Mark’s fundraising pilgrimage in Japan

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Mark’s fundraising pilgrimage in Japan

Mark’s fundraising pilgrimage in Japan

Mark Peterson took Pitch in for Parkinson’s fundraising to a new level earlier this year. On 24 May he set out on a 1200-kilometre temple trek – the Shikoku Temple O-Henro pilgrimage – on Japan’s smallest major island. Not only did he complete the pilgrimage on 14 June, but he actually walked over 1,500 kilometres and visited an extra 20 temples.

“I figured I might not be back again so I wanted to see others,” he says. “Also some of the mountain pathways were not passable or safe due to a typhoon and I had to take a longer way by road to get there.

“The trek was a really positive thing. The beauty of Shikoku overall struck me. I knew the mountains were going to be incredible but the rivers and creeks going down into the ocean areas were unbelievably beautiful.

“It was also quite isolated. Even during Golden Week, which is a peak travel period in Japan, it was quiet. More people were walking then; they would do a section each year and catch up where they left off the next year. There were some foreigners walking but not as many as I thought might be.”

While Mark had some issues finding accommodation along the way, after the Covid lockdown had slowed demand and some accommodations had closed, he had no major issues.

“The people of Shikoku were incredibly supportive,” he says. “There is a belief that if you give to pilgrims in some way, you gain some of the benefits of the pilgrimage. This practice is called O-settai. I had people giving me drinks, face-washers, money, and I was offered lifts, which I refused. I was offered to stay in homes free or at a discount rate. In one house I was given the keys and asked to lock up when I left.”

However at around the 1000-kilometre Mark’s feet developed plantar fasciitis, which is a painful inflammation of the fibrous tissue along the bottom of the foot, and that made the walking harder.

“The last 500 kilometres were tougher, but I did finish,” he says. “While I was walking, the school I work at (Mark is the headmaster) messaged me to show that the students were combining to fundraise and try and jointly walk as far my journey. They sent photos and made it to 770 kilometres and it was quite inspiring to know that they were walking as I was also walking.”

Mark also had plenty of time to think while on his pilgrimage.

“As I was walking in the rain up to a temple, I was thinking that although it was uncomfortable, I was there out of choice,” he says. “People with Parkinson’s, there’s no choice for them. I’ve had an awareness of Parkinson’s since I saw how it affected my grandfather when I was growing up, and now I have two teenage boys. I am fundraising in the hope that more research will lead to better treatments before the next generation is at risk.

“While I was walking, I also had some insights into ways I am and found I was changing fundamental assumptions of my being. I had a realisation that I was not special, and I don’t need to be. Walking day after day I was in a very creative space. I was able to take a lot of notes of future things I want to do, ideas and children’s books in my head, and then transfer them to my phone.

“I met up with my family back in Tokyo and we went back to Shikoku to see some of the places I’d been in Kochi, Shikoku and then onto Kyoto. I haven’t closed off my fundraising yet. I have raised $6000 so far.

“I’ve also shared some photos of my trek with Visit Kochi, a tourist information page about the main city on Shikoku. People have been interested in seeing my trek.”

You can support Mark by visiting his Pitch in for Parkinson’s page at:

Read more about the Shikoku Temple O-Henro pilgrimage