Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Live from Kagoshima

Typing my latest entries from an internet cafe in this great city of mine. Again, be on the lookout for:

- Japanese eikaiwa information
- Procedures for moving in Japan (practically and legally)
- The influence of heroes in our daily lives

Japan Probe

I'm a little nervous as I sit waiting for the sensei. Did I come to the right office? I even forgot to slip on the lobby slippers once I had removed my street shoes – more out of the thought that they didn't have slippers my size. The setting is the same, regardless of the country: posters warning “This could happen to you!” or “Take care of yourself!”

Soon enough, however, my name is called and I'm led into the back room with a simple “kochira, kudasai” (this way, please). Just like at home, I leave the room of waiting recipients and march towards the impenetrable curtain: my time has come.

Seeing a doctor, or dealing with anyone in the medical field, can be just as annoying or frustrating in Japan as in any other country. When I was first told that most Japanese companies require a kenkou shindan sho (Heath Examination Form, 健康診断書), I was a little unprepared as to where to go and what to do:

This is required by Japanese law, and is necessary for the company to understand your current state of health. Details of the examination are stated in the ‘Health Examination Guide’(健康診断についてのご案内).

日本の法律では、従業員の安全衛生のために、「雇い入れ時検診」を実施することが義務付けられています。日本語では、「けんこうしんだんしょ」といいます。あなたの最近の健康状態を把握するためのものです。検査項目、詳細は別紙「健康診断についてのご案内」をご参照ください。


Quickly consulting my foreign resident's guide (which you should have received once you registered at the local government office), I found a listing of doctors with various specialties, but no general practitioners. I had heard doctors were much more specialized in Japan, from your foot doctor, to your “arm aches every other Saturday doctor". Going with convenience rather than certainty, I chose a doctor dealing with internal medicine, who happened to speak both Chinese and English. And lucky for me, his office was in the shopping area two minutes from my apartment.

I did call ahead, and was told that the kenkou shindan sho would be no problem (though I got the impression this particular doctor wasn't asked to do such basic examination procedures so often).

Step one: entering the office. The same procedures as any other Japanese setting: remove your street shoes and don slippers. Approach the counter with a big smile and a nice “ohayou gozaimas!”

Step two: explain exactly what you need today:

Examination of the presence of subjective and objective symptoms (自覚症状及び他覚症状の有無調査)

Examination of height, weight, eyesight and hearing (身長、体重、視力、聴力検査)

Chest X-ray examination, indirect (胸部X線検査、間接撮影)

Blood pressure measurement (血圧測定)

Blood analysis (血液検査)
- Anemia examination (erythrocytometry and hemochromometry) (貧血検査(赤血球数・血色素量))
- Examination of hepatic function (GOT, GPT, γ-GTP) (肝機能検査)
- Examination of blood lipid levels (total cholesterol level, HDL cholesterol, triglyceride level) (血中脂質検査(総コレストロール・HDLコレストロール・中性脂肪))
- Examination of blood sugar level (血糖検査)

Electrocardiogram

Urine analysis


Step three: wait for your friendly neighborhood doctor. Just like with any expert in his respective field, you should refer to a doctor as “sensei”. Fortunately for me this doctor did speak enough English for us to understand each other. He told me the tests would be no problem, and I should come back tomorrow to pick up the results.

Naturally, I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of a medical examination; it's exactly the same, with two exceptions as far as I could tell...

Testing the vision in your right and left eyes. Of course, just like at home, I was asked to hit a tape mark on the floor and cover my right eye. Just like at home, there was a chart with some black symbols about two meters in front of me. But, in this case, the symbols were:



You were asked to use your finger and point up, down, left, right, depending on the direction of the hole opening.

In addition, you might find the colorblind test a little difficult if you don't know Japanese. Remember those old tests? You look at a colored pattern in a book. There should be a letter in a color surrounded by its opposite. In this manner, you can determine if your eyes can detect the differences between two colors; if they can't, you only see one huge blob of color.



The nurse might have assumed I was colorblind, if I hadn't told her I wasn't the best at reading hiragana, the loopy Japanese written language. I could see all the characters perfectly, but just didn't always know what they were. An educational experience (incidentally, that did prompt me to learn hiragana once and for all).

