Feb 28, 2009

Final day at home

Everything is finished. I've packed and repacked. Been to the store for a last time and bought a long shoehorn because the back of my new shoes are still stiff. My wife made cookies for us and those are carefully divided into two equal bags. Tomorrow's clothes are carefully laid out and ready. All the things I will carry in my pockets and in a small bag are by the door. Money, tickets and access card for my postal savings account are checked and double checked. The train tickets are with the stuff by the door, and Keeko has been contacted and she confirmed that she will meet us in Osaka and guide us to the bus depot, which is in another station.

I will now go and relax over supper with my wife and then watch a little TV before going to bed early. I have set the alarm for 4 a.m. and expect to leave the house just after 5 a.m.

My next posting here will be some time after I have actually started on the Henro Pilgrimage, probably from the train tomorrow.

Feb 27, 2009

Tomone is really Japanese

As you can see from the way that Tomone is sitting seiza, the formal Japanese sitting posture, she is truly Japanese. Most Japanese babies have to learn to sit this way as they get older, but Tomone does it naturally, making her Japanese, rather than American, citizenship seem appropriate.

I have had to sit seiza a few times and found the pain to be excruciating when it lasted more than just a few minutes. The worst time was at my wife's brother's wedding. He had an extremely traditional Shinto ceremony that involved an intricate dance-like process in which my daughters brought a number of cups of Japanese sake, Nihonshu, to the bride and groom and to the witnesses. The process took more than 30 minutes and my brother-in-law and I on the left side and my wife and sister-in-law on the right side had to sit seiza the whole time, without any movement at all. When the ceremony was over, I could not move my legs, in fact I could not even fell them. I was very happy, however, when I looked at my Japanese brother-in-law and realized that he could not stand up either.

Feb 26, 2009

March weather in Shikoku

I just check the March weather in Shikoku, specifically in Kochi, which we will transit around the middle of our trip.

The average high and low temperatures and the average rain fall for each day were given.

March 1
---average high = 14 degrees Celsius
---average low = 3 degrees Celsius
--- average rainfall = 0.43 cm

March 23
---average high = 16 degrees Celsius
---average low = 6 degrees Celsius
--- average rainfall = 0.66 cm

In light of this I am thinking about changing the clothes that I will take. It seems that I will not be able to wear the heavy pants because they will be too hot. Also I will not need the jacket.

This morning I packed my backpack and it is heavier than a expected, about 8 kilograms. If I leave some of the heavier clothing it will make the pack lighter and I won't be carrying something that I won't use. Another possibility is to just take the stuff and then mail it back from Shikoku, but that is an extra expense. I guess that I will just sleep on it tonight and decide tomorrow, when I unpack and then repack my bag.

Feb 24, 2009

Still having visitors

Spent the day yesterday sitting around talking and then going to the airport to see off my wife's sister. On the way home we got caught in a huge traffic jam and did not get back until almost my bed time. During the early part of the day, I worked a bit on a picture and my daughter and I tried to install a driver for a monitor that she gave me. Couldn't do it so, the next time she comes, she is going to bring the computer that it goes with.

Today I expect that I will hang around the house and then in the afternoon go to Sendai Station, seeing off my daughter, who is returning to Tokyo by Shinkansen. It has been nice having company but it will also be nice when things return to their normal routine.

Tomorrow Ian and I will walk in the morning. Instead of our usual two loops around the park, we will only do one. We won't be trying to build muscles, just staying in shape for the start of our trip. On Thursday I will waterproof the shoes that I will wear for the Henro and pack my backpack. Friday I will take a short walk (5 km, or so) to check out the feel of the loaded backpack. On Saturday I will spend some quality time with my wife.

Then all systems are go for a Sunday departure - no last minute snags this time.

Feb 22, 2009

Sunday morning catch up

It has been a busy time for me. On Friday we had a snow storm, but it did not stop me from walking the 9 km to Maggye's house where we spend the day talking about various thing: books, social conditions, philosophy, and much more. In the evening after I had walked home, my elder daughter, Kyoko, arrived from Tokyo. She had big news for us. Her baby, which is due in midJuly is a boy. He will be the first boy on the Japanese side of my family in more than 50 years - there have been babies during that time but all have been girls.

