What the Shikoku 88 Temples Route and the Pacific Crest Trail Have in Common

I have read multiple books on the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage and the Pacific Crest Trail. I have also walked short sections of both, and talked with people who were trying to complete one or the other.

Obviously, there are a lot of differences. The Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage tends to go through settled areas, whereas the Pacific Crest Trail tends to go through wilderness. Most people who do the temples pilgrimage have a roof over their heads most nights, whereas most people who do the Pacific Crest Trail for any length of time camp outside most nights. The temples pilgrimage is about 1,100 km (670 mi.) long whereas the Pacific Crest Trail is about 4,250 km (2650 mi.) long. The temples pilgrimage was created for religious reasons by grassroots level religious devotees, whereas the Pacific Crest Trail was created by the U.S. government because a group of dedicated citizens advocated for it.

However, for all of the differences, there are a lot of striking similarities, or at least parallels.

Both have their own associated culture and lore. For example, the Pacific Crest Trail has the tradition of ‘trail names’ – nicknames assigned to hikers by other people (supposedly, one is not supposed to pick one’s own trail name). The temples pilgrimage has many of its own traditions, such as the tradition of getting a stamp from every temple. Some of these traditions are very similar – for example, the Shikoku practice of settai (giving things to the pilgrims) is very similar to the Pacific Crest Trail practice of ‘trail magic’ (giving things to hikers – this tradition also lives on the Appalachian Trail and other long-distance trails in the United States).

Both have spawned memoirs of the loser woman who is a personal mess and totally unprepared for the long trek, yet they do it anyway and discover themselves. I am, of course, referring to the bestseller Wild by Cheryl Strayed about the Pacific Crest Trail, but also Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster about the temples pilgrimage.

Furthermore, both are treated as national trails – an experience which represents Japan / the United States. The Pacific Crest Trail is officially a National Scenic Trail. A lot of people attempt to complete the trails as a means of better connecting to their country. And these two routes do, in some way, represent the mythos of their respective nations. The temples pilgrimage represents a link with Japan’s cultural and historical past, in a region of Japan which supposedly has changed less over the past two centuries than the heavily populated metropolitan areas where most Japanese people live. The Pacific Crest Trail represents making forays into the ‘wilderness’, a pageant replaying the mythos of the United States of being a frontier nation where white people explore and settle areas which white people haven’t explored and settled before (yes, that is a colonialist view, but I am not going to unpack it right here). In short, I think it says something about Japan’s self-image that its great walk is centered on 500+ year old temples, and it says something about the United States’ self-image that all of it’s great walks, including the Pacific Crest Trail, center on great mountain ranges.

And though the Pacific Crest Trail is secular in nature, some people do use it for spiritual purposes, just as the temples pilgrimage is used for religious and/or spiritual purposes (I also would be unsurprised if people use the Pacific Crest Trail for religious purposes, but I do not have evidence of that).

I think the greatest thing in common between these two great walks is that many people use them to escape from ‘modern’ life. A lot of people who attempt both feel adrift – the ‘ordinary’ life of going to work every day is unfulfilling, or otherwise feel like their life is lacking in meaning – and they try to find this meaning by walking/hiking these routes. They go out to both learn about the world and to develop their own characters.

Of course, these are hardly the only two great walks in the world – actually, the most popular great walk nowadays in the Camino Santiago in Spain. I don’t know much about the Camino, but here is a comparison of the Shikoku Temple trail and the Camino and here is a comparison of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Camino.

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Taking a 2+ Year Vacation from English Language Fiction

I recently discovered the Tempest Challenge, which is to stop reading fiction by straight white cis men who write in English for an entire year.

Before the ‘Tempest Challenge’ existed, I had actually done this myself. In fact I took it a few steps further – for a period of 2+ years, I only read fiction written in Chinese (with the exception of webcomics). The vast majority of that fiction was originally in Chinese, but I also read some Japanese-to-Chinese and Korean-to-Chinese translations. All of this fiction was by East Asians, which meant that I also happened to stop reading fiction by white people during this period.

Why did I do this? Mainly because I wanted to improve my Chinese, and to get good at reading Chinese, one has to get a lot of practice. And I didn’t want to read English-to-Chinese translations since I can read the originals in English.

