Margreet Botter – my Shikoku Henro

Pilgrim’s hat

Planning and Preparing

Margreet Botter (52, Netherlands)
While travelling, I’m always Maggy, because that’s a lot easier to pronounce.

At the beginning of 2018, when my husband decided to make a trip to Australia for his fiftieth birthday, instead of giving a party, I started dreaming of something like that too in the year I turned fifty.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that I would like to make a pilgrimage.
Somehow, I wanted it to be a pilgrimage that ends where it starts. Googling, I came up with the 88 temple-pilgrimage on Shikoku.

In the year before I turned fifty I started training and searching for the perfect equipment: shoes, socks, lightweight shirts and pants and of course a fine backpack. I did a course to learn Japanese and while training my muscles at the fitness center I listened to the heart sutra.

In the year I turned fifty, we were in the middle of the Covid-pandemic. I had to wait for two years. My Japanese got rusty, but my body became stronger, and I learned the heart sutra almost by heart.

I walked the whole Shikoku Henro in late winter and spring 2023, starting at the 21st of February, when it was still cold and very quiet. Although I walked together with other pilgrims at some stages, most of the time I walked alone.
I reached temple 88, Ōkuboji, after 46 days. What a wonderful moment that was!
I had two days of rest during my walk. It was a very intense experience in very many ways: physical, mental and spiritual.
I wish everyone an experience like this …

Lessons and advices

The two days after, walking back to Temple 1, Ryōzenji, I reflected on my pilgrimage. Here are some random lessons and advices I’d like to share.

  • Invest in your equipment, especially good shoes, socks -no cotton!-, a comfortable backpack and lightweight clothing.
  • Accept that you could have prepared even better than you did. There are so many aspects to work on: language, physical and mental condition, equipment, sutras, temple acts, planning, places to stay and eat… Choose what you think is important, or -also good- don’t prepare at all.
  • Take care of your body, especially your feet. Take raw/pure sheep wool (for the Dutchies: wandelwol) with you to put on the pressure points between your bare feet and your socks before they turn into blisters. Trust me, it’s a lifesaver!
  • Stick to yourself and your own goal(s) and reasons to do the pilgrimage. It’s easy to get frustrated, seduced or deceived by the advices (including mine 😉), messages and pictures of other pilgrims on the path. While preparing and walking, I ignored most of the experiences of others (posted in blogs and in FB-groups) to stick to my own experience. Said that the experiences of others can also be a great help with practical issues about the route, accommodation etc.
  • Don’t be afraid of FOMO (fear of missing out). Accept you won’t see and do all the things you planned or that others advised you to do. Don’t regret it, turn it into a future-dream.
  • Just as there is not one way of pilgrimage, there is also not one pilgrimage route. All route descriptions and signposts -online and offline- are aids to finding a way from one temple to the next. They’re sometimes indispensable -please, use them on the hard tracks in the mountains!!!- but don’t let them stop you from choosing your own path in the flat lands.
  • Accept that -at some point or some moment- you will feel stressed about finding a place to sleep/your health/achieving your goal. Accept it and let it loose and trust on Kōbō Daishi’s help. It will come in many guises.
  • If you dare, let go of planning too far ahead. Try it for a couple of days and see what exciting things happen.
  • Put a smile on your face with every step that you take, even if you feel like crying. Remember, you are the lucky one walking on this beautiful island, you chose this path. There is no right or wrong. There’s only this huge adventure and experience!
  • Enjoy and take care!

Maggy and I met several times during our pilgrimage on Shikoku in March 2023. The last time on the pilgrimage path between temples 44 and 45.
Thank you very much, Maggy, for sharing your experiences and recommendations here.

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