Belief 101


Journal Entry - Dec 03, 2005

I don’t believe in myself.

I first became conscious of this a few years ago when I had nowhere to live for 9 months except my office. I slept under my desk at an angle to avoid the security guards flashlight through my reception window and had to sprint down the hall in my pyjamas and lock the women’s bathroom door to take a shower.
I wrote There is nothing more disheartening than to not believe in something and soul destroying when that something is you.

The last time I needed to believe in myself was when I left my family. I’d had a long history of suicidal depression and knew I had to leave (and sort myself out) or I would die.

When we were on holiday in the
South Island, on the last day, in Nelson, I announced that I was going to do something I’d wanted to do ever since I was 6 years old.  
A skydive. 
I was nervous when I made the phone call but everything from that moment felt like a dream. It felt so good and right that even after I was back on ground I floated for weeks.
Upon reflection, it occurred to me that not everyone could do what I’d just done, so maybe I could do, well, anything!
Not long after we returned, I moved out of the family home.
My (ex) husband wrote in a card I would rather have an alive best friend than a dead wife and let me go gracefully but not everyone was so understanding and I was ostracised from all our friends and the groups I belonged to for leaving my children.

Back then there seemed to be a lot of good reasons for doubt in myself.

Now there are none.
I’ve overcome drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, depression, an obsessive compulsive disorder and potential bankruptcy, all on my own and now I am mentally, emotionally and financially sound, and spiritually strong.

So now feels like the right time to start the Belief Assignment, therefore, I've taken a Kong sized leap of faith and paid for tickets to Japan next year.
On the 28th of April, I fly to Japan and start a two month, 88 temple, 1200km pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku.
By myself.
When I told my boss about it he said “It sounds like it might be one of the most important things you ever do in your life, so take whatever time you need to finish it”.

The support and encouragement I have received so far is overwhelming and I started secretly fantasising that I might even be able to do it - which stopped abruptly tonight when I worked out my budget.
Let’s just say I will have only slightly more Yen than sense...

The Saint...

So I saved all the money I could, a few friends and family gave me contributions and off I set.

In the week before I left I kept thinking 'What the feck have I got myself into?' The reality of walking 1200 kms, by myself, in a foreign country hit home with a whumpf - you know that falling feeling in dreams?

My brother, whom I will always think of as The Saint, came with me to Christchurch 10 days before I left and paid for me to have Lasik Eye Surgery.

It really is a miracle procedure. Not only was it painless but I could see even as I got off the operating table and could only wonder at why I didn't get it done sooner.
Of course I knew why I didn't get it done sooner! Fear of having my eyeballs sliced and scraped by a strange man in a green paper suit.

Now I say to anyone who shows interest - You haven't got a moment to lose!

The Saint and my New Eyes the day after the transformation...

So my new eyes and I set off for our big adventure.

It was exciting until I got to Tokyo Train Station - then I felt like I hit a brick wall. At least in a country like Finland one can make out letters. In Japan everything is intelligible hieroglyphics!! I couldn't even work out where the bathrooms were, so, can you imagine me trying to get an any-vehicle-will-do ticket to Osaka?
Let’s just say on the third day I got a paralysing case of Culture Shock and I couldn't remember seeing that particular clause in my travel insurance. Luckily I had another form of insurance - contact with my family and friends. Through their texts and emails, I was able to stumble through the confusion and carry on.
From there things got manageable. I still got frustrated but only 10 times a day instead of a minute. I tried out different demographics to see who were the most probable English speakers and got slicker at getting help...
Writing this account might be the (second) most ludicrous thing I've ever done and I am sure to be misunderstood, misquoted or sued, so, even though there are many fantastic websites and blogs and books dedicated to the Pilgrimage, I felt it would be wrong of me not to share my experiences too,

But then, if I had read this, I might not have set off at all...

Pounamu (given to me by my dear friend Mike)
Pikoura - Friendship and Co-operation. Working together. Growth.
The harmonius interweaving of lives in family, relationships, and friendship.

Reassurance from One Who Knows

April 9

-----Original Message-----

From: Eleanor Lefever
Sent: Sunday, April 09, 2006 12:50 AM
To: Dave Turkington (Shikoku Henro
Subject: Shikoku Pilgrimage

Greetings from New Zealand.
You must have almost finished your 2006 endeavour by now!
I am about to leave for Japan in 19 days to do the pilgrimage - its such a shame I won't be able to meet up with you - I imagine by then you will be having a well earned rest at home.

I have read numerous sites and pages on the pilgrimage but started to feel overwhelmed.
I decided to do the best I could with preparation and just let the rest unfold.

If you could give a naive probably-not-nearly-prepared-enough pilgrim one piece of advice before she leaves home - what would it be?

I look forward to reading your updated entries on your site...
Warmest regards

----- Original Message -----
From: Dave Turkington
To: Eleanor Lefever
Sent: Thursday, April 20, 2006 1:58 PM
Subject: RE: Shikoku Pilgrimage

Good to hear from you. Thanks for the message. Yes, i am now back home.

Once piece of advice? Hmmmm....... I think it would have to be two pieces.

1) Being unprepared means absolutely nothing. You are taking the best approach in my opinion - prepare the best you can and simply not worrying about what might happen after that. This is by far the best way to approach the walk. Let each minute, hour, kilometer, day, and week simply unfold as they happen.

2) Very much related to number 1 is to not go into this with many expectations. Live each encounter fully and enjoy everything and everyone you meet to the best of your ability. I found that the true pilgrimage is not related to the temples at all. The real heart of this trip is what happens to you as you walk the trail between the temples. Unfortunately i am stupid and heard headed so didn't learn this until after my first walk. This second time around is much, much more enjoyable and meaningful because i do see that now.

