1. What inspired you to write this book?
Answer: I first visited Japan and walked the pilgrimage back in 1998. Ever since that first time around I knew that I wanted to write something about Shikoku as the hardship and journey affected my path in life deeply. Over the years I wrote and rewrote stories from the journey. But I was never satisfied with the book that was emerging. I didn’t want to write another coming of age story, or add to the ranks of books about Westerners coming to Japan and commenting on everything that is different without really understanding what was happening. It wasn’t until recently, with the perspective of age that I began see clearly how the path shaped my life, and had a better understanding my relationship with Japan and all of its complexities and contradictions.
2. What is the book about?
Answer: On the surface the book is about my second walking pilgrimage in 2005 to the 88 temples of Shikoku. But in between the temples I attempt to show Japan through its contradictions rather than in spite of them. It is a love letter to Shikoku, its residents, its nature, and the deep effect it has had on the course of my life. It is also an example of the dangers and rewards of self discovery and understanding who you really are.
3. What did you learn when writing the book?
Answer: Writing the book felt like walking the pilgrimage all over again. I thought I would only write one book and be done. But as I reflected, I realized the lessons learned in Shikoku have followed me all the way to the present. There is a long red line that connects me to my younger self, the henro path and I and the choices I made after leaving Shikoku behind.
4. What does the title mean?
Answer: In one way or another, most people who end up walking the pilgrimage are lost and looking for their next path in life. Most of the time, the term “walking in circles” is taken in a negative way. But with the pilgrimage it is about the process of starting and ending in the same place. Rather than the destination being new, it is you who sees it with different eyes. You can walking around as many times as you like, and while the island does not change, you will find new things about yourself each time.
5. What themes do you deal with in the book?
Answer: This is a book of contradictions and how anything or anyone can be more than just one thing. Japan is both conservative and crazy, polite and extremely rude. Ultimately the contradictions show that you can’t have something sacred without the profane. It is a book about adulthood, the expectations of society, and the battle between letting others define us rather than learning to be ourselves. It is a book about Japan and the stress that conforming can cause, but also the healing nature of leaving society behind. It is about how four simple things: food, water, shelter and companionship, can open us up to seeing a larger picture of the universe.
6. Would you walk the pilgrimage again?
Answer: I’m already planning it!
7. Will there be a follow up book?
Answer: Yes. I’m writing the second book now and there will be at least three books in the series. The next book finds me finished with graduate school and struggling to put the lessons I learned into practice in the real world. If Book One is about finding one’s purpose in life, Book Two is about how to put it into action as I chase after love, career and conflict.