April 13, 2004

4 pilgrimage ambassadors to promote Shikoku tour

Four "pilgrimage ambassadors" were appointed Thursday following their completion of a pilgrimage to the traditional 88 holy sites in Shikoku. The appointees to the position of henro taishi (pilgrimage ambassadors) will be asked to promote the journey, which starts in Sanuki, Kagawa Prefecture, and organizers hope it will help revitalize the region.

Of the four men, Naofumi Katayama, 61, from Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, was named first ambassador. "I want to promote the mind-set of 'osettai,' which is common in the Shikoku region," he said. Osettai refers to the kindness that pilgrims receive from people during their travels, such as being given food, money and accommodation.

The pilgrimage involves spending about 40 to 50 days walking a total of 1,200 kilometers to visit the 88 holy places. "The toughest point was when I walked for about 60 kilometers between the 36th and 37th holy sites in Kochi Prefecture because I had to keep walking against strong wind blowing from the coast. But a woman at a store on my way gave me sushi, which encouraged me to go on," Katayama said.

During their pilgrimage, pilgrims face many hellish situations, including freezing cold weather and scorching heat. But despite such difficulties, the travelers are able to obtain wet weather gear, ice and masks from people they meet on their journey.

The number of pilgrims has increased over the years as more people seek to gain a sense of serenity from the kindness they experience during their travels. About 400 people have attempted the pilgrimage this year as of the end of March, about 20 percent more than the same period last year.

Takafumi Matsuoka, 55, a member of Takamatsu-Minami Rotary Club, came up with the idea of appointing henro taishi, and 72 Rotary clubs in Shikoku's four prefectures are cooperating with the event.

Pilgrims who complete their journey receive a certificate and a badge at Ohenro Koryu Salon, a visitor center located near Okuboji temple in Sanuki, the 88th holy site. Matsuoka said he hoped ambassadors would pass on their pilgrimage experiences to many other people.