Successfully Funded!

With the help of all of our backers, the “East or West” Kickstarter was successfully funded today!

Thank you!

The book’s publication now moves forward. The proofing is finished, and all is set for the printing in early August.

You can tell those who missed the Kickstarter that they can pre-order copies of the book on the Kyoudai Press Bookstore:

However, the Kickstarter rewards, special editions, and special pricing will no longer be available.

One of the most important traditions of the Shikoku pilgrimage is that of giving and receiving osettai. Residents of Shikoku give gifts of food, tea, charms, and sometimes lodging and money to pilgrims. As representatives of the saint Kōbō Daishi, pilgrims are not supposed to refuse these gifts.

Before my pilgrimage, as a veteran traveler I had become used to strangers approaching me when they wanted something from me: to ask for money, to be my guide, to sell me souvenirs…It was a shock and an adjustment on Shikoku to be approached with gifts.

The experience fundamentally changed my outlook on the potential in human relationships. I might even say that it allowed me to accept the responsibility and humility of crowd-funding: both as a backer of other projects and as a recipient of the amazing generosity of friends and strangers.

Thank you all for your support, your osettai.

I am working hard to make a beautiful book.



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A little bit more about re-enchantment

My two walking pilgrimages have been, both a way to re-enchantment my life as well as a way through which to understand both the processes of enchantment and disenchantment. Elsewhere, I have written that I aim to create art that seeks to re-enchant the world, but not at the cost of naïveté, delusion, hypocrisy, or irrationalism. As such, for me the convenience store pit-stops and suburban sprawl are as important to an enchanted pilgrimage as the beautiful views and hill-top temples.

Landy and Saler put it slightly differently in the collection of essays, The Re-enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age:

“The point, however, is that these are not the only two options. There remains a third type of enchantment, unjustly overlooked, which is the modern enchantment par excellence: one which simultaneously enchants and disenchants, which delights but does not delude.” (p3 from the introduction “The Varieties of Modern Enchantment” by Joshua Landy and Michael Saler)

Citation: Landy, Joshua, and Michael T. Saler. The Re-enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2009. Print.

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100% funded today!

100% funded today! A Huge Thank You to all my backers! Still 7 days left to pledge!

A red hand points the way for walking pilgrims in Shikoku: available as a postcard as one of the rewards.

A red hand points the way for walking pilgrims in Shikoku: available as a postcard as one of the rewards.


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What we carry

Although Matsuo Bashō never walked the Shikoku pilgrimage, his long, circular, walking journeys, do place him squarely in the tradition of Japan’s holy wanderers. As an artist myself, I love how his list of ‘necessities’ includes inkstone, brush, and writing paper, just as mine includes camera and film…

“I threw away quite a number of things, for I believed in travelling light. There were certain things, however, I had to carry on my back–such as a raincoat, and overcoat, an inkstone, a brush, writing paper, medicine, a lunch basket–and these constituted quite a load for me. I made such slow progress that I felt deeply depressed as I walked along with faltering steps, giving as much power as I could to my trembling knees.”

From “The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches” by Matsuo Bashō, translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa (p81)


Citation: Matsuo, Bashō. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and Other Travel Sketches. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966. Print.

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Shikoku and shamanism

Clearly pilgrims from all walks of life embark on their journey around Shikoku for an ever-changing variety of reasons. However, it’s also clear that the pilgrimage is part of ancient ascetic and shamanistic practices in Japan.

Carmen Blacker addresses the issue briefly in her book The Catalpa Bow when she writes:

“There remain two more subsidiary ascetic disciplines to be described, both of ancient origin and both still practiced today. At first glance they seem oddly contradictory.

The first is known as komori, and means seclusion, preferably in the darkness of a cave, in a temple or shrine or in a room of one’s house specially prepared and purified. The second consists of a continuous walking pilgrimage from one sacred place to another, usually along a route which describes a circle…

…Sometimes the route followed by the ascetic is not a haphazard one from one mountain to another but describes a circle round one particular mountain. In the kaihogyō exercise of the ascetic branch of the Tendai sect, the disciple follows a circular route ‘round the peak’ of Mt Hiei. At Iwayayama to the north of Kyoto the ascetic may circumambulate the mountain, pausing at eighty-eight places on the way to recite invocations to Fudō, Kannon or Amida. At Inariyama at Fushimi a similar circumambulation may be made round the holy peak. On a larger scale the prescribed circle may cover hundreds of miles. The route through the Eighty-eight Places, much tramped by ascetic pilgrims, circumscribes the entire island of Shikoku (98, 100-101).”

Blacker goes on the list Mokujiki Shōnin, Enkū, and Bashō as examples of artist-holy wanderers in Japanese history.

Citation: Blacker, Carmen. The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

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Work moves forward on the book, with the help of the cat, of course…

Great News! Our “East or West” project is the staff pick today on Kickstarter!

…In the meantime, work on the book progresses. I’ve gone for the bold choice and decided on the Ruby Red for the end pages.

The first round of proofing looks good, but the perfectionist in me wants to try just a tiny bit more yellow in the images…of course the cat (upper left) is essential to the process.

And, if course, thank you again to everyone who has supported this project thus far!



Spread the news!

