Go to the Planning page for planning questions, such as:
- When should i go?
- How much does it cost?
- What should i take?
- How does this compare to the Camino de Santiago?
Go to the Walking page for practical questions while walking the trail, such as:
- How far do i walk each day?
- What does one do at the temples when they get there?
- Where do you sleep each night?
Go to the Glossary page for questions about:
- A list of Honzon enshrined at each of the temples along with their mantras.
- The most common henro-specific Japanese vocabulary you will need to know as you work your way around the trail.
"I will be on Shikoku for a week or two and only want to walk on scenic mountain trails, out in nature, and off the roads. Can you recommend which section of the trail is the best to do this?"
- This is one of the more common questions i receive, and unfortunately i never make the sender happy when i respond. There is nowhere on the walk that fits that request.
The "henro trail" is not a trail, per se; not an off-road nature hiking experience. As the website points out, about (over?) 90% of the walk is on the side of one road or another. About 90% of the walk is on asphalt or cement. I can't think of even one area where you are off-road for more than part of one day. I can only think of a couple of areas where you spend one full day off of the roads.
But, for what it's worth (& that's probably not much, i admit), this isn't, wasn't, never will be, and has never been sold as a "nature walk." This is a Buddhist pilgrimage, and on pilgrimage, the scenery you are supposed to be fousing on is in your own mind. In one sense, the distractions of urban life are a benefit to you — they give your mind more fuel to fight you as you try and bring it under control. That means, if you can win the fight here, you'll find you've made a lot of progress when you get back home.
People occassionally ask me for "any last advice?" just before heading over to Shikoku. I usually respond along the lines of this:
- Read everything you want for now. Study anything and everything you can find. Worry and fret to your hearts content while still at home. Over analyze, over think, and over expect everything if you want. Have fun doing it. But, the second you pass through the sanmon at Temple 1, let all of that go. 100%. Stop worrying. Stop thinking. Stop analyzing. Stop expecting. Stop comparing. Stop projecting. Stop wondering if you're doing it right, or good enough, or like it's supposed to be done. Stop. Stop. Stop.
Once you pass through the sanmon at Temple 1, give up and let the Henro (pilgrimage) take care of you. Give up your personal agenda. Your personal goals. Your personal preferences. Become a henro (pilgrim). Period. Not [your name]. Not that man/woman from the US/Australia/Germany/Netherlands. Just a henro. Your job is to walk during the day and recuperate during the night, repeating that routine for as many days as it takes to get around the trail. Walk. Love everyone and everything. Accept settai with a huge smile, a laugh, and treat the person like a long lost relative.
Notice as much as you can. Walk with your senses open, don't crawl inside your head and daydream all day. When you find yourself daydreaming, consciously force yourself to notice everything around you; the sights, sounds, smells, the texture of a leaf, the people, the clouds in the sky or the rain on your face, the crunch of gravel under your boot, the touch of your shirt on your back, your toes in your boots. Come back to being a walking henro. Greet everyone. Stop and talk to kids. Smile all day. Let the experience wash over you throughout the days and nights as if it were a healing balm washing away last year's troubles.
Come to understand and appreciate the knowledge that it's not the physical distance you cover during the trip that has any significance, it's how far you go from being [your name], that man/woman from the US/Australia/Germany/Netherlands, to being simply a henro, or simply being a henro, or being a henro simply.
Last, last advice. Have fun and enjoy yourself. Have FUN.