Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 8) - O-settai, or, "I'll treasure this tissue case"

Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 8) - O-settai, or, "I'll treasure this tissue case"

Near Kumadani-ji, temple number 8, we had stopped in front of some glorious cherry blossom, and I got chatting to two older gentlemen who were walking the trail. One told me he had never spoken to a gaijin-san, foreigner, before.

(The cynic in me wonders if that’s really true, or if by “foreigner” he meant “white person”…)

We took some pictures in front of the cherry blossom, and walked up the hill together.

Further up the road, a lady came out of her house and gave us some hard-boiled sweets ...

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 7) - Five Types of Rest Stop You'll Find Hiking In Shikoku

"Kyūkei shimashou" (休憩しましょう) is one of the first phrases I teach all my students, and it means "let's take a break".

Rest is every bit as important as activity - perhaps more important. In class, it helps you digest and absorb ideas.

And on a long-distance walk, rest stops (called kyūkeijo 休憩所 in Japanese) can be a good place to strike up a conversation …

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 6) - Shouting at the French


I shouted.

("Excuse me!")

The couple turned round, but they didn't move. They were both dressed in full pilgrim garb: long white clothes, their heads protected by conical hats.

"Otoshimono desu!"

("You dropped this!")

They stared at me blankly …

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 5) - Signs of Shikoku

"Gambatte kudasai" is sort of untranslatable but also extremely translatable. (The best kind of Japanese phrase!)

Gambatte kudasai means "do your best!" or "go for it!"

When I started learning Japanese at university in 2008, my classmates and I thought the phrase gambatte kudasai was quite funny for some reason ...

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 4) - How to Talk to Strangers in Japanese

A stranger, they say, is just a friend you haven't met yet.

And talking to strangers is a great way to speak lots of Japanese. I did lots of this while walking the first section of the Shikoku pilgrimage this spring.

But how do you start a conversation with a stranger? Here are some ideas to get you going, even if you're a beginner at Japanese.

1) the weather

Brits love to talk about the weather. Luckily, so do people in Japan. It's almost like a greeting.

Chuck one of these out and start the conversation:

暑いですね atsui desu ne! "Hot, isn't it?"
寒いですね samui desu ne! "Cold, isn't it?"

Very possibly, you'll get a そうですね   sou desu ne; "Isn't it just", in response, and you can start the conversation from there.

2) things you can see

You reach the top of a hill and sit on a bench. The person on the adjacent seat turns to greet you.

You can start a conversation easily by simply pointing and commenting on what you can see:

すごいですね Sugoi desu ne. "Amazing, isn't it?"
綺麗ですね Kirei desu ne. "Isn't it lovely?"
美しいですね。Utsukushii desu ne. Beautiful, isn't it?

3) ask simple questions

What about if you don't know what you're looking at? Just ask.

すみませんが、それはなんですか。 Sumimasen ga, sore wa nan desu ka.
"Excuse me, but what's that?"
これは日本語でなんと言いますか。 Kore wa nihongo de nan to iimasu ka. "What do you call this in Japanese?"

4) start in Japanese

If your Japanese is limited, and you speak English, it might be tempting to walk into a hotel or restaurant and start the conversation in English - or to ask if the person speaks Japanese.

Even if you're a beginner, try and start the conversation in Japanese, with a greeting:

こんにちは! konnichiwa! "hello"

こんばんは! kombanwa! "good evening"

おはようございます! ohayou gozaimasu! "good morning"

Remember, if you start the conversation in English (or another language), the chances of getting some Japanese practice are virtually zero. Try and at least start in Japanese.

5) smile

You might be nervous about speaking Japanese. But the absolute best way to get someone to speak with you is to smile while talking with them!

Hopefully, you can put them at ease that you're a friendly, wonderful person. Someone worth talking to. Which, of course, you are.

After all, you're just a friend they haven't met yet too.

Related posts:

Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 1) - Plan, plan, plan!
Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 2) - The Best First Day in Japan
Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 3) - What To Wear

P.S.   If you liked this post on talking to strangers in simple Japanese, check out my new course Survival Japanese for Beginners - starts July 26th 2018, in central Brighton. It's ideal for anyone planning a trip to Japan soon!

Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 3) - What To Wear

When I told my Japanese friends I was planning to walk the Shikoku Henro trail, several of them said the same thing. "Are you going to wear a hat?"

For many people, the image of a walker in a bamboo hat is the first thing that comes to mind when they think of the pilgrimage.

But what "should" you wear on the Shikoku 88, a Buddhist pilgrimage trail?

Some pilgrims don't wear any special gear at all - just normal walking clothes. That's fine. But some walkers choose to wear special clothes, many of which have symbolic significance.