Total price tag? About 10,000円

On the Left Side

There's no denying the accessibility and freedom of the Japanese railways. They're everywhere, and they're usually so convenient. You may have more options in terms of transportation in Japan, but each come at a pretty high cost. For example, let's say you want to travel from Hiroshima to Tokyo:

1. Four hours and about ¥18,000 by Shinkansen; you also have the convenience of taking any train you choose, as long as it leaves the same day.

2. One and a half hours and about ¥30,000 by plane (unless you book 28 days ahead of time). The money saves you the trip on the rails, but it's hardly worth it in this case; you have to take the airport shuttle with additional time and cost.

3. Of course, no ferry goes between Hiroshima and Tokyo, but even if there were, I'd question the sanity of someone choosing a long distance ferry over air travel. Take the ferry from Kagoshima to Naha, Okinawa – 24 hours, and the same price as the 1.25 hour flight.

4. Driving. This is the topic I want to address today. Naturally, you have the convenience of leaving whenever you want and choosing your own path, but is it worth it? Over a long distance, the tolls can add up to as much money as the train fare.

Let’s say you have been in Japan for some time now. You have a valid driver's license in a foreign country, and would like to exercise the same mode of travel in Japan.

One issue: you can’t apply for an International Driver's License. These are generally issued to newcomers in Japan, and I believe you can only receive them before you enter the country. Regardless, once you have spent three months in Japan, you are no longer eligible to receive an IDL (not without leaving and coming back in on a new visa).

However, you do qualify for a Japanese driver's license, using your old foreign DL as collateral.

Procedure to Obtain a Japanese Driver's License

1. You need your old license, as well as certification that you stayed in your country for at least three months after it was issued. If your license doesn't include the date of issue, you must obtain this certification as well.

2. Japanese translation of these documents, translated only by an official embassy or JAF office.

3. Gaijin card

4. Passport

5. Photo 3x2.4 cm

6. ¥4,250 fee

7. Your IDL, if you ever applied for one

8. Following the receipt of these documents, you will be asked to perform a written test (10 yes/no questions), and a driving test. Although the written test will be in your native language, the driving test may not necessarily be – bring a translator just to be safe. You can forego these tests if you are a citizen of certain foreign countries (I believe the ones that also drive on the left side).

In my opinion, it usually just isn't worth the trouble unless you reside in an area without convenient access to JR or a bus; you have to consider the trouble of purchasing a car in Japan, and then reselling it when it comes time to leave. Of course, if you're considering permanent residency and have younger family members to worry about, then by all means...

But as far as the short-term Japanese resident goes, you won't be buying a car. The procedure to apply for a JDL is lengthy, and in the end, you might only use it for the occasional vacation rental. Still, sometimes, that future convenience is enough to undergo the present inconvenience.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Offline

My apologies for not posting. I've been finishing up my current job, packing up my apartment, and preparing a lot of documentation - immigration, US taxes, and company paperwork.

I may be offline for the next two weeks while I get internet set up in my new apartment. Until then, stay strong.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Karma


Thanks to http://www.crystalinks.com/


This is more of a personal comment, but I just realized that I didn't adequately inform my readers:

I am employed, eliminating the need for a self-sponsored visa. As I mentioned, I had been sending out resumes and doing interviews almost nonstop in February, March, and April. One of the companies that had originally turned me down due to my low Japanese skills (JLP 4), came right back and offered me the position.

Where am I going?
To beautiful Kagoshima (鹿児島), often called the Naples of Japan. Kagoshima is the southernmost city on the main islands of Japan (not including Okinawa), and is overlooked by the ready-to-erupt volcano Sakurajima. Sakurajima had a serious eruption in 1914, and might be due for another any year now. If I don't come back alive, at least I'll have the satisfaction of knowing my death was rather unique (I had to look up the statistics for this - curiosity got the better of me).



A city of approximately 600,000 people, it is comparable in size to my old home Austin, Texas. The nearby volcano provides excellent onsen areas, and the warm climate makes it an ideal place to relax on the beach. There are several ferries that can take you to the nearby islands of Yakushima (屋久島) and Tanegashima (種子島).

