Monday, July 28, 2014

Interviewing an American Ohenro-san

   We Talked with Adam Chamness, an American living in Kochi who has completed the Shikoku Pilgrimage. He walked the entire distance during August and September of 2010, taking about 50 days, and he finished off his journey with a trip to Mount Koya in 2011. Let’s hear what he has to say about his experience!
Adam during the ohenro.

Why did you decide to embark on the Shikoku Pilgrimage?
   I was going through some soul-searching—I was a new husband and a soon-to-be father, and I was also about to quit my eikaiwa job and go into a new line of work, although I wasn’t sure what that should be. I had been interested in the pilgrimage since coming to Kochi, and the time before starting a new job seemed like a great chance to do it and give me some time to think about my life.

How was traveling by foot?
   It took me about two weeks to get used to walking all day and carrying a pack, but even after I got used to it, my feet still hurt each day after 8 hours of walking. I went through 4 pairs of shoes. I also started the trip with all of the proper (and heavy) henro clothing and took a bunch of unnecessary equipment. After I had been on the road for a while, I shipped about half of the clothing and equipment back.

How much did the pilgrimage cost you?
   I didn’t have a budget in preparation for the pilgrimage, but it ended up costing around 250 thousand yen. About 80% of that was food costs because I had to eat out every day, but I spent very little on lodging because I slept outside almost exclusively. I also spent money on equipment and getting a stamp and inscription in my stamp book for each temple (300 yen a piece).

Do you have any reflections about your experiences as a pilgrim?
   I had never done anything like the pilgrimage before—dedicating myself physically and working hard every day to accomplish my goal. After finishing, I figured that I could conquer anything in the future if I set my mind to it. As for soul-searching, the pilgrimage didn’t give me any clear answers, but it did give me new perspectives on what I was capable of.

Could we ask you to say a few words to our readers?
   If you decide to do the pilgrimage, you’re going to be by yourself for a long time. It can be a very intense experience, whether you’re thinking about your life, future plans, character flaws, or anything like that. If you’re looking for an intense physical, emotional, and mental experience, there’s probably no better option.
   It may sound odd, but I don’t recommend much preparation. The difference between the person you start as and the person you become as you are doing the pilgrimage is immense. There’s a lot of growth.

Would you ever walk the pilgrimage again?
   Yes, I intend to. I want to do it again with my son when he’s old enough to walk.

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