Friday, June 07, 2013

Introducing the Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage

A pilgrimage is a magical world you step into, an ancient route full of history, beauty and solitude.

 Shrine No. 80. There are 88 such shrines along the 10km Shiraishi Pilgrimage that circumnavigates the island.

I started running pilgrimages in Japan in 1997. The Shiraishi Pilgrimage was my first. I've run many since then, including the most famous 88-temple Shikoku Pilgrimage in 1998, as documented in my book, Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment . If you're a runner in Japan, you should be running pilgrimages. If you're a walker/hiker in Japan, you should be hiking them. A pilgrimage is a magical world you step into, an ancient route full of history, beauty and solitude.  And since few people know about them, you'll have the whole route to yourself. Does this sound like your kind of thing? Read on!

There are hundreds of pilgrimages in Japan. The Shiraishi Pilgrimage is a good one to start with because it is only about 10 km long (6 miles) and is reasonably well-marked and maintained. Located in Kasaoka-shi, in Okayama Prefecture, this pilgrimage is a replica of the big 88-Temple Buddhist Pilgrimage in Shikoku. Island residents who could not make the journey to Shikoku would do this route instead as a substitute. The meaning behind each sacred site corresponds to the same numbered temple on the Shikoku route. In my book, Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage I go into depth about Buddhism, the deities, and the meaning of pilgrimage, so I will not cover this in my blog posts. If you are interested in knowing the fascinating lore and rituals behind Buddhist pilgrimages, or if you are considering doing the 88-temple Shikoku Pilgrimage, you should find my book very helpful. 

The Shiraishi Pilgrimage route is over 400 years old and, unlike the Shikoku Pilgrimage, hasn't changed much since then. It is largely forest and every part has ocean views. While the entire route can be accomplished in one to two days, it is nonetheless an arduous journey that requires a concerted effort to complete. There are several reasons for this, including difficult terrain, lack of signage and the variable conditions of the pilgrimage path. 

But don't worry, you don't have to do the whole pilgrimage at one time. As a matter of fact, most people do pilgrimages in small sections at a time, with no concern to the order of the sacred sites. There is no reason you have to start at No. 1 and end at 88, for example. Also, whereas the Shikoku Pilgrimage has 88 temples on the route, the Shiraishi Pilgrimage uses small stone shrines as sacred sites rather than temples (see photo above). These are not shrines in the sense of Shinto shrines (神社) but as Buddhist objects of veneration. How religious you want to be on your pilgrimage is up to you. You can give a little prayer at each site, for example, or just run on by. You certainly do not have to be Buddhist to do a pilgrimage! 

Since I live on Shiraishi Island (my house is actually on the pilgrimage route), I run the pilgrimage almost every day in the spring and autumn. The summer is too hot for me, but if you don't mind the heat, there is no reason you can't walk or run the pilgrimage in summer too. Choose a shady section and go! 

In the next blog post, I will introduce you to the shortest and easiest section of the pilgrimage:  No. 80-83. This section is only 0.5 km long and takes 5 to 10 minutes to walk. It's also fairly flat compared to the rest of the route. I'll continue with blog posts identifying different sections of the pilgrimage.

Welcome to the wonderful world of pilgrimage!

Next blog post: Shiraishi Pilgrimage No.2 80 to 83

1 comment:

Connie weber said...

I loved your book & an sharing your story with many . Since this is all new to me, & many, it seems, I am so happy you are sharing your experiences. You are very fascinating!.

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