#1. Setting out

The start of the Shikoku Pilgrimage

The twelfth day of Christmas and I’ve just taken the tree down and packed the decorations away. Mind you, in Japan they often come down on Boxing Day to make way for the New Year celebrations which are more important in my host nation.

On New Year’s Eve, if you can avoid the interminable TV variety shows, it’s important to have a bowl of soba noodles which represent long life for the year ahead. Many people will head off to the country districts to visit family and having obtained a free covid test, courtesy of Japan Airlines, we decided to go to the southwestern island of Shikoku to see my wife’s family for the first time for more than two years  

As in so many cultures, food plays a large part in Japanese New Year celebrations the main feature being o-secchi ryori, a pre-prepared (or purchased) box with several layers of what we might call ‘finger food’ which will be grazed upon over the holiday period – using chopsticks of course! So, this formed the basis for our lunches and dinners for the first two days.

My in-laws live in the coastal town of Naruto, close to the prefectural capital of Tokushima, and their house is just a few minutes’ walk from the coast to where we were led by my father in-law. The main purpose of the trip was for us to visit the family cemetery to pay respects to the departed members of the family and more distant clan whose remains are interred in a lovely plot surrounded by trees and overlooking the Inland Sea. This year, the old chap was so proud to show us the tomb that he had prepared for his final rest which as a sprightly 90-year-old he doesn’t show ant signs of needing just yet.

The cemetery is in the grounds of a buddhist temple the religion under which most funerals take place. But, in a multi-denominational society it’s important to keep well-covered and another New Year tradition is to visit a shrine to give thanks to the Shinto Gods for the year just past and to pray for good health for the year to come.    For our own devotions we drove 10km to the Oasahiko Shrine in the Bando area of Naruto and enjoyed a long walk along the tree-lined approach to the shrine with other worshippers. Under Shintoism, gods also exist in nature especially trees, so as well as praying at the main shrine, we also did so at the 1,000-year-old, 22 metre tall, Go-shinboku camphor tree.

And for additional cover, the Oasahiko shrine is right next to Ryouzenji buddhist temple. This is famous for being the first stop on the 88 temple, 1400km o-henro pilgrimage trail which circumnavigates Shikoku.

Although I have ambitions to undertake the physical and spiritual challenge one day, for now I am making a different commitment: to post, throughout 2022, 88 blogs as part of my personal blogging pilgrimage.  The fortune o-mikuji slip I bought at the Oasahiko Shrine told me that this year my luck would be ‘very good’. So, maybe the Gods are smiling on me?!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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