Enjoy yourself. Have a good time. Ignore the walking on concrete and cement. Ignore the rain. Ignore the traffic. Ignore the blisters. Greet everyone you see. Make thousands of friends.

I'd love to hear from you when you get back home.


-----Original Message-----
From: Eleanor Lefever
Sent: Sunday, April 20, 2006 7:53 PM
To: Dave Turkington
Subject: Shikoku Pilgrimage

Oh Dave!
I don't know what I expected you to write but this is perfect and confirms what I had already decided. Upon training, I realised that it wasn't how far I went each day or how many hills I did, it was being able to put one step right after the last one - the mental aspect of walking - so I stopped using my pedometer and relaxed.
Thank you so much for your reply, and so soon after returning yourself.
I will certainly keep in touch.
Warmest regards and thanks again...

Regrets I Have

Travel start eve - April 28

1: That I didn't go to the doctor the minute I got a strep throat last week

Now it's the morning of the first day of travel. I'm coughing so much I've given up on sleep. My chest cavity feels like an Antique Nut Cracker and my throat feels like a funny bone.
Each day I hope for signs that I've turned a corner but the only corner is the one I've backed myself into and the window for seeing my own doctor has shut.
The worst though, is not how it is for me, but how irritating I am to be around. Over the next 15 hours I'm going to be surrounded by people who'll be forced to endure my cough and germs and I won't know how to say 'Please put me out of our misery' in Japanese.

2: That I didn't do more in depth research into what things cost

I have no idea whether a train trip is going to cost me ¥1,000 or ¥10,000. I don't know how much food or accomodation costs. I researched it so long ago I've forgotten.
I have a meagre budget of ¥32,000 per week - roughly ¥5,000 ($75 NZD) per day. I seem to remember that a modest room in backpacker style alone is around that much. I had been looking forward to eating food at some stage.

3: That I didn't buy the very shoes I'm wearing 3 months ago when I first tried them on

I have blisters already. The shoes are miles away from being broken in, from even being comfortable. My boss shared his 'number 8 wire' tramping trick of using Gaffer Tape on rubbed places to prevent blisters.
I'm counting on this working.

4: That I didn't make better use of the time I had in the last month

This past week I've been getting to bed no sooner than 2am then getting little sleep because of coughing. As I write this I'm constantly faint.
Although my four jobs are up to date, I've left only crutches at three of them without the instructions how to use them. I'll walk back into chaos and no-one will be accountable but me...

What I Got Right

Travel start eve cont - April 28

1: Having the courage to do a high dive by braille out of my comfort zone

2: Getting a mobile phone that was patented by James Bond

3: Keeping everyone more informed and organised than a concertina file

4: Not sparing expense with gear. A week ago I had enough for a day trip to the Wellington Zoo. Thanks to The Saint, I'm as fully equipped as my limited knowledge could anticipate

5: Seeing there were no Temples or Deities dedicated to either Abba or Trance therefore halving the contents of my backpack

6: Going to bed at 2am each morning in order to have a clear conscience

7: Stocking up on generous and caring friends and family

8: Having my health checked on long before I was ready to leave. My iron levels (and energy) have improved immeasurably and I'm reasonably fit. Didn't need teeth work - didn't need injections - didn't need tracking device implanted.

9: Getting all of my business affairs aligned. ie: New passport, license, bank card. And paying all bills three months in advance so I'll still have a months grace when I get back

10: Not giving up hope or faith, at any time over the past six months, that I'm meant to be doing this for reasons more profound than I'm consciously aware of

Steven McGregor to EL:

Go girl, a big(ger) adventure has started. And also a constant stream of minutes each of which you'll remember for the rest of your life, that have real meaning - unlike the forgetful minutes and hours we will continue to sleepwalk through.

Navigating my way out of the country


April 28

I only managed to get on the first plane through a constant stream of synchronicity - some would say miracles.
It started from when my boss, dear friend and crucially, rampant traveler, Richard told me to confirm my bookings. Even though it was typed as clearly as a neon EXIT sign on the top of my itinerary, I hadn't seen it.

Then, at the airport, Virginia pointed out that my plane had final boarding RIGHT NOW! There were no departure calls.
When did they stop having departure calls?
If they had got together at that point, I feel confident a scene from a movie would have followed where they casually swap affectionate stories – Richard having to remind me to confirm my bookings and Virginia having to point out my final departure. A zoom in would show their eyes suddenly bulging at the same time as they realise that there was a serious risk of E never coming back then both sprinting down the departure lounge yelling 'STOP - that woman shouldn't have been allowed to leave her bedroom!!'

I still suspect Customs were tipped off because they couldn’t seem to get rid of me quick enough and I was in Papeete before I had even worked out where to plug in the headphones.

My 5 planets in Virgo will never accept that sniffing's OK!

April 28 cont

I was one of about 5 gaijin (foreigners) on the connecting flight from Papeete to Japan - all the rest were young Japanese couples.

Watching the interactions was insightful.

Everyone was extremely quiet - couples whispering discretely to each other. No raised voices or laughter.

All the couples seemed to have a 'best friends' kind of body language. The men seemed to be very attentive and engaged in their partners, but then, I didn't know what kind of 'holiday' they'd just had (wink wink).

There was no cross interaction, however, with fellow travellers. Maybe they'd just spent 2 weeks all on the same package deal and couldn't stand each other - I'd been there before.

And I noticed numerous people sniffing - loud and often. I thought it might have been the altitude and stale cabin air because I was needing to blow my nose often too.

Later when I was studying the Lonely Planet - I read that it was socially unacceptable to blow ones nose in public - that it was preferable to sniff until being able to go to the bathroom...

