Sign up for my Newsletter & Podcast!

History of the Aki Meguri: Prospectus

[It's September of 2019, 18 years after I set off on my 2001 "Autumn Journey." Here, as well as on the pages entitled "To Be a Pilgrim" and "Connected Japan," I am preserving for the third time the pages published before I began my sojourn. I have added brief explanations in these square brackets when appropriate.]

Click a link to "jump" down the page, or simply scroll down the page.

A Mission to the Gods

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

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.
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.
The Great Buddha at Nara
"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.
[I have since learned that most of these are part of the Buddhist precepts. The list on Dave's site has since been amended and expanded, at the bottom of this page.]

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

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. [Remember, this is historical!]

* * * * * * * *

[I wrote this on the pages' second incarnation in 2004 (this is the third). Much of it applies here, as well.]

This version of Aki Meguri has several differences from the original:

  • The old Aki Meguri homepage was written on the road, as it was happening. While I have tried here to keep that "you are there" feeling, I have also attempted to streamline the narrative a bit. For example, I often spent time writing about what I "hoped to do tomorrow"--and then explaining why it didn't happen. Most of these misfires have been removed.
  • Since that trip, I have had over three years of continued learning, including completion of the major coursework for a PhD in Buddhism. [And since then, I lived 11 years in China, chasing down temples there and learning even more about Buddhism.] My accounts of what I saw then have now been "enlightened" by what I have learned since. Not to mention the benefits of having the leisure to look things up from my home, instead of sitting on a mountaintop somewhere with a wireless internet connection!
  • The pages have been reorganized extensively. One notable example is the "Journal Entries" reflecting my thoughts and feelings about what I was seeing. They have now been incorporated into the "Logbook" entries for that day, instead of being on separate pages. [Actually, using the blog format, I have separated them out again. But i have moved other things--the "Words and Pictures" pages, and the Galleries--back into the mainstream as well.]
  • Also, the material pertinent only to the mechanics of my trip are here in this History section; the other three sections have both the background materials on their areas and the accounts of my experiences there.
  • Links have been added at the bottom of each Logbook entry to make it easier to navigate from one day to the next.
  • Brief summaries on the top pages of each section have been added, making it easier to find places and events. [Not anymore.]
  • Several separate indices, such as the "Words and Pictures" pages and the "Journal Entries" have been added. [See the Guide page for this version.]
  • Page layouts are slightly more sophisticated; picture are larger.
  • Wherever possible, old links to outside resources have been updated.

The Logbook

[This page described the Logbook that would record my journey. It remains the backbone of the Aki Meguri site.]

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 a list of Logbook entries, visit the blog, go to the Guide page, or click here to see all entries--though not necessarily in the proper order!]

A Sample Logbook 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 Temple #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 Hunters in a Rice Field
About 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 what the purpose of the journal entries would be. Since then, I have included the journal entries on the Logbook pages for the day they were written, simplifying the structure a bit. NOTE 2019--Not anymore! They are now separate blog posts.]

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--resurfacing 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 Guide for a list of Journal entries. Or see all the Journal posts here.

A Request for Support

[This page is the flip side of the "Mission" page, where I ask my friends for support in return for my prayers.]

Your Help is Requested

Begging Monk, Kyoto
When you approach the gods in Japan, whether the kami at a Shinto shrine or the Buddha at a temple, there is a series of actions that you usually follow to get the gods' attention. At a shrine, you clap your hands in front of the coin box. At a temple, you ring a bell over the coin box. But in both cases, before making noise, you throw a coin into the coin box. If you want the gods to hear you, pay in advance.

I will take your requests and thanksgivings to the gods whether you are able to help me or not. But the Bible says, "As you sew, so shall you reap." In more contemporary terms, "What goes around comes around." If you really want what you're asking for, or if you're really thankful, you will share not only in the benefits of my journey, but in its hardships as well.

That is, you'll give me money.

They say that the Lord helps those who help themselves. Well, maybe the Lord helps those who help me!

There are other ways to support me, of course, and many already have: helping me with translation, helping me promote my site, etc. Another way to help is to pray for me as I pray for you.

When the Edo-period Japanese appointed a lobbyist to the gods, they also paid his way, and did his work and cared for his family while he was on the road. I have no work or family to tend to, but I will have expenses. I will be unemployed and homeless for three months. Walking is free, but eating is not. There will be some lodging expenses (though I'll often sleep outside). And putting up my homepage daily will involve Internet and telephony expenses. Just camera batteries alone will soon add up!

