..................................................................................................... matsuyama hostel matsuyama guesthouse matsuyama backpackers Dogo Onsen hotel shikoku hostel .........................................................................................

New Zealand is not real  (cont.)

The ferry from Wellington to Picton was by far, the nicest ferry I have ever been on- live music, microbrew (obsessed), nice food, crazy views from multiple rooms.  The scenery was also spectacular traveling through the various sounds and cliffs.  After changing to a bus, we ended up Nelson mid-day and checked into, what was later decided, our favorite guesthouse on the trip, Tramper’s rest.

Nelson, NZ’s second oldest city, is a both a quaint colonial town and the springboard for adventure tourism AND New Zealand’s micro brew capital.  Out of all the places we went to in New Zealand, I would most like to move to Nelson- it really does have it all.  After a couple really fun days of swimming in creeks, eating amazing food, drinking amazing beer and wine, we headed out to our second proper, and first multi-day, tramp in NZ, Abel Tasman.

We took 3 nights/4 days to walk the 60km trail, which seemed a bit slow at first, but ended up being perfect due to the rain.  Definitely one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever done.  It is pretty much walking from pristine beach, to pristine beach separated by cliffs and small hills, intersected by beautiful rivers and waterfalls, through rain and cloud forest- yeah, like that.  We camped the whole way and we were able to collect clams/mussels for most of our evening meals.  It did rain the last 2 days pretty much non-stop, but instead of being an annoyance, it really only added to the adventure and the mystique of the place.

As wonderful as it was, it was very nice to get back to Tramper’s rest in Nelson, have a great pizza and a fabulous beer in the church turned pub, (and my favorite watering hole in NZ) the free house.  The next morning, it wasn’t easy, but we dragged ourselves to the rental car company, got our new ride, and headed towards Takaka and Golden Bay.

Golden Bay is a gorgeous bay with a series of stunning beaches with the cool little hippy town of Takaka.  We only spent 1 night there, but were able to visit one of the most dramatic beaches that we saw on the trip, Wharariki Beach at the base of Farewell Spit.  Not only were there seal pups and a baby penguin, the rock around there is highly erodible so there are also of these amazing rock formations and caves scattered about.  It was also very very windy so the sand and the water were sort of dancing around each other in these vibrant streams- almost psychedelic.

The next day we started off pretty early and headed south towards Nelson lakes national park.  Again, we only had 1 night there so we didn’t really have time to do a proper trek like we would have wanted to, but because of all of the rain, it ended up being a truly memorable evening.  The drive itself was quite interesting, down very rural roads, along forests and farmland.  Pulling up to the DOC office in Nelson lakes around 4pm, it was already starting to rain and quite cold.  We knew we had (after a 20 min drive to the trail head) about a 2 1/2 to 3 hour hike to our hut, so we hightailed it to the parking spot.


The fog quickly rolled in and the freezing rain really started going; it was a complete “white out” so though we knew were walking in a high alpine area, with a supposedly cool view, we really couldn’t get a grasp of where we were.  As you can imagine, we were very happy on arriving at our hut- freezing and wet but in one piece.  While we were figuring out the old-school wood burning stove and beginning to prepare dinner there was a break in the clouds and BAM the view showed itself.  Breathtaking is an understatement; almost 360 degree views of these huge, beautiful lakes from maybe 1000 meters above them at sunset time, so the clouds were alive with these awesome colors also.

It was our first (and last) experience with one of the DOC huts and we were not disappointed; it was warm, well equipped and we had it to ourselves.  The hike down the next day, was perfect.  Beautiful blue sky and we just had “the view” the whole way back to the car.  We will be back to do a multi-day trek in Nelson Lakes for sure.

Our next destination was the rugged “west coast”, specifically Punakaiki.  As opposed to Golden Bay and Abel Tasman, the west coast beaches are lashed by huge waves, imposing cliffs and unswimable scary looking beaches.  The rain forest there was impressive and we were able to visit some interesting features (caves, weird rocks and an ocean blowhole) after checking into our guesthouse.

