Home > Books/Magazines, Reviews > Book Review: Walking in Circles: Finding Happiness in Lost Japan. A Shikoku Memoir

Book Review: Walking in Circles: Finding Happiness in Lost Japan. A Shikoku Memoir

For the second time in seven years Todd sets off on the 88 temple 1,400 km Pilgrim’s Trail (Shikoku Henro) around the smallest, and possibly least visited by foreign tourists, of Japan’s four principle islands; Shikoku.

Made famous by the monk Kōbō-Daishi, more commonly known as Kūkai and who founded mystical Shingon Buddhism, the trail purportedly follows in his footsteps, though, as Todd’s account reveals… …aha, but that would be telling and this review is not about spoilers.

Early on Todd sets the scene for his voyage of self-discovery though this element to his journey is not so overwhelming as to ‘suffocate’ the other elements that make up a good story and of these there are plenty with laugh out loud moments as he meets and makes the acquaintance of some of the most idiosyncratic characters one comes to expect from travelogues of this type. And this travelogue excels in regaling the reader with tales of some of the most idiosyncratic to be found in any trekking memoir as the author follows

the trail’s wandering path off the beaten track and through some of the even more rural areas, of hidden valleys and towering mountains, of a rural Shikoku that not many Japanese, let alone foreigners, have visited. These elements of the book reveal and evoke what makes journeys in Japan and meeting the people there so endearing and so addictive.

Braving a purposefully self-isolating approach to his journey the author shows some courage sleeping in the precincts of shrines which can be a very spooky experience indeed as this reviewer can attest to having become lost on the slopes of Mt Inari after dark when visiting the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine just south of Kyōto, not an experience to be repeated.

The book certainly doesn’t hold back in its evocation of the hardships of such a trek in what is a predominantly rural and undeveloped region. For those thinking about attempting this particular pilgrimage Todd’s book could be used as a primer. Forewarned is forearmed. Reading about the trials and tribulations of sore feet, blisters and exhaustion that Todd battles his way through might be more than enough to encourage the reader to limit their experience to a vicarious trek courtesy of the book.

What might have added to the travelogue though would have been the addition of a few photographs, something which online commentators have pointed out. However, that said, those who do read the book might like to connect with the author’s Facebook page where he has posted quite a few ‘enlightening’ photos, each batch posted in relation to the individual chapters in the book.

Occasionally the travelogue feels like it breaks into a sort of ritualistic prose. With some sage advice thrown in along the way it certainly matches, in places, the religiosity of some of the subject matter which the author sporadically touches on. The style is engagingly pilgrimage like to the extent that this reader began to feel as though he had joined the author on his tour!

And did the author, as some other pilgrims have told of their own encounters, meet the spirit of Kūkai on the trail? You will just have to read the book to find out!

A welcome addition to the ‘treks in Japan’ category of travelogues this is a delightfully illustrative written account of a journey of self-discovery and of an extremely long pilgrimage made very accessible in its exceptionally readable, non-academic, style. Thoroughly recommended!

Author Todd Wassel

The author’s Facebook page is Todd Wassel-Author and his webpage address is http://www.toddwassel.com

Walking in Circles: Finding Happiness in Lost Japan. A Shikoku Memoir

Todd Wassel

ISBN: 9781735311609 

334 pages

Pub. Jizo Press

Reviewer Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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