A daily record of a ten-week walk through Japan
(more about my Aki Meguri)

Come with Me on Pilgrimage...

NOTE: I am in the process of moving the Aki Meguri pages here. Meanwhile, you can see them complete over at my old site, The Temple Guy.

Introduction

On September 5th, 2001, The Temple Guy took the single step that led to an epic pilgrimage of 10 weeks through the heart of Japan, predominantly on foot. This 2,000 kilometer (1,200 mile) "Aki Meguri" (Autumn Pilgrimage) was in many ways the experience that solidified his status as "The Temple Guy." Throughout that experience I kept a daily homepage (before I know what a "blog" was). It was raw. What you see here is a slightly more processed version of those daily posts.

Although the journey was a continuous 10 weeks long, it can be separated into three discreet sections: a walk down the Old Tokaido, from Tokyo (Edo) to Kyoto; a visit to Nara and Asuka in Old Yamato; and the 88-Temple Pilgrimage on Shikoku.

First, I walked the historic Old Tokaido highway, a nearly 500-kilometer road created by the shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1601 (I was walking in the 400th anniversary year). The highway joined Edo (now Tokyo), the seat of the shogunate, to Kyoto, home of the Emperor. It was punctuated by 53 stations, and my Logbook records my arrival at each one.

Next, I used public transportation and walked through parts of the Yamato area, the heart of old Japan that includes Nara, Asuka, and Mt. Koya. This was mainly "sacred tourism," a visit to some of Japan's most popular sights, including the Great Buddha of Nara.

Finally, I arrived on Shikoku. The 88-Temple Pilgrimage there is Japan's oldest and longest. Here my journey took on a decidedly "holy" aspect, which is reflected in the Logbook.

These pages chronicle a unique part of my life; I hope you find something of value in them.

Read on for some background, or skip to the first entry (when it's available).

Notes
  • To skip to the various sections, or to access some of the specially-tagged features, use the box on the right.
  • Note that, unlike most blogs, these posts are in chronological order, from first to last.
  • I have moved a wealth of background information to the end of these pages, including:


  • The Prospectus: how I first announced this project to my friends
  • To Be a Pilgrim: the mechanics of pilgrimage
  • Connected Japan: The original homepage, and a look back at an old dream
  • Finally, with the boom of Web 2.0 since I published my original pages, I have added several things, notably a wealth of pictures on my Flickr page.
Features

The old homepage had several "bonus" features. While some of them are mentioned in context throughout the posts, I've also listed them here for convenience. [All of these will be "growing" as I move the pages from the old site.]

  • Gallery: Hiroshige's Views of the 53 Stations of the Old Tokaido
  • Gallery: The Temple Guy at the 53 Stations of the Old Tokaido
  • Gallery: The 88 Temples of Shikoku
  • Journal Entries from the Old Tokaido and Yamato Stages: formerly an index, now a tag (see here for the rationale behind the Journal entries)
  • Words and Pictures pages: also turned into a tag
  • Background Information on:


  • The Old Tokaido Stage
  • The Yamato Stage
  • The Shikoku Stage
  • Background on the trip itself
Everything on these pages is © 2010 by James Baquet.

Prelude: The days before I left on my journey

In August of 2001, I created a homepage called Connected Japan (see below for background on that). There, I posted my Prospectus material and some information on pilgrimage (see below for that, too).

Then, in the last few days prior to walking (namely September 2, 3, and 4) I started posting. Sunday, September 2, was the official "kickoff"; and for the next couple of days I did some jittery whining before I actually stepped out on September 5th. The following three posts, then, indicate my state of mind during that time...

Sunday, September 2nd, 2001: Sayonara Party--and a Close Shave

Today was my "sayonara party," with over 60 people gathered in Nippori Minami Koen. (Yes, TV fans, my party was in South Park.) We did the usual--ate, drank, and were merry.

Then the real fun began. My friends applied trimmer and razor to my head et voila! Now I look even scarier than before.

One funny story: after the shave, while I was still seated in the chair, my friends lined up behind me and one-by-one stepped up to rub my head--for luck, I guess. After a while it seemed to be taking a long time, so I turned around and looked--at total strangers! People in the park had joined the line to rub the gaijin's head for good luck.


I'm still packing and cleaning for Tuesday's early departure, so the rest of this page is made up of pictures of the affair. If you came, THANKS! If you couldn't, here's what you missed.
Shibuya group
Some of my oldest friends in Japan:
Some students and staff from Aeon Minamiguchi School,
my first teaching assignment here.
JFITS
Some of my newest friends in Japan:
Students from JFITS, one of the contracts I recently finished for Aeon.

Ryunosuke and Yoko
One of my youngest friends: Ryunosuke and his mom Yoko,
with whom I worked at Shibuya for nearly two years.
Going...
Going...
Yumi works on the "do," as Megumi, Taro, and Shie look on.

G-o-o-ing...
Go-o-ing...
Mr. Ui, my manager at Aeon's Corporate Division for the last 2-1/2 years,
shows his hitherto-unknown skills as a barber.
Stu, Megumi, Taro, Shie (hidden), Masami, and Naoko wait their turns
(as barbers, not customers).

G-o-o-o-o-ing...
Go-o-o-o-ing...
Shintani-san, my first Aeon manager,
always told me I shouldn't shave my head when I taught at the school.
But now?

Gone!
GONE!
Still a bit shy, I hide the new "do" under my new hat as
I pose with (l to r) Simeon, Yumi, and Shie.I pose with (l to r) Simeon, Yumi, and Shie.

Monday, September 3rd, 2001: Pre-start Blues

Or, The cold feet of a walking man.

[I'm leaving this entry "as-is," but in fact many of the points here changed drastically. I didn't leave the next day; and I gave up on "pure walking" within the week, and ended up taking trains frequently.]

OK, I'm writing this. I should be cleaning my apartment, or packing, or sleeping. But I just have to write for a minute.

I'm nervous. Scared, worried, frazzled. Those who have been around me the past few years will tell you how seldom that happens.

They say the longest journey begins with a single step. Bullshit. (After tomorrow, I can't say words like that anymore; although the Pilgrim's Vows don't specifically prohibit swearing, it seems inconsistent with the other clean-mouthed practices listed.)

Anyway, it's poppycock, balderdash, rubbish to say that the journey begins with the first step. It begins when you start planning. Or when you were born. Gods know everything I've done in my life has led up to this.

At this point, it seems like the walking is going to be the easy part. I still haven't finished the essentials, and what's more, some of the plans I made didn't come to fruition (like selling all my stuff), which once again throws me back on the kindness of those around me, and forces me to acknowledge my interconnectedness, and be humble. No man is an island, especially me.

My friend Hugo once gave me good advice about keeping calm as you prepare for a trip. Once you're on the plane, he said, there's nothing you can do. So just keep dreaming about being on the plane, the cares of the past few days behind you. The problem is, there is no plane. I may never leave the ground, even to get on a train! I'll be on the earth the whole time. I've already adjusted my schedule: I thought I'd try to start from Nihonbashi by 6 a.m., which would mean walking from my house to Nihonbashi by 4:30 or so.  Now I hope to start from home by 7:00! This is partly so I can sleep, but partly so I can be in Nihonbashi at a time when I can find someone to sign my trip book (more about that tomorrow). Anyway, tomorrow's goal is somewhere between Kawasaki and Yokohama (old name: Kanagawa)--20-25 kilometers, theoretically 5-6 hours of walking. So why rush the start? I'd rather leave in good (or at least better) condition.

I HATE TO START ON A NEGATIVE NOTE. But I'm still pre-start, remember? The truth is, I just have opening night (or night before) jitters, compounded by the load of stuff left to do. It's easier to focus on that, and gripe about it, than to face the fact that as of tomorrow I may not see anyone now in my life for three months. That I'm carrying the very serious and emotion-laden wishes and prayers of people dear to me. That I don't really have a clue where I'll be sleeping tomorrow night.

If you're reading this in Tokyo, you also know that it's been raining. So my first day is likely to be a wet one. And my first night may be spent indoors, for all my bragging about sleeping outside.

More advice, this from my friend and former priest Father Ron. I once had some medical tests done, and had to wait two weeks for the results. As I fretted, he said, "Well, don't live all two weeks at once." So I shouldn't do three months of worrying all in one night. Small moves, Ellie, small moves.

So really, despite the stuff on my mind, I'm excited. Stoked, jazzed, atwitter. I really can't wait. (And I really can't believe that my spell checker let "atwitter" through. I thought my friend Wayne made that word up.)

The tone of this piece is more like what you'll usually find in The Journal: what's on my mind, etc. But since all I've done today is prepare and fret, this is what you get. Sorry. And thanks. Tomorrow's gonna be GREAT! (But my spellchecker rejected "gonna.")

Tuesday, September 4th, 2001: The Big Day? NOT!

After reading yesterday's logbook, I feel like a big cry-baby whiner. But today, I feel much better--despite the fact that I have been unable to leave on the day I intended to.

That's right. The launch has been postponed. The countdown has been suspended, but NOT canceled. In other words, I won't be leaving today as planned, but tomorrow instead.

Here are the basics of what happened:
  1. I made arrangements to sell most of my stuff. The buyer didn't show on the 3rd as expected.
  2. I still had a lot of stuff to deal with in my apartment, sorting what to take, etc.
  3. I had VERY little sleep the night of the 3rd.
  4. My apartment still needed cleaning, which is tough to do well when it's dark.
So I found my start time getting later and later, and realized that I wouldn't be reaching my first day's walking goal, and finally I decided it's better to go off fully-cocked and a day late.

Here are some feelings I have about this:
  1. Naturally, I'm embarrassed. A lot of people were probably thinking about me today, worrying about me walking in the rain. (The rain wouldn't have bothered me, really. I was out in it for part of the day anyway.) But I have to remember to use my common sense, and not let "what other people think" influence me unduly. [I later learned that a delegation of four former students came to my launch point at 6 a.m. to see me off! Now that's embarrassing.]
  2. I am relieved that I have time to do this right, finishing my preparation properly, leaving behind some things that I just didn't need, etc.
  3. I am grateful that my friend said I could use his empty apartment in Nippori. The water, power, and gas in mine have been turned off.
  4. I am sympathetic to other pilgrims. I have often read in their accounts, "Another late start" and I always wondered why. This is good for my practice of compassion. [Oy, was that to become a familiar phrase!]
  5. I am amused by the "spiritual" implications of this. I couldn't get off on my trek because I simply owned too much stuff. It reminds me of Tracy Chapman singing about being buried with a "mountain of things." When you're walking, when everything you "own" is on your back, you really can't take it with you!
  6. I am humbled to have to admit my "failure" and to have to ask others for help, etc. But this is one of the main points of the henro's (pilgrim's) experience: to learn that failure isn't failure (and that success isn't success) but simply that what happens, happens. Short of violating the laws of space and time, there wasn't much I could do. I am living the Japanese expression "Shoganai" roughly translated: "It can't be helped," or "What can you do?" It's a good lesson for me.
So what do you think about my decision? What would you have done? I'd like to hear from you. (Besides, it would prove that someone's reading this!)

So there's not much else to say. I'm tidying up the details, and can push off properly early tomorrow morning: Wednesday the 5th.

Background Information on My Aki Meguri

Here is a guide to all the background information regarding "how I did it."


Prospectus: how I first announced this project to my friends

To Be a Pilgrim: the mechanics of pilgrimage
Connected Japan, a look back at an old dream

Prospectus

[In order to make my Aki Meguri happen, I needed to "bang the drum," so to speak, and let people know what I was doing. These pages are archived from that effort, and also contain some of the philosophical groundwork of the meguri. This is how I first announced this project to my friends.]

First in the form of an e-mailed letter, and later as webpages, I told people about my mission: to carry prayers to the Shinto kami and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. I also promised to document my journey in a logbook (and included a sample of what it might look like) and also to record my thoughts in a journal.

In return, I hoped that some would offer financial support in the form of personal donations or corporate sponsorship. I also sent out letters about this in English and Japanese.

When people began to respond, I listed the donors names on-line.



Site Map

A Mission to the Gods

[This letter was a "public announcement" posted on the web. It embodies the philosophy behind the Aki Meguri. Many people made requests, and I am still getting "thank-yous" from people for the effects of the prayers three years later.]

Pilgrim in the Snow

The Blues Brothers were on a mission from God. I'm on a mission to the gods. Like Moses going up Sinai, like a priest entering the inner sanctum, I will be knock knock knockin' on Heaven's door.

Few people have the luxury of getting away for a long vacation—let alone a pilgrimage of three months' duration. This was as true 300 years ago as it is today. So the Japanese developed a custom of appointing one representative to take their needs to the kami (Shinto gods) and Buddhas on their behalf—a sort of holy lobbyist.

At your request, I will do the same for you. The intentions expressed usually take one of two forms:
  • You can ask for something: a new job, a true love, success for your child, a recovery from illness for yourself or another. Or a more altruistic wish, like an end to global conflict, or the healing of the earth's environment.
  • Others prefer to simply give thanks. A grateful heart is a peaceful heart.
Nara Daibutsu
The Great Buddha of Nara
I will solemnly promise to present all petitions and thanksgivings:
  • at least once a day on the Tokaido and Yamato portions of the walk, including in front of the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) of Nara, and in front of Kobo Daishi on Mt. Koya; and
  • at every one of the 88 temples on Shikoku, meaning an average of almost twice a day.
"But James," you ask, "what makes you think the kami and Buddhas will listen to you?" Traditionally, the undertaking of the journey itself is a kind of offering. Walking is a discipline, and it puts the walking pilgrim in a strong bargaining position. It gets the gods' attention.

Then, I'm undertaking the traditional pilgrims' vows, known in Japanese as the Juzenkai. As listed on David Turkington's site*, these are:

1. Do not kill.
2. Do not steal.
3. Do not engage in inappropriate sex.
4. Do not tell lies.
5. Do not flatter others untruthfully.
6. Do not speak badly of others.
7. Do not be deceitful.
8. Do not be greedy.
9. Do not get angry.
10. Do not cause wrongful thinking by others.
[*The link I gave originally is defunct; this is the link to Dave's new, expanded, amazing site.]

Others have added the "usual" ancient Buddhist precepts of vegetarianism—something I already do—and abstinence from alcohol.

Will I keep all of the vows perfectly? No. But the effort is in itself meritorious. I will certainly keep the "Big Three" of no meat, no alcohol, and no sex. And of course killing and stealing are out of the question. The others—numbers 4-10 above—are tougher, because they are more internal. They will present my greatest challenge.

In any case, between the shugyo (religious discipline) of walking, and the practice of the Precepts above, I hope to earn the right to take your requests and thanks to the gods.

Please send your intentions and I will present them as faithfully as possible.

The Logbook (with a sample entry)

[This page described the Logbook that would record my journey. It remains the backbone of this website]

Logbook


As the name implies, this page will be a fairly straightforward record of:
  • Where I went
  • How I got there
  • How long it took
  • What I saw
  • Who I met and what they said
Much of this will be of use to other travelers, those who want to duplicate parts of my journey. But there will be "road stories," those unique anecdotes of experience that make a trip worthwhile. (You can read one from a previous trip below.) There will also be some historical and cultural background on the places I visit.

For the Logbook entries, see the main Aki Meguri blog.



The Logbook: A Sample Entry

[This entry was written before I left, as a way of letting people know what to expect. After all the miles I've walked and temples I've seen, this little episode remains one of my favorites.]

This story happened near sundown on July 28, 2001, as I was walking the 100-kilometer "Chichibu Sanjuyon Reijo," the Pilgrimage to 34 Temples Sacred to Kannon in Chichibu, Saitama:

Chichibu Hondo (30)As evening approached, I was leaving Temple 30 heading for Shiroku, the nearest train station, to return home for the night. The priest caught me on my way out, and suggested that I try to walk to Mitsumineguchi, the next station, which would knock a couple of kilometers off of tomorrow's walk. Although I was exhausted, it sounded like a great idea, since the next temple, #31, was over 18 kilometers away. It would be nice to have a head start in the morning.

On the other hand, I knew that the last direct train to Ikebukuro was leaving soon, and adding the 25 minutes or so to Mitsumineguchi was a bit of a risk. It wasn't the last train, just the last convenient one, so I decided to chance it.

There I was, at the end of a long, hot, 20 kilometer-plus day that had included a mountain climb and some ridge running—and I was walking at top speed right past one station to a farther one!

Bug HuntersAbout halfway along, I stopped at a drink machine. It's kind of funny out in the country sometimes. You're walking a deserted lane, fields of rice and green vegetables on either side, and suddenly you come to a small cluster of houses lining either side of the road. There is often a small family cemetery nearby, and either a miniature Shinto shrine, a little shed containing a Buddhist statue, or both. And not uncommonly, there's a drink vending machine.

As I bought my drink, a little girl, around five years old, came jitterbugging out of the house. The evening cool had set in, the air conditioning was off, and the time had come to see what was happening in the road. How surprised she must have been to see a large foreigner, bathed in sweat (as usual), buying a sports drink from "her" vending machine!

The following conversation took place, all in Japanese:

Her: (pointing at me): English [language]?

Me: Yes, English. (pointing at her) English?

Her: No. (giggle) Japanese. (pause; again pointing) America?

Me: Yes, America. (pointing) America?

Her: No. (giggle) Japan.

Me: (thinking of the train) OK. Bye-bye

And off I went. About 10 steps away, she called out:

Her: I'm [unintelligible] Yamazaki.

Me: (turning and bowing hastily) I'm James. Nice to meet you.

Her: (pointing to her nose in the Japanese style meaning "me") Remember me, OK?

Me: …Yamazaki?

Her: Hisako. Remember me, OK?

Me: I'll remember you. Bye-bye.

And as I set off, I noticed an old man hunkered down in the garden, pulling weeds, with a big smile on his face. He had heard it all.

What gave little Hisako the confidence to chat so casually with a stranger? And what prompted her to ask me to remember her? I have checked with my friends; this is not a usual thing for children to say, not a parting cliché like "See you again" or "Take care." This was a unique, authentic communication.

I'll never know why she did it. But I'll never, never forget her.

The Journal

[On this page, I explained the rationale of the journal entries.]


Shodo set


If you've done much solo walking, this may sound familiar.

At first, you think about the walk itself. You check your body—especially your feet—for potential trouble spots. You think about your walking goal for the day, your route, the landmarks to watch out for. You think about lunch, dinner, and lodging.

When these concerns are put to rest—surfacing occasionally as necessary—you start to think about your daily life. A situation at work, an upcoming family event, an issue with a friend. These are the sorts of things that occupy our usual waking minds, and cause our mundane dreams.

But after a while, you run out of material. You've pretty much hashed over everything, come up with solutions for all "the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to." The mind becomes a blank slate. You find yourself counting your steps, or reciting a mantra, or just breathing.

The religious know about this. It's the basis of many kinds of meditation.

But soon, the mind starts working again, on another level. Instead of thinking about your life, you find yourself thinking about life itself, the sacred instead of the mundane, what the Japanese call anoyo—that world—instead of konoyo—this world. Even the thoughts that do relate to your daily life are now deeper, more philosophical. You even find yourself—as in this essay—thinking about thinking.

The Journal will record this kind of thinking, my own "deep thoughts," the lessons that I glean as I walk, my thoughts on life, the journey, Japan, religion, and all the things the mind turns to when it's freed from the tyranny of the everyday.

See the navigation section at right to find the Journal entries.