Although I must admit I will miss out on the Tokyo experience, I am looking forward to discovering every inch of Kyushu. There are so many unique areas here - Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Oita, Beppu, Kurokawa.

Where am I working?
Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories. See their website here.

What am I doing?
Scientific consulting and proofreading, as well as acting as an international liason to foreign companies. I am a little concerned about entering another corporate world, but I can honestly say I'm thrilled to finally escape the stereotypical English-teaching role bestowed on foreigners.

How long?
The training period will last for three months, the contract for an additional nine. However, I am hoping to get a three-year extension on my visa.

What do I need to do now?
I'll be posting more information once I get settled in my new home, and blogging about it in a article titled "Ending Your Contract with an Eikaiwa" (among others).

Although I am not applying for a self-sponsored visa, I do still need to apply with immigration to extend my visa status (luckily I don't have to change my profession to researcher), and, once I find a new residence, register my new address with the local government office.

How did this happen?
Funny you should mention it. I had given up all hope of working with SNBL, and if you've been reading my recent blog entries, you know I was risking a lot not deciding my employment status before Golden Week. Visa renewal takes time. Finding a job takes time. Booking a plane ticket home is expensive.

Although I did not answer my phone the first time, I received the offer in a voicemail from SNBL at the exact moment I was entering the 11th temple of the Shikoku henro trail (Fujiidera 藤井寺). Right in the middle of attempting one of the most arduous and spiritually cleansing journeys on Earth, I find my prayers are answered. Coinicidence or not, I believe I will complete the circle someday; I will be walking the path of the henro again, to thank whatever karmic force was responsible for my staying in Japan. I'm not a religious zealot by any means, but I believe in paying tribute where tribute is due.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Seeing the Appeal

...of my future home. What other area can boast a foot onsen in an airport?

Ripple Effect

There was an earthquake some time ago in western Japan, centered around western Shikoku. Although it was fairly weak by most standards, did this quake cause trains to be delayed throughout Hiroshima-ken?

Anyone who has traveled the world would probably tell you the train system in Japan is the best. The best of the best of the best. It works almost to a fault. Thousands, tens of thousands, of trains leaving at precisely the right time every day, exchanging crew at the precise second, slowing down on schedule.

But, like any complex machine, it only works as well as its other parts - if one piece is out of alignment, the rest eventually fall apart. I believe that's what happened Thursday, April 26th, 2007.

It was the first time since my arrival (about a year) that I had to wait for a train. Running late. Almost thirty minutes late. Unbelievable. I'm such a spoiled public transportation brat after living in Japan; imagine how I'd react in the middle of Los Angeles... ugh.

The train system in Japan, Japan Railways, is subject to all kinds of natural and manmade interruptions: ice in Hokkaido, typhoons in Kyushu... When these cases are severe enough to cause the trains to be delayed, it usually makes the news - though only for a delay that causes a ripple effect, especially in the Tokyo area.

Not long along, a conductor overslept for his morning shift in a train on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo, and it made headline news... why? Cause and effect. The train pulls into a certain station at precisely 7:42 AM. The conductor looks out the window at exactly 7:43 AM, expecting to see his replacement arriving through the gates. No such event occurs. The current conductor must be transferred to another line. The train is left conductorless, and cannot leave the station. By this time, other arriving trains need to use the track, but they can't, because an 8-car conductorless train is blocking their path. They are diverted to other platforms, causing the trains bound for those platforms to be delayed, causing the trains behind them to be delayed. Soon every train in Tokyo will be running late. Ripple effect.

Japan has a notorious suicide rate. What you may not know, however, is exactly how people choose to end their lives here. I know we're only talking about a small fraction, and I know it's distorted by the media, but the fact remains: there are many people who commit suicide by launching themselves in front of the first train of rush hour. I'm somewhat surprised that organizations like the Japan Times and the shimbuns report how people are inconvenienced by this suicide - there's barely a footnote about the person's name or his life; instead, we only see how this affects the majority; this is part and partial with the Japanese way.

I like the certainty that comes from knowing I can leave my apartment, walk to the nearest JR station, and still have 45 seconds to spare before the train will roll up right in front of me, the door openings conveniently marked on the platform. This train will take exactly 34 minutes to reach its destination. No more. No less. Blending with the masses waiting for the train, on the train, and disembarking is probably the time I feel the most Japanese.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Filing Taxes

I might add this first part is only useful if you're a US citizen. If you're looking for information about Japanese taxes, scroll to the bottom of this post.