Sample Post: Check out this Kickstarter to make a delightful photobook about walking the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan. East or West is an abridged diary, an account of a mystical journey, and a photographic poem in the form of a book. The images are studies in luminous detail, reflecting the loneliness, quiet intensity, and grace that all true spiritual seekers come to know:

The cat (Upper Left) is an essential element in the proofing process, of course.

The cat (Upper Left) is an essential element in the proofing process, of course.

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How do you draw a circle?

When it comes to long pilgrimages, people seem to want to measure the authenticity of a journey with certain criteria that are linked to the pilgrim’s potential level of suffering.

They ask questions like:

Did you walk the whole way?

Did you camp-out?

Did you carry your belonging the whole way?

Fair enough, since in most religious traditions a certain degree of suffering is a natural part of the mystical experience.

Except…reality tends to be more complicated. To officially complete the Shikoku Ohenro route, all a pilgrim must do is to worship at the 88-temples. Walk, run, cycle, take a car, train, bus, or private helocoptier…even the extent and nature of your worship is all up to you. You can complete the pilgrimage all at once, over ten years, clockwise or counter-clockwise, in order from #1 to #88 or completely out of order.

Moreover, completing the pilgrimage multiple times is a normal part of the tradition and there are a number of optional ‘add-ons.’ There are 20 Bangai-fudasho which are temples related to the Shikoku pilgrimage, but not part of the official 88. There is Ishizuchi-san along the route (one of Japan’s 7 holy mountains), the Kotohira Shrine, and Kōya-san (Kōbō Daishi’s final resting place) which is not even on the island of Shikoku…

Along my journey I met pilgrims who had completed the Shikoku route over 100 times by car or bus. I met pilgrims who had completed the route 3 or 4 times…but they lived the route and pushed all their worldly belonging along with them in a supermarket cart as they inched along Shikoku’s roads year by year. I met wealthy, young monks in expensive inns and poor old men who walked 5 kilometers a day and slept in the bus shelters.

In the end, I gave up any effort at judging or ranking a pilgrimage, including my own. Everyone draws the circle around Shikoku in their own fashion. The rightness of that path can only be known by the one who makes the decisions that make the circle…

OK Alex, that’s a beautiful philosophy, but really, what did your pilgrimage consist of? You may well ask.

I’ll break it down simply:

#1 I both started and ended at Kōya-san. However, on neither trip did I climb the mountain.

#2 I walked, clockwise, to all 88 official temples and after temple #88 I walked back to temple #1.

I also walked to the top of Ishizuchi-san from temple #60. However, on the way back to the pilgrimage route the next day, I did have to hitch a ride from temple #60 to Lake Kurose-ko so I wouldn’t get caught on the mountain paths at night.

#3 I carried all my belonging, but I did ship batches of film ahead of me so that I would not be carrying over 80 rolls of film as a time.

#4 Sometimes I slept in free lodging and sometimes I stayed in an inn. I ate more convenience store meals than I can count.

#5 It took me 45 days, and I walked almost exactly 800 miles.

Would I walk the Shikoku Ohenro trail again: yes.

I say this with confidence even though I very, very clearly remember certain days along the route when I said to myself: you will only do this again if you are crazy.

-Only 13 days left to support: East or West: A Walking Journey Along Shikoku’s 88 Temple Pilgrimage


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“East or West” Kickstarter Update

The East or West Kickstarter now has 189 Facebook shares.

Keep spreading the word! There are only 16 days left in the campaign!

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From “The Minaret of Djam” to “East or West”

In Freya Stark’s The Minaret of Djam: An Excursion in Afghanistan I found an almost perfect evocation of one of the main concepts behind East or West :

“The sweet out-of-doors drowsiness wrapped me as if it were a part of the mountain darkness, and the river lisped and murmured between its invisible banks. It knows its own direction, I thought, and remembered a poem written long ago — ‘Deep in my heart direction lies’ — if we can follow that, we move safely and any road can lead us, carrying through the darkness like the Helmand, our own secret climate of repose.”


Citation: Stark, Freya. The Minaret of Djam: An Excursion in Afghanistan. London: J. Murray, 1970. Print.

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A book of the pilgrimage…A pilgrimage for a book

My last book was on Islamic scholarship in West Africa. East or West is about a Buddhist pilgrimage in Japan. However, despite their apparent differences, the very same thing lies at the heart of both traditions.

This ‘thing’ is the mystical power of the book (although East or West does not discuss this power explicitly). In the Islamic tradition I might use the word baraka.

You see, the truth is that one of the important goals of completing the Shikoku ohenro trail is to have one’s very own fully completed stamp book—nōkyōchō—filled with stamps and calligraphies from all 88 temples (and Kōya-san).

Those who complete the pilgrimage more than once keep the same book, and each temple will stamp over their previous stamp and calligraphy a new, bright red stamp for each new visit of worship around the circle.

And, these books traditionally have power. In Japanese Pilgrimage Oliver Statler tells a tale of how a pilgrim’s stamp book (he calls it an album) would be passed over a sick person as prayer was said for his or her recovery (193 Statler).

So even as pilgrimage has inspired countless questers throughout the ages to write books about their journeys…in Shikoku, in particular, you have a pilgrimage for a book.

-And don’t forget to support my Kickstarter East or West: A Walking Journey Along Shikoku’s 88 Temple Pilgrimage :


Citation: Statler, Oliver. Japanese Pilgrimage. New York: Morrow, 1983. Print.

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