Escaping Narita

April 29

NTS (note to self): Airlines give out life savingly useful items such as circulation cutting polyester socks and blankets but not sanity preserving essentials like TOOTHPASTE or TOOTHBRUSH!! Don't forget to pack for return flight!

At customs, the man didn't like the answer 'Pilgrimage' I gave to the question "What is the reason for your visit to Japan?".
He also didn't like my cell phone number and gruffly told me to change the form - over there.
Luckily I had Chiharu's sister, Naomi's, Tokyo cell phone number.
Upon returning and nervously showing him the altered form, he said cheerfully "Oh - that's nice!" taking his hand away from the holster on his belt to wave me through.

Luckily a lovely bear of a Kiwi guy and his Japanese wife, Sue, helped me navigate the remainder of customs. A GPS tracking device would have been the only other way to escape the Narita warren.
Sue then helped me get a bus into Tokyo.

It was amusing to watch her and the ticket girl talk animatedly for 5 minutes, with much pointing at brochures and 'ahsoing' then, with my vague look of '...and?' Sue would say something like 'Oh - that's ¥500'.
Then at the end of it all, when I had my ticket and platform number, the girl said goodbye (to Sue) in perfect English.

While waiting for the bus, I slipped into the bathroom and had a quick clean-up in the Wheelchair/Mothers toilet. Worked wonders for my state of mind, but I realised that the time it took and the strange noises I made - and lets not forget being a Gaijin with a number one haircut when I finally did come out - weren't going to make me a lot of friends that week.

"You are asked not to use portable phones on the bus as they annoy the neighbours".

Within 5 minutes of leaving the bus depot, I noticed that every second car was called Cedric. Whoever Cedric was, I hoped he was paying a tax for all the smog his name was creating.
I hadn't seen this amount of smog since Paris.

For someone who had the attention span of a jandal, I was ecstatic to find Japan stimulation heaven...

Tokyo Train Station Stimuli

April 29 cont...

I got off the bus, put on the pack for first time and was instantly mortified as I swayed before getting my balance.

I could see the Tokyo Train Station (it was the size of a notsosmall city) but didn't know how to get across the 32 lane street to get to it. With a look that told me I wasn't the first to ask, the girl in the convenience store blandly pointed to the Underground that I had stepped over to get in the front door of the store.

I got to the train station to find a maze of row after row of sterile tiled floors and shops.

I finally asked an attendant where I could find a place to get bus tickets - he seemed to find pleasure (more because he didn't have to walk far to show me, than a passive-aggressive power-trip) in pointing at the line right beside me.
I paid for an overnight trip to Osaka. It was going to be dark so I wasn't going to regret not seeing the countryside (which I was about to see more than enough of anyway) and I could sleep, saving money on accommodation.

When I had paid, I stood in bewilderment again. I felt like I was surrounded by a transparent brick wall - nothing made sense - no-one made sense and I literally froze. I forced myself to start walking and set off in a direction (they all looked the same).

I saw a bank of lockers and remembered reading about them in the Lonely Planet.
I found one the size of a caravan which was perfect for my pack, changed a note and shoved the change in the slot - quietly pleased with myself (of course I had to stand back discretely to watch how others did it first, keeping my hands out where everyone could see them so they didn't get nervous).

What a release!
How the feck was I going to lug that thing around for the next two months!!
I seriously considered inquiring whether they had Sherpa's in Japan.

Getting Connected

April 29 cont...

Busting! Asked directions to bathroom - right in front of me.

No mobile phone reception! Asked directions to Vodafone store - 2 stores down.

All bad news at Vodafone.
Hara San did everything she could to get phone connected but couldn't. We tried to ring her New Zealand contact number but got the opposition, Telecom!
I burst into tears. The money The Saint paid and the trouble my boss went to to help me get global roaming - all a waste. I decided to go back to my locker to get the contact number I had on my contract.

As soon as I put my key in, the counter zeroed so I had to pay another ¥400 once I got the Vodafone paperwork out.
Not gonna cry!
Not gonna have a tantrum!
Want to go home right now!

I took a deep breath then went back to the shop. We rang Vodafone New Zealand (with Hara San hurriedly updating her contact list) and I talked to HT (that was her name). She then talked to a nervous Hara San. HT said the contract hadn't been completed properly - which she was going to do right then - and that I would be connected in five minutes.

Hara San and I counted down those minutes then I encouraged her to do the honours. She was really nervous - and then jubilant when it worked. It was worth all the stress just to see the look of satisfaction and joy on her face.

Seating Arrangements

April 29 cont

Nowhere in Tokyo station could I find somewhere to sit (much less lie) down so I went to a faceless cafe. Luckily the plastic displays reminded me a bit too graphically of Cheech and Chongs 'Dogshit' so I saved a modest mortgage on food.

Finally I found some odd seats, in the far corner of the station, consisting of two padded poles. They were so high off the ground, everyone was swinging their legs. Was this to discourage loitering? The people standing around looked a bit too eager for one of the sitters to unsit, and I didn't have faith that the 3 seconds of Tai Chi I could remember was going to fend off any of them if I jumped the queue, so I went back to what I had a blank belt in - Mindless Wandering...


EL to Steven:

Tokyo could cause an addiction to Constant Stimulation! Dichotomies like being able to smoke inside but not outside, a distinguished looking older gentleman being escorted forcefully by 4 Police. The only seating at train station are two vinyl covered poles running horizontally-one behind back, the other under legs and about a metre off the ground-almost need a leg up! Sculptures everywhere and such aesthetic streets. Wish you could see it all!

Steven to EL:

So Tokyo is kinda like Palmerston North, or maybe Stratford?

Church of The Latter Day Starbucks

April 29 cont...

