by Oliver Statler ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 18, 1983
A sensitive, well-written account of a journey to the 88 sacred places (temples hallowed by the memory of the Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi) of Shikoku (Japan's smallest major island). Statler is a gifted student and popularizer of Japanese culture, but this book, his fifth on the subject, may disappoint some readers by the way it flirts with the ""serious"" genres of autobiography and the spiritual journal, only to wind up as a tasteful travelogue. Kobo Daishi, or Kukai (774-835), was a scholar-priest who founded the Shingon (""True Word"") sect of Buddhism, and whose legend-encrusted life is still widely remembered and revered in his homeland. Nowadays most people who make the almost 1,000 mile trip to the 88 shrines go by bus, but Statler and a young student companion named Morikawa followed old henro (pilgrim) tradition and hiked the sometimes exhausting route in two months. Rather than simply make the reader trudge behind him from Ryozen-ji to Gokuraku-ju to Konsen-ji, etc., on a relentless countdown, Statler wisely goes off on all sorts of digressions, telling of the poets, emperors, holy men, and various lively characters whose fate was somehow or other tied in with the pilgrimage (from the deposed 12th-century emperor Sitoku, who was detained in a temple hermitage, to the 20th-century Kabuki aÂ¢tor Danzo, who visited Kannon-ji before drowning himself). With these bits and pieces Statler composes a vivid mosaic, but he leaves a lot of gaps. He recounts Kobo Daishi's life in some detail, but gives a very short and inadequate summary of his teaching (""man is capable of attaining enlightenment in this existence""). He repeats countless miracle stories with a straight face, as if they constituted no problem. He lovingly describes the landscape of Shikoku--ignoring practically all its modern features. He has a fine sense of Japanese art and history, but he presents his fellow-pilgrim Morikawa as an absolute blank. Though Buddhists might protest, what the book needs is more ego. Still, an engaging, warmly sympathetic view of Japan from an unusual angle.
Pub Date: May 18, 1983
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983
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