Japan 2018, Kii Peninsula Shikoku 2018

Day 38: Off to Tokyo and Conclusion

I write this final blog post sitting on the train to Shin-Osaka, on my way to Tokyo Narita airport where I will stay tonight before meeting my daughter for my final week in Japan.

The train to Osaka left at 12.49, so I had a free morning to visit the Wakayama Museum of Modern Art, which contains works of local artists as well as international artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Picasso, Simon Paterson and more. I find the quality of exhibits at modern art museums is always a bit up and down as modern art covers so much. This was no exception, but it was well worth the 4€ and filled in a couple of hours. There are more pictures of the art on display through today’s blog.

This is now day 38 in Japan and given it will, unless I post a few pictures in the coming days, be my last post. Therefore, whilst now sitting on the Shinkansen to Tokyo, I thought I would sum up (just changed trains).

It has been the adventure I had envisaged with new and fantastic experiences pretty much daily. It’s also been hard work, where there have been many, many ups and the very occasional down.  My main reflections are as follows, in no particular order.

Wakayama Museum of Modern Art

1. The Japanese are a fantastic people. I cannot find enough superlatives to describe them. They are friendly, interested, polite, helpful beyond all limits that one could expect, and laugh very easily. In 38 days I have met two people that I would consider unhelpful, and both worked in convenience stores.

2. The scenery along the south coast of Shikoku and in and around the Kii Peninsula is really out of this world. As I have mentioned before, I would any time swap Highway 1 in California, for what I have seen these past 6 weeks, and although the mountains are not as high as in Switzerland, the scenery is just as beautiful. Walking in the countryside was always enjoyable and the scenery fantastic; along long roads in and around the big towns was hard and tiring.

3. Visiting the 88 temples in Shikoku plus Koyasan was the primary goal for my trip, and in that respect my trip was a success. Many of the temples were fantastic, many others were more of the same. Not being a Buddhist the significance of each temple was lost on me, and it became at times a stamp collection trip. But then again I have met many other pilgrims from many countries and hearing their stories and sharing their ups and downs has been also a fantastic experience. It has been sad that it was often not possible to communicate with the Japanese pilgrims – although sign language has gone a long way. I did not meet a single Japanese whose English was worse than my Japanese.

4. It was far easier than I imagined, not least given that I “only” walked ca. 60% of the total kilometers. I have no doubt I could have  walked them all if it was what I wanted to do, and did it with a day pack instead of a full backpack. Using a hub and spoke approach of staying at one place and taking the bus or train back and forth was a massive plus for me. Many I spoke to told me that not knowing where they would sleep that night or tomorrow night filled a lot in their minds, and carrying a pack over the high passes was a major pain for everybody (I did temple 12 in 3 hours, whilst younger and fitter people with a pack were taking 5 or 6 hours). There were a couple of legs I regret not walking, but that’s life – and there is always a next time.

5. Buy shoes a half size bigger than you would normally use. I only got a chance to walk in Denmark whilst it was cold, walking in 25 degrees plus, made my feet grow half a size. It wasn’t a big issue, but I was happy I had two pairs of shoes with me, both of which I had with me pretty much every day. And make sure you have good socks, I used Darned Tough hiking socks made from Merino wool, and they come highly recommended from my side.

6. I know that some will disagree, but this is not to be compared to the Camino. There are very, very few walkers, and the further you get, the fewer walkers there are. I met a couple of Europeans that were disappointed that there were so few that walked. Some Japanese walkers do a week per year, very few do it in one shot. And 99,99% (probably higher) that do the pilgrimage, do it by other means than walking – most by car, some by tour bus, some taking public transport (mostly with a minimum of walking) and some by bike. I also met a number of westerners that were on planned trips for 10 days taking in the most interesting climbs or temples. I spoke to a walker most, but not every day, and most westerners were during the first week – very few thereafter.

7. Japanese food is fantastic, but comes a bit repetitive over time. In addition, finding somewhere to eat each evening was a pain and probably led to some safe choices. It would help if more restaurants put a sign outside that thay had an English menu.

8. Many Japanese speak good English and many more really want to learn and practice. Almost everybody I met tried to communicate. It seems to me to he a bit like France when we moved there in 1990, where very few spoke English. Almost 30 years later, it’s pretty difficult to find a Frenchman that is younger than 30 that doesn’t speak English. Perhaps it won’t be as quick here, but in 30 years time, I’m pretty sure most under 30’s, will speak English. And based on my experiences, it’s the girls leading the way. Language was never a barrier on this trip, but it would have been fantastic to be able  to speak to more of the Japanese people I’ve met.

9. April and May was a fantastic time to do it. I walked in rain twice and there is no doubt that the flowers that bloom in April make everything even more spectacular. I would travel a week or two earlier (I left on April 7th) if I ever did this again to be able to walk longer whilst the cherry trees, azalea and others, are in bloom.

10. The Japanese love trains. They decorate them, turn then into museums on rails, take pictures of them and they run on time. Japan rail employees salute when a train reaches a platform, and conductors bow as they enter and leave a carriage. Unnecessary, yes, but still nice touches. Experiencing a lot of this has been thanks to the hub and spoke system, where I took buses and trains back and forth.

Wakayama Station

Would I do it again? If I look at it rationally, I have the stamps in my book and had an adventure for life, that can never be repeated. But, I can already feel that the fantastic scenery and people are a bit magnetic. So, just now, you never know.

I am happy that I was encouraged to write a blog. There have been so many experiences that looking back I am sure that most would be deep in the back of my memory if I hadn’t written them down.

Thanks to everybody that has encouraged me on the way, and again, sorry for the awful English – even though I have a plus sized phone, it is still a pain writing on such a small screen. At some point in the future I will revise the blog and add more pictures.

If anybody is considering doing this, feel free to contact me.

And finally thank you to Kõbõ Dashi for helping me on the way 🙂


2 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Birgit Wibholm says:

    You did it!
    It has been amazing to follow your journey via this blog.

    Looking forward to seeing you again in the office, and who knows, maybe you will return as a buddhist 🙂

    CU soon

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