US Taxes

If you are a US citizen living in Japan, you need to pay taxes with both the American and Japanese governments. Since you are living abroad, you get an automatic two-month extension from the regular due date; no additional paperwork is required.

Normal deadline: April 15th
Deadline for US citizens in Japan: June 15th

If you do want a six-month extension, the same rules apply as any other situation; you need to file a Form 6868 with the IRS.

I was particularly interested in the law surrounding US citizens who were in the United States for part of one tax year, and Japan the rest of the time. As long as you stay in Japan for the entirety of the tax year, or 330 consecutive days (regardless of whether or not it's within the tax year, e.g. from June 2006 to May 2007), there is no difference.

You have to declare the income you make in Japan the same way you do in the US. There are just different forms to file to declare your foreign income. If you are making less than $80,000/year and don't want to file for housing exception, you can use Form 2555EZ (Instructions). Otherwise, use Form 2555 (Instructions). Of course, these are in addition to your 1040.

Tax Guide for US Citizens Abroad
Other information on foreign income
Gaijinpot Thread


Japanese Taxes

I found this information from Japan-Guide particularly helpful:

"Income tax in Japan is based on a self-assessment system (a person determines the tax amount himself or herself by filing a tax return) in combination with a withholding tax system (taxes are subtracted from salaries and wages and submitted by the employer).

Thanks to the withholding tax system, most employees in Japan do not need to file a tax return. In fact, employees only need to file a tax return if at least one of the following conditions is true:

if they leave Japan before the end of the tax year
if their employer does not withhold taxes (e.g. employer outside Japan)
if they have more than one employer
if their annual income is more than 20,000,000 Yen
if they have side income of more than 200,000 Yen

Employees, who do not need to file a tax return, will have the taxes withhold from their salaries by their employer, and an eventual adjustment is made with the year's final payment.

People, who are required to file a tax return, such as self-employed persons, must do so at the local tax office (zeimusho) between February 16 and March 15 of the following year. For example, the tax return for 2006 has to be filed between February 16 and March 15, 2007."

Income Tax Guide for Foreigners

Saturday, May 12, 2007

10,000 Visits

My hit count may be down because no one wants to know about the cherry blossoms anymore, but still... 10,000 visitors! Send me some kind of reward and I'll blog about whatever you want. Cheers.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ikkoku Mairi (一国まいり): Keeping Pace

Originally written May 5th, 2007

I awake warm and rested, yet find myself covered in mosquito bites - might be a good idea to bring some netting the next time I choose free lodging. My companions are quick to rise and set out to Temple 23 (Yakuōji 薬王寺) - the LAST in Tokushima-ken.

I, on the other hand, have time to relax and mill about; Temple 22 (Byōdōji 平等寺) doesn't open until 7:00 AM and I'd like to get my nōkyōchō (納経帳) stamped before I leave the area.

Not a creature stirring, not an engine roaring, not even the sound of giggling children headed for the train station... this is a sleepy little town.






Later, the stamp successfully added to my collection and a few more pictures on my flashdisk, I set out to #23.

The hike out really made me realize - this journey is not all beautiful mountains, sleepy little towns, or communing with nature. It's the open road, and much of your time is spent on a hard, unforgiving highway. Each have their appeal, I suppose.

This journey was never about visiting the temples, it's about the paths we take, the people we meet, the thoughts in our mind. The temples are just convenient focal points.

Yet, after I left the green areas and turned directly onto Highway 55, I realized this was the most boring point in my travels - it was comparable to my experience walking to Irori Sanzoku.

There's nothing on this road for you. A few rest stops, the occasional vending machine... you'll be begging for the time to come when you can see your goal. Four or five tunnels and the occasional head nod to fellow pilgrims later, the buildings become denser, the trees fewer, and the people more plentiful.

Congratulations; your goal is in sight. But you will have to work for it. I had walked for five and a half days, averaging about 26 km/day over some pretty mountainous country. My legs were beyond sore, but not so much to the point that they were numb to all everlasting pain - I could feel everything.

