Mar 30, 2009

Henro Pilgramage distance

People have been asking me how far Ian and I walked during our 18 days on the road. I just added up the total number of steps that I took, based on my daily notes and found that I took 521,882 steps. According to my normal walking pace, this means that we traveled 375 kilometers. However, when we were climbing the steep mountain trails between temples #11 and #12, I found that the recorded number of steps did not convert into the distance that we had traveled according to the map. The number of steps produced only about half of the map distance. Ian and I talked about it and decided that the problem was that so many steps were essentially vertical, with only a very small horizontal component, that they did not register on the pedometer. This appears to be the explanation because I tested it by counting steps on a short but very steep trail and found that the pedometer registered many less steps than my count. Considering the various paths we walked on, I guess that we actually walked 10 to 20 more kilometers

According to one of the guide books that I bought, the total distance between temple #1 and #30 is 321.5 km. The extra distance comes from such things as our walking around in the temples, looking for stores and restaurants, sightseeing, and going to and from the places we stayed.

Mar 29, 2009

My first drawing from the Henro Pilgrimage

This is an old, abandoned house that we saw beside the road. When placed in a frame the top and bottom white-portions will be trimmed. This house was representative of the entire area that we traveled through, especially the countryside. It seemed that at least 40% of the businesses had closed and that almost that many house were empty and decaying.

Mar 28, 2009

My Henro bag

One of the things that we carried with us was this special bag. I call it my Henro bag; I have no idea what it is called in Japanese. The primary use was to carry the various things that we used at the temples and which I will discuss in later entries, but we also used it to carry things that we needed while walking: for example, the book of maps, food, and things we bought along the way. The only problem with it was that it leaked in the rain so I covered my with a plastic bag and Ian taped his shut. Ian's method worked better, kept out the rain well, but was inconvenient because he could not open it. My method was convenient. I could get things out whenever I wanted, but it leaked a little around the edges.

The writing on the bag is essentially three different things: a Sanskrit character in the middle of the top row, the two Chinese characters in the top row, and the four characters in the bottom row.

I am not at all sure about the implications of the Sanskrit. According to a Japanese book I have about writing Sanskrit, the character is pronounced /yu/ which is a seed syllable representing Maitreya, a Buddhist bodhisattva. I have yet to discover what connection Maitreya, or Miroku in Japanese, has to the Henro Pilgrimage, but I am going to continue investigating.

The two characters in the top row are pronounced /hounou/ (/hono/ as in Santa's "ho ho ho" with both vowels drawn out long). According to the dictionary hounou is a noun that means dedication, offering, presentation (to a deity), or oblation. They are commonly seen in both temples and shrines. While it would be possible to write a long essay on the various implications of this word in relation to the Henro Pilgrimage, I think it is safe to say that the Pilgrimage itself is the offering. Exactly who it is being offered to would take another long discussion.

The four characters at the bottom have the most direct relation to the Henro Pilgrimage. They are pronounced /dou gyou ni nin/. The first two mean going together and the second two mean two people. This refers to the idea that you are not alone while on the Pilgrimage. Kobodaishi is walking with you, at least in spirit, since he has been dead for a thousand years. These four characters appear on many things related to the Pilgrimage and they will appear again when I discuss the walking stick that we carried.

Mar 27, 2009


Settai has two general meanings in Japanese: welcome or reception and service or offering. While both seem to apply to the use of settai in relation to the Henro Pilgrimage, the second is definitely the more important. People give pilgrims things (money, food, gifts, etc) in order to participate in the pilgrimage and to earn some of the Buddhist merit associated with it.

This picture was taken in the store at Temple #2 where I bought the Buddist equipment that is needed for the trip. The woman on the left had just given me settai by reducing the price, once I had collected everything. I know that it was settai because she told me so. She also made sure that we did not buy anything that we did not need - not your usual store.
The same thing happened in other stores, and not just at those associated with a temple. At one business hotel where we stayed, when we paid our bill, the clerk erased the cost of the four cups of coffee that I had drank and specifically stated that it was settai. The caretaker at the lodge at Kongochoji, Temple #26, gave Ian and I each a keychain compass, again saying that it was settai.

Some of the commercial ryokan and business hotels that we stayed in gave us settai in the form of lunch to carry with us or a reduction in price. We stopped in one small market and bought candy and a pair of gloves (my hands were becoming sunburned). After we had paid and left the building, one of the clerks came running out and gave us each a bottle of milk, saying that it was the best milk in the area and that it had just arrived. It was delicious and certainly helped us along our way. I am pretty sure that the milk was worth more than our meager purchases.

One instance of settai that sticks in my mind concerned three sisters that we kept running into over a period of a couple of days. They were sitting by the road eating mikans and as we walked by they offered us some. Ian and I sat down with them and enjoyed the freshly picked fruit. The sisters said that a man we could see working in a field near us had given them the mikans, but there were too many so they wanted to share them with us as settai. Their break over, they got up and moved on. We continued sitting and eating mikans. The man from the field walk by us with speaking and went into a nearby house. A couple of minutes later he returned and handed each of us a package of potato chips, saying simply that it was settai. He turned and left, going back to work.

