Translator: Susan Tennant
Title: The 1918 Pilgrimage of Takamure Itsue: An English Translation of “Musume Junreiki”
Publisher: Bowen Publishing
Length: 268 pages
Genre: Non-fiction journal(ism)
Why I Read: Personal experience
Read If You’re: Want to/have completed the Shikoku Henro
Quote: “So I became elated and thought, ‘If you want to save people, be ambiguous. Ambiguity is obscurity. Obscurity is mystery; mystery excites divine inspiration; divine inspiration creates faith.'” (55).
Rating: ★★★★½ [ratings guide]
Links: GoodReads | IndieBound | Amazon
A young woman of 24 set off alone in 1918 to walk the 1400 kilometre pilgrimage route around the island of Shikoku. Her dream of a solitary journey ended when an old man of 73 met early on her journey insisted that he accompany her as servant and protector because he believed that she was an attendant of Kannon Bosatsu. This book is her account of their extraordinary experiences during the five month journey. The 105 newspaper articles that she wrote while making her pilgrimage made her a celebrity in Japan. In later years the woman, Takamure Itsue, became well known in Japan as a poet, intellectual, scholar, historian, feminist and anarchist.
The 1918 Shikoku Pilgrimage of Takamure Itsue resonated with me in new way. I completed the pilgrimage a few months ago, the same age as Takamure, nearly 100 years after her (though I did it in pieces via a mixture of walking and driving). For these reasons I found Takamure highly relatable. I read the bulk of this book just two months after completing the pilgrimage, but I had already begun to feel nostalgic for the experience. This book renewed my journey by allowing me to see the pilgrimage through another young woman’s eyes.
This book does not contain information on the pilgrimage. If you’re unfamiliar with the pilgrimage, this may not be the best book to start with. In these articles, one finds a chronicle of a young woman’s growth over the course of the pilgrimage. I recommend this book if you’re planning to or have already undertaken the pilgrimage (or are currently doing so!). Takamure writes more about her personal experience than the pilgrimage itself. Her voice gives a strong flavour to her writing, which is easily readable in this translation (there are places where you can clearly feel the Japanese style of writing). Takamure can be very sassy and very real. Her opinions and attitudes bring her journey to life.
However, there is one thing I can say: nearly one hundred percent of people do not understand the person that I am. I don’t care. If they hae doubts about me, it doesn’t matter. However, it’s annoying that problems arise because of their doubts. So what if I’m young? So what if I’m a woman? So what if I’m traveling alone? (29)
I felt just a little bit discouraged. To the tell the truth, my wallet is already almost empty. Never mind, I have an idea: I will spend all the money I have in Beppu and go around Shikoku without any. That’s it – that’s what I will do. Living and dying will be up to Divine Providence. (33)
I did not expect to find so much humour in her narration. I laughed out loud many times. One of my favourite anecdotes:
[Some women come to Takamure seeking healing.] “We’ve heard that you’re not an ordinary person.” I wondered what on earth I should do. Every time they said this and that, I was downhearted and felt like crying. In the first place, although I explained to them “I’m not that kind of person,” they just wouldn’t accept what I said. There was nothing I could do, so I immediately pretend to be the God of Boils and said, “It is important for people to have faith. As soon as you return home tonight say three times ‘Get better, boil!’ and pray to the gods then go to bed. Never doubt my words. Also, consult a doctor in your neighbourhood. This too is a revelation from the God of Boils.” Although I did not say that in so many words, I at least told them something to that effect, blushing and turning pale many times. But thank heavens, they prostrated themselves like flat spiders, completely submissive. Ah, unexpectedly I have gained on profession! After I return to Kumamoto, I shall immediately become the God of Boils. (51)
If I say it myself, that was witty, but when I looked behind me, guess what! The little girl was innocently sleeping. (142)
At times Takamure can be melodramatic, at other times poignant. Her relationship with the old man injects some heartfelt emotion into her tale and best illustrates her maturation over the course of this journey. I sometimes forgot she wrote this one hundred years ago. That she wrote these articles at such a young age… I’d like to know what she got up to later in life!
The long dream-like trip is finally over. I expect the world that is soon to come to be more severe, more pressing, and more distressing. However, no matter what kind of scenes I encounter, no matter what kind of threats I receive, no matter what kind of scorn I meet with, once more I make a solemn vow to heaven to absolutely never lose this quiet, sincere, reverent, pure feeling or my integrity. Also, I will continue to embrace everything with warm affection. I will go! I will go! I must go to my majestic battleground. Even if I am smeared and dyed in blood, I must walk the path of virtue, the serious, pure, pious path of virtue. (199)
The translator’s notes provide excellent support to the articles. Susan Tennant writes clear explanations on nuances particular to the time and locations where Takamure was writing. I wouldn’t have even known to think “What’s Takamure talking about here?” were it not for Tennant’s notes. For example, a man says, “I’m sure that America is a substantial country because it’s on the gold standard. Japan is insignificant because it’s on the silver standard.” (48). Takamure is unimpressed. The footnote explains that “Both US and Japan were on the gold standard at that time.” There are also notes on translation. One example: Takamure writes, “In Shikoku there are many whom local people call corrupt pilgrims…” (49). The footnote shares that “She uses ぐれ [gure], from ぐれる [gureru], to do wrong.” Additional segments at the end of the book include a map of the pilgrimage, a few pages about it, and over 20 pages biographical information on Takamure and the significance of her undertaking the pilgrimage. This book is not a basic translation of Takamure’s writings. Tennant’s work gives greater meaning to Takamure’s work, explaining and clarifying the contexts in which she wrote.
A couple of personal notes now. Takamure disappointed me when she glossed over her travels between Temples 19 and 1, the temples nearest to where I lived. That was the bit I was most looking forward to! I still enjoyed her writing, though, so that didn’t spoil the book for me. Reading this book made me yearn to return to Shikoku. Many people return to complete the pilgrimage multiple times. I want to do it again, this time completely by walking. I hope to improve my Japanese by that time so I can better converse with fellow travellers.
The Bottom Line: A collection of newspaper articles unlike anything I’ve encountered before, The 1918 Shikoku Pilgrimage of Takamure Itsue makes for a compelling yet easy read driven by the voice of a bright young woman. A must-read for anyone interested in completing the Shikoku Pilgrimage.