Monday, March 11, 2013

Down Home Maine Presentation: Pilgrimage to the 88 Sacred Places of Shikoku

by Bonnie Pooley
Toshio Hashimoto is truly a renaissance man. Not only is he an auto mechanic of great repute, a shitake mushroom grower, a Taiko drummer, and a Mahoosuc Mountain Rescue Team member, but he is also a lifelong, devout Shignon Buddhist. On March 4, Toshio spoke to a packed auditorium at Gould Academy about his pilgrimage around the Japanese island of Shikoku.
Toshio Hashimoto on his journey
He told his rapt audience, first, why he decided in March of 2011 to make a 670-mile pilgrimage to visit the 88 temples around the perimeter of Shikoku Island. When Toshio was born two months prematurely in his rural home 62 years ago, no one thought he would survive. His mother and all of her friends and neighbors prayed fervently to Kobo Daishi, the 9th century founder of their branch of Buddhism. When Toshio thrived, he owed lifelong gratitude to Kobo Daishi, and he made this pilgrimage to express his gratitude.

Toshio and statue of Kobo Daishi

Toshio next showed pictures and told stories of his 38-day walking journey and the rituals he performed at each of the 88 temples. The audience was moved by his openness in speaking of his sincere and devout Buddhist beliefs. Toshio told of the beauty of the shrines and the rural countryside. At times, he walked with a view of the Pacific Ocean; at other times, he climbed and descended endless mountains. We also saw pictures of the terrible blisters on his toes, the bus shelters in which he sometimes slept, and the vending machines where he often got his food and drink. 

With one of many fellow pilgrims
There were stories of fellow pilgrims, each with his story of why he was making this journey. And we saw the breathtaking loveliness of the coming of spring in Japan, cherry blossoms and all. Toshio said that, when he reached the 88th temple, he had a feeling of pure ecstasy, the emotion that Buddhists call nirvana, of having reached heaven on this earth. He hopes to make this pilgrimage again when he reaches 70 years old. 

Cherry blossoms in spring

Toshio’s talk once again proved that these western mountains of Maine harbor rich and multi-faceted hidden gems, one of which can often be found with his eyes peering into a Subaru engine.

One of the 88 shrines
photos by Toshio Hashimoto

Thanks to Herb and Paula Gross for producing and hosting this event.  Herb and Paula helped Toshio sort and organize his photos, sifting through more than 1000 pictures to arrive at the 200 slides in the presentation.

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