Tag Archives: japan

Bad Pilgrims – Cycling the Shikoku Pilgrimage

13 Mar

In April last year, I spent three weeks cycling the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Japan. We only got to Temple Forty, but we had an amazing time. Here’s my article in Metropolis Japan.

Bad Pilgrims

My husband, my son and I are in a fast food store in Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, about to embark on a pilgrimage to the eighty-eight Buddhist temples which ring the island. This pilgrimage usually takes six to eight weeks to walk. As we only have three weeks we plan to cycle. That should be plenty of time, we think.

The pilgrimage is my idea. I have been obsessed with it for many years. I have, in fact, written a whole novel about a woman who wants to do this pilgrimage. It is counter-intuitive to do it now, when I have already written the book, but I like to mix things up.

‘I will not complain if things do not go well while on the pilgrimage, but consider such experiences to be part of the ascetic training,’ states the oath in our guidebook. As our plan is to ride 1200 kilometres on a bike designed for short urban commutes this seems ominous.

The commandments in the guidebook are more specific, ‘I will not harm life, steal, commit adultery, lie, exaggerate, speak abusively, cause discord, be greedy, hateful or lose sight of the Truth.’ While we finish our hamburgers we debate whether this means we can’t eat meat. We decide that it probably does.

After a couple of false leads, we find the bike hire down in the basement outside the train station. The staff, two friendly gentlemen, seem surprised that we want the bikes for three weeks. We hand over a bond of thirty dollars per bike and set forth with no other identification needed. Only in Japan.

At the first temple I persuade my family that we all need to buy a hakui, or white vest. This identifies us as pilgrims. The writing on the back asks Kobo Daishi, the revered founder of the pilgrimage, to keep us safe. At any rate, it will be good for visibility on the roads.

I also buy a tote bag, some paper ‘prayer slips’ to give to people who help us and a brocade-covered book which will be stamped at each temple. There is a range of other paraphernalia which we decline.

Our guidebook says that Tokushima area, our starting point, is the place of spiritual awakening. As we cycle around the island we will pass through the place of ascetic training, the place of enlightenment, and finally, the place of nirvana. That’s something to look forward to.

The procedure for temple visits is outlined in our guidebook and, if done correctly, would take quite some time. We distil it to a ten minute version which includes bowing, hand-washing, bell ringing and book stamping.

Despite our efficient temple visits, by the end of day one we are already behind schedule. We’ve fiddled around with our backpacks – on back or in basket? – dealt with a flat tyre and experimented with GPS and riding attire. The walking pilgrims smile and wave at us as we go by. And then again as they go past us shortly after. I sense we are becoming a running joke.

We had intended to spend the night in the bell tower of temple six, but shortly after temple five it is getting dark and starts to rain. We find a little henro, or pilgrim, hut beside the road and call it a day. The host of the shelter, an old man, drops by and soon returns with two more tatami mats for sleeping. He mimes a squatting action and points at his house to indicate we can use the toilet. We buy pork curry at the convenience store down the road and skulk out, hoping no-one will notice what bad pilgrims we are. The rain patters on the roof and we curl up on the tatami mats in our sleeping bags. Extraordinarily, this pilgrimage is unfolding just as I’d imagined.

The next day brings the start of the osettai – traditional gifts to pilgrims. I buy some mandarins and an old lady throws in some dried sweet potato. I give her one of my prayer slips and she looks chuffed beyond belief. Throughout the journey we are showered with lollies, hot drinks and fruit. I feel like the whole island is cheering us on.

On the third day we tackle temple twelve, the ‘pilgrim crusher’, named for its location on top of a mountain. We push up a 400 metre pass, then on the long ride down I get a flat tyre and we retire to the nearest village for repairs. Some lovely ladies insist on giving us lunch as osettai and we even manage some conversation. When we eventually make it to temple twelve there is snow on the ground.

After a week we hit Kochi prefecture, the place of ascetic training, and finally leave the walking pilgrims behind. We stay in henro huts plastered with prayer slips, in free rooms in temples and in our tent. We aim to find campsites with the hat-trick – hot baths, a convenience store and a toilet.

We camp next to a ropeway station, on a rocky point with crashing waves, beside a lively frog pond and in a patch of wasteland with a large boat as a wind shelter. After an eighty kilometre ride down the last wild river in Japan we find a campsite in the dark and set up to a rising orange moon. We sleep in a temple garage and watch sunset bathe the bell tower in a soft golden light.

