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Aki Meguri

History: Prospectus

The Logbook: A Sample Entry

[This entry was written before I left, as a way of letting people know what to expect.  After all the miles I've walked and temples I've seen, this little episode remains one of my favorites.]]
This story happened near sundown on July 28, 2001, as I was walking the 100-kilometer “Chichibu Sanjuyon Reijo,” the Pilgrimage to 34 Temples Sacred to Kannon in Chichibu, Saitama:

 

Main Hall of Chichibu Temple 30As evening approached, I was leaving Temple 30 heading for Shiroku, the nearest train station, to return home for the night.  The priest caught me on my way out, and suggested that I try to walk to Mitsumineguchi, the next station, which would knock a couple of kilometers off of tomorrow’s walk.  Although I was exhausted, it sounded like a great idea, since the next temple, #31, was over 18 kilometers away.  It would be nice to have a head start in the morning.

On the other hand, I knew that the last direct train to Ikebukuro was leaving soon, and adding the 25 minutes or so to Mitsumineguchi was a bit of a risk.  It wasn’t the last train, just the last convenient one, so I decided to chance it.

There I was, at the end of a long, hot, 20 kilometer-plus day that had included a mountain climb and some ridge running—and I was walking at top speed right past one station to a farther one!

Bug Hunters in a Rice Field

About halfway along, I stopped at a drink machine.  It’s kind of funny out in the country sometimes.  You’re walking a deserted lane, fields of rice and green vegetables on either side, and suddenly you come to a small cluster of houses lining either side of the road.  There is often a small family cemetery nearby, and either a miniature Shinto shrine, a little shed containing a Buddhist statue, or both.  And not uncommonly, there’s a drink vending machine.

As I bought my drink, a little girl, around five years old, came jitterbugging out of the house.  The evening cool had set in, the air conditioning was off, and the time had come to see what was happening in the road.  How surprised she must have been to see a large foreigner, bathed in sweat (as usual), buying a sports drink from “her” vending machine!

The following conversation took place, all in Japanese:

Her: (pointing at me): English [language]?

Me: Yes, English. (pointing at her) English?

Her: No. (giggle) Japanese. (pause; again pointing) America?

Me: Yes, America. (pointing) America?

Her: No. (giggle) Japan.

Me: (thinking of the train) OK.  Bye-bye

And off I went.  About 10 steps away, she called out:

Her: I’m [unintelligible] Yamazaki.

Me: (turning and bowing hastily) I’m James.  Nice to meet you.

Her: (pointing to her nose in the Japanese style meaning “me”) Remember me, OK?

Me: …Yamazaki?

Her: Hisako.  Remember me, OK?

Me: I’ll remember you.  Bye-bye.

And as I set off, I noticed an old man hunkered down in the garden, pulling weeds, with a big smile on his face.  He had heard it all.

What gave little Hisako the confidence to chat so casually with a stranger?  And what prompted her to ask me to remember her?  I have checked with my friends; this is not a usual thing for children to say, not a parting cliché like “See you again” or “Take care.”  This was a unique, authentic communication.

I’ll never know why she did it.  But I’ll never, never forget her.

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