This immersion experience definitely changed the way I think and perceive the world. Some of the changes were obvious at the time, whereas I am only gradually noticing some of the other changes years later.

For example, when I made up stories in my head to amuse myself, the characters tended to be white people. Since I’m a white person myself, that was not surprising. However, after a year or two of my immersion in Chinese fiction, the characters who appeared in my head-stories tended to be Asian, not white, by default. It wasn’t any conscious process or decision on my part, it’s just what seemed most natural to my imagination at the time. Now that I’m back in the United States and taking in a lot of fiction by white people, the characters in my head-stories are now mostly white people again, but … I am impressed that all it took for my imagination to shift that way was to just limit myself to Chinese-language fiction for a couple years (okay, the fact that I was living in a city with very few white people, where I could go weeks without seeing another white person, might have had something to do with it too).

As far as the subtler effects which I am only noticing later … a lot of that comes up when I am reading English-language fiction. English speakers tend to think in a way which is a bit different than the way Chinese speakers think (a lot of this is cultural), and things which I would have never noticed before now leap out at me as being a specifically English-speaker kind of thing. It’s hard to describe some of this stuff, because a lot it is me getting a feeling but not knowing how to explain it in words.

All and all, I think this was very good for me. This experience definitely expanded my imagination and perceptiveness (not to mention that a lot of Chinese language fiction is fun to read). And I think that I went really hardcore – as in, I refused to read English-language fiction (except webcomics) or even fiction which originated in English for years – made the experience much deeper than if I had simply stopped reading fiction by cis-het-white-males for a year.

I don’t think I’ll do anything like this again in my life, or even do the Tempest Challenge, but I think I would benefit by reading more fiction by a) people who are neither white nor East Asian b) queer people and c) disabled people.

Aces Become Sex Gurus; Aromantics Become Romance Gurus; (& Bonus Mini-Linkspam)

This is for the July 2016 Carnival of Aces – “Make ’em Laugh”

There is a phenomenon I have observed among both aces and aromantics: there is a tendency for them to become the go-to person for advice on sex and romantic relationships for their non-ace and non-aro acquaintances. This seems to happen mostly to aces and aros who have little to no direct experience with sex and/or romantic relationships.

What gives???!!!!

I recall one ace who had taken a test to determine which career was best for her. The result? “Marriage Counselor.” She said that her friends found that hilarious. IIRC, she said something along the lines of “If I were a marriage counselor, I would be like ‘Hmmm, your marriage has problems, have you considered divorce?'”

A long time ago, possibly before I identified as ace (I don’t remember for sure), my dad said that if I were a character in a soap opera, I would be the heroine’s best friend – the one she always turns to for advice. In retrospect, this casting may have something to do with the fact that I never showed the least interest in dating.

Maybe, for some bizarre reason, if someone is totally staying out of sexual / romantic drama, it’s subconsciously interpreted as a sign that they know the secret to dealing with sexual / romantic drama. In fact, the secret is that they simply don’t participate in sexual / romantic relationships in the first place. And then they share this secret, and advise the person seeking advice to simply break up … and hilarity ensues.

This phenomenon is already a theme in asexual and aromantic humor, for example this tumblr meme.

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Bonus: Mini Linkspam on Ace and Aro humor

First of all, there are the Aromantic Humor and it’s funny cause I’m ace tumblrs.

You all know about Queenie’s Sad Cookie, right? RIGHT?

I like this humorous post about fictional characters.

And finally, here is a Marvel Cinematic Universe fanfic where everyone is asexual and/or aromantic. Don’t read Marvel Cinematic Universe fanfiction? Me neither! Heck, I haven’t even watched any of the Marvel movies, and know little to nothing about most of these characters. I still laughed at these little vignettes. You don’t have to know squat about Marvel stories or characters to appreciate the ace and aro humor in these little stories.

Alliance of the Non-mono Folk in the USA, Part 5: The Asexual and Polyamory Communities (Conclusion)

Here is the previous post.

Since the only two major non-mono groups in the 21st century whose interactions I am aware of are the asexual and polyamory communities, this post is going to be about how these two groups interact. That is not to say that interactions between other non-mono groups is unimportant, I am simply not sufficiently informed.