The next morning we took a great 3 hour hike along a dense river embankment returning via another river valley; a running theme of this trip is deservedly the variety that everyday brought us.


From the west coast, we headed towards Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass.  Back to high alpine, Arthur’s Pass National Park is studded with trails, snow (even in summer) and some stunning views overlooking a series of valleys.  We didn’t do it justice at all, and we really only stopped for an hour (we’ll be back).

Continuing on we randomly came across an interesting looking area with quite a few cars parked, so we decided to take a little break and a gander, and discovered the lunar landscape of Castle Hill.After a couple hours of tramping over unique limestone outcroppings, bridges and maze-like corridors of stone, we walked back to the car and knocked out the last couple of hours to Christchurch.



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New Zealand is not Real!

Well, physically it exists, but at times it takes a bit of convincing to believe that what you are looking at is indeed a tangible place.  Since all things Peter Jackson and LOTR, a lot of attention has been played to this formally little visited island nation 2000 kms east of Australia; and the tourists have indeed come.


For us, it all started in Auckland, where we were able to meet up with some former guests of ours, Will and Soph.  Pretty much straight off the plane, they took us to this beautiful lake, down a stream path, surround by lush forest and sand dunes; an amazing introduction.  That night had an amazing microbrew (a daily tradition) and fish burger at the food mecca known as Ponsby.  Auckland was a sort of mix between Austin TX and SF; strangely cosmopolitan yet unpretentious- not sure if Austin is still unpretentious but…  The next day, we hit an island off the coast of Auckland, Waiheke, where we hiked, visited a winery and had a good good swim on a beautiful beach.  I’m going to throw the word beautiful around a lot here, that is because 1) too lazy to really hit the thesaurus as much as I should 2) NZ is just such a beautiful place.

Picking up our rental car, we headed north the next day to meet some of the most influential people in Nori’s life- Paul, Carol and Maddie in Whangarei.  When Nori was on her year working holiday trip in New Zealand, some years back, she nannied for this lovely family for 3 months.  After some amazing food, a couple days swimming on beaches, tramping in caves and playing a random round of tennis, we headed north with Paul to the elusive 90 mile beach.  An 80 kilometer “sandbar” spit jutting out from the northern most tip of the North Island, the 90 mile beach is about as otherworldly as you can imagine.  We had a great camping spot with Paul’s other daughter and a bunch of their friends, who were all very interesting and very hospitable.  At night, the sky was filled with stars- the days, with crazy drives, sand boarding and swimming on, yes, beautiful beaches.


Continuing on our adventure, we headed south, visiting some amazing kauri trees, a cool car ferry and did a private tour through a cave with glow worms.  The cave itself was quite impressive; huge rooms, massive stalactites/stalagmites, some crawling and wading required, but the truly remarkable aspect about the cave were those glow worms.  Once you turned off your head lamps, the walls and ceilings of the cave became alive with this ominous green glow.  At one point on the journey there were so many glow worms that we were able to navigate the cave using just the glow from the worms.


That night, we ended our day at the beginning of our first “real” hike in New Zealand; the Tongariro crossing.  We thought that the campsite that we booked was next to the parking lot at the trail head, so arriving there at 7:30 pm with steak and wine in hand we were shocked to find that it was a full 3 kilometers away.  Of course, everything worked out fine, but we had to hike in (and out the next morning) all of our junk.  The campsite itself was spectacularly located in sort of a high alpine, desert landscape and that night had one of the most beautiful sunsets of the trip.




The Tongariro crossing is (according to some random website):


New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage Site. The Tongariro National Park is rich in both cultural identity and dramatic, awe-inspiring natural scenery. Unique landforms, including the volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe -of LOTR Fame, Tongariro and Ruapehu ensure the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered a world-renowned trek.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (20km) is heralded as the best one-day trek available in New Zealand, while others say it ranks among the top ten single-day treks in the world.