Many people wear a white jacket to walk the trail. It's called a 白衣 hakui. This is the first piece of pilgrim garb I bought, at temple number 1. Some have sleeves; mine is sleeveless.

Wearing the white jacket signals to people that you are a pilgrim. So if you want to talk with lots of people on Shikoku, wearing pilgrim clothes is a great conversation starter.

↓ Even my guidebook (well, one of them) has a hat-wearing, white-jacketed pilgrim on the cover.

Actually, some pilgrims wear all white.  I met a lovely older gentleman several times on the trail, who had just turned 80. He was all in bright white, and looked very striking.

According to Nippon.com:
"White is worn because long ago some pilgrims would collapse from the physical exertion and die during the pilgrimage, and the white robes could serve as their burial clothes.

The colour white also carries the meaning that all pilgrims are equal in front of the Buddha."
I prefer the second meaning, I think!

Even if you don't wear white, it's be good to wear lighter colours - I saw a lot of people in light coloured clothes. I didn't know this when I planned my trip, so my walking clothes are all dark.

If I buy new kit before I go back, I might try and buy lighter coloured clothes. I didn't get the impression it matters too much though.

↓ A tour group of pilgrims, many dressed in white or light clothes

I also got a 納経帳 noukyouchou at that first temple, a stamp book with 88 pages (one for each temple). At each temple, after praying and visiting the various halls, you can get your book stamped as proof that you've been there.

I met another lovely Japanese man named Shinichi, who kindly showed me around various rituals, explaining aspects of the temple and the praying process to me.

I'm not Buddhist, but I really enjoyed and appreciated the ritual of praying at each temple. I found it fascinating, and very calming.

After lighting incense and a candle, you give an offering at each hall of an osamefuda (納め札), a slip of paper onto which you can write your name, address and a message of good will.

↓ Pilgrims also give the paper slips to people who help them along their way - like this restaurant, where the walls were papered with osamefuda.

In the stamp office, the staff doing calligraphy were often surprised to see a non-Japanese visitor, and would usually ask where I was from and if I was walking the whole route.

I had a lot of pleasant conversations with the men and women in the stamp offices. Again, I think wearing the pilgrim kit helps here.

Later on, I got a 菅笠 suge-gasa, a bamboo sedge hat. This conical hat keeps the sun out of your eyes, and it works as a rain-hat too.

The suge-gasa was surprisingly sturdy - when I wasn't wearing it, I strapped it to the back of my backpack, and despite getting bashed about a bit (sorry, hat!) it still looks as good as new.

Now, back in England, it's sitting in my office waiting for my next trip...

A bit further into the week, I acquired a 輪袈裟 wagesa, a kind of stole or scarf . Traditionally, this is an item worn by monks, but now it just symbolises that the wearer is a pilgrim.

↓ Me with green wagesa

↓ You have to take the wagesa off when eating or washing. This public toilet even had a hook outside to hang your stole on.

Many people also walk with a 金剛杖 kongou-zue, a wooden walking stick. The stick symbolises Kōbō Daishi himself, the monk in whose footsteps pilgrims walk.

Pilgrims are supposed to take care of the stick before they care for themselves - washing the bottom of the stick before washing your own feet, and so forth.

The nicer sticks have a bell hanging from the top, and according to the fantastic site Shikoku Henro Trail:

"The intent of the bell is to keep pulling your attention back to the present; back to reality and what you are doing so that you don't just day dream all day as you walk."
The bell is also good for alerting bears and wild boar to your presence, so they won't be startled by you. And you can hit the stick on the ground as you walk to scare away snakes.

↓ Simple sticks, available for walkers to use for free at one of the temples

I didn't get a stick (personally I don't really like walking with a stick, even a spiritually significant one). But I might get one next time, or just a bell, to scare off wild animals.

People seem to pick and choose from the pilgrimage clothes available. I saw many tour groups wearing full and matching outfits. They looked good, but the set-up costs are expensive.

↓ A tour group relaxing in the evening (in matching kit)

Cyclists and some walkers seem to take a more practical pick-and-mix approach to clothing. Anyway, I didn't get the impression that anyone will be offended by a failure to wear full pilgrim garb.

The white jacket and hat are definitely a really good conversation starter though.

↓ And you can keep the rain off your backpack...!

Related posts:

Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 1) - Plan, plan, plan!
Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 2) - The Best First Day in Japan

Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 2) - The Best First Day in Japan

Spoiler alert: this post isn't about the Shikoku pilgrimage, although it is about the same trip. It's about what I did with my spare first day in Nagoya: the lost day...