I learn that singing keeps your spirits up when you’re on a narrow ramp in a dark tunnel and that the less you have, the easier it gets.  I also learn that large grapefruit will always be given as presents before climbing hills. I think I am becoming a pilgrim.

At temple forty, the furthest point from temple one, we run out of time. Hiring a large car, we dismantle our bikes and slot them inside. We return the car at Takamatsu, one days ride from Tokushima. Even though we have not reached nirvana, or even enlightenment, we have passed our ascetic training with flying colours.

We ride into Tokushima to find that the long-heralded cherry blossom season has at last arrived. Every time the wind blows, petals fall like snow. We wheel our bikes back down into the basement and the rental man seems pleased to see us. After some confusion, where we pass money back and forth between us, we establish that there is no more to pay – the deposit is enough. Our bicycle hire has cost us less than five dollars a day.

We’ll be back. How could we not when enlightenment and nirvana are still to come?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Japanese Connection

5 Mar

???????????????????????????????This post originally appeared on Book’d Out

In ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ my protagonist, Arkie, meets her friend, Haruko at Byron Bay railway station on New Year’s Eve. Haruko introduces Arkie to her own way of celebrating. First there is bingo at fourteen minutes past nine, then soba noodles at fourteen minutes past ten and a prayer at fourteen minutes past eleven. At fourteen minutes past midnight Haruko gives Arkie a present in a drawstring bag – the Seven Lucky Shinto Gods. These gods become a touchstone for Arkie on her journey. There is fat and happy Hotei, whose stomach you rub for good luck, Ebisu, the god of fishermen, Bishamonten, who heals the sick and Fukurokuju the god of wisdom.  Arkie’s favourite, the only goddess in the group, is Benzaiten. Benzaiten is the goddess of everything that flows, her shrines are usually situated near water. She is fertile and a competent wife. Everything I am not, Arkie thinks.

Haruko tells Arkie that every New Year’s night the Lucky Gods travel around to houses on their treasure ship. Arkie must draw a picture of the Lucky Gods and place it under her pillow. If she has a good dream then it will come true.

I was drawn to the Lucky Gods because I kept seeing them everywhere I went in Japan. Sometimes they were ancient statues covered in snow, sometimes little models for sale on the street. I began to notice how the individual god’s names popped up everywhere. Ebisu, for example, is both a brand of beer and a locality in Tokyo. I bought a model of the Lucky Gods and brought it home. It sat next to my computer while I wrote the novel and gave me inspiration when I flagged.

Haruko’s present becomes an integral part of Arkie’s journey but she also introduces her to many other facets of Japan. When Haruko writes a trendspotting proposal about pilgrimages she includes a picture of Tori gates – archways which guide you from the everyday world to the spiritual. The picture is from a temple near Kyoto where you walk through hundreds of Tori gates on your way to the shrine at the top of a hill. This shrine, called Fushimi Inari, is for the fox goddess, Inari, who is also associated with fertility.

Inari appears in my story in the form of a white foxy dog with a mysterious influence.

‘Inari possesses you through your fingernails,’ Haruko says.

‘What happens if you are possessed by Inari?’ says Arkie.

‘You go a little crazy,’ says Haruko.

Strange things start to happen. Each way Arkie turns she finds a little bit of magic. A dusty teapot picked up on the side of the road could be Tanuki, Haruko tells her. Tanuki is a racoon dog who is a bit of a trickster. Tanuki takes many forms and often turns himself into a teapot, Haruko says.

Under Haruko’s guidance Arkie’s pilgrimage becomes much more than just a journey to the Big Things. Two worlds merge and every day is filled with new revelations.

 

mary ryanHappily Ever After? 

I will be talking with author Jennifer St George and the always hilarious Mandy Nolan at Mary Ryans Bookshop Byron Bay at 5.30pm on Thursday 12th of March. Join us to explore the joy of books, writing and love. 

This is a free event, but bookings essential on 6685 8183. 

Release day – it’s a pilgrimage to what?

1 Feb

eiffel tower small 2It’s taken about four years for ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing‘ to come from first idea to publication. This is a good thing in a way as it’s given me plenty of time to get used to the idea that I’m going to have to answer the question – what is your book about?