My shoulders were bruised in two unusual arch-shape patterns where my backpack companion had chosen to reside for the length of the pilgrimage. My arms were filthy and covered in bug bites, my hair a jumbled mass underneath the veneer of the sugegasa.

One foot in front of the other, slowly but slowly. The soles of my feet can't take the pounding anymore - I have to walk like an old man, steadying myself with my kongotsue just to reduce the impact force. What a sight I must have been to passersby: a foreigner henro, unshaven, limping along the side of a highway in the countryside of Japan.

Farther and farther. I stop for lunch at another Lawson's. I haven't seen any trail markers for six kilometers now, but my gut tells me I must be close. Another gaikokujin and his Japanese girlfriend bid me hello.

Five minutes is all it takes. I'm still stumbling, but I find some mysterious force fills my legs with one last bit of strength, one final chance to reach the 23rd temple under my own power.

My soul is soaring over my head, my arms beyond sensation; the suffering in my lower body keeps me grounded to this reality as I cross one final bridge, one last niomon...

Walking the pilgrimage in Tokushima-ken gives new meaning to the words otsu kare sama des.

The end of my journey







If I had one regret from this last day, it's that I didn't spend enough time in the sleepy little town of Hiwasa, where Yakuōji (薬王寺) resides.

A thin layer of mist was covering the area that morning, leading me to believe I could very well have been walking through the gates of Valhalla itself. Unfortunately, enlightenment (satori) is rarely as simple as a chance encounter of the right weather.

Temple 23 (Yakuōji 薬王寺) is a testiment to the area in which it resides. the red pagoda stands out above the trees for all of Hiwasa to see, almost as prominent as the castle on the opposite mountain.

The grounds are guaranteed to be full of henro as this temple is the last in the Tokushima-ken, in a port city, and 50 km from Temple 24 (Hotsumisakiji 最御崎寺) in Kochi-ken. Remember, if you choose to do the pilgrimage in stages you must always start from the last temple you visited; that's why traditional pilgrims finish the meguri not with #88 (Ōkuboji 大窪寺), but by completing the circle and returning to Ryōzenji( 霊山寺). Along this path you can see the henro trail through both fresh and experienced eyes; just like the circular trail you follow, so to should your understanding of yourself be complete. Some henro go back to Koyasan as well.

I'm setting my candle in the rōsokutate at the hondō when I catch a most curious sight - another foreigner aruite henro. Naturally we both stand out among the masses. She was restricted to walking during Golden Week as well, but had visited more of the Bangai temples than I had.



Unfortunately there wasn't time to recount out adventures as she was heading to the last Bangai temple in Tokushima prefecture and I was catching a train back to Hiroshima.

As I said, I should have waited until morning. Hiwasa has a lot to offer, and tired and beaten as I was, I should have partook.





Hiwasa Youth Hostel
Hiwasa Castle

If nothing else, the michi-no-eki a few blocks away from Temple 23 is quite the attraction - shopping areas, yakitori booths, gift shops, a foot onsen... there was even a clown entertaining children when I stopped by.



If you're looking for the best in relaxation, however, there is a full onsen right across the street.

Senba Hotel Onsen (千羽温泉)
徳島県海部郡日和佐町寺前
088-477-1277
Rotemburo (outdoor bath)
¥500


Getting Back
The trains in south Shikoku aren't exactly among the fastest JR designed - locals might run only once an hour or two, limited expresses less often than that.

It took me almost two hours to get to Tokushima Station from Hiwasa (though I had just missed the tokkyu by a few minutes).

From there, you can fly, swim, or ride the rails home.

...

In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself astray in a dark wood, where the straight road had been lost...

Dante's misadventures took him straight into the gates of Hell. Your road is forever astray, your spirit always wandering, as it is intended to be for the henro.

You set your own destination, keep your own pace, travel in the manner you choose. No one can tell you otherwise - I personally don't believe the journey will be as fulfilling for you if you travel by car, bus, or helicopter (yes, they do charter those), but it isn't my approval you should be seeking, or anyone else's for that matter.

Test your limits. Talk with other henro. Travel with Kobo Daishi. And, as always, let your life influence the world around you.

