How I Fell in Love with Kochi: Shikoku Byo and Deep Travel

I first came to Shikoku in the fall of 2006 to walk the 88 temple pilgrimage. It was my second time visiting Japan, although I had only been to Tokyo on my first trip. I did have some background in Japanese, having studied the language for a few semesters in college and worked in a few Japanese restaurants, but my overall knowledge of the language and the culture at that time was rudimentary at best.
I can’t remember why I decided to walk the henro trail. Maybe I saw something about it in a documentary about Japan or perhaps I read about it online. Whatever it was, at that moment, I decided that I was definitely going, and when I had saved up enough money, I quit my job and bought a ticket to Japan. That decision had a huge impact on my life.
Walking the pilgrimage was like no trip I had ever taken before. It was a whirlwind of spirituality, breathtaking scenery, amazing encounters with interesting people and hard, physical training. The most exciting part was waking up every morning not knowing what was waiting around the next bend. I walked on and on for two months and everywhere I went, friendly people helped me along the way, sometimes giving me directions or food or drink, other times words of encouragement that lifted my spirit. With all of the war and greed and violence in our modern world, I was amazed by this local
culture of positivity and helpfulness to strangers.
Of course, there were hard times as well. Walking in a downpour that lasts all day can be demoralizing, and my feet and shoulders paid a heavy price for two months of hiking on asphalt and mountain trails, but the spiritual and emotional growth I experienced made it all worthwhile. As the days and weeks went by, I largely forgot about my regular life in America, my focus solely on the walk. Not looking further than where I was going to stay the next day, my worries slipped away and I felt happier than I could ever remember. There were moments, staring out into the vastness of the Pacific,
or reaching the summit of a mist-covered mountain, when I felt completely alive and present in the moment.
When I finally arrived at the first temple, back where I had started, tears streamed down my face for the first time in years. I wasn’t crying because I had finally made it to the end. I was sad because I didn’t want it to be over.
There is a term for people who visit Shikoku and fall in love with the island: Shikoku-byou, or Shikoku sickness. I had definitely caught a case.
When I was in my early twenties, I took my first trip abroad, backpacking aroundEurope. At that time, I imagined myself traveling around the world, filling my passport with the stamps of every country, but my time in Shikoku changed my mindset. I realized that life was short and that I couldn’t go everywhere. There simply wasn’t enough time. I wanted to experience a few places deeply. I wanted to go back to Shikoku.

Over the next few years, I came back to walk the pilgrimage three more times. I walked in spring and fall. On the third time, I walked the course backwards. Tourist visas were only good for ninety days, so I spent two years traveling between Japan and Korea. I volunteered on organic farms, worked at an English cafe in Korea, and helped out at a traditional Japanese inn. In Kochi, I was able to stay with a local family who treated me like one of their own. I met so many friendly people and enjoyed the local
culture so much that I finally decided to move to Japan where I have been teaching English for the past six years.
Now that the world is opening up again, I hope that many people will visit Kochi and experience all of the wonderful things that this prefecture has to offer. I hope to utilize my experience to help you make great memories of your travels here. I hope that you will want to come back to Kochi and Shikoku again and again. There is no cure for Shikoku-byou, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!