What I usually say is – ‘It’s a story about a woman doing a pilgrimage to the Australian big things.’ I’ve noticed when I say this that people often look puzzled, so then I add, ‘you know, the Big Prawn, the Big Pineapple…’ And then their faces clear.

But before the Big Things, there was the pilgrimage…

Undertaking a pilgrimage usually hints at a desire for transformation or redemption, which is the case for my protagonist. The story opens at Byron Bay railway station on New Year’s Eve where Arkie plans to end it all. However, as you may know, you’d be waiting an awfully long time to throw yourself under a train in Byron Bay. Arkie is a trendspotter who has carelessly lost in quick succession her husband, her lover and her ability to spot trends,. Hence the need for a pilgrimage.

When I originally started writing this book, I envisaged a story about a woman walking the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan, which is a trek taking 60 days and going to 88 Buddhist temples. I read a lot of books about it and it sounded wonderful, but I wasn’t sure when I was ever going to find the time to do it. So, rather than hold off writing the book until I could research the pilgrimage, I decided to write about someone who wants to do it, but can’t. Arkie, I decided, would have her pilgrimage right here in Australia.

The idea for the big things came to me one day as I was driving past the Big Prawn — more or less as it does for Arkie in the book.

So that’s what my book’s about – a pilgrimage and big things.

PS. The Eiffel Tower is not one of the Big Things in the book, but I was there and my book was there and I couldn’t resist…

 

I will be doing a number of events in the coming weeks and I’d love you to come along. Here are the details:

 

Tuesday 10 February 2015 – Sydney

1:00 PM                Ashfield Library – Details here.

6:30 PM                Margaret Martin Library (Randwick)

This is a free event however bookings are required online  http://randwickcitylibrary.eventbrite.com

 

Thursday 12 February 2015 – Lismore

12:00 PM             Literary Lunch

La Vida Restaurant and Bar, 3/178 Keen Street, Lismore, NSW 2480

Tickets are $35 and include a two-course lunch and a glass of wine. Tickets are available via the Book Warehouse Lismore, (02) 6621 4204.

 

Thursday 26 February 2015 – Gold Coast

10:30 AM            Elanora Library

This is a free event but bookings are recommended by phoning the library on (07) 5581 1671 or online here.

 

Friday 27 February 2015 – Victoria Point, Qld

10:00 AM Victoria Point Library

This is a free event but bookings are recommended by phoning the library on (07) 3884 4000

 

I am also doing a blog tour, starting today! Hop over there if you’d like to follow along.

best wishes,

Lisa

‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage’ – a sneak pre-Christmas preview

12 Dec

Hello,

I hope things are going well for you as the year ends. It always seems like the days are speeding up at this time of year.

It’s less than two months now until my new novel ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ hits the shelves, and Christmas is coming so I thought I’d post a little extract here to celebrate…

 

Chapter Onearkie cover 2

 

It has been precisely a year since Adam left me.

On the streets, New Year’s Eve partying is in force, but here on the station, all is quiet. Byron Bay has turned out to be not at all what I needed. Despite determined efforts to be cheerful, to smile at strangers, to exercise and swim, even to have a Reiki treatment, I have slid further and further over the line.

My feet are placed squarely on the white mark beyond which you may not pass. Two steps and I will be over the edge.

Why a train? Why not pills, drowning or a blade? Perhaps I was thinking of Anna Karenina – the snow, the rushing wheels, the final jump. I always have been fond of trains.

How did I come to this point? Perhaps it is as simple as a loss of pleasure. That’s how it seems. The world feels tuned to black and white. This black and white world has been mine for a year now. It no longer seems likely that it will change.

A Dali print used to hang in the bathroom which Adam and I shared. Every morning and evening, the drooping clocks mesmerised me as I brushed my teeth. They hung off tree branches and walls like melting cheese on a hot summer day. If time was really as soft as a camembert cheese, would I bend it back and do things differently now?

A raindrop lands heavily on my head and a clay-like smell drifts towards my nostrils. I check the battered timetable I have plucked from the drawer in my motel room. The train from Sydney arrives at 21.20. I do the figures again. Fifteen more minutes to wait. I tap my feet on the concrete, watch spots of rain decorate the rails, try to focus my mind, so I will be ready.