As with Tomone, the boy will have a Japanese family name and will be a Japanese citizen. It is going to be very interesting to hear what given name he will receive. For those of you who do not know, in Japanese the last name is the first name and the first name is the last name. In both cases the italicized term is the English and the second term is the position when the full name is spoken or written. (Sorry, that was a little bit like Abbott and Costello's Who's on first routine.) There are no middle names in Japanese, by the way.

Saturday morning I had art classe and surprised everyone when I showed up. They all thought that I was in Shikoku walking the Henro Pilgrimage. I explained about Ian having trouble getting approval, and all was well. They have decided to have a party for me when I get back and were planning it at the end of the class.

Not wanting to start on a lengthy project, I did a quick pen drawing.

Saturday evening I walked into Sendai and went to the Ha'penny bar at 6 p.m. for what we call an Irish Dinner or a Boys Night Out. The group that comes are almost entirely people who are members of JALT (Japan Association for Language Teaching) and most of us are long time friends. It was a very pleasant evening and I was in the last group to leave - starting the walk home a little after midnight.

There was only one problem with my walking - it was extremely cold. It usually takes me close to two hours to walk to the Ha'penny from home, but yesterday each way only took only an hour and a half. Today my legs are quite stiff and sore but I think I added some muscles that will be useful during the Henro Pilgrimage.

Feb 19, 2009

A few days of relaxation

My sister-in-law has come for a few days and one of my daughters is also going to come. I am going to relax a bit but will work on some of the things I still need to do before the Henro.

Ian and I walked yesterday, 17 km in Shinrin Koen. I am planning to walk about about 18 km tomorrow. I will visit the home of my Bolivian friend, which is actually only one block from Ian's home. This means that I will walk up the hill by myself. This will be a first because up until now Ian and I have always climbed the hill together.

On Saturday I will go to art class, surprising everyone because they think that I am already in Shikoku. Then in the evening I will walk into Sendai to my some of my friends for what we call an Irish Dinner. The only thing Irish about it is that we meet in the Ha'penny, a bar that serves authentic Guinness beer and has some Irish food on the menu. We like to meet there because it has a pay-as-you-go system; you pay for your drink or food when you order it. Most Japanese places give you one consolidated bill when you leave, making the division of payments difficult. The Japanese generally solve this by paying equal shares, but that does not work out very well in international groups.

I will walk home after the party breaks up and then relax on Sunday.

Feb 17, 2009

Getting reorganized

Our new departure date is getting close - only 11 days, not counting today.

I am walking a lot this week and bought a new pedometer with a 14 day memory. I have worn out two of pedometers since I started walking and bought another that did not work well - did not like the functions on it.

Yesterday, we rescheduled the reservations for the bus and the accommodations for the first two nights. Since we are leaving on Sunday, the Shinkansen schedule is different and there is no early high speed train. This means that we won't arrive in Osaka until 11:26, rather than at ten thirty as in the original itinerary. This in turn will mean a one o'clock bus departure and an arrival at the start of the Henro at around 4 p.m.

Temple #2 where we will stay Sunday night wants us to check in before five and Temple #1 closes the shop at five. I suspect that when we include the walking between the temples, we will not be able to buy our outfits until Monday morning.

Another change is that on Monday night we will stay at Temple #7 rather than #6 as originally planned. Before calling I had planned on staying at #7 but they were taking a day off so we had to change to #6. This time when we called #6, they were taking a night off so we made the reservation at #7, which seems to have a few more features for Ohenro-san.

In any case everything is arranged and we are all set to go.

Feb 16, 2009

My latest drawing - not yet finished

This is my latest drawing. It is quite large, paper size F6 [407mm x 320mm (approximately 16 X 1 9/16 inches)] and shows four coils of rope that I saw on a sailing ship in Yokohama. The ropes are done with my usual fine-tipped pen, but the rest of the picture (the parts not yet finished) will be done in graphite. I will show the planking on the deck and the railing behind the ropes.

