Books on hiking trails are typically written in one of two main ways. The first is as a dedicated series of facts and figures that allow you to plan your walk down to the finest detail. The second type is presented as a travel log that creates an emotional connection to the trail based on the author’s journey and this is how Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains : Misadventures on a Buddhist Pilgrimage (Fight Monks and Burning Mountains) is written.
Both styles of books have their place however the facts and figures are secondary until you have made the leap and decided to undertake a trip. The title of this book may seem strange at first but is drawn directly from key aspects of the trip and once you’ve read it, you will understood its meaning; and yes he does fight a monk along the way!
Paul’s journey on the 1200km Skikoku Pilgrim Trail started as an idea generated initially in childhood (ninjas!), reinforced in his academic life, and came to fruition realisation when decided that there must be more to life than just the daily grind or working life. He eventually decided to bite the bullet and undertake this journey, with limited preparation. In fact this lack of preparation helps to set the scene for many of his ‘misadventures’.
Along the way he navigates the Japanese culture and language, the hottest summer on record, wild boars, and learns about long distance hiking as he goes. Most people would probably have given up long before the end of the trip and its to Paul’s credit that he perseveres and completes the full 1200km distance.
My favourite quote from this book is by Polar explorer Roald Amundsen ‘Adventure is the result of poor planning.’ This really resonates with me as often the most memorable moments on any journey are those you haven’t planned. Around 500,000 people undertake this pilgrimage on an annual basis but many do so by car or bus with only a few hundred undertaking the walking option.
Fight Monks and Burning Mountains is set out as a travel diary as Paul describes his journey in chronological order. It’s presented in a way that is interesting and entertaining as he relates his series of ‘misadventures’ as he goes. While this book is not about providing logistical planning information I was able to see myself undertaking this trip and what I would expect. I found myself flicking back and forward to the official tourism sites for detailed information as I read.
While I love the idea of hiking in remote wilderness areas, pilgrimage trails such as Shikoku and the European Camino have started to become more ingrained in my psyche. The Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail is far from a wilderness walk however this book sparked has my sparked interest and while I had identified Japan as a hiking destination, I hadn’t gone as far as identifying a specific trail. Long story short, I have now added the Skikoku Pilgrimage Trail on my ever expanding list squarely as a result of reading this book.
Definitely worth a read just from an entertainment aspect even if you never plan to undertake this walk. But be careful as it just may change your mind!
Table of Contents
Section One Tokushima: The Land of Awakening Faith
1: I Was Not Expecting Boar
2: Ichiro Suzuki And Other Gods
3: Burning Mountains
4: Fear and Lying In Internet Cafés
5: Good Enough, Part 1
Section Two Kochi The Land of Ascetic Training
6: The Cave at Cape Muroto
7: The Whaling Museum
8: The Wrong Shoes
9: Do I Ever Tell Anyone This Happened?
10: A Murder Of Crows
11: Boredom And Trains
Section Three Ehime: The Land of Enlightenment
13: Finally, an Onsen
14: How Indiana Jones Lied To Me
15: Does This Look Infected To You?
16: Sad News
17: Moving On, Part 1
18: Fighting Monks
19: Let It Go
20: Moving On, Part 2
Section Four Kagawa: The Land of Nirvana
22: Good Enough, Part 2
23: What Is There To Say?
“Adventure is the result of poor planning” Roald Amundsen Polar Explorer
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Front cover of Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains : Misadventures on a Buddhist Pilgrimage by Paul Barach
Fight Monks and Burning Mountains author’s bio
Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains text example
Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains image example 1
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This review was done with product provided to Australian Hiker