Gambatte, ohenro-san...


The most useful websites I found for the 88 temple pilgrimage

Shikoku Henro Trail - Dave Turkington
Shikoku Pilgrimage, A Brief Guide - Jeffrey Hackler
Kikusui Henro House (Japanese)
Henro Tracks
Shikoku Henro
Echoes of Incense
List of temples in Shikoku
Life in Tokushima

Pictures from my pilgrimage

Technorati Profile

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ikkoku Mairi (一国まいり): Breathing Free

Originally written May 4th, 2007

Once again, I have others to thank for the fact I have a mosquito-free place to rest my weary body tonight. The fact that such a place exists is a testament to the goodwill of the people of Shikoku, or maybe just my dumb luck. Even as I write, two Japanese henro are collaborating, comparing the best free places to sleep around Temples 23-88. Kamojima Onsen, Hashimoto's Bus, and of course, my present savior.

But why dwell on the present, when the past is infinitely more interesting?

I've been angry a lot these past two days (though not between Temples 10-12, if you can believe it). This was probably due to my mounting pain and the lack of an outdoorsy atmosphere (with some exceptions). I can also chalk up my attempt at reserving lodging at Temple 19 (Tatsueji 立江寺) to this list. I called in the morning as I was preparing to leave my ryokan near Temple 13. The woman on the other end asked me "ima doko des ka?" (where are you now?) I thought that was a rather unusual question, even though I told them I was a walking henro - if I want to travel to #19 today, that's my business. She would have none of it, and handed me off to another monk:

In Japanese
"Maybe you should stay at a ryokan near Temple 18."
"Please just make the reservation."

Again, what right do they have to decide what I am or am not capable of? I know they're just trying to be practical, but it was a little bit of a hassle just to book a needed room.

Despite this inconvenience, I still recommend temple lodging at least once. The food, accomodations, and conversations make your experience that much more worthwhile. Let yourself try all the different methods of lodging on the pilgrimage - temples, ryokan & minshuku, free lodging, nojuku (though I wouldn't recommend it with so many free places available). You'll find yourself exposed to a greater variety of henro doing the pilgrimage for different reasons - the purists, the tourists, the adventurers, and those seeking a temporary escape.

As you leave #19, take Highway 28 until you hit 22. This is an incredibly narrow and hazardous path, and there's no access road you can use - be careful. The scenery begins with rice fields, but gradually develops into a mountain view. Once that happens, prepare yourself - this is a long, steep climb, filled with steps and inclines (mostly wooden steps). You rise 470 meters in less than three kilometers. There aren't too many (and by that, I mean one) places to stop for lunch between Temples 19 and 20 - my best advice would be to give yourself an early lunch at Lawson when you hit Hwy 16, or pack a decent bento before you leave Temple 19.



As I was saying, the Niōmon to Temple 20 (Kakurinji 鶴林寺) is about 200 meters from the main grounds - if you want a picture, that's going to be your one shot, unless you're willing to go down and back up.

The grounds are especially small after such a hard climb. If you're looking for a bigger reward for your eyes, wait until Tairyūji (太竜寺). But, the architecture is unique - in addition to the images of Buddha and Kobo Daishi, there are some nice crane statues.






Take your time to rest here, but you'd better have brought your own drinks - there are no vending machines. You're about to follow it up with a strenuous downward slope the same intensity as your climb. You do go through some astonishingly beautiful places, especially as you cross the bridge: great view of the mountains (by the way, the vending machine there is the last one until #21). Then, right after you've gotten used to using your quadriceps, you start right back up again. This climb seems all the more painful because it's longer and more gradual. I know that sign said it was only 1.7 km, but it felt so much longer. I climbed. I climbed until my legs burned and my muscles pumped battery acid. And then I climbed some more.

I climbed through the city, through the mountains, through the ties that bind flesh to bone. And I am justly rewarded:







Temple 21 (Tairyūji 太竜寺) is huge, and simply amazing. It's enough of a tourist attraction to have a ropeway (ロ-プウエ) between the main temple and a outlining surburb. Ironically, this is the most convenient method of access - I might have given off the impression walking was difficult, and even if you drive through the turns and deadends, it's still a one kilometer walk uphill from the parking lot.