Feb 14, 2009

Two pictures from yesterday

Yesterday morning I walked 10 km by myself, following the same route that I used last summer. It has a lot of ups and downs as well as following roads without too much traffic, so it is quite pleasant to walk. I left my apartment just as the sun was coming up and discovered that the moon had risen in the west. As I started out, the moon was framed by one of the apartment buildings on the left and our multi-story parking garage on the right.
Towards the end of the route, I pass through Mizu no Mori Koen (Water Forest Park). I was listening to a lecture about Buddhism on my iPod and the speaker's voice was drowned out by a loud noise. I shut off the lecture and followed the noise to the side of the pond, the mizu, where I discovered a woman feeding the birds. I stood an watched for a long while, before continuing home.


Ian finally got official permission to go on the trip. For this year's portion of the Henro Pilgrimage, we will leave on Sunday, March 1st, and return on Monday, March 23. Because we will be traveling on a Sunday, the train schedules are a bit different. We will arrive at the bus stop near Temple #1 about an hour later than under the previous plan, about 4 p.m. This means that, because check-in at Temple #2 is five at the latest, we will have to go straight to Temple #2, waiting until Monday morning to buy our outfits.

We will be able to walk for 21 days, so we will probably end up somewhere between one third and one half of the way around the Henro. We have decided to take things as they come and not try to meet any particular schedule. There are many bangai temples, not listed among the 88 that make up the official Henro, and Shinto shrines, sowe will make side trips if we find out that a particular shrine or bangai temple is worth seeing. This means that we can not make any predictions about where we might be at any particular time.

All this is very much in keeping with the Henro Pilgrimage and the Heart Sutra. We should just be in the moment and take things as they come without any desires or wants of our own.

Feb 13, 2009

Schedule note

While it is still up in the air, it appears that our starting date will be March 1. Ian is still having trouble getting official permission to go and has at least one more meeting with the bosses before things become final. His school has a regulation that teachers must attend meetings and that is the problem he is having - the two months of spring vacation are a great time for meetings.

In any case, I have decided that I will go with or without Ian. I can wait until March 1 and still do a month of walking before having to return to prepare for the new semester (my classes begin during the second week of April, 2009).

I will continue posting the last news as I receive it.

Feb 12, 2009

Pilgrimage postponed

Yesterday I got a phone call from Ian. The dean of his department is requiring that he attend a meeting scheduled for Feb 25 and he was not sure about March meetings. This means that we can not leave until Feb 26 at the earliest. I have canceled our reservations for accommodations and the bus, and later today my wife and I are planning to go to the station and cancel our train tickets.

Ian is supposed to be having a meeting with the dean sometime today. At that time, he plans to get written permission for the trip to prevent any further problems. Once he has that permission, he and I will reschedule things. In any case I am going even if I have to go alone.

My schedule is flexible because I am only employed part time and am no longer required to attend meetings. As long as I am back in Sendai around the first of April, I will have no problems. In any case I still plan to complete half, or close to half, of the pilgrimage before starting this year's classes. Ian's problem is that part of the contractual agreement for the position of professor is that the teacher attend school-wide and departmental meetings. Any absences have to be worked out with the administration and that is where his current problem lies.

Tomorrow I should be able to post a revised schedule - leaving in late February and returning by the end of March.

Every negative has its good sides and there is one definite advantage to a later start - the weather will be getting warmer and there will be some flowers.

Feb 10, 2009

Books about the Henro Pilgrimage

Last night Ian called and a little while later, he came by my apartment. The reason was that he had discovered that one of the professors at his university is interested in the Henro Pilgrimage and Kukai (Kobo Daishi). In doing some research on this, the professor had collected a number of related books; Ian had borrowed them and wanted to give them to me.

The books are all in Japanese so I won't get to actually read much before we leave, but I do plan to skim through them for anything that is particularly interesting. One of the books in particular will occupy my time. It is an art book about how to draw the 88 temples.

The rest of my day yesterday was pretty much unrelated to the upcoming trip. I took the subway into town and then walked to Tohoku U where I entered the students' grades into the school computer system. Then since it is the end of the school year, I returned my card keys for the teachers' room and the parking lot. Before classes start in April, I will have to stop by the campus and get new cards for next year.

When that was finished, I walked back into the city proper where I met my friend Keith. We stopped at Starbucks for coffee. Then went to the Tapas Restaurant and had an Italian lunch. (I am not sure why a restaurant with a strong Spanish influence in its name serves Italian food, but that is the way it is.) The food was okay - nothing great, but cheap. The conversation and companionship, however, were superb. Keith and I used to see each other often because we went to Vegalta soccer matches together, but for various reasons we only saw a few games last season. This meant that we did not met very often. After we caught up on all our personal doings, we walked over to Yodobashi Camera, a chain electronics and photo equipment store, where Keith bought a new lens for his camera.