How much should you give? Anything would be appreciated (and as I said even no contribution is perfectly acceptable). But as a guideline, I have set up three "circles" where your name can be listed (unless you specify that you wish to be anonymous). The three circles are:

  • The Kannon Circle: 3300 yen or $33.00 (US) or more, representing the 33 manifestations of Kannon, the god/goddess of mercy
  • The Tokaido Circle: 5300 yen or $53.00 (US) or more, representing the 53 post stations of the Tokaido
  • The Kobo Daishi Circle: 8800 yen or $88.00 (US) or more, representing the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage

Please tell me the amount you wish to contribute, and I will send you information on how to make a deposit to my bank account.

Business owners may also want to consider official sponsorship of my walk.

Check out my list of donors.

[Note: Due to the generosity of several amazing people, as you can see on the Donors page, I had to create another level, the "Aki Meguri Circle," for people who donated 17,400 yen or $174.00 (US) or more--the total of the other three circles combined!]

A Letter in English

[This is the text of an e-mail I sent to my English-speaking friends. I made an error, though: I sent it from my new (at the time) e-mail address, to large numbers. Many of my friends, especially in the U.S., failed to recognize it as anything except "junk mail," and so discarded it. They didn't know what I had done until much later! Much of this duplicates materials found in "A Mission to the Gods" and the Support above. It was also sent out in Japanese.]

* * * * * * * *

Dear Friends,
This letter contains two important bits of news, an offer, a request, and an invitation. Please read it thoughtfully.

NEWS ITEM #1: I'm leaving

I'm leaving my job (soon), and I'm leaving Japan (eventually). After 4-1/2 years of working for Aeon, I will be leaving the company on August 29th [2001]. It has been a great job, and I leave it reluctantly, but there are other things I want to try. I need to return to L.A. to do some of those things--at least for a while.

BUT I will stay in Japan until December. I'm planning to undertake a major project here. The rest of this letter centers around that project.

NEWS ITEM #2: A three-month pilgrimage

Since coming to Japan, I have wanted to take two long walks: one of about three weeks, following the route of the old Tokaido Highway from Tokyo to Kyoto; and the other of about six weeks, around the island of Shikoku to visit the 88 temples of Japan's oldest pilgrimage. And since one can walk from Kyoto to the Shikoku ferry in less than three weeks, I've decided to do it all in September, October, and November, in one long trip. Between the Tokaido and Shikoku portions, I have chosen to walk through the Yamato area, following old roads wherever possible. I will pass through Uji, Nara, Yoshino, and up to Mount Koya-some of the oldest and holiest places in Japan. Mount Koya, for example, is the final resting place of Kobo Daishi, Japan's most famous saint, and the man who--in legend, at least--founded the Shikoku pilgrimage. [Note: the Yamato portion was subsequently truncated into a few days of train rides, and the Shikoku portion was only about 50% on foot!]

THE OFFER: Your intentions

This leads me to the offer. In the old days--just as today--few people could get away for a pilgrimage that would take months. So, often, a village would get together into a sort of "mutual aid society" and appoint one member to go on the pilgrimage for the group. He (usually "he") would represent their requests at the shrines and temples along the way.
I would like to do this for you. If you will send me your intention, I will solemnly promise to present it:

  • 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.

What qualifies me to do this? Well, for one thing, I will be walking, which is a sort of offering of discipline. I will also be keeping the pilgrims' vows: I am already a vegetarian, and abstaining from sex won't be much of a problem. In addition, I will not drink alcohol during the trek, and I will be endeavoring to control my speech, by not lying, speaking ill of others, and so on.

What sort of intentions can you express? Traditionally there are two kinds. The first is a request. This is where you ask for something--a new job, success on an exam, a wife or husband, health for a loved one, a good school for your child-or non-personal things, such as an end to domestic violence, or for world peace, etc. The second type of intention is thanksgiving for any the above that have already happened, or just simply for the gift of life itself.

Please send me your intention by e-mail to [now defunct], and I will present it as faithfully as possible.

THE REQUEST: Your contributions

Let me be perfectly clear: I will present your intention whether you make a contribution or not.

But there is a kind of cosmic principle that says if you are serious about a request or thanksgiving, you will do something to show your sincerity. One thing you can do is to agree to express the intention YOURSELF for as many days as I do. Another would be to pray for me as I carry the intentions of many. And of course another would be to contribute financially to my trip.

