Monthly Archives: June 2010

Neon Pilgrim – Lisa Dempster


“The morning star came into my mouth”.

It is believed that by giving to a pilgrim, one is actually giving directly to Kobo Daishi. There are quite a few customs around giving and receiving settai. First and foremost, it is extremely rude for a pilgrim to refuse an act of settai, because it denies the giver the chance to participate in the pilgrimage without having to take the time (and money) to go. Those who receive an act of settai should reward the giver with a name slip. Name slips are kind of karmic cheques, as they bring good fortune to people who possess them -that is, people who have helped pilgrims along their way. They are also left at temples as a memento of your visit.

“It was physically and mentally demanding, and I liked climbing the mountains. But gradually I became interested in Kobo Daishi, in the spiritual aspect. Now I walk to pray.”

The Japanese are a real dichotomy when it comes to gaijin. Ever so polite with each other, they can be very culturally insensitive to others. The very word ‘gaijin’ means outside person (there is a more polite version, gaikokujin, meaning outsidecountry person), and the Japanese are quite protective of their culture. They find it amazing that gaijin would be able to eat with chopsticks, speak Japanese or eat tempura, even though they themselves don’t think twice about using a knife and fork, speaking English and eating steak. It can be very frustrating.

I have never a more beautiful sight –the sun looked like a fireball, blazing with red and yellow. I had heard about this phenomenon, famous in this part of the world but very rare. It was called a daruma sun, and it was stunning.


Natto is fermented soybeans, a stringy, sticky, chewy and strong-tasting meal that is as Japanese as Vegemite is Australian.