I must have been out of my mind to keep hiking at that point - both sides of my legs were in searing pain (not just sore), and I knew there wasn't much in the way of lodging offered between Temples 21 and 22. You can take the ropeway into the town, where they have a michi-no-eki (trail station), and a hotel. But this is in violation of the essence of an aruite henro. I trudged ahead... or downward, anyway.

The path downward is all the more difficult because you know what's coming after walking away from Kakurinji (鶴林寺). It's even worse - a concrete downgrade for nearly 4 km until reach two minshuku; these might not be bad places to stop for the night.

But, like I said, I'm insane. There's a henro rest stop when you hit Highway 195 that might be stocked with tea and snacks by the locals. The Miyazaki book shows a michi-no-eki with a place to sleep, but when I asked the woman at the station, she said henro could use the bathroom floor... yeah, I wasn't that desperate... yet.




It really is a scenic route the rest of the way to #22 (Byōdōji 平等寺). Although you do have a mountain in your path, it's a short climb. Before you know it, you're leaving the wooded area and walking past cow pastures, strawberry gardens, and acres of rice fields.

It's at this point (6:00 PM), that I realize the severity of my situation - I have no place to sleep, I can't go any farther (have to get my book stamped at #22), I'm hungry, and it will get cold tonight.

Fortunately for me I'm not just another random foreigner in a strange part of Japan. I am a henro, and with that title carries recognition and respect. A woman next to the temple recommended a good place for nojuku (sleeping outside). An oba-san (grandmother) speakes to me far too fast and friendly, but I manage to extrude some information about a better place. An old man walking his bicycle tells me in perfect English: "I found a free place for henro."

Three offers of assistance in less than 30 minutes. My desperation doesn't appear so hopeless after all. I am directed to a portable building, complete with futons, blankets, pillows, tables, running water, and storage. FREE. It might as well have been a miracle. What's surprising is this place wasn't mentioned on any map or website that I had read, yet it's clearly nicer than most places that offer free lodging - the owner is even installing a new full bathroom with shower. The term for a free place to spend the night is zenkonyado. Other places on the henro trail.





Map of free lodging (centered)
On the northwest corner of Hwy 35 and 284

I am at one with the universe, with nature, with this world of green and brown. 20 km left, two temples to visit. I wonder if this trip will change my perspective...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ikkoku Mairi (一国まいり): Behind the Veil

Originally written May 3rd, 2007

I say again - all logic and reason should conclude that I be dead. And yet, here I am, writing to the world. Buddhism is mysterious like that.

The trail from Temple 13 to 19 is mostly along crowded urban highways from Tokushima, even if you chose to take the path west of the city. It was probably the most boring day of travel I've had thus far, and the most uncoordinated.

If the henro trail from Temple 1 to Temple 10 is spoonfeeding you, then the trail from 13 to 19 is begging you for guidance - you can still find the Miyazaki marks and white henro cloth, but they are fewer in number.

Enjoy the rice fields and rubble-filled sidewalks between Temples 13 and 17, because you'll only be seeing city streets for the following 15 kilometers.

Temple 14 (Jōrakuji 常楽寺) is set apart from the housing areas right next to a school, but it's conveniently tucked away by a stone staircase access.



Temple 15 (Kokubunji 国分寺) is in the worst condition I've ever seen - there's a giant pit where one of the temples once stood, and a row of sheet metal shacks leading to the building where you can get your booked stamped. Hardly picturesque.





Temple 16 (Kan'onji 観音寺) is another in a residential area and, as such, is quite small.






It's hard to get lost in the 1.8 km between Temples 15 and 16, but I swear there were hardly any marks:

Miyzaki Sign


Also be on the lookout for strips of white cloth with kanji - another somewhat common marker

Miyazaki Sticker


Heisei stone markers


Kongo Katsuma marks - thanks to henro Kevin Seperic


"The majority of esoteric ritual implements derived from Indian weapons. A single-prong vajra has a grip in the middle and a point on either end, and its symbolic function is to conquer the passions. A katsuma is an esoteric religious implement made in the shape of two three-prong vajras placed together in the form of a cross. The katsuma, along with the eight-spoke cakra wheel, were both originally implements of warfare used when the opponent formed a tight mass of people. Because they are perceived as crushing everything below them as they roll, they represent the power to eliminate the passions. These implements themselves, unique to esoteric Buddhism and placed on the altar during religious ceremonies, must have created an aura of mystery for the people of the time."
The Shape of Mystery: Implements of Esoteric Buddhism
October 30 - December 24, 2001