I was surprised to come across a fantastic art exhibition. I talked to the artist, Ken, who was 57 and had clearly been having a nana nap.

He put his jacket on, straightened himself up then told me what some of the themes meant in his work.
After aisles and rows and lanes of eateries and department stores, he was a pleasant, somewhat entertaining, island.

I suddenly felt like Alice in Wonderland getting to big for the room and had to get out onto a street. Even though some of the streets had that toxic combustable-egg stench, like the canals in Venice when they get blocked off for maintenance - that smell, and smog, were still preferable to the underground recycled air.

It was cooler, fresher and drizzling slightly as I wandered around, up and down alleyways and streets.

Seeing Starbucks suddenly in front of me was like seeing the welcoming open doors of a church on a rainy night, and through an admirable feat of restraint, I managed not to sprint through its doors, throwing my arms out shouting 'HALLELUJAH - PRAISE THE BARISTA!'.
I couldn't restrain myself any longer, however, when I saw the Honey Dispenser (I'm sure I embarass everyone at home with my insistence on having honey instead of sugar with my Soy Latte), and gushed severely all over the poor person who was trying to clean up that area. I could tell I was frightening her so I hurriedly apologised and sat down quietly to my coffee and started writing.

The Honey Dispenser in Starbucks now on my Wishlist

Going Back Into The Cave

April 29 cont...

When I left Starbucks, I gave the boy back the pen I had borrowed off him to write, with ¥100. When I worked it out, I gave him about $1.50 which is probably why he tried to give it back.

I got lost trying to return to the train station - probably because I was going in the opposite direction. As it was, when I got back towards it, the construction site I thought was just opposite it (but decided there were probably 100 sites like it and walked past it) was the construction site opposite it.

When I got back underground I was stunned to instantly recognise where I was (beside the Vodafone store) and headed straight to the Sitting Poles.

When I was in the Vodafone store ealier, Hara San had a trainee guy who sat silently beside her, listening to and watching everything she said and did. When she got up and walked out the back, he followed. When she went to get a list from under the counter, he followed.
I was impressed with how focussed on her task she was because, if one couldn't see his physical form, one would never know he existed by the way she was able to ignore him.

When I walked back past tonight, I looked in and saw Hara San, walking through the shop with her shadow still following.
Was he really training or was he paying to trail her? I would have to ask Madam Mary how I could tell the difference.

Fair suck of the Sav mate!?

April 29 cont...

The bus finally left, surprisingly with me on it.

I was so afraid my embarrassing lack of Japanese would help me only in missing it, that I sat at the stop for an hour.
Sat being the pleasant surprise - the one redeeming feature of having my pack so full was that I could sit on top of it comfortably.

I talked to a wonderful salt-of-the-earth Japanese Christian woman the same age as me. She had seen Lord of The Rings and loved the country side. She thought all the actors were Kiwis.

She said I had a Crocodile Dundee (Australian) accent. I asked her if that was why no-one seemed to understand me and looked at me blank, but she suggested, matter of factly, that it was more likely shock at my (lack of) hair.


April 29 cont...

The bus was really a small dormitory made for long distance travel. All the curtains were pulled when we got on. My seat reclined right back so I did what I saw others doing and looked back to the person behind me to indicate I was about to lie my head in their lap.

There was a little flap in the back of the seat in front that one pulls down to put ones feet into in order to stretch out fully.
I discovered it helps to arrange the flap before reclining because I found myself in a contortionist maneuver Houdini might have seen as a profound revelation.

However, I needn't have wondered how much I could have charged for that show because everyone was asleep already.

It amazes me how Japanese can sleep so well while traveling. And that's from someone whose been known to sleep standing up in a phone box!

There was a young guy on the plane from Tahiti, who, I swear slept every waking second! He seemed to have a degree in Catatonia. He went to the bathroom once, ate his meals efficiently with his eyes closed and slept.
And he seemed to be able to sleep at odd angles, with one foot in his shoe and the other one resting half in the other shoe. The hostess even had to wake him (un-gently) to ask him to put his belt on for landing, which he did, then promptly fell asleep again.

The other thing I noticed on the bus was that not one person snored.
In fact, I could only hear one person even breathing and that was the elderly woman beside me, which was probably just as well.

Later in the night I felt I was safe in blowing my nose.

I'm Here, Really Here

April 30

We had a strange stop around dawn.

The bus pulled into a parking lot and shut down for half an hour. I looked around to get clues but nobody said or did anything so I guessed that the driver was having a break and that I missed what it was all about through not being able to understand the novella length announcement when we left Tokyo (that everyone slept through).
Because I had slept the whole night, I was ready to roll and found myself being quite impatient and antsy pantsy so when we got going again, I unclipped the curtain and put it over my head so I could watch the countryside without letting light into the bus. It would have looked odd to any passing motorist but causing highway pile-ups was the risk I was prepared to take.

The houses so far were the sort you see in magazines - miles of them and I couldn't get tired of watching them go by. Some of them were grand and most of them were antiquated but all of them had that rustic look to them. Only occasionally there was a Western style house that stuck out like a Honda Civic parked in the middle of a row of Daimlers .
I didn't like to think what the piles were like though because most of the houses were surrounded, literally up to the front door, by rice paddies.

The other thing I noticed were the mountain ranges - like Lucy's Gully in my hometown - and I kept thinking with dread - I'm going to be climbing them soon. I remembered the one time I climbed Lucy's Gully. I only succeeded because I hadn't thought to bring a cell phone and the number for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter with me, so was forced to keep climbing till I came out the other end.
It was only now that it was surrealy sinking in - I was nowhere near Lucy's Gully - I was in Japan. I was actually here and really doing it!

A Fascination With Public Restrooms

April 30 cont...