Another case that was particularly revealing was when a car, at the head of a fairly long line of cars, slowed to a stop beside us, causing all the other cars to stop, too. The window rolled down and we were each given a handful of candy as settai. What I found interesting was that the drivers of the other cars did not seem distrubed by the wait, but rather many of them bowed or waved as they finally started moving again.

Our own reaction to receiving settai changed as we progressed through the sequence of temples. At first it seemed like something that was being given to us personally and receiving settai gave us a warm feeling. However, as we continued, I gradually realized that settai had nothing to do with me personally. The giver was not giving me a present, the giver was vicariously participating in the pilgrimage by supporting a pilgrim, and thus earning merit. This gave me an even warmer feeling as I knew that I was giving the giver something of great value in return for the small gift.

Mar 25, 2009

Information Bubble

One of the things that I found fascinating about walking the Henro Pilgrimage was the bubble of information that surrounded us as we walked. Because people walk at different speeds, we were constantly passing others or being passed. When this happened, the people involved would usually walk together for a while, discussing where they were from, why they were doing the Pilgrimage, where they were staying and had stayed, interesting people they had met, and other information about the trip.

Ian and I were asked a lot of questions because we were very unusual: for example, we were two foreigners traveling together; we were 15 years different in age; and we were attending the religious services at the temples when we could. When asked the question of what country we were born in we responded accurately by saying England and US respectively. However, the question "Where are you from?" was a little more difficult and we almost always answered "Sendai" since this is our home. This, of course, created a great stir as most Japanese consider anyone from Sendai as by necessity Japanese, and we weren't. As with the other people we met, we answered the various other questions truthfully and as best we could.

This meant that people, both in front of us (those that passed us) and behind us (those we passed) knew a lot about us. These people then met met other people, passed along information about us, so there was a bubble of information that traveled with us but weakened as it got physically further away.

I am sure that there would be a good research paper in this for someone doing work in information processing, sociology, or religion.

There was a Spanish-speaking Ohenro who was using a sheet of translated questions and answers to communicate and a GPS machine rather than a map. We heard about him for a couple of days before we actually met him. At first it was just vague rumors and then the information became more concrete and, as we found out when we met him, more accurate.

The same thing happened with a group that consisted of an Australian man, a Korean woman, and a Japanese man. We heard about them for a day before we met them on a mountain. It turned out that they had not known each other. They had met and decided to stay together for a while.

Your Comments

While on the Henro Pilgrimage, I could not see the blog so I did not read your comments. However, I have just finished and want to say thanks for all the kind words.

Barbara, the name of Temple 15 is Kokubunji and it is a Soto Zen temple. Most of the 88 temples are Shingon, but a few (I counted four in a quick scan) are not: two Rinzai Zen, one Soto Zen and one Tendai. I should also note that a number of branches of Shingon are prepresented in addition to the Koyasan based group.

Mar 24, 2009


As might be expected, I am very tired but it is a satisfying feeling. Yesterday I just rested, but I did manage to get all the photos I took - over 700 - loaded into my computer. In a couple of more days I will start posting the new ones and writing longer comments about what happened.

So far I am aware of two various obvious results from the trip: one physical and one mental.

Physically I have many more muscles than I have ever had. I will try to take a picture of the muscles that developed in my right arm from using the stick to help walking on the mountain trails.

Mentally I seem to be much more in the present and less attached to things. I feel that whatever happens is what happens and that it is okay. I suspect that this is related to the constant need to pay attention to where my feet were being placed (even the roads tended to be uneven), but I will explore this idea latter when my body is less tired.

Mar 22, 2009

Going home

Ian has to appear at his university tomorrow to prove that he has returned from his approved vacation, so we are on our way home after visiting 30 of the 88. Starting tomorrow, I will use a keyboard, rather than this number pad, to post comments and more pictures.

Mar 20, 2009

Gomen Station

Tonight we are staying in Kochi city, so we took a taxi to this station and, after a 40 minute wait, a train to the city. Tomorrow we will return to temple 29 and start walking from there.

Cherry blossoms at temple 29

The main building was being repaired so it was completely covered.

An altar at temple 29

Gate at temple 29

Temple 29 from the distance

Flat land between 28 and 29

Walked through freshly flooded rice paddies for much of the day.

Henro rest area between 28 and 29

Temple 28

Garden we walked through to get our books stamped.

Temple 28

Gate at temple 28

A European style castle on a hill

Why? I have no idea.

The rain ended, leaving behind lovely low clouds

Mar 17, 2009

Tomorrow's mountain

Tomorrow we will leave our packs at the lodge and climb to the temple at the top of the tall mountain in the middle of the picture - a round trip of about 7 km and 430 m high. After picking up our packs, we will walk 13 km to our hotel.

This is the condition of many of the houses we have seen.

Orange trees

Each individual orange is enclosed in a paper bag.

Walked down street with many interesting buildings

More buildings

Mar 16, 2009

Temple 25

Bell tower at 25

Very unusual because you have to climb a flight of stairs through it to get to the main building.

The main altar at 25

Road between 25 and 26

The path up to 26

I forgot to add to the last picture that the building was a railway car and that we had coffee inside.

At 26