After separating at Sendai Station, I walked home, totalling 18.5 kilometers for the day.

In the evening before Ian arrived, I watched the NFL Pro Bowl on TV. I was glad when the NFL won the game.

Feb 9, 2009

More on backpacks

Yesterday I tried packing my stuff into my current backpack and there was a large amount of empty space. I mentioned my thoughts on a new backpack to my wife who convinced me that I should use my current pack. The pertinent reasons were that
[1] I have been wearing it and am used to the weight and feel,
[2] I won't have another old bag laying around the house,
[3] I can save the cost of the new bag, and
[4] the extra space might come in handy during the trip.

So with that decided, I applied myself to the other things I have to do. I have been sending the address of this blog to various people and internet lists. I have also made a to-do list and a need-to-buy list. In addition I have started collecting all of the things that I already have into a single pile - I have yet to collect a lot of the small stuff. Finally, I am finishing up the grading and paperwork for my last semester's classes. Actually I will leave in a couple of hours and go to Tohoku U where I will submit the grades.

I received my first settai, a gift that people give to the pilgrim in order to share in the trip and vicariously gain Buddhist merit from the Pilgrim's trip. My art teacher gave me a sketchbook and some water-soluble colored pencils and one of the other students gave me some cash, which is a quite common sort of settai.

Receiving settai was a very humbling experience that made my think about my purposes in doing the pilgrimage and added to the seriousness (not quite the right word but it will have to do) with which I am approaching the whole affair.

Feb 8, 2009

A new backpack?

Today Ian and I were supposed to walk but he called at 5 a.m. and said that the weather at his house was horrible, freezing rain mixed with snow. I want to get some exercise today so later in the afternoon I will go out for a walk by myself.

Friday I visited an outdoor store and found a very nice pack that appears to suit my purposes. It has three sections, as opposed to my current pack which has only one. The extra sections would make it much easier to keep my stuff organized. The only problem is that it is size 25 and my current pack is 35. Later today I will gather most of the things that I will take with me, at least the big things, and put them in the 35 pack. If it looks like there is a lot of extra space, I will go out and buy the 25 pack.

I have most of the things on the list, but some of the small stuff still needs to be found or bought.

It is hard to believe but at this time a week from today I will be just waking up in Juurakuji, Temple #2, and getting ready to start our first full day of walking.

Feb 6, 2009

The stuff I am taking

I finally have a more or less finished list of things that I will take with me on the Henro Pilgrimage. The following list includes what I will be wearing as well as what I will be carrying. The reason for this is that what I wear will depend on the weather, and this will change what I will carry.

My travel pack
-underwear shorts (5 pairs)
-underwear shirts (5 pairs)
- stockings
-- regular (5 pairs)
-- 5-toed (5 pairs)
-shirts (4 winter weight)
-pants (2 pairs - heavy and light)
-walking shoes
--light weight
--heavy weight
-knit hat
-coat (autumn weight)
-Gortex rainwear (coat and pants)
Henro outfit
-white jacket
-Embroidered cloth to hang around neck
-straw hat
-walking stick
-book for temple stamps
-slips to give people who give me gifts
-Heart Sutra
Other stuff
-plastic bags to protect stuff from rain
-ZipLock bags for small stuff
-papers (ID, health insurance, credit card, PO account card)
-glasses with case
-cell phone with charger
-drawing kit (notebook, pens, pencils)
-medical and hygiene kit (toothbrush and paste, my medicine, Vaseline, aspirin, vitamins, amino acid pills, tape (narrow and wide), anti-diarrhea pills, bandages, disinfectant, towel, facecloth)
-sewing kit (needle and thread)
-Swiss Army knife with blade and scissors
-key chain compass and thermometer
-map and guidebook

Feb 4, 2009

Getting ready slowly

Yesterday Ian and took our regular Wednesday morning walk in the park, Shinrin Koen. It was a Tuesday but I had to work today, Wednesday, so we went a day early. This is the last week of the semester at Tohoku University, and I have three days of classes to make up for all the Mondays that we missed because of holidays.