‘Excuse me.’

The voice is an unwelcome distraction.  I thought I was alone.

‘Would you like play bingo?’

I turn.

The girl is a strange figure in this setting – neatly cut hair, glasses, a short-sleeved collared shirt tucked into too-high jeans. A briefcase hangs from one hand. Most of the Japanese I’ve seen in Byron are hip. They have jagged-cut bleached hair and low-slung shorts. This girl shares one thing with them – a surfboard in a silver cover is slung over her shoulder.

She doesn’t look like a surfer.

Bingo. I could almost laugh. Do I want to spend the last moments of my life playing bingo? With a girl who has no dress sense? Let me just think about that. Hm, no. I picture the irony. Did you hear? She was playing bingo.  Before she jumped. Sad. She used to really be someone.

‘No thank you.’

The girl bows. ‘Sorry.’ She turns to go.

I feel bad. She seems lonely. She wants to play bingo. I don’t want to leave this life feeling selfish. Pretentious and delusional maybe, but not selfish.

‘Wait.’

She swivels back, her eyes apologetic behind her glasses.

‘How do you play bingo with two people?’

 

A few links… 

Moya Sayer-Jones will be launching ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ at the Northern Rivers Writers Centre in Byron Bay at 6pm on January 30th. All welcome and you can find more information here.

I will be talking at:

– Ashfield Civic Centre in Sydney at 1 pm on February 10th. More details here.

– Margaret Martin Library, Randwick, Sydney at 6.30 pm on February 10th. More details here.

–  literary lunch at La Vida Restaurant, Lismore at 12.00 on February 12th. More details here.

– Elanora Library on the Gold Coast at 10.30 am on February 26th. More details here.

 

My clever son Tim Eddy has made a book trailer for me which you can check out here.

‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ is available now for pre-order in e-book or print. You can do this via the Random House website here.

 

Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Very superstitious? (Australia Day Blog Hop)

24 Jan

???????????????????????????????     I don’t think of myself as a superstitious person, but I do have a tendency to see meaning in things that may be meaningless to others. Often the world seems deeply mysterious to me. Perhaps that comes with being a writer. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in Byron Bay.

I have recently returned from a month in Japan. It was my fourth trip there, so clearly I like it. One of the things I particularly enjoy is seeing the Shinto shrines dotted all over the country. Everywhere you go there is a Tori gate that welcomes you to the spirit world. The Shinto religion has many gods and even objects like trees or rocks are revered for their kami or spirit.

On one of my previous trips to Japan I discovered the Seven Lucky Shinto Gods. Soon I started seeing them everywhere. They seemed to be calling me, so I bought a little model of the gods and took them home. My Seven Lucky Gods look a little like the seven dwarfs. They are all plump and smiling. Each one is about the size of a thimble and dressed in brightly coloured robes.

I am a bit of a collector of objects of significance. When I start a new writing project, I am often scanning for a touchstone that will symbolise the story. The object sits next to my computer while I write and it seems to give me courage. I suppose that’s superstitious, but writing is a leap of faith and you take help where you can.

I am currently working on my next novel, which is to be published by Random House in early 2015. The protagonist is a trendspotter who has always been able to predict the next big thing. Until one day she finds she can’t. She needs some help and this is where the Seven Lucky Gods come in.

It wasn’t until I had those gods sitting on my desk that this story really started to take shape for me. It’s been the same for my previous two novels. While I’m a pretty rational person usually, when it comes to writing I need my lucky object.

Do you have a superstitious habit or ‘lucky’ object that you rely on?

Comment on this blog to go into the draw to win a signed print copy of my current novel ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ (or if you’ve already read that one I can send you ‘Liar Bird’).

Happy Australia Day and a big thank you to Shellyrae from Book’d out for organising this Australia Day Blog Hop! australiadaybloghop2014

A Story within a Story: The Storyteller and his Three Daughters by Lian Hearn

14 Dec

the storytellerLian Hearn is the author of the best-selling Tales of the Otori series, which sold over four million copies worldwide. Her latest book, The Storyteller and his Three Daughters, is also set in Japan. The date is 1884 and the storyteller of the title is Sei, a master of the art.

While Sei is renowned for his storytelling, he is starting to feel that times are changing and his old way of telling stories is no longer enough. People in these modern times are craving more excitement, more drama, and more passion. Can he reinvent himself? Sei wonders.