First of all, the article “Asexual Polyamory: Potential Challenges and Benefits” by Dan Copulsky is worth reading (note: I am one of the people who corresponded with the writers of the article).

Mutually Informed?

*I* first learned about polyamory for real, as opposed to just casual mentions which I did not pay much attention to, through my participation in the asexual community. Thus, for me personally, polyamory is tied to asexuality in my mind since exploring asexual is how polyamory has been most relevant to my life. And generally, the aces I know know much more about polyamory than the non-ace people I know.

In the polyamory writing and materials I have read, I have also found more references and a better understanding of asexuality than I have in writing/materials about sex and romance in general. This is no doubt skewed by the fact that the polyamory writing/materials which I’m likely to find are more likely to be ace-friendly simply because I tend to be directed to them through the ace community. Nonetheless, my impression is that poly people are more likely to be informed about asexuality than the general population. That is not to say that poly people always get it *right* – they don’t – but ace people don’t always get poly right either.

The Poly Aces (and Poly Aros)

There are people who are both poly and ace. I am not one of them (I am ace, not poly). Fortunately, some people who are ace and poly have written about it. Here is a small sample of writing by poly aces about being poly and ace:

A confession and an announcement
Polyamory: Never a One-sided Deal, even in Mixed Relationships
My Ace Poly Manifesto
I don’t understand dating, so I’m getting married

I also want to throw in a couple of essays by people who are aromantic (albeit not ace) and poly:

What a Poly, Aromantic Relationship Looks Like
Promiscuous, unloving, and incapable of commitment

Poly as a Solution to Mixed Ace/Non-Ace relationships

When the topic of polyamory is brought up in the context of asexuality, the most common assumption is that it is a ‘solution’ for a mixed couple – that is, an asexual and a non-asexual who are a ‘couple – so that the non-asexual person in the couple can get sex without putting pressure on the asexual.

Sometimes, setting up a poly relationship so that the non-asexual person can have sex without breaking up with the asexual or pressuring the asexual for sex works. But as one of the essays linked above (“Polyamory: Never a One-sided Deal, even in Mixed Relationships”) states, *assuming* this framework places the needs and wants of the non-asexual above the needs and wants of the asexual. It’s one thing for two people to consider all of their options and conclude that this is the best option; it’s another thing for someone to assume that this needs to happen just because an asexual and a non-asexual person are having some kind of relationship which society expects to be sexual and monogamous.

However, I do think, as several of the essays which I have linked claimed, it does help for asexuals to have the *option* of mixed-relationship polyamory when dealing with relationships, even if we don’t ultimately choose that option, and that this is a major reason that asexuals have such a high level of interest in polyamory.

Common Features of Asexual, Aromantic, and Polyamory Communities

Some people, particularly people who are uninformed about asexuality, aromanticism, and polyamory, assume that asexuality and polyamory are opposites. This mistake is based on assumptions that polyamory is all about having lots of sex, or that asexuals are uninterested in close personal relationships, or something.

In fact, asexual, aromantic, and polyamory communities all have a lot in common, and I think that is the main reason there is an ‘alliance’ between them.

First of all, all three of these communities have ideals of open, honest, and detailed communication. All of them have created a bunch of new words (for example, demisexual, akoiromantic, and metamour) because words in mainstream use are not adequate for the ideas they want to discuss. All tend to have extended conversations about personal boundaries. And all tend to have high-word-count conversations about what they want from close personal relationships. Mind you, just because open, honest, and detailed communication is the *ideal* does not mean that people in these communities always put those ideals into practice. However, the fact that this is a commonly shared ideal helps them interact with each other.

However, I think the most important thing these communities have in common is that they are all striving to increase their freedom to engage in personal relationships which work for them, rather than forcing themselves to fit the relationship norms of mainstream society. I think that’s why certain polyamory blogs, such as SoloPoly, are popular with asexual and aromantic readers. This, more than anything else, is why I consider the asexual and aromantic communities to be natural allies of the polyamory community. We have the common goal of wanting to make close relationships other than sexually and romantically exclusive monogamous relationships a socially acceptable option.