We arrived in Osaka about 7am.

I went up to the bus depot to ask about getting to Mt Koya but the depot was still shut so I went across the street into a shopping mall and found the Wheelchair Toilet. Being 8 hours away from Tokyo, I was fairly sure my mugshot hadn't yet been posted in bathrooms warning people of Strange Gaijin Behaviour in Public Toilets so I had another clean up, including clipping my hair, being meticulous in washing away the evidence.

The Wheelchair/Mothers Bathroom Suite was something to behold and could have had an entry fee and guided tour!!
The seat was warm and there were buttons everywhere. There were cables, two basins, mirrors and other things I was too scared to push in case I got pinned down and shrink wrapped!

While waiting for the bus depot to open, I went to a cafe and ordered Iced Coffee thinking I would get a creamy cold coffee with icecream in it like we do at home, but I got exactly what I asked for - a cup of water with only coffee and ice in it.
It was undrinkable to me, even after adding sugar.

Maybe I was deluding myself but I noticed that every time I put my pack on, my back seemed to resist less each time. Could it be accepting it and starting to make the pack a part of itself? I just hoped it had influence over my legs because they still buckled.

It was such a pleasure to have my eyesight - not having to bother with contacts or glasses - in or out or on, and being able to see signs.
If only I had thought to ask for the procedure that helps with translation of hieroglyphics.
The Christian lady had said I had beautiful eyes. I was chuffed for 5 seconds but, looking around, I could see there was an oversupply of Brown eyes and wondered how many other people knew about the black market demand for Gaijin Eyes.

I felt deja vu on the bus last night remembering back to when I hitch-hiked around the South Island of NZ, by myself, in the middle of winter. I don't know what triggered the deja vu but I did get lots of stares of perverse fascination back then that clearly said 'Why would someone do such a stupid thing?!' and I was getting those same three-headed-freak-show looks all the time here too.

It took a while yesterday for my mind and body to click back into that 'on-to-it' mode again where I needed to constantly plan ahead and anticipate my needs and potential (probable!) problems etc.

I've done this.

I could do this.

The reality of walking would be more challenging than last time because last time I hitch hiked, and even though I was open to hitching this time as well, cars couldn't take me up steps and mountain tracks!

So far, the clothes I'd bought with me had been perfect. Last night, outside the bus depot, the temperature would have been about 15 degrees and I was snug. I still had two layers I could have put on too.
My shoes were wearing in finally - and not an hour too soon.
Have I already said my Ice-Breaker was worth every cent my friends paid for it?!

I realised I had to make more of an effort to learn Japanese. Up till now I had been able to point to the phrase book (the author of the first Phrase Book deserved a Nobel!), but there is nothing worse than a Japanese person to feel shamed and when I pointed to 'What Station is this?' to the elderly (still breathing) woman beside me on the bus, she rested it on her nose and I was suddenly embarrassed to realise her eyesight was poor and she couldn't read it at all.

At the Bus Depot last night I was entertained by a constant catwalk of The Beautiful Girls. They really were beautiful, head to toe, extreme in their level of make-up and coiffure. Even the way they carried their bags was endearing with the straps resting in the crook of their arm and their hands facing up, like exotic waiters.
Almost every girl wore high heels of some sort, which I realised was why they linked arms when they walked together - they were holding each other up.

I tried not to worry about my cold. I'd been using Coldrex every 4-6 hours but when they wore off, I'd start coughing again and I could feel I'd damaged something to the right side of where my duodenum was. In fact - that was the main reason I took the pills - I didn't know the Japanese for 'Don't worry - it's only my lung, I'll clean it up later'.

Narrowly Missing Missing Planes &Trains

April 30 cont...

I hit the Virtual Brick Wall 2 or 3 times - and I hadn't even had lunch. My boss Tony knew the look I got and said I looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. I thought I looked more like a hyperventilating Goldfish. Yet each time I was able to find someone to show me (or in the case of the elderly Information Centre man, lead me rapidly) to the right place, platform, train etc.

At one point I was almost dizzy from doing circles on the spot, looking for any signs that I was even in the right station, much less on the right platform and was surprised to hear someone behind me say in perfect english 'Do you need help?'.
I turned around to find an older American gentleman (from Kansas) who helped me on to the train I needed. If he had promised to be my GPS till death did us part, I would have married him right then.

When I finally found the place to buy the ticket, I was able to get a return fare to Mount Koya including entry. After I bought the ticket, I wasn't sure if Nankai was the station I needed to return to or if I should have gone back to Osaka (turns out Nankai wasn't even a station but the name of the train company - so that was never going to work), or even if I was going to stay on Mount Koya.
When I talked to the Kansas Man, he said I could catch a train to Shikoku from the fifth floor of the building we were in. I definitely wouldn't have worked that one out!

Nobody told me Gotham City was a suberb of Osaka.


There seemed to be a constant layer of smog.

I sat opposite a middle aged woman and her mother who were wearing paper masks. They weren't everywhere but weren't uncommon.
Yesterday I saw a tall handsome 30ish man and his pretty wife and children - the man was wearing a mask but no-one else was.

They're even acceptable to wear at work, in shops and hotels etc.
I couldn't help but wonder what other Japanese thought of those who chose to wear the masks.

In New Zealand we would have an increase in visits from friends and family, asking in Really Loud Voices, 'Are You OK Dear?'

The Information Centre - Koya San

April 30 cont...

On the way to Kobo Daishi's Mausoleum on Koyasan

Off one train onto the other train, off that train onto the cablecar, off the cablecar onto the bus...

Koyasan (or Mount Koya) immediately reminded me of Queenstown. Exquisite but ohsomanyshops.
I realised later that I had arrived at the start of Golden Week, a public holiday, which explained the swarm of buzzing Japanese tourists.