Three months is a long time to be "unemployed"-and homeless! There will be lodging expenses (though I will sleep out as much as possible). I will also be putting up a homepage as I go along, so there will be Internet and telephony expenses. And a man's gotta eat! So your help would be appreciated.

The people in the old days understood this. The "mutual aid society" was truly mutual: the people who sent the man on the journey paid his way, and often pitched in to help his family while he was gone.

How much should you give? Anything would be appreciated (and as I said even no contribution is perfectly acceptable). But as a guideline, I have set up three "circles" where your name can be listed on my homepage (unless you specify that you wish to be anonymous). The three circles are:

  • The Kannon Circle: 3300 yen or $33.00 (US) or more, representing the 33 manifestations of Kannon, the god/goddess of mercy
  • The Tokaido Circle: 5300 yen or $53.00 (US) or more, representing the 53 post stations of the Tokaido
  • The Kobo Daishi Circle: 8800 yen or $88.00 (US) or more, representing the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage

Please tell me by e-mail the amount you wish to contribute, and I will send you information on how to make your deposit or deliver your donation.


Finally: If you are in the Tokyo area on Sunday, September 2, please come to my send-off party at 1 p.m. in Minami Nippori Park (send for directions). My friends will shave my head, I will don my walking clothes, and I will have my last drink before I hit the road. On September 4th--a lucky day in the Japanese calendar--I will set off from Nihombashi in Tokyo. [As it turned out, it was September 5th--lucky or not!]

If you are in the States in December, I will be having a homecoming party in Los Angeles in December. Stay in touch for details.


  • Send your intentions by e-mail to
  • Let me know if you plan to make a contribution at the same address
  • Come to the party if you can!
  • Check my website frequently: [again, defunct]

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and please keep me in your thoughts.



A Letter in Japanese

[This is the text of an e-mail I sent to my Japanese-speaking friends. I made an error, though: I sent it from my new (at the time) e-mail address, to large numbers. Many of my friends, especially in the U.S., failed to recognize it as anything except "junk mail," and so discarded it. They didn't know what I had done until much later! It was also a mistake to send it in Japanese without a warning: it was translated by my dear friend Reiko, and many readers, assuming I had written it, answered in Japanese as well! I had to have their responses translated.]

* * * * * * * *






















  • 観音サ-クル:3300円以上、または33米ドル以上。これは慈悲の神様である観音の33の変化を象徴したものです。
  • 東海道サークル:5300円以上、または53米ドル以上。これは東海道五十三次を象徴したものです。
  • 弘法大師サークル:8800円以上、または88米ドル以上。これは四国巡礼の88のお寺を象徴したものです。












A Request for Corporate Sponsorship

[NOTE: This information was posted before my journey began. Sponsorships are no longer available; this page remains for "historic" purposes only.]

Crisscross KK, publishers of Japan Today and Metropolis (formerly Tokyo Classified), offered promotional support and guidance beyond all expectations.

Business Owners: This walk has been sponsored in part by Crisscross KK, publishers of Japan Today and Metropolis (formerly Tokyo Classified). Japan Today is Japan's #1 online English news source, with over two million readers this year--and 1.3 million page views a month! Metropolis is Japan's #1 English magazine, with a guaranteed circulation of 35,000 copies every week.

And Crisscross KK, this media Little Giant, will be helping me to promote this web page.

By sponsoring this walk, you can participate in an exciting adventure. But you can also participate in some of the PR surrounding it.

As a Sponsor, you will receive the following courtesies:

  • A listing on this Sponsors page, with a link to your homepage
  • High-profile reminders to "Visit the Sponsor's' Page" throughout my site
  • Appropriate mention within the text of the Logbook, wherever possible, with a link to the sponsors page

A Tribute to the Many Donors

[These are the amazing responses to my call for support. They represent an incredible amount of love that continues to flow between me and many of the people listed here, even three years later. NOTE 2019: And some even to this day, thanks especially to FaceBook!]

This walk would be impossible without the help of my friends. The names of many of them are listed here (alphabetically). Please forgive me if I've forgotten anyone!

For "intangible" help, in the form of translation, information, inspiration, and encouragement:

  • Mr. Garret Baquet
  • Mr. Stuart Bowie
  • Mr. Mark Devlin
  • Ms. Yumi Ebisawa
  • Ms. Reiko Nagae Foster
  • Mr. Takeshi Kamimura
  • Ms. Shie Kinoshita
  • Mr. Simeon McNeill
  • Ms. Yuka Takemura and Mr. Thomas Allan

For financial help at the following levels:

Special Mention

I have been surprised and pleased by the many gifts I have received.

