Every time I read you I get more sentimental for the land of my birth. I was born in Yokohama Japan, of British parents in 1920, and was evacuated just prior to Pearl Harbor, 1941. Thank you so much for all the pleasure you have given me over the years I have been reading you. I [went] back to visit in 1984, but it was not really the Japan I remembered. Maybe it is because of the slower pace on your island, that you sound more familiar to what I remember. I read each and every one of your columns avidly, and enjoy them thoroughly.
Just a short e-mail note to say once again how much I enjoy your adventures in Japan. I have probably made my last visit to Japan because my main interest in coming to Japan so often now lives here in the U.S. So your reports are even more anticipated now.
Everet Bumgardner (retired Foreign Service officer and WWII naval veteran)
And then there is Skip, living in Tokyo as a professional musician, who ordered my book before it was even printed. When I received his order, I called him up and said, “Skip, thank you for ordering my book, but this money order for $100 is too much money!” To which he told me to send him however many books he could get for $100, and if there was any money left over, to keep the change.
These three Japan Lite readers are three of many I have corresponded with regularly for years by e-mail. I have never met them, but they have shared their stories and memories of Japan as I have shared mine with them through my columns. This past year, these three very special readers passed away. I still miss their e-mails and their anecdotes of Japan.
Many of the readers of my column have special bonds with Japan. Some were born here, some fell in love here, and others, like myself, just came here to work and found themselves spellbound. I think about these readers often, people just like me, who will always have a special place in their heart for Japan. And I was sure that Japan must have a special place in its heart for them, too.
So I went out to find that special place, a place that would let them know that Japan has not forgotten them. It would be a place I could go from time to time and leave an offering of sake or fruit, and a place that I, or anyone, could visit at Bon and pray for their souls. And I was quite sure that these readers would like that special place to be on Shiraishi — island of mists and trances — in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea, where the islands rise like mountains out of the sea.
I set off walking the Shiraishi Pilgrimage, our island’s smaller version of the Shikoku 88 Temple Buddhist pilgrimage, founded by Kobo Daishi in the Heian Era around 805. Our pilgrimage is not as old but is at least 400 years old. Shiraishi pilgrims walk the route twice a year and worship certain deities along the 7-km route. They might pray to recover from an illness, or for a safe childbirth, for example. I wondered which deity I could pray to for the souls of my readers.
The Shikoku Pilgrimage is divided into four stages, the last 23 temples of which are the final stage, that of nirvana, or enlightenment. Within this section, is temple No. 82, the Temple of the Fragrant Root. The Thousand Armed Kannon, a female deity who symbolizes mercy and purity, presides here. In her thousand arms, she holds a thousand implements, including an arrow, a crown, a spear, a mirror, a bell and a moon, which she uses to protect humanity. She embodies the suffering of the world and works for the salvation of all. Her mantra is “Om, purge all saturated karmas by the imperishable dharma hrih” — hrih being the pure nature of humans. She is called Senju Kannon in Japanese, and is represented by a small stone statue. She is situated beautifully, looking out upon Shiraishi Island and the Inland Sea beyond, offering salvation for those now and in the future.
With her I left three wooden tablets with the names of the three Japan Lite readers, thus establishing a shrine not just for them, but for all the Japan Lite readers, where they can achieve satori in the land of nirvana. “Namu daishi henjo kongo.”