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NOTE: This post is scheduled to be published at a time I won’t have internet access. Therefore, it may take me a while to respond to comments.

Alliance of the Non-mono Folk in the USA, Part 4: Comparing the 19th and 21st Centuries

In previous part, I discussed how 19th century non-monogamist groups related to each other. Now, because I don’t know enough about the 20th century, I am skipping straight to the 21st century.

The Asexual and Aromantic Communities

Hey! I am asexual and aromantic. Anyway, this is the largest group I am aware of in the United States in the 21st century which embraces non-gamy (i.e. simply not entering sexual and/or romantic relationships). However, the asexual and aromantic communities are based on people’s identities, not their relationship patterns – there are aces and aros who do pursue sexual and/or romantic relationships for various reasons. So why am I pegging this as a non-gamy group? Because pursuing a sexually/romantically monogamous relationship is not the norm in this community. Though most aces and aros have no objection to other people pursuing monogamy, sexual and/or romantic monogamy is not what most people in these communities pursue.

The Swinging Community

This a group of people who openly pursue multiple sexual relationships, though they tend to have more restrictions on romantic availability. I don’t know much about them, so I am just going to note that they exist.

The Polyamory Community

This is a group of people who openly pursue multiple sexual and romantic relationships. They tend to be affluent, politically ‘liberal’, have a high level of formal education, and to say that being open to love/sex from multiple people is liberating in some fashion. They have their own set of jargon to describe their relationships (look up the word ‘metamour’ for an example). An important value in this community is honesty – which is not to say that it always put in practice (these are people, not perfect beings) – but rather that people should tell all of their sexual/romantic partners about what sexual/romantic relationships they are having or pursuing.

Working Class / Low Income Non-monogamy

People who identify with ‘polyamory’ tend to belong to the upper middle class or ‘creative’ class. That is not to say that they are the only ones in United States society who pursue multiple sexual relationships in an open and honest way (by ‘open and honest’ I mean that there is no attempt to hide sexual relationships from one’s sexual/romantic partners). In fact, I know from some conversations I’ve had with working class and low income people that some of them also do their own version of ‘poly’. However, they tend not to writes books, blogs, create organizations around it, etc., possibly because they are dedicating more of their efforts to economic survival than organizing communities around non-monogamy. I don’t know much about them, but I also want to note that they also exist.

The above is not intended to be an exhaustive list, and if you think I should mention any other 21st century groups which practice and/or promote non-monogamy, please drop a comment!

Comparing and Contrasting the 19th Century and 20th Century Groups

The 19th century and 21st century groups have a number of striking parallels. For example, both the asexual/aromantic and polyamory communities tend to have a lot of concern about social justice (I don’t know enough about the other groups I mentioned to comment), have a tendency to be veg*n of some kind (I wrote a whole series of posts about the asexual community and veg*nism), and a disproportionate number of members are atheist or otherwise non-religious, or practice a non-conventional one (such as, in the 21st century, paganism). In short, people who openly participate in these communities, both in the 19th or 21st century, are people who are interested in deviating from or critiquing social norms beyond simply not doing monogamy.

The big difference between these groups in the 19th century and the 21st century is that, in the 19th century, these groups tended to go out and form their own communes. This is also a trend with some of the 20th century non-monogamy groups. However, 21st non-monogamy groups seem a lot less interested in separating from mainstream society and creating communes. The 21st century groups are also much less inclined to connect their refusal of monogamy to critiques of the economic system or private property, which may also be another reason that the 21st century groups are a lot more comfortable with staying in mainstream society. In fact, the 21st century groups put a lot of effort into making it easier for themselves to blend into mainstream society by trying to make mainstream society a more friendly place for themselves.

Though this is less true of the poly groups, asexual and aromantic groups claim that their community is tied to an orientation or intrinsic identity rather than a relationship pattern. Though the orientation and relationship patterns are related, it is the orientation which is treated as the defining feature of the communities. I am not aware of any 19th century group which was like this.

In the next post, I will discuss how the asexual and polyamory communities relate to each other (I am picking those two because I know enough about how those two relate to each other to feel comfortable commenting upon it, not because the other groups are less important).