It was amazing, and hardcore, being that we added an extra 3 km in the morning, then decided to summit Mt. Tongariro, an extra 6km.  That night, we treated ourselves to a guesthouse in Turangi, after camping 4 nights is a row and we made some SICK mussel pasta- all washed down with some delicious NZ Pinot gris- could write a full blog just about the lovely wine we drank (but won’t).


Next morning, we dragged our sore selves out of bed, had an amazing swim in Lake Taupo, and headed for Napier, another important place in Nori’s 1 year stint in New Zealand.  The Art Deco capital of New Zealand, Napier is a sleepy, well preserved city surround by some of the best wineries in the North Island- Hawkes Bay.  Like any self respecting wine drinker, we spent a full day hitting some of those said wineries, eating delicious food, and just sort of strolling around the quaint little town of Napier- plus, we stayed 2 nights in the youth hostel that Noriko worked at and got an amazing room overlooking the beach!


We pretty much spent the next day driving from Napier down to Wellington, well right north of it to a holiday park, one of many that we stayed at during our trip.  Wellington was an unexpected surprise.  Really cool cafes, good selection of micro brew, great public art, the best museum that we visited in New Zealand and a really interesting wharf area.  We met up with a couple that recently moved back to Wellington from Matsuyama; so was great to meet up with them.  Unfortunately, the guesthouse we stayed in Wellington was not as cool as the city.  The next morning, bright and early we bussed down to the ferry terminal to grab a (you guessed it) a ferry to the South Island.












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June 21st, 2014

Returning to south west Europe for us is never hard.  Not sure if it is the richness of the food, the onslaught of the ridiculously cheap wine, the beautiful landscapes or the ancientness of it’s villages, but it’s fast becoming a tradition of ours to spend our June walking a portion of the Camino de Santiago in this corner of the world.  This June was no different as we set out on the Camino Portuguese to both spread the good word of Ohenro and to get a little bit of pilgrimage in us ourselves.  360km, 12 full days of walking, whining wineing  to the western most tip of continental Europe, Finisterre.

We had 1 night each in Lisboa and Porto before starting the walk, which is a damn shame, because both cities deserve so much more time.  For Lisboa, it was our first meal which won us over- just amazing seafood at this crazy hectic restaurant recommended by a couple of our best guests.

Of course the city too is really beautiful.

After an afternoon and following morning of exploring, we headed out on the train to Porto.  It’s hard to describe just how evocative this city is- and as these things go, the pictures don’t really help much either.  It has this medieval core straddling this beautiful river longed used as the main transport hub of the city’s most famous export, port wine.  Again, just didn’t have time to do it justice but got enough to KNOW we will go back someday.

After picking up our credentials at the cathedral in Porto, we headed out, via the beach for the 1st couple of days, which ended up being a pretty brutal slog along the coast and non-stop rain.  Sort of a weird start; no arrows, almost no other pilgrims- we saw 2 others, mainly walking along hammered boardwalks and newer buildings.  We later talked to a Portuguese women on the last days of our pilgrimage to Finisterre who told us about the massive waves, and destruction that the north coast of Portugal received last winter.  If you remember, the biggest wave ever ridden was last winter on this very coast.

We finally starting getting our grove, and into the pilgrimage when we cut inland from Vila do Conde.  We starting walking through some beautiful country side and some amazing little villages-all the while staying at some of the best albuergues on the camino.

We both really like Portugal, Noriko especially like the food- less rich than Spanish food with possibly a more nuanced flavor.  Walking in Portugal was really quite interesting, and crossing over the border from Valenca (Portugal) to Tui (Spain), one can sense an immediate difference.  It’s almost as if there is a layer of development, infrastructure and wealth that Spain has that Portugal is missing.  Portuguese people are great, quick to say hello and smile; all with a humble quality to them.  

One of the highlights for us, was the fortaleza (fortress) area of Valenca.  It is another world filled with bulwarks, towers, massive walls, tiny winding alley ways, churches and great places to sit and watch the sunset (with a bottle of vinho verde) with a surly Irish man that happens to be walking/riding the pilgrimage at the same times as us.

