MATSUYAMA, EHIME PREF. – With a tent and bicycles, two American women in their 20s conquered 1,500 km in 16 days in September 2012 to complete the famous Shikoku pilgrimage of 88 temples.
The temples, the scenery and most of all the local people’s generous hospitality made such a strong impact that they decided to create a story based on their experiences in a hand-bound illustrated book called “Temple by Temple.”
Chelsea Reidy, 29, from Guam, and Elayna Snyder, 26, from Michigan, both lived in Ehime Prefecture for three years from 2009, working as assistant language teachers at local schools until August 2012. Living along the pilgrimage route, they often encountered pilgrims, known as “henro” in Japanese, clad in their distinctive white shirts, and became interested in becoming pilgrims themselves.
So in September 2012 before returning to the United States, they set off on their bicycles to visit all 88 temples in Shikoku associated with the Buddhist monk Kukai, posthumously known as Kobo Daishi.
The pilgrimage was tough as it often involved scaling steep mountains and there were moments they felt like giving up, but the two endured.
“For us, the most amazing thing about the trek around Shikoku is meeting people along the way,” said Snyder. “We met so many kind and generous people. We will never forget them.”
There were many episodes of such hospitality. In Kochi Prefecture, the owner of a confectionery shop treated them to steamed buns. In Tokushima Prefecture, a driver who happened to be passing by gave them a lift in his lightweight truck to one of the temples up a hill, saving them hours of painstaking biking.
Upon returning to the United States afterward, the two came up with the idea of producing an illustrated book in English about their experiences along the pilgrimage — Snyder doing the drawing, and Reidy the writing.
With money raised through an online crowdfunding platform, they purchased traditional Japanese “washi” paper and obtained other materials needed to make a first edition of 176 copies of the book.
Forty pages of episodes involving an unnamed protagonist, a girl going on the pilgrimage by bicycle, are narrated by Kouta, a black cat traveling on the back of her bike. Each first-edition copy of the book comes with one of the special red stamps that Reidy and Snyder collected at the temples along their way.
“The illustrations and words tell one story, the paper and thread and stamps whisper of another,” Reidy said. “This is not only about binding the books by hand, it’s about binding the books to the 88-temple route.”
All first-edition copies, priced at $60, have been sold. The two said they are considering publishing a second edition and also contemplating releasing a Japanese version. Excerpts from the book are available on their blog at bigricefield.com .