I couldn't read the map or any signs so I had no idea where Kobo Daishi was and had to go by instinct. I got off at the last stop and yet again stood rotating on the spot like a dog chasing its tail, hoping to get clues.

I saw a kind looking gentleman and asked if he spoke English. He said the magic words 'A Little'. I asked him if he knew where the Information Centre was.
Just then he got distracted and waved frantically to a woman across the road.
I said 'Ah - your wife?'.
He nodded and said 'She speaks good English' with the relief of someone who just had a near miss with having to give a speech to fill in for the person who didn't show up.

Hiroki San and Yasu San
I spent the rest of the day with them.
Hiroki San was Japanese but spent 16 years in Canada and both Yasu San and Hiroki San were born in Shikoku and were teachers in Osaka.
Hiroki San was so knowledgeable because she came to Koyasan often with her family as she was growing up and seemed proud to be able to give us a guided tour (it was Yasu San's first time to Koyasan also) and I'm not sure if I would have found Kobo Daishi's resting place if not for her.

Hiroki San led us to one of the Temple offices.

At every Temple, once they have done their rituals, the Henro goes to the office to get the official Temple stamps and insignia, which is done in calligraphy over the stamps.
As we were waiting, the jubilant man in front of us unrolled a scroll with a picture in the middle of it and numerous stamps all around it. Hiroki San translated that this man had just got his last stamp. I said Congratulations, not really being sure what for, then asked Hiroki San if this was the same pilgrimage as the one I was about to do.
She said, No, it was another one.

Hiroki San asked the Monk at the Office if he had books for the pilgrimage for sale. He gave me a blue one and signed the front of it with a short prayer for the book then put the first stamps and insignia on it.

The first stamp - Koyasan

I had an odd sensation, when I paid for it, of being an imposter. That I was deceiving Hiroki and Yasu San's because I had never completed anything in my life and the feeling that I was merely appearing to set off on the pilgrimage were both familiar and hard to dismiss.

At that stage I had expected to go back to Namba then on to Shikoku but Hiroki San convinced me it would be better to stay on Koyasan and go to Shikoku the next day. She said they would help me find accomodation. I was tired and knew I needed all the help I could get so thanked them profusely.

Tombs in the Korean section of the Koyasan graveyard...

An Education

April 30 cont...

Hiroki San was tireless.

She reminded me of my wonderful ex Mother in Law.

Unfortunately, Yasu San had just arrived back from a week in Portugel so was exhausted. Hiroki San took us to Temple after Temple, up and down stairs, up side paths etc. It was my first day with my impossible backpack on so I was also starting to buckle. It felt like Yasu San and I were two little children following a teacher that one wouldn't dare indicate discomfort to!

Koyasan's next generation of Monks

We kept seeing large groups of children in uniforms walk past. Apparently they were the children of the Temples and were learning to be monks.

I commented on the amount of streets and shops and she said it had always been like that, if not even more so in Kobo Daishi's day and that it was what he had always wanted.

Hiroki San told us so much information I knew not to try to remember it all and later I realised I had got exactly what I had asked Yasu San for-

An Information Centre...

The Imposter

April 30 cont...

The Temple that Hiroki San booked me into was just like you see in pictures. I felt a little intimidated and like an intruder but if, upon interrogation, I had to admit to only using meditation to get some decent sleep, I didn't think I could run very far with my pack so I made myself walk through the gate.

A few monks met me at the door and if you could picture the worst Laurel and Hardy cliched comic skit titled What Not To Do When Entering A Temple, you could imagine what happened in the next 15 minutes. How I managed to take my shoes off, put on the slip-ons, check in and get shown to my room without having to pay a ¥75,000 bond will remain a secret to the Deities that were on duty that night and felt sorry for me .

The feeling of relief to be in a room, where I could like down flat for the first time since I left New Zealand, was overwhelming. I never thought I would be so happy to feel like the Christmas wrapping my Mother always meticulously flattened out to recycle.
I didn't care that I couldn't perceive any obvious formation that could be manifested into a bed and lay down immediately on the Tatami mats until a Monk told me it was time for my dinner.

I was shown to another room exactly the same as mine four doors down. Even though Kazu and Chiharu's restaurants are the reason I don't need food in my cupboard at home, I still found the three little tray/tables with lots of little bowls of indefinable food a mystery.
There was also a burner made of a little rock that was on fire with a metal net bowl on top of it, lined with some kind of paper and full of more food.
When I got there it was starting to boil but I didn't know how to turn the rock off. I had read too many stories of Temples burning down regularly and, still smarting from my check-in fiasco, I felt sure the Deities would have split by now in anticipation of a busy night ahead.

I heard someone outside and jumped up quickly to see a Monk showing a young couple to their room next door. I intimated that I needed his help.
A minute later he came in and merely blew on the stone and the fire went out. Acting as if that's what all the Monks did for me at the hundreds of other Temples I had stayed at, I moved straight on to asking him what everything was.

Most of the contents of the broth that had been cooking were different varieties of fungi. In the other bowls were shredded seaweed, tofu, pickled vege's, rice, and orange and some cold battered deep fried slices (tempura) of green pepper, pumpkin and eggplant and a soup.

I tried to eat, or at least try, everything but I have never been able to eat Fungi and couldn't even look at the soup.
The soup had a substance that was too much like what my brother used to call Crab Snot when we were kids - a slimy green felt moss that grew on the concrete corrosion barriers by the sea. Great for running and skidding along in bare feet as children but dubious to ingest orally.

I finished with two cups of green tea, dialed the Monk to say I was finished and went back to my room.