Luckily, or unluckily for Sei, he has three daughters who bring plenty of problems into his life. Two of his daughters leave their husbands. One wants to become an author while the other thinks her husband is in love with his young male assistant.  His third daughter is married to a Kabuki theatre manager who is struggling to keep his show running in the face of rivalries and romance between his players.

The history of the time also provides an added layer of interest. Tensions between Japan and Korea escalate as Japan comes out of its period of isolation and embraces European ways. An English storyteller, Jack Green, gathers a wide audience while Sei ponders how painful those trouser things must be. Hearn’s own passion for Japan is evident as she immerses us in this fascinating culture.

The Storyteller and his Three Daughters is told as a story within a story. It is a reflection on the process of finding stories and telling them and how truth turns into fiction. Lian Hearn has talked about how she found this story. She had a number of the characters in her head – a former samurai, a female medical student, a Korean boy and a Japanese man who loves France – but it was only when Sei, the storyteller started to speak to her that she saw how they could all fit together.

This is a light hearted and in some ways whimsical book with many humorous moments. Lian Hearn is so clearly in charge of her own storytelling that she can take liberties that perhaps a lesser writer could not. Witty, romantic, suspenseful and thought provoking – what more could you ask for from a story?

This is my tenth (and probably final ) review for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge 2013.

Happy Christmas and I hope Santa brings you lots of books. I’m planning on tackling ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton, which should keep me going for a while.

Playing Bingo on New Year’s Eve– my short story ‘Blossom’

29 May

My story ‘Blossom’ appears in the Review of Australian Fiction this week, partnered with a story by Venero Armanno, ‘Sugar Baby’.

The Review of Australian Fiction is a new online magazine that aims to support Australian Fiction by publishing stories by established writer s partnered with an emerging writer of their choice.

Veny’s short story ‘Sugar Baby’ is actually more of a novella and explores the emotional cost of an older man seeking comfort via a financial transaction with a much younger woman. For those who don’t yet know Veny’s work, you have a treat in store.

My story, ‘Blossom’ started on a trip to Japan where we spent New Year’s Eve as the only foreigners in a small lodge in the snow. I was very taken with the way the evening was organised. A whiteboard was set up in the lounge room outlining the agenda. Events ran to the minute and included bingo, noodles, a visit to the train station to see the snow train go by and a prayer at the Shinto shrine. The last item on the agenda, taking place just after midnight, was ‘sleep’.  It was such a contrast to the way we celebrate New Year’s Eve here.

In ‘Blossom’ I transported this New Year’s Eve to a train station in Byron Bay where an Australian woman meets a Japanese girl.  I wanted to explore the idea that a chance meeting with a stranger can change your life. Especially in Byron Bay of course…

The Review of Australian Fiction operates by passing royalties on to the authors of the stories so you can subscribe, happy in the knowledge that you are feeding a chocolate-hungry author. It is a bargain at $2.99 an issue and comes out fortnightly.

Zen and the art of roadwork

30 Jan

I have been in Japan for the past two weeks. As always, in a strange country, little things jump out at you. Hey, they do things different here!

One of the lovely things about Japan is the pleasure that people take in the minutiae of life. Consider the ‘stop/go’ man. In Australia, this is a very dull occupation. You stand by the side of the road. You turn the sign saying ‘stop’, to one saying ‘go’. Occasionally, if a car is driving too fast, you might wave your hand in a ‘slow down’ action.

In Japan, the ‘stop/go’ man is a highly trained performer. In the daytime, he wields the red or white flags. These are waved in a complicated cheerleader- like way. This is followed by a bow as your car goes past, making you feel like an honoured member of a procession.

At night-time the flags are replaced by light sticks, brandished in a way that would put a Byron Bay fire twirler to shame. I admit it can be a little confusing to be confronted by a whirling red light stick. Do they mean, stop? Go? What the hell, just enjoy it and proceed with caution.

The props for the roadwork are almost as good as the performance itself.  There are no boring road barriers here. Instead, barriers are held up by cute green frogs or smiling monkeys, and flashing lights are replaced by flowers with lights undulating out from the centre. It’s calming and beautiful. And perhaps that is what is intended – for each little moment of life to be made as perfect as possible.

Next week – zen and the art of kitchen appliances.