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History of the Aki Meguri: To Be a Pilgrim

[NOTE 2019: I have considerably revised the arrangement of these pages, for enhanced coherence.]

This page leads to explanations of some of the mechanics of my 2001 pilgrimage, and shows my Henro no Michi ("Pilgrim's Path).

First, a map of the entire course:

This map was created by patching together several maps found at Japan Information Network's KIDS WEB JAPAN site.

The map shows--from left to right--a part of Kyushu, all of Shikoku, and a part of Honshu.  However, I will be traveling from right to left: starting in Tokyo, and ending on Shikoku.  The prefectures I'll walk through are colored in; the rest is shown merely in outline.

Here are introductions to each of the three "legs" of my journey, as well as tables showing the ideal distances for that leg and the names of the places along the way. Finally, more tables that record my progress, and the places I prayed each day. There is one page each for:
(You'll find information on how I prayed here.)


Finally, here is a little discussion of o-settai, the custom of giving gifts to pilgrims.

The first rule of the pilgrim: Never turn down a free lunch.

As flip as this sounds, it is in fact true that the pilgrim in Japan is required to accept virtually all offerings. Although I won't be eating flesh (as usual) or drinking alcohol (a novelty), if people hand me these items, I must accept them. I can then either (a) pass them on to another pilgrim, or (b) place them before a statue as an offering.

I am allowed to turn these things down at the table, and when I'm a walking "henro" I can turn down rides.

I have completed one of Japan's most extensive pilgrimages--100 temples. It's in three parts: 33 in the Kansai area, 33 in the Kanto area around Tokyo, and 34 in Chichibu, a mountain valley near Tokyo. The first two I did by public transportation; the last one, I walked (about 60 miles). These pilgrimages are dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy [2019: Actually, "Bodhisattva of Compassion"]--China's Kwan Yin.  [More about these pilgrimages will be found starting at The Temple Guy's main Guide page.]

Along the route of the "Nihon Hyakku Kannon" (Japan Hundred Kannon) pilgrimage, I have received everything from "baby bamboo" fresh from the ground, with dirt still clinging to the roots (I gave it to the old woman at the temple where I was staying, as I had no means of cooking it) to a sweat cloth for my face imprinted with an ink drawing of the temple where I received it. Near-frozen tomatoes on a hot day, hot tea in winter, brush calligraphy done especially for me, countless cups of cold water--and all this without begging! I mention this because the old pilgrim rules require begging. Some say you must make 64 requests per day, as a humbling experience.

The modern Japanese use a word, "o-settai," to indicate business entertaining. "I went out with my client last night for o-settai." Funnily enough, even some of my students who are older and interested in religion don't realize that the origin of the word is related to pilgrimage: "o-settai" was any gift given to a pilgrim, including everything from lodging to cash, and gained merit for the giver. Funny how things change.

Updated September 23, 2019

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