Shikoku’s important metropolis, Tokushima, the place travellers can start the temple pilgrimage across the island.
Oku Japan operates guided, self-guided and customized excursions round Japan. It gives treks of 4, 5, six, eight and 10 days on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage circuit on the island.
For extra info, go to www.okujapan.com.
•The temples are open year-round and you don’t have to trek to go to them. There are handy alternate options resembling automobiles, bikes or taxis.
• Autumn (late September to November) and spring (March to May) are the very best instances to go to the realm. Summer (June to August) is greatest prevented as it may be humid and there might be heavy showers.
• Although there are not any guidelines on what to put on through the pilgrimage, you’ll be able to attempt to put on a white cloak (oizuru) and a conical hat (suge-kasa), supplemented by a strolling stick (kongo-zue), that are available at retailers close to the temples.
• Be ready for inclement climate. An excellent raincoat, a hat and a pair of effectively broken-in strolling sneakers or boots are important for a profitable trek. Take alongside a water bottle.
• Try to remain at the very least one evening in a temple lodging, the place one can expertise meditation periods and luxuriate in vegetarian meals.
• The author was hosted by Oku Japan.