I am always very interested to read about the experiences of Ohenro on the 88 Buddhist Temple Pilgrimage of Shikoku. Some of the tales are very unique and interesting, often full of heart-felt encounters with meeting the people of Shikoku, experiencing hospitality, enduring hardship, and somehow coming through the journey changed, refreshed, relieved.
For a lot of people, coming to Shikoku and walking in the footsteps of Kukai is a dream. They plan for it for years, they research, they read, they get data on what times and seasons to go in, they make plans in their home towns to be away for several weeks to chase this dream. Then they go and purchase hiking gear, hiking boots, an excellent backpack, they prep their cell phone, they shell out a lot of money to get their luggage ready to go.
They buy airplane tickets. They pay to have their passport renewed if needed. They pull money out of their pockets for all kinds of things to get to Shikoku. Then they arrive. Ready to go.
Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, eager to get cracking out on the road. They walk to the temple grounds and go on inside. For free. They stay as long as they like, for free. They often are permitted to photograph all around the temple, for free. Maybe they buy Ohenro robes, or a stamp book, or candles to light, but for the most part, access to the temples and having this incredibly rich and unique cultural experience is completely free.
One thing that may be of interest to know is that the temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage are not supported by tax money in Japan. The monks and staff who work in these temples are not “in it for the money”. They have duties and obligations to fulfill. They have chosen a way of life that is pretty hard, and can be pretty difficult in lean times.
I have read a few very callous and hard-to-listen-to complaints by foreign Ohenro that they “have to pay” to come into the grounds because there are boxes to collect coins in front of the temples. One particular complaint by a bicycling Ohenro was that the pilgrimage, to him, seemed to be a “pay to pray rip-off”. That one was particularly vulgar as he likely sped away in his flashy Gortex shorts and 2,000 dollar bicycle. Perhaps he was on his way to find a public park to sleep in so he wouldn’t be “ripped off” by people who run local inns and hotels. Such a burden to be in Shikoku, having the Ohenro experience in Japan. It must be so hard…
It just seems strange to me that people would travel so far to Shikoku, spend a considerable amount of energy and money on preparing their gear and airfare, just to arrive and carp about paying a few coins at a temple, or staying at a local inn (which is about $30 to $40 dollars a night –a total steal by Canadian standards anyway). I’m no expert on Japanese customs but it seems a bit ignorant to me to come all this way to have a very unique and significant Japanese experience and then write on a blog about how much money you spent on vending machines because you were thirsty. We have heard from unhappy monks who have had to clean up the debris of people dropping their empty bottles and cans in their temples because visitors couldn’t be bothered to carry out their trash. They don’t blog about it.
It is all very small-minded I feel. And there seems to be a real imbalance in this equation.
Traveling anywhere will cost money. Going to most events, concerts, festivals, fairs, exhibitions, demonstrations, galleries, museums, and anywhere to eat or drink something will cost money. Maybe that seems so terrible, the fact that things and experiences cost money. Maybe you feel that a “true Ohenro” eschews all money-related things and should be able to walk for six weeks on air, free water, and be granted “osettai” by people who are lucky enough to encounter you on the trail.
Perhaps I digress, but let’s take a few moments here to do a comparative analysis of the costs of things that we enjoy in the Western world, and activities and events that tourists to our countries can expect to pay.
To go to the Louvre, you will pay 11 Euros. The Santa Barbara Zoo is 18 dollars, The boat to the Statue of Liberty is 12 dollars. The Musse d’Orsay is 14 Euros. Disney Land California is a whopping 97 dollars, and that is on “value day”. Ozzy Osbourne concerts are, on average 215 dollars. Justin Bieber (saints preserve us) is 33 dollars. Ozzy is still a better deal. Celine Dion, whose heart will go on, will require 310 dollars. Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is 47 dollars. Janet Jackson is 90 dollars, and that is for the cheap seats. Watching a brutal UFC competition will cost 154 dollars. And access to the Jasper National Park, which I love completely, is $9.80 a day. The wardens come by and check your pass carefully to make sure you didn’t sneak in.
Those are the costs. And we pay them, without complaint, just as we should.
Also consider how much you pay for a meal in a cafe or restaurant in the West compared to the incredibly low price of a lot of better, and healthier, food you enjoy eating out with here in Japan. Without tipping…
So, when you are considering your experience in Shikoku as a vacation where you think its okay to sleep in a public park, or in a cemetery (good Lord…), or in a convenience store toilet, and complain that people think its a good idea for you to drop a little money at the fantastically unique and deeply culturally and spiritually significant temples you have traveled so far to see, maybe a rethink might be in order.
By all means, DO come to Shikoku. DO come to Kagawa. DO have the experience of a lifetime. But also do plan your trip well, do walk safely, do book hotels and inns to stay at, do enjoy the local cuisine and the people who you meet. Do keep your cool. Do plan so that you can show your appreciation and patronage of the place and people who have created this unique and special experience. We know that the Shikoku Pilgrimage, in terms of value, is much greater than so many things we see in pop culture, or the usual forms of vacationing and entertainment we are familiar with. So, yes, I think you should pay a little more than what you may think is okay.
This topic may be a hot one for some Ohenro out there. If you feel I have erred in my assessment, please let me know. Let’s talk this out if we need to.
In the meantime, travel safe and travel well.