Lost between worlds. A 750-mile walk through Japan. A life that will never be the same.
Todd Wassel fled a normal life just after university. Over half a decade later he’s lost in Japan, unable to go home but unwilling to give up. Convinced there was more to life, he risks everything to return to the one place he found answers years before: the ancient Shikoku Henro pilgrimage. Walking the 750-mile henro path, sleeping outside each night, