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sledding

Japan 15: Super Fox Pilgrim

It was somewhere in the homestretch of the pilgrimage, say between temples 74 and 75, that we first saw her. A solitary walking pilgrim, dressed in the usual pilgrim garb. Nothing out of the ordinary about that. What was odd is that she was a good-looking young woman. Now, Sensai claims that if I were to see her on the streets of Tokyo or Osaka, I wouldn't even turn my head. That may be true, but the fact of seeing her in pilgrim attire in the Shikoku countryside gave her beauty a certain supplementary value.

You don't see a lot of young Japanese people walking the pilgrimage route. The majority of the pilgrims are old, and they go by bus or by car. This is natural, I suppose, since they have the time and the money to do it. I can imagine a few reasons for the dearth of young people on the pilgrimage. One is that a relatively ancient Buddhist ritual, undertaken in the provinces, simply doesn't resonate with young Japanese people. Two, the pilgrimage is relatively arduous, and even a person in good shape would need at least forty days to complete it walking. They just don't have that kind of vacation time. The least compelling of the reasons is that age 37 is supposedly a transitional year for Japanese people, and if one were to do the pilgrimage just once in life, it would be at age 37.

Which is why it was a surprise to see this fine-looking young lady walking alone down the pilgrimage route. I shared my enthusiasm with all the kids, making a sort of running joke of the phenomenon. I dubbed her "Super Fox Pilgrim" and turned it into a sort of jingle or mantra that I could sing to myself under my breath to take the edge off the monotony of the bicycle miles ...

Super Fox Pilgrim
Super Fox Pilgrim

... in the same way that on rainy days as I pedaled I would sing to myself lines from Jimmie Rodgers's "Waiting for a Train":

A thousand miles away from home
sleeping in the rain ...
Nobody seems to want me
or lend me a helping hand ...

Not that I was feeling sorry for myself, or even suffering at all; it's just that these are nice lines to sing to yourself as you pedal, soaking wet, through the rain. Anyway, needless to say, I was happy to see the Super Fox Pilgrim again at maybe Temple 78.

I would ask my companions, "Did you see the Super Fox Pillgrim?" and they would laugh at me. At around Temple 81 we were separated, and the other group spotted her first. They said, "This is going to make Couture's day." And eventually I saw her too. She even talked with us (but in Japanese), about the fact that we were doing the pilgrimage on bicycles: the usual.

I saw then that she had crooked teeth. I don't care; she was still beautiful. That was the last we saw of the Super Fox Pilgrim.

I imagine her as a young professional who was breaking the pilgrimage into sections, and using her vacation time accordingly. For example, during a ten-day vacation, temples 72-82. I wonder if that's why she always looked so fresh and clean.

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sledding

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