{Shikoku Hachijūhachikasho Meguri}


Betsy Keck

General Information
Walking around an island for 1,000 miles for 2 months straight falls under my category of "Less is more." That is, the less you carry, the happier you will be. My first pilgrimage I was bent over trying to carry the contents of my closets and bookshelves, most of which I ended up sending home over the course of six weeks. Repeat after me: I will travel light, I will travel light.

Japan has just about everything a girl could want, but the following things you may wish to carry along for the ride:

And of course, the clothes on your back, which have been layered to accommodate changing temperatures nicely. Since white is the traditional color of the pilgrimage, do try to wear light colors. Anything else you may need during your travels, including tampons, sunscreen, and aspirin, can be bought on Shikoku.

Both of my pilgrimages were in summer, a decision right up there with all the bad things in life, like root canals, sour egg nog, and the loss of a beloved family pet. If that doesn't quite deter you, how about typhoons, poisonous snakes, and horseflies the size of baby-carrots? Spring and fall are by far the better seasons for pilgrim-ing and probably safer. My next one will take place in spring, where my biggest challenge will be debating between sake or beer for all the cherry blossom viewing parties I will no doubt be invited to join.

But if you MUST go in summer, my one gold nugget of advice is to wear a comfy bikini instead of underwear. There are tons of beautiful rivers and beaches that I would have loved to had a splash in for a while. Oh, and one of those CamelBack type backpacks, which give you can fill with the drink of your choice and continually have access to with a mere bite on the straw that connects you to the pack. A pair of flip-flops might be a good idea, too.

My first pilgrimage was a very emotional experience, because with all the free time I had to think, I suddenly remembered everything bad that had ever happened to me. I mourned the loss of every chance that slipped through my fingers, every unrequited love, and every slip of the tongue that cost me dearly. One wrong turn and I broke down in tears. How could I ever do anything right if I couldn't follow a map? Well, the map was wrong and I survived enough to spend the other half of the day singing Tori Amos songs at the top of my lungs. This is therapy, for the low, low cost of 10,000 yen a day. Enjoy it. And then tell us about it.

Henro Safety For The Girls
Finding information about the pilgrimage throught the internet has made pilgrims of any nationality sigh in relief. Unfortunately for me, my first pilgrimage was guided by sheer luck and a dog-eared copy of Oliver Statler's "Japanese Pilgrimage." But something about my naivete made it all the more wonderful, and I think, truer to how an early pigrim might have traveled: haphazardly.

I walked both times more or less by myself. I like very much to be alone and am comfortable enough with the language and culture of Japan not to need another person for assistance. If neither of these is necessary for your sanity, then I highly recommend that you find another person to walk with. For your safety and sanity.

Japan is still a very safe place to be, but things are changing, and it has no less wackos than any other place. Japanese women really don't seem to travel around by themselves, especially within Japan. So when Japanese men see a woman travelling by herself, well, it's a strange thing for them. Which might explain the attention I received both times I walked the pilgrimage. Nothing too serious, but the attention was definitely inappropriate and annoying.

Perhaps the scariest parts of the pilgrimage are the most isolated ones. Mountain paths and secluded winding roads always gave me the creeps. If someone wants to attack you, chop you into little pieces and feed you to the dog, he has plenty of chances. At one point, I came across some teenagers sniffing glue. That actually, was perhaps the scariest moment of all, because glue messes one up pretty well, and who knows how much they hated their English classes and wanted to even the score.

All said, the people of Shikoku are lovely and the number of foreign walking henro seems to increase every year. Just use your good judgement and follow your instincts.


Again, trust your instincts.

---The above information was provided by Betsy Keck (betsykeck@hotmail.com).---