Arriving first thing in the morning on a long-haul flight is not ideal. You're tired, jet-lagged and yet you need to stay awake until a normal bedtime, so you can adjust your body clock.

I had almost 12 hours to kill on that first day, and was waiting for my friends to finish work.

So what do you do with a whole day to yourself? I like to plan, so I made a plan. It went pretty well.

I know Nagoya well, as I used to live there. My first thought was to go to Komeda, a coffee chain I like that's originally from Nagoya, for モーニング (mо̄ningu; breakfast set). But I'd already had breakfast on the plane, so I resisted the temptation to have a second breakfast, and went straight to Atsuta Shrine instead.

熱田神宮 (Atsuta Jingū; Atsuta Shrine) is a beautiful and important Shinto shrine. It's right by 神宮前 (Jingūmae) station, which makes sense seeing as jingū-mae means "in front of the shrine".

The train from the airport stops at Jingūmae, so I got off there and headed straight to a depachika (デパ地下). Depachika is the (often amazing) basement floor of a department store, where the food is, and I wanted sushi and cold green tea. I bought lunch there and then went to the shrine.

It's not really ok to eat in temple or shrine grounds, but there was a rest area with vending machines, so I sat there and had my mackerel sushi. 

I also had this tiny beer (to celebrate being in Japan after almost two years). I had a good feeling about this day already.

↓ Atsuta Shrine

There was a wedding going on, too:

↓ Yay!

Next up, I headed to the onsen (温泉; hot spring). I picked this for two reasons - the first is that I love onsen, and I couldn't wait to go back to one and relax.

The second reason I wanted to go to the onsen is that I'd been on a long-haul flight since 7am UK time, and I really wanted a shower.

Onsen is also a pretty good solo activity - assuming you find being naked with strangers less embarrassing than being naked with friends (I do). Japanese hot springs are a communal affair; separated by gender, but no swimsuits allowed.

I'd used the airport wifi to look up some reviews, and decided on Miya no yu (宮の湯). It was about a half-hour walk from the shrine, and I could walk there along the river. There were late plum blossoms, and some sprinklings of cherry blossoms too.

↓ At the onsen (no pictures in the bath, for obvious reasons)

There were a bunch of different baths, including a 電気風呂 (denki-buro) which literally translates as "electric bath", and is - yikes - a hot bath with low-level electric current running through it. 

You might think that electricity and water don't mix, and you'd be right. The denki-buro is worth a try though - unless you have a pacemaker, in which case give it a miss. It feels a bit like prickly pins and needles.

There was also a smaller bath with "water of the month". This month's special water was よもぎ (yomogi; Japanese mugwort). The water was a vivid bright green and looked like melon soda.

After a long soak in various entertaining baths, I got dressed and had a lie down and a bottle of milk.

Milk is a surprisingly popular post-bath drink, considering Japan doesn't have a long history of dairy consumption.  お風呂上がりの牛乳 (ofuro agari no gyuunyuu; milk after a bath) is almost as good as お風呂上がりのビール (ofuro agari no biiru; beer after a bath).

I'd already had one tiny beer though and was fighting off jet lag, so I stuck to milk. There's something very satisfying about glass bottles of milk.

I lay down in this tatami mat rest area, and watched some Japanese variety shows on a distant TV:

It was 4pm. I still had two hours to kill before my friends finished work, so I went to karaoke.

There's even a special word for "going to karaoke by yourself" in Japanese: ヒトカラ (hito-kara), which is short for 一人カラオケ (hitori karaoke).

Don't get me wrong - karaoke is fun with friends. But it's super fun by yourself too, and in a different way.

You can hog the microphone, and practice the same song three times in a row without anyone complaining. And you don't have to listen to other people's dubious song choices and dodgy singing.

↓ It's all your own dubious song choices and dodgy singing!

After an hour of singing and all-you-can-drink soft drinks from the ドリンクバー (dorinku baa; self-service drink bar), I got the subway to meet my friends.

We went to Minoji, a 焼き鳥屋 (yakitori-ya), a restaurant serving yakitori aka "things on sticks". Finally, some hot Japanese food!

I got to eat a lot of different things, old and new. But more importantly, I got to catch up with old friends. I was having so much fun I forgot to take a picture of the outside of the restaurant, with its red lanterns and moody lighting.

I didn't realise until afterwards, but the first time I ever went to Minoji was actually my very first night in Nagoya, after I moved there in 2011.

It made me pretty happy to be back there in 2018. The perfect end to a perfect first day back in Japan.

I wasn't sure how relaxing the rest of the trip would be, but that first day in Nagoya, I was so relaxed!

Not bad for a "lost day", right?

Click here to read part 1 (which is actually about the Shikoku 88 pilgrimage!)