When I got there, a futon mattress had been laid on the floor which had a pillow and snug looking duvet on it.

First I put my flat cellphone on to charge then I evaluated my money situation.

I had never bragged about being a genius, however, even I could calculate that if I hadn't already paid for the return trip, I would've been sitting on the bumper of the cable car to get back down the mountain.

I started to feel a bit sick but kept my mind distracted the best way a Virgo knows how, by tidying up three days of hectic travel mess.

A Bath In A Teacup

April 30 cont...

The bathroom at the end of the hall was 3 basins and a mens and womens toilet side by side. The womens had a traditional Japanese squat toilet and a western toilet. I was amazed that the latter was a heated whizzy one like the one in the Wheelchair bathroom the day before.

The bathing was downstairs and communal. I didn't feel up to that so I decided to have a sponge bath in my room.

My room consisted of a TV, phone, low square table with a duvet over it, then a table top on top and two cushions, a heater, water urn that had hot and cold options, a round bamboo box that had a tea set inside. One of the walls was screens. Another wall had a shrine area and, to the side of that, shelving . There was a small sun-room I could get to through more sliding screens. It had been a furnace earlier so I had left the screens shut however, it was cooler by now so I went in and pulled the curtains.

I made sure my passport and return tickets were hidden away deep in my pack because I knew the Monks would put me on the first plane back to New Zealand if they had seen me having a sponge bath out of a small bowl and a large tea cup while kneeling over the flannel sized towel! It felt kind of wrong and funny at the same time but I felt much better. I'm not sure if that was because of the notable reduction in travel grime or from giggling during the exercise to remove it.

Then it was all I could do to hold back the hysterics when, suddenly, I realised I had nowhere to rinse the dirty water!

I put on my yukata , waited by the door and listened for people in the hall. Feeling like a naughty nun, I shuffled discretely to the bathroom. It wasn't easy opening sliding doors, without spilling anything, with both hands full and walking in slip-ons that kept slipping off - but miraculously I did it without slopping, tripping or being sprung.

Before lying down to sleep, I put the heater on to dry my towel and flannel. I was very snug but during the night I had to turn it off. The air got too dry and the duvet was warm enough to camp in a mild snow storm...


EL to SW:

Your pack and I are staying in our first temple on Mount Koya. Haven't had to wear it until today - I'm sure my body will get used to it soon. Shikoku tomorrow...

The Monkey

May 1

I had set my alarm but was awake about 5:10am, 20 minutes before the alarm was due to go off. I had to lift the covers to check it was really me who was awake, voluntarily, at this time that was still too early to be called morning.

I quickly brushed my teeth in the basins at the end of the hall, then got dressed for the morning worship at 6:00.

Today felt like the official first day of my Pilgrimage and I planned to go back to Kobo Daishi to spend more time with him and ask his guidance on my Pilgrimage - which I hadn't got a chance to do the day before with Hiroki San The Whirlwind.
In honour of the reverence I felt, I put on my best clothes (the ones Madam Mary calls my 'Monkey' clothes) and went down to the service.

As soon as I walked in I became nauseous with the realisation how imposterous I must have looked. Me, with my clipped head in my Monk costume, quite clearly with no clue what was happening and what to do, next to some Japanese women who were dressed like tourists from Miami, bowing and offering and praying and chanting in a way I just knew they were taught in the womb from the moment of conception. I felt as out of place as if I was asked to burp Tupperware dressed in Dolce and Gabbana.

I sat down (I found it impossible to kneel like the Japanese did) but soon became distraught with fits of uncontrollable coughing - the very inappropriateness of them making them worse.
One of the ladies beside me compassionately rubbed my back and the spasms stopped for a while. (I realised it was the cloud of incense that was provoking them).

The Monks chanted in unison, which was captivating - when I could hear them.

It seemed to go on forever and I was doing all I could to control myself (tears of humiliation and outbursts of coughing) and just wanted to run away, and may have found an excuse to, if I thought my legs were still in the same room as me.

Finally a Monk said something and, one by one, everyone went up to an altar table in front of us (but behind the Monks) and did a ritual that I did my best to imitate when it was my turn.
Most of the Monks left then the head Monk turned around and talked for a while. I didn't know if I should bow my head in prayer or watch and listen. Thankfully I realised he was telling us the history of the Temple.

When he finished and left, another Monk came up to me and said "Follow me, please".
I had a sudden feeling of specialness until I realised he was addressing all of us, I just happened to be the closest to him.

He led us through the inner sanctum which the Monks had been chanting in and we were able to look at everything. He did his best to explain things briefly.
At one deity altar I indicated "And this...?".
He paused, obviously trying to think of the English words to explain and decided to summarise by saying simply that the Deity was 'very rich'.
Someone behind me asked him another question about the same deity in Japanese and he talked animatedly, non-stop, for 20 minutes with everyone occasionally laughing. I felt really excluded but knew it was my own fault for not putting more effort into learning Japanese, Sanskrit and the last 2,500 years of Budhist history.

He then indicated it was time for breakfast.
That I understood...

Spitting the Dummy & Throwing the Towel

May 1 cont...

When I got back to my room my embarassment turned to anger at my ignorance and naivete. There was no way I could do this! Everyday felt like an interminable struggle from the moment of waking to the moment of blessed sleep and I wanted out!

Joseph Campbell said the Hero gets the journey he is ready for. This was not the journey I had hoped for at all. I admit to suspecting I was badly under prepared - I just didn't anticipate how being under prepared would collide so fatally with not knowing the language and decided, for the sake of my mental health, I had to forgo the pilgrimage.

I got changed back into my walking clothes, pulled apart my pack and angrily took out everything 'monk' styled, as well as my second pair of shoes and my Oliver Statler bible and put them all in a plastic bag. I was amazed at how much the bag weighed.

