On the Island of Shikoku, there is an 88 Temple Pilgrimage which is walked by many people. It consists of a 1200 kilometre loop around the island, to pray at temples renovated and revered by Kobo Daishi, a Buddhist Monk. Many people complete this pilgrimage by bus, but many also prefer the experience of walking the trail on foot. They are identified by wearing a white jacket, and carrying a stick for walking. A prayer is said at each temple, and a stamp placed in a book for the traveler. There are special accommodation huts set aside for the traveler, and often gifts of food or drink are given by the locals.
Lisa Dempster was a young exchange student from Australia who lived in Japan for a year to learn the language and customs. She spent her time attending school and fitting in with her new family. At age twenty six, Lisa was in a bad way. She was overweight, suffering from depression, living with her Mum in Australia and had little to look forward to in life. She knew that staying in this cycle of unemployment and misery would lead nowhere, and so she decided to walk the 88 Temple Pilgrimages she had heard so much about. So it was without any training, little planning, and a faint hope for happiness that she set out.
The author has shared her travels faithfully; we understand the pain of her blistered feet and bleeding chaffed thighs with the focus of the first few days to get up and get going again. Her discomfort doesn’t magically diminish as she walks along. Each day is a struggle, with the heat and humidity, and mosquitoes adding to her misery. The walk is mainly a solitary one, and the few people Lisa meets are special, and conversations are precious. The reality of this Pilgrimage, tough and unrelenting, is tempered by some wonderful descriptions of the local scenery.
For every Temple Lisa visits, her prayer remains the same; she recites the heart Sutra, and then prays to be healed. There is no euphoric ending to her pilgrimage, but a pride in her achievements and the willingness to go home and have a go at life. Life indeed changed as the she was offered a marvellous job and proceeded to involve herself in work and travel again, with helping to organise the Melbourne Writer’s Week Festival, one of the challenges given to her. However, depression is an insidious emotion, and after a few years, Lisa found herself challenged, once again choosing to walk the trails of the Grampians, where she gained comfort.
This is such an honourable story, told from the heart and never, ever pretending to be anything other than truthful. Best wishes must go to Lisa for the courage and struggles she has faced and shared. Hers is a personal journey that is worth rereading for the inspiration, courage and beautiful scenery along the way.