Temple 17 (Idoji 井戸寺) is also deeply recessed between many rice fields - just remember to go directly to your left when you leave (alongside Hwy 30); you can head south and then east, but I'm not sure about that trail - it does keep you outside the main city and saves you 0.8 km going to Temple 18 (Onzanji 恩山寺), but it also cuts you off from convenience stores during lunch time; take your pick: through Tokushima or along the rural trail.





I will say when I passed through the city, I had never been more tempted to reduce the stress and catch a train - both Temples 18 and 19 are reasonably accessible by JR, and Tokushima-eki was a short walk away... so why didn't I? One reason: I'm stubborn. Second reason: I went on this journey in part for a big change in pace. I'm not going to appreciate this trip if I ride around in a car or on a train - the purpose is lost. Regardless of how much pain I feel, I know the tougher path is the right path. It's how we live - otherwise, everyone would stay inside, work from home, and sever all human contact.

Instead of dwelling on the pain, I start to take note of the few stone markers. The kanji is helpful. By knowing the number of each temple I pass, I can learn the kanji number on the next stone sign:

ichi
ni
san
shi
go
roku
shichi
hachi
kyu
ju

I also very quickly discover the meaning behind this island: shi-koku, 四国, four-"country". Four countries? Not quite, but four prefectures: Ehime, Tokushima, Kochi, Kagawa. Hence the expression "ikkoku mairi": doing the pilgrimage "one prefecture at a time."

Migi - right
Hidari - left.

Ju kyu ban fudasho e ikimas
"I'm going to Temple 19"

Since the trip from #17 to #18 is a veritable waste of sight, I'll tell you about a little social experiment I've been attempting. As any foreigner who speaks Japanese knows, a Japanese person will compliment you if you speak a single word:

Nihongo ga ojouzo des ne
"Your Japanese is excellent"

They seem to want to say this regardless of knowing your Japanese is terrible - just saying "domo" or a simple phrase can elicit such a response.

Therefore, anytime someone speaks to me in English on this trip, I will reply:

"Ooohh! Ego ga ojouzo des ne!"

A boy on a bicycle yelling "HELLO!": Ego ga ojouzo des ne.

A strange old man looking at me and asking "America?": Ego ga ojouzo des ne.

A housewife standing at the threshold of the temple, smiling, pointing, and saying "temple!": Ego ga ojouzo des ne.

My how the tables are turned. It's just meant to be a joke, but we'll see...

For the most part, however, the reactions I get from people are completely different. Dressed as a henro, I can be seen as someone:

- Who knows about Japanese culture
- Who probably knows Japanese
- Who is not a tourist

Take these things into account and the novelty of the foreigner is lost, replaced by the respect for the aruite henro (walking pilgrim). It's quite refreshing.

Temple 18 (Onzanji 恩山寺) is another tucked away in the mountains. There's not much else around except a few rice farms, and you can appreciate the solitude once again. Take some time to enjoy the sculptures at #18, and find the walking path to #19 just past the driving entrance.






The trail is considerably well-marked here, except for one Miyazaki sign that points you to go behind a shrine - just visit the shrine, but remember that the path remains on the road. The bamboo forests you're surrounded by are quite the attraction; they're so tall the sun can barely permeate the leaf enclosure to reach you.

In about 4 km you'll start seeing the signs for Temple 19 (Tatsueji 立江寺). This one really is quite nice - a fully-stocked henro store, a great temple, inside and out, and lodging is available. Evening services are offered at 5:00 PM, dinner to be served afterward about 6:00 PM. I had a great conversation with two Japanese "bus henro" about Buddhism.

Temple 19
Tatsueji (立江寺)
¥6000/night
088-537-1019








I'll leave you with one last bit of trivia: why do Buddhists leave food and drink around images of Kobo Daishi?



It is believed that Kobo Daishi is merely meditating, not dead.