Three especially stand out as being much higher than could be contained in any category:

  • Mr. Kiyoshi Aki, CEO and Chairman, Aeon Corporation, Japan
  • Mr. Kiyotada Umezawa
  • Mr. and Mr. Robert Urich and Family

The Kannon Circle

Contributions of 3,300 yen or $33.00 (US) or more, representing the 33 manifestations of Kannon, the god/goddess of mercy

  • Ms. Adele Baquet
  • Mr. Paul Campo
  • Mr. Hideki Hiyamuta
  • Mr. Hideki Kitagawa
  • Mr. Kazutoshi Kubo
  • Ms. Marie Mason
  • Ms. Naoko Mine
  • Mr. and Mrs. Takabumi and Michiko Miyabayashi
  • Mr. Toshio Nagai
  • Ms. Miyuki Namiki
  • Ms. Megumi Nishikibe
  • Dr. Kazuaki Ono
  • Mr. Adam Podell
  • Ms. Megan Potter
  • Mr. John Statler
  • Mr. Landon P. Thorpe
  • Mr. Hisaaki Uchibayashi
  • Ms. Nobuko Yamazaki

The Tokaido Circle

Contributions of 5,300 yen or $53.00 (US) or more, representing the 53 post stations of the Tokaido

  • Mr. Thomas Allan and Ms. Yuka Takemura
  • Ms. Tressie Armstrong
  • Ms. Kirsten Bell
  • Mr. Yoichi Ehara+
  • Mr. Masaya and Ms. Mayumi Fujimoto
  • Ms. Chiho Fukuda
  • Ms. Carol Hirayama
  • Mr. Takeshi Kamimura
  • Ms. Erina Koike
  • Mr. Eric Leins+
  • Mr. Antonio Macias
  • Mr. Alec Markin
  • Kenji, Yoko (Sano) and Ryunosuke Miyoshi
  • Mr. Yoshihiko Nakakoji
  • Ms. Mari Numanami
  • Ms. Atsuko (Omura) and Mr. Shin Ito
  • Ms. Satomi Terasaki
  • Mr. Nobuhisa Tsukada
  • The Rev. S. Mortimer Ward
  • Mr. Makoto Yamaguchi, Ms. Eriko Uchiyama, and the BABY!
  • Ms. Mari Yoshitomi

The Kobo Daishi Circle

Contributions of 8,800 yen or $88.00 (US) or more, representing the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage

  • Mr. Rich Brewer+
  • Mr. Ron and Ms. Reiko Nagae Foster+
  • Mr. Yoshimori Hayashida
  • Mr. Takuya Iida+
  • Mr. Tetsuo and Ms. Tomoko Inoue
  • Ms. Tamako Konda
  • Mr. Michael and Ms. Dawn Kowalski
  • Ms. Sachie Maruyama
  • Mr. and Mrs. Yoshikazu Miyake+
  • Ms. Junko Moriyama+
  • Mr. Akihiko Murakami+
  • Ms. Yumi Oda
  • Ms. Keiko Saito+
  • Ms. Masumi Sato+
  • Ms. Sae Shintani
  • Ms. Mary Ann Statler and family
  • Mr. Tatsuo and Ms. Apple Tomeoka
  • Ms. Chika Toyama
  • Ms. Etsuko Tsugihara+
  • Mr. Akihiko Ui+
  • Ms. Atsuko Y.
  • Ms. Naomi Yoshida
  • Smoochy+

The Aki Meguri Circle

Contributions of 17,400 yen or $174.00 (US) or more, one gift for each of the three other circles

  • Mr. Stuart Bowie
  • Mr. Yasuo Ito+
  • Mr. Haruo Isonuma+
  • The Sakuma Family+
  • Mr. Taro Yukimura

Other gifts

  • Mr. George Carvalho
  • Ms. Junko Himuro
  • Ms. Rie Kimura
  • Ms. Miwa Matsubara

I would also like to tell you about a very special gift. My dear friend Mikako Saito does beautiful shodo (Japanese calligraphy). She has written out one of the most important prayers in Japanese Buddhism, the Hannya Shingyo or "Heart Sutra." It is meant to be used as an omamori, a kind of amulet or lucky charm to be carried on one's person. I will carry it, and treasure it.

The "+" designates gifts well above the minimum for that category.

[Well, that's all from the "Prospectus." Next--if you're up for it--is the history section entitled "To Be a Pilgrim."]

Updated September 16, 2019

No comments:

Post a Comment