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Camino Vs Ohenro, part deux

– Osettai/cultural differences:

Osettai is the support (verbally, financially, nutritionally)  the local people of Shikoku give to the walkers of the pilgrimage.

Osettii is a unique aspect of O-henro; you get so much support (emotionally, spiritually, financially) from the residents of Shikoku.  You get the feeling as if you are doing them a favor or a service by walking the pilgrimage; especially as a foreigner.  It is what keeps you going when you are at your lowest and when you are questioning what you are doing.  It is something special in the world and affects the general feeling of the pilgrimage.  It also feels more “religious” -if that’s the right word- than the Camino; because you are constantly going from temple to temple, praying, going through the rituals, there is a strong feeling that you are not just hiking around Japan, but you are on some sort of religious journey and if infuses everything that you do.  Each temple you visit, each time you pray the sutra, you are constantly reminding yourself your true purpose for coming here.

Spain is quite different; you have this semi-abstract goal of reaching Santiago; you start to question whether it is a real place at all.  Of course there are so many people doing it for different reasons, some are Christian, some are Catholic, but probably half are not doing it for specific religious reasons.  The Spanish people that  you encounter could care less that you are walking the Camino, of course, there are a quarter of a million people doing it a year, you are nothing special.  That is not to say that they are un-kind, just uninterested in you.

Especially the last 120 kms of the trail is especially crowded, with many young people (college students) from Spain and other places in Europe taking all of the accommodation and taking all the sereneness out of it.  That is not to say that there are not amazing experiences, both “religious/spiritual” or other wise that are had throughout the month-long trail.  For me personally, I feel that is is more of a contemplative, cultural hike through some amazing landscapes, visiting beautiful cities and churches and meeting amazing people from around the world; and less of a pilgrimage.  Of course, that is just my opinion, and many people would be insulted by this assertion.  I’m sure many people have a profound religious experience while walking it.

Both countries are beautiful and have there own feel, history, buildings etc…  The trails in Spain are probably 80 percent on soil, though some of the trails are next to roads, either quiet or quite busy.  This is the opposite of the O-henro and can be seen as negative aspect of the 88 temple pilgrimage- and one that I believe could be remedied fairly easy with government/NPO support in making more trails.

The set phrase that everyone will say to you as you pass by (from shops, other pilgrims, some locals, etc) is “buen camino”, which is like have a good/safe walk.  The local people themselves, unless they are involved in the pilgrim tourist trade, could care less that you are there.  Not bad, but just not necessarily good…of course they are polite and throw out a buenos dias to you every once in a while.  It’s almost as if you were just traveling anywhere else in small town Europe-in the big cities you are not even really seen.  I think because of the immense volume of people that walk through the area each day, there is a certain amount of apathy for the pilgrims.

What there is though, are volunteer organizations from all over Europe that run non-profit Albuergues; which is why they are only 5 – 7 euros a night.  Most of the non-private albuergues are either supported by the government (mostly local/prefectural) or by these volunteer organizations.   When I first walked the Camino 7 years ago, there were only the government/volunteer albergues, now, because of the influx of people, there are so many private albergues as well, which are still cheap but closer to 10 euros a night. We also encountered 2 (possibly 1 or 2 more we didn’t see) free food/drink stands (donations accepted) that are run by volunteer groups, and they are super appreciative and positive and felt a bit like Osettai, but only 2.   There is also a bodega there that gives pilgrims as much free wine as they can drink! Less than 30% of these organizations are Spanish, lots of Dutch (these guys are everywhere), German, British and Scandinavian.  So, there is a feeling on the camino that people that have walked the camino before, really want to “give back” to it and help make is special for other who are walking it now.  A lot of them (both the organizations and the individuals) are doing out of a religious sentiment.

So, an observation of mine:

Where as in Shikoku, while there is very little government support (at least in terms of accommodation) and little non-profit organizational support, the local people really support the Ohenros, free accommodation, henro hut upkeep and general osettai.  I guess this goes back to the time when Ohenros would pray sutras for benefit of local people for money/food, of course some still do, and the conception of “2 walking as 1” where the locals feel as if by supporting you, they are supporting Kobo Daishi.

Spain seems the opposite.  The local people don’t support you, but the government and these organizations do.  Of course, the Camino was a dead trail for almost a century, and there was a concerted effort on the part of several priests, than eventually the local/national government, to revive the trail for all sorts of reasons; from religious/spiritual to economical.

People’s personal experiences of course affect opinions and impressions of places and these musing are merely my views through the lens of my experiences. While I am comparing the various aspects of the two pilgrimages, I do realize they are two distinct “walks” in the world and it is a bit “apples and oranges”.  Both are amazing experiences and I encourage people to walk both and all of the other amazing walks to be had in the world.