Crossing into Spain, well, Galicia, was pretty dramatic-the towns are much more substantial, the people are definitely busier with more attitude and the camino starts to have more people.  Of course, no where near the amount of people that we encountered on the Camino Frances last year, but still more.  It also started warming up significantly and we started putting in some long days.  I certainly felt like I was back in my element; speaking very broken Spanish, eating chorizo like I had a tapeworm (I didn’t) and bathing in wine.  Nori’s obsession was Pulpo Gallego (Galician style Octopus) the whole time we were in Galicia-rightfully so, pretty delicious.

It was a bit surreal to return to Santiago, especially from the south this time- actually a much better approach than the Camino Frances; way less urban and offering some nice views.  As opposed to our past caminos, we didn’t see anyone that we walked with, at all, we didn’t do the mass and we really just treated it like another stage of the pilgrimage.  Because we knew we were headed for Finisterre this time, it didn’t feel like the destination, just another beautiful city on the camino, albeit with many many tourists, both walkers and non.

The Camino Finisterre was really wonderful, neither of us had much of an idea what it would be like and we didn’t have a guide book.  Of course, as these things do, it worked out perfectly- we had one morning without our requisite cafe con leche but…was a small price to pay for the freedom and spontaneity of not carrying a guide.  Definitely gorgeous Galician trails through moss covered walls, stone hamlets, amazing food/wine but the nail in the coffin were the sick views of the coast from the tops of the mountains.  Of course, that first view of cabo Fisterre is something I’ll never forget.

One thing we were particularly blown away by was how beautiful the water and beaches were in and around Finisterre…it really was like Thailand or the Caribbean.  Soft, pure white sound, multi-shaded turquoise water were definitely an inviting site on our approach to the (previously, errounously  thought of) end of the world.

After getting a cheap room and a little nap in, we hit the port for pulpo and paella.  It was a great way to end the day and the pilgrimage.  That evening, we (along with about 50 other pilgrims) went to light house that is at the western most tip of Europe, about 3.5km from town, to watch the sunset.

Easy to get superlative about the moment, but it was one of those times in life where you are just mindful of the moment, grateful to be there, witnessing something important.  It really added a component of  ”finishing” to the pilgrimage also that I haven’t felt before on my other pilgrimages.  I find something lacking when arriving at Santiago; it’s a great city, it’s dramatic, you get to meet up and hug some of the people that you met along the way, but, it all feels a bit rushed, as if you skipped the last part of a great film.  Walking the 3 days to Finisterre not only gives you time to reflect on your walk, the things you have brooded over, the places and people you have met, it also gives you the ultimate closure in the form of that sunset.

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May, 14th, 2014

Repeater guest, Kochi stalwart and all around good guy, Bear, hosted a really great live event at the guesthouse last weekend, May 10th.  His collection of ceramics really blew everyone away and he ended up selling quite a few pieces.  We also had the  awesome deal where if you bought a cup, you received a 15% discount on all drinks for the night-as you would expect, many people took us up on the offer.


There was also a group project aspect to the evening.  Bear brought a bunch of uncooked, soft tiles for the guests to mold, sculpt, engrave and decorate as they see fit.  There were all sorts of scalpels, knives, stamps and other implements to help shape the tiles.

It was really fun and a great way for everyone to interact with both the clay and each other and some of them came out really really good.  He took them all back home with him and he is going to glaze and fire them then send them back to us in one large piece which we will then display in the guesthouse.


In addition to all the pottery goodness, there was a revolving group of musicians entertaining all of us.  We had Japanese musicians playing original compositions; very unique, very good.

We also had a foreign contingent of Kochi musicians doing it all, from off-color originals to amazing re-imaginings of classics such as Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage”.  Such a good vibe, everyone was completely into it for the whole evening.


It truly was a great evening and one of the smoothest, most entertaining events we have had in the guesthouse.  Bear and his awesome lady Steph are unfortunately leaving after his current contract is over, but we hope to have more events similar to this one in the future!

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Super cute and lovely “Nemunemu no Ki” is coming back to SEN, Matsuyama.. Don’t miss it!!

Sunday, April 20th
Open 7:15 pm
Start 7:30 pm
FREE, but donation appreciated.
*1 drink order at our bar, please (if you don’t stay at our guesthouse)
*If you come by a car, please use a coin parking nearby.

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Feb. 23rd, 2014


Nori and I just got back from a really nice 5 day break where we went to Sapporo, Kiroro resort and Osaka.  Since coming to Japan 5 years ago, I’ve always wanted to go experience Hokkaido, both in the winter and in the summer.  And though the summer trip will have to wait for another day, the winter version just had its first installment.

After flying to Sapporo (on super cheap Peach) and checking in to our rather boring business hotel, we headed out to experience the last day of yuki matsuri, the annual snow festival of Sapporo.  And though it was very crowded, it was a large enough site that one didn’t feel too claustrophobic.  Yuki Matsuri is a 2 week festival celebrating all things snow, ice and (yes) Hokkaido.  There was a huge ski slope, 3 and 4 story ice and snow buildings, ice and snow sculptures, ice bars and other sorts of over-the-top ice stuff.  The highlights for me were the light/projection shows on those huge ice buildings.  The projections made the ice buildings come alive with music, opening doors, vines racing up the technocolored ice; very interesting and very well executed.

On another street, there were the clear ice sculptures, replete with fish, crab, lobster and other randomness frozen in the sculptures themselves.

Of course, no trip to Hokkaido is complete without raving about the food eaten on said trip.  I will be no exception, the food was just amazing- I thought that I had eaten sushi before; I was deliciously mistaken.  The freshest fish and seafood, cheap, huge quantities.  I don’t really want to get too ridiculous here, but, I have deliberately not eaten sushi since coming back because I wish to not disrespect the critters in Hokkaido nor disrupt the memories of how good it was.

Ok, on to the ski slopes.  If you haven’t heard, Hokkaido probably has the best powder snow in the world; must be ridden to be believed.  I am almost a complete beginner when it comes to skiing and snowboarding, but even me, in my infancy, know how amazing that powder is.  There are points when you are snow boarding, flying down the mountain, and you can’t even see below your knees because you are sunk so far in the powder.  You fall, and it doesn’t hurt and you don’t get wet; you just look up in sky, with the flakes falling, just happy you are experiencing it.

KiRoRo, which is about 1 1/2 away from Sapporo, is quite near Niseko, but unlike it’s bigger, more famous older brother, KiRoRo has way less people and it is a great ski mountain for beginners-tons of long “green” runs.  The food was good, the view from our room was epic, and there was 3 1/2 meters of snow just everywhere.  I did take one really bad hit to the head, but thanks to Jim and his recommendation to always use a helmet, I was ok.  There is just something sublime about standing at the top of a mountain, strapped to a board taking in the beautiful view, flurries all around, and knowing that in a second you will be surfing down the slope.  I can’t wait till I’m good enough where I won’t have to think about what I’m doing and just experience it pure and simple.

After an amazing couple of days on the mountain, we did have to get back to Matsuyama.  Unfortunately, that day Osaka was getting hit by a huge snow storm, so our flight was delayed by 6 hours.  Luckily, New Chitose airport (Sapporo) is really good; they have tons of excellent Hokkaido restaurants and speciality stores, chocolate museum, stuffed animal zoo and a movie theatre.  So, I was able to catch a movie, have a last great sushi meal, and buy a bunch of chocolate.  I can say, best airport delay I have ever had.

We did eventually get to Osaka, and caught the last train to our great friend, Kiyo’s house, where we were sleeping that night.  Even though she had a slight cough, she stayed up with us and drank a last beer and chatted with us.  She is a crazy good host, and randomly enough, she is in Hokkaido now.

And though this was my first time to Hokkaido, this will surely not be my last.