I immediately noticed two things.
All the clothes I had removed were black or grey and even before putting my pack on, I felt like a load had been taken off my shoulders.

My ego had been decimated but it felt like the realistic, grown-up part of me suspected this might happen - and maybe knew it needed to.

I still wanted to go and visit Kobo Daishi so I put everything in a corner and walked along the road to his burial place in the cemetary.

It was a nice feeling to be able to get there easily from having been there the previous day.
I paid for five bundles of incense, kept four, lit one and sat in front of the gates to his mausoleum.
As I sat there a young, fit looking, hard-core Japanese Henro arrived and proceeded with his rituals. I watched him and, with tears of regret, knew I had made the right decision to abandon this ridiculousness.
What was I thinking?
Whatever it was was so far removed from my office job, city living reality, I couldn't believe I could fool myself that I might have been able to do it.

I still prayed to Kobo Daishi.
I had some unraveling to do and felt comforted that someone-anyone might be with me.
Yet, strangely I felt he had been with me all along.

One of the many representations of Kobo Daishi

As I walked the scenic route back to the temple through the graveyard, I kept turning around, thinking I could hear someone behind me.
The Daishi?

Wild Abandonment

May 1 cont...

I got back to the Temple 10 minutes late for checkout, found my bags in the hallway and one of the novice Monks cleaning my room. With that humiliating feeling of a one-night-stand who had overstayed her welcome, I apologised and quickly bundled everything up and went to check out.

In the office, the Monk asked what I was in Koyasan for.
I told him I had planned to do the Pilgrimage.
He winced and said "Oh! So hard!".
I said "I know - I can't do it - not enough money or Japanese!" and he nodded as if to say 'You got that Sister!'

I caught the bus, cable car, train and train back to Namba then walked around in circles looking for a Post Office to post the clothes. After three lots of directions and narrowly avoiding Tantrums In Public Places, I finally found it. It cost over half my days allowance but it was worth every Yen!

I then went to McDonalds of all places.
I knew I needed something familiar, and cheap - some comfort.
The week before I would have confidently put $100 on a bet that I would never have looked for these things in McDonalds but, right then, it was everything I needed.

So now what to do?
I didn't want to be there for two months and I couldn't afford it - money or mental health.


  • Change flights to return sooner - two weeks would be plenty. The cost of changing flights would be a saving in the long run
  • Go to Iwate to see Chiharu's family home
  • Still go to Shikoku, but just be a tourist
  • Find an Incense Master to see if I could spend some time with them
  • Take a package deal trip around Japan
I decided to make my way back to Tokyo, contact Chiharu's sister, Naomi, and ask her to help me. Or maybe I would just go for a walkabout with no plans and see what happened...

EL to Gracie Miles: (My 15 year old daughter)
Hi Darling-I'm on Mt Koya staying in a Temple. I'm going over to Shikoku today. This is such hard work! I don't understand anything or anyone and no-one understands me. I have just realised how unrealistic it is trying to do the pilgrimage and might have to change plans.

Gracie to EL:
Wel jus du wot feels rite an dnt go on jus coz u fel u hav 2!

The Damn Bursts

May 1 cont...

I didn't think it was possible but things got even worse giving me sudden insight into why my hair was only 1\2 cm long - so I couldn't pull it out!

I finally got help finding a Youth Hostel - I just had to get from Namba Station to Shin-Osaka Station, go out the exit and walk two blocks. A doddle if you walk out the correct exit - which I didn't of course. I had to ring them twice just to get there but they were soooo patient and Shin-Osaka Youth Hostel, in the Koko Plaza, was soooo flash it was worth it. I found out it was only two years old and joy-of-joys, the two reception guys spoke reasonable English.

I went to my room and, I don't know why, was surprised to find it was a four bed dorm. I could see there were two other roomates already there but thankfully they were out.

I felt like a grenade that hadn't had it's pin in for quite some time and just wanted to explode already! I collapsed on my bed and writhed with sobs of regret and humiliation.

Regaining Sanity in Shin-Osaka

May 1 cont...

When the worst passed and I felt empty, I halfheartedly retrieved the crumpled information sheet to get bearings around the Hostel. Eventually I rolled off my bunk and cleaned up my face to have a look around. I braved a peek into the (communal) bathroom and was thrilled to find a seperate gorgeous shower room. With an 'I'm SO there!!', I sprinted back down to my room, got my shower stuff and small amount of laundry and raced back up again before anyone could tell me it was for Japanese, Long Term or Sane guests only.

I was so excited! My first shower since I left home and it even had soap and shampoo. I washed and shaved and (vehemently denying the possibility five minutes earlier) sang. Conveniently, the laundry was in the same bathroom area. Washing machines were ¥300 and dryers were ¥100, so I handwashed my laundry in the shower, put it in the dryer then went back to the room.

As I was putting my shower stuff away there was a polite knock on the door and an elderly Japanese woman came in. I guessed she must be the fourth roomate but she looked really vague so I showed her which bed was hers, and when she was having trouble with her key, I showed her her locker and how it worked.
Her name was Kimiori San.
We tried to communicate but it was difficult.

Just then an announcement came over the intercom that there was free tea and coffee in the lounge. Earlier I had noticed a dark skinned American (AKA English Speaking!) man and hoped I might get a chance to chat with him. I went up to the common room and tried not to seem too eager when I saw that he was there, so I casually made a coffee and sat down. He said Hello, introduced himself and gave me two biscuits (like two wafers with Nutella in between) which I called Dinner.

The man, however, was talking to someone else but I had noticed there was internet, so, before the indentation of the previous users butt had disappeared, I was logged on and checking emails.