"Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage" is an account of a solo woman's journey running Japan's 900-mile Buddhist pilgrimage, a distance equal to running from San Diego, California to Oregon. At 37 years-old Amy Chavez is suddenly let go from her university job, and is left wondering what to do next. She confides in her friend, a Buddhist priest, who encourages her to seek enlightenment on the Shikoku Pilgrimage. He gives her "cosmic tools" to take with her: prayer beads, mantras and a guide to the Buddhist pantheon of gods.
This story takes place in 1998, before the ultra-running craze and before the proliferation of information via the internet. It was truly journeying into the unknown, using only information handed down from those who had walked the pilgrimage before. During her five-week journey, running almost a Marathon a day, Amy visits all 88 temples on the pilgrimage route. She is sometimes given lodging by locals. Other times she sleeps in bus stops and on park benches. One night, she sleeps with the dead. She serendipitously finds herself delivering udon noodles one morning, and meditating with Zen monks another. Throughout her pilgrimage, she meets the Buddhist gods and eventually learns the power of metaphysics. With this new found knowledge, she is able to enter the sacred mandala.
This is a story about Japan, Buddhism and running, but is also a book that explains in concrete terms, the Buddhist search for enlightenment.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Funny. Charming. Thoughtful. Informative. Amy captures the spirit of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. The story is a perfect balance of inspiration, motivation and textbook knowledge. A great book to read if you are planning to walk the island of Shikoku, or if you have done so it is a reminder of why this journey is so special.
Amy Chavez's Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment is, to my knowledge, the third Shikoku Pilgrimage travel diary published in English in as many years; the previous two being Lisa Dempster's excellent Neon Pilgrim (2009) which chronicles her "journey from overweight dole bludger to intrepid explorer" and her experiences as a walking "nojuku" (no accommodation) pilgrim, and Susan Tennant's brilliant 2010 translation of Itsue Takamure's famous Musume Junreiki ("A Daughter's Pilgrimage Record", released in English as The 1918 Shikoku Pilgrimage of Itsue Takamure), originally published in Japan as a series of newspaper articles penned by Takamure whilst on the pilgrimage road. While Chavez's book is similar in subject and theme to these other recent publications - a female writer, at a crossroads in her life, decides to undertake the Shikoku pilgrimage on foot whilst penning articles about her experiences - Chavez's book pales in comparison.
Finding herself at a major crossroads after losing her university job in Japan, Amy Chavez consults her friend Mr. Norimi, a Buddhist priest, for advice. He persuades her to attempt an 88 temple pilgrimage that covers a total of 900 miles on Shikoku Island. Perhaps doing this pilgrimage might bring some form of enlightenment or guidance from Kobo Daishi (the founder of Shingon Buddhism). So Amy Chavez becomes, in her own words, a "reluctant pilgrim"--although she wasn't even a Buddhist, and wasn't even sure if she belonged to any particular faith at all.
She decides to not just walk the pilgrimage, but to run it. This would add an exciting twist to her journey and make a better series of articles for the Japan Times. Plus, she's in a big hurry to find out Kobo Daishi's answers to her questions and figures running may speed along the process. She needs to figure out how to find a new job ASAP and move on with life. This is the upbeat tone that sets the adventure on a running...
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