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January 3rd 2014

After an intense 3 weeks in the US seeing friends and family, we came back to Japan on the 28th of December and hit the ground running.  Tons of great guests, cleaning, music, conversations and food…which lead right up till new years eve.

Every year Ishiteji (the 88 temple pilgrimage temple near us) has a pretty amazing music/illumination event and like last year, we made the obvious choice to “ring” in the new year there.  One of our favorite artists, senkuro san played again this year.


After Ishiteji, we moved to our local shrine, Matsuyama jinja, and got blessed by the priest.

On Jan. 1st, at 7:30, we hosted an amazing show by a group called sora oto, or space sound.

Yoda-san and Sayuri-san put on a great performance.  Yoda plays the hang drum, which sort of sounds like a way more ambient steal drum.  Sayuri sung, danced and played the random chimes and bells….the video can explain much better than I can (sorry for the poor quality)…


It was a really cool evening, super intimate but also intense at times.  They are on a tour of Japan right now, and after playing here, on the Janurary 2nd they played  2 times at wanitosai,as far as we are concerned, the only bar in Matsuyama, well, at least in Dogo.


To check out more music and to follow this artist, please check out his webpage.

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November 26th, 2013

This is an article that I wrote for Tokyo Weekender that may or may not make it in to the print magazine…in theory it should make it on to the website….should…


Incense streaming past statues and worshipers alike, a crowd of O-henro (pilgrims) chant the hannya shingyo, or heart sutra, in eerie unison. Eyes turned downward, hands clutching prayer beads, every single one hoping their prayers and devotion will reach the inner recess of the temple where Kobo Daishi is said to reside.  People come to the 88 temple pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku for a myriad of reasons; some looking for forgiveness, some to honor a commitment to a deceased family member, some merely looking to experience the beauty of Shikoku.  I came to this centuries old Buddhist pilgrimage hoping to gain a foothold into my past, and insight into my future.  Strapped with only a backpack, guidebook and a sense of adventure, I calmly took my first step into what turned out to be a life-changing experience.



Pilgrimage is a fundamental part of many world religions; from the Hajj in Islam to the Kumbh Mela in Hinduism to the pilgrimages to Santiago and Rome in Christianity.  It allows the pilgrim to fulfill a commitment to his or her religion and frees up time to reflect on life.  The 88 temple pilgrimage fills this same need for the people who subscribe to the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan.  Following in the footsteps of the revered saint, Kobo Daishi, this 1000 year old Buddhist pilgrimage passes through ancient and modern Japan, across rice paddies, busy intersections and old growth forest trails.


Kobo Daishi (774-834), founder of the Shingon or esoteric, sect of Buddhism, is one of the most important people in Japanese history, and he still holds considerable sway and respect in Japan today.  Aside from being a priest, he was also a master calligrapher, poet, scholar and advisor to the emperor.  In his early years, he forwent his aristocratic upbringing and became a wandering ascetic in the mountains and valleys of Shikoku; the 88 temple pilgrimage recreates his journeys around Shikoku.  One is never far from the presence of O-Daishi-san when on Shikoku and pilgrims believe that he accompanies them through out the journey.  In fact, written on the back of every O-Henro are the words dogyo ninin (same practice, two people) and the staff that all pilgrims use is said to embody Kobo Daishi.




There are a number of ways to do the pilgrimage; on foot, by bike, car, train, bus or a combination of some or all of these.  There is no “correct” procedure for doing the pilgrimage but walking is obviously the most traditional method and the one which the pilgrim gets the most out of.  Most walking O-Henro start and end at temple #1 located in Naruto, near Tokushima city, but again, there is not fixed way to do it- the only rule is to end where you begin.  The temples on the pilgrimage are known for their stark simplicity and rustic beauty, though each one is different they all share an underlying feeling.  If the opulent (and touristy) temples of Kyoto and Nara were built for the nobility and upper classes, the temples on the pilgrimage were built to serve the common man.  The difference is quite stark and one gets a sense that the temples themselves feel more meaningful and alive than their more famous counterparts on the mainland.


At around 1200 kms, it takes anywhere from 45 to 60 days to complete the circuit.  Some people do it in one go, and others take years to complete it, using holidays and 3 day weekends.  Others will only do a 3-10 day portion of it or will walk 1 prefecture worth of temples.  Walking O-henro fall into 2 main camps: the ones that stay in paid lodging every night, and the ones that mainly camp and/or sleep in free accommodation.  Paid-lodging types include: temples (syukudo), minshuku/ryokan, business hotels and guesthouses/hostels.  They are spaced out nicely on the pilgrimage and it only involves minimal planning to secure a nice roof over your head.


To keep costs down and to feel closer to nature, many pilgrims decide to sleep nojuku, or outside, and use the plentiful amount of free accommodation located around Shikoku.  Tsuyado are free places to sleep that are part of a temple complex and zenkonyado are homes or other spaces that local people provide for pilgrims for free or for a very low cost.  These places are usually quite basic, sometimes only a space on a tatami floor somewhere, though at times they can be quite nice with a bath and clean futons to use.  Places to pitch a tent along the pilgrimage include: michi no eki (road stations), uninhabited shrine grounds, public parks, temple grounds and beaches.  The general rule is to leave places better than you find them and if there is every any question on whether or not you can camp there, please ask permission from the locals.

The trail itself is very well marked by the ubiquitous red arrows and other markers that populate the trail.  The necessary 88 Route Guide, published by Buyodo, is the only guidebook written in English and contains all the information and maps you will need to walk some or all of the pilgrimage.  Most O-henro also carry a stampbook (nokyocho) where they receive beautifully drawn chinese characters over dramatic stamps at each temple (¥300) -an amazing souvenir that will always be cherished.  Pilgrims are easily identified by their white vest (hakui), sedge hat (segegasa) and wooden staff (kongozue).  Clearly identifying yourself as a pilgrim has many advantages; not only is it part of saturating yourself in the full experience, but people all over Shikoku will go out of their way to help you by offering you accommodation, helping you if you are lost and most of all, offering you ossetai.


Much has been written on the unique culture of ossetai on the island of Shikoku.  It roughly translates as ritualized gift giving, where local people offer pilgrims services or items for free.  It can be food, canned coffee, rides, money, beer or one of the myriad of fruit that grow in hills around the island.  In actuality it is so much more, and gifts should be accepted humbly and with respect.  By gifting ossetai, the local people are further entrenching themselves in the culture of pilgrimage and continuing an over 1000 year tradition.  By supporting the pilgrim with ossetai they are helping you complete your pilgrimage, and in turn, helping Kobo Daishi complete his pilgrimage, for the pilgrim and O-Daishi san are always together.  My most important ossetai when I walked the pilgrimage in early 2009, wasn’t by a local person at all, but by a fellow foreign pilgrim who really taught me “how” to walk the pilgrimage, and through our conversations, made the experience real for me.

Now that I live in Shikoku, I try to impart that same guidance that I received as ossetai all those years ago.  My wife and I opened a guesthouse near Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama where one of our main focuses is to support walking/biking O-henro.  We also encourage our guests as much as possible to experience at least some of the pilgrimage by walking a bit of the trail around Matsuyama.  As being one of the few circular pilgrimages in the world, the 88 temples, as in life, always comes around full circle, so we too have chosen to help and support, where we have been helped and supported.  No matter what your intent for doing all or some of the pilgrimage, one thing is for certain, you leave Shikoku a different person.


For more information please check out:




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October 13th, 2013

Last week, we were invited by the fine people of Forest Canyoning to go sliding, bouldering, waterfall climbing, rappelling and cliff jumping in the spectacular Nametoko gorge in south west Ehime.