As we were walking down a hill between Kita Sendai Station and the park, I stepped on some sheer ice. My feet went out from under me and I ended up on my back. Luckily I was wearing my backpack and it protected me. Today, I have a little pain in my lower back and my leg, both on the right side, but neither enough to bother me. Losing all that weight and getting in shape has certainly paid off; a couple of years ago a fall like that might have put me in the hospital.

The paths in the park were full of ice so we only did one lap, rather than our customary two. However, I think that we got more of a physical workout than usual. After finishing, we stopped as always and had coffee and a donut at Mr Donuts. Finally we went over to Kita Sendai Station and bought our train tickets for the trip.
The top ticket is for the Shinkansen (Bullet train) between Sendai and Tokyo, the middle one is also for the Shinkansen but for Tokyo to Osaka, and the bottom one is the regular fare between Sendai and Osaka. We will leave Sendai at 6 a.m. on February 14th and arrive in Osaka at 10:26.

After I got home from our walk, my wife and I did some more preparation for the trip. First we arranged for an old grade school friend of my daughters' to meet us on the platform at the Shinkansen station in Osaka, Shin Osaka. She will show us the way to Nanba Station which is where the highway bus leaves from, apparently it is a bit complicated, especially at Nanba.

We also called the bus company and reserved two seats on the highway bus from Nanba to a stop which only a couple of hundred meters from the first temple. The bus leaves Nanba Station at noon and arrives just before 2:30.

Then we called and made a reservation at Temple #2, Gokurakuji, for the night of Feb 14. We will first go to Temple #1 and, after buying our Henro outfit, chant the Heart Sutra and do the other rituals, finally walking the 1.2 km to Gokurakuji.

We then called Temple #7, Juurakuji, to make a reservation, but it will be closed that night. The temple will be open but they are not accepting over night guests. So we called Temple #6, Anrakuji, and made a reservation there. When we stop at Anrakuji to chant the sutra, we will also checkin and leave our backpacks. Then after the rituals, we will then walk the 1.0 km to Juurakuji, and do the ceremonies there, returning to Anrakuji for the evening. On the following morning we will leave early and go directly to Temple #8, hopefully arriving just before 9 a.m.

Feb 2, 2009

Fibbing again

Today in class, my students spent a long time working in small groups, so I had nothing to do but walking around observing them. While I was doing this, I composed the following fib based on walking into Sendai center through the snow on Saturday.

Walking home.
All an empty white,
Stilling the motion in my mind.

Feb 1, 2009

Earthquake again

I was rudely awakened just before seven this morning by a medium sized earthquake. It was, however, small enough that my wife slept right through it. It was either a 2 or a 3 on the Japanese scale. The center was out in the ocean between here and Tokyo.

The picture in my last post, which, by the way, I sent on my way into Sendai, was of a small shrine about half way between my apartment and downtown Sendai. It is located in the approximate location of an old execution and torture ground and is dedicated to all the people who suffered and died there. The people that live in the area say that there are ghosts wandering around at night, but I have never seen one.

In the morning I had gone to art class where I drew the following picture. As usual the photo does blurs the fine lines so it does not look quite the same as the original. This reproduction is much rougher.

After the class, 12 of us whet to an Italian restaurant for a New Year party. We stayed about two and a half hours, and I got to know some of the other students a lot better than from just our time in the classroom.

After the party broke up, I walked to Sendai in the snow and took the picture of the shrine in the snow at about the midway point. A little while after I took the picture, a car swerved to avoid a truck that was making a turn. The car came almost up onto the sidewalk. The result was that it sent up a huge wave of water, snow, and ice that went over my head, soaking me completely.

I felt like I had been in the shower with my clothes on. I walked, dripping, into town and went to a bookstore that has a large collection of English books, bought something to read, and went to Starbucks for coffee and heat. When everything had dried by my shoes, I walked over to the Irish Pub, Ha'penny. Eventually six of my friends showed up. I drank wine and talked with them until about 9 when I decided that, because my wet feet were very cold, I would go home. It was still snowing so I took the subway home. On arrival, I discovered that my wife had baked a carrot cake so I ate a piece and had a cup of coffee before going happily to bed.