It was probably the most adreniline-filled thing I have done in Japan.
We rented a car, and took the 2 hour drive to the headquarters of Forest Canyoning, near the village of Matsuo no Cho about 45 mins due east of Uwajima.  The drive from Matsuo to the canyon is really nice and scenic, zig zagging through rice-farming villages and single lane forest roads.  Once you arrive, you are greeted with the fresh mountain air and the sounds of birds and other wildlife (there were lots of deer and monkeys frolicking around when we were there).
Ishikawa-san (guide name-goemon) who both greeted us when we arrived and was our adventure guide, is a really nice and capable guy.  We geared up and headed out, it’s about a 5 min walk to the first slide along the amazing gorge.
We were able to do the full day course in a 3 1/2 hours because it was just the 2 of us and they wanted us to get a sense of what it would be like to do the full course.
According to Wikipedia, canyoning is:  is traveling in canyons using a variety of techniques that may include other outdoor activities such as walking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, abseiling (rapelling), and/or swimming…and in Nametoko, we did all of them.
The thing that is quite unique with Nametoko is that there are all of these perfect rock slides.  Some as long as 40 meters. This was a level 4 slide, crazy fast.
And this was the level 5 slide, Nori decided to bow out….understandably, it was pretty intimidating jumping through that, but just awesome!
Really can’t recommend this course enough, it makes for an amazing day trip from Matsuyama, or if you are doing a bigger Shikoku wide trip, makes a good stopping point from Matsuyama to Kochi.  They have an amazing campground on site, and there is also a wonderful onsen/ryokan near by also.

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Friday, September 27th, 2013


The 50th largest island by area in the world, Shikoku is smaller than Sardinia and Bananal, but larger than Halmahera and Seram.  At 18,000 sq kms, spatially, it really isn’t that big, but being completely mountainous, driving anywhere is particularly time consuming. Breathtaking, but time consuming.

Using a couple of rare days off for us, we decided to see some parts of southern Ehime/western Kochi that we haven’t been to before.  Our first stop was Shikoku Karst.



After driving 3 hours down crazy winding roads through dense forest, you come to the surreal mountain”table top” plateau of Shikoku Karst, one of 3 “karst” regions in Japan.  With cattle grazing lazily, strange granite rocks protruding out of the ground and the amazing view in all directions, it doesn’t feel like you are in Japan anymore.


We slept in a really nice bungalow, had a bbq at night and woke up at 5 to catch the sunset from the top of tengu no mori peak.  We brought our camping stove with us on the 30 min. hike, made some nice coffee and had some pastry while waiting for the inevitable.  The sunset was amazing (the picture wasn’t) and on the way down we went through a purpose-built obstacle course-felt like boy scouts all over again.


Coming down off of the plateau, we headed towards Japan’s cleanest river, the Shimanto kawa.  This was just an exhausting drive, down 1 lane winding roads for hours past old-growth forests, seldom visited villages and amazing views.  Again, just beautiful but quite challenging.

Since the river is remote from major cities and does not have any dams, it has been named one of the “Three Clear-Flowing Rivers in Japan”.   Another interesting feature of the river and it’s tributaries are the bridges that span the river called Chinka bashi.  Chinkabashi are low water crossings without parapets in order not to be washed away by floods. The prefecture decided to preserve them as cultural heritages.

After driving along the river, visiting random spots, we decided to head for Kochi’s famous pacific coast.  Kochi is a different world from the rest of Shikoku, if not Japan.  Where the coast of the inland sea is calm and tranquil, Kochi’s coast is wild and untamed- renowned for it’s surf breaks, whale watching and amazing diving.  We stayed a great spot, Ohki Marine on Ohki beach; unfortunately, we couldn’t swim because there was a typhoon somewhere out in the Pacific and the waves were even crazier and bigger than normal!  It was an intense day of driving, probably 8 hours in total going only 150kms or so…



Next morning, we headed up the coast back to Matsuyama, passing beautiful spots along the way.  Notable places included: Tatsukushi Marine park, Odo coast and Otsuki.  We wish we could  have spent more time on this coast line-just magical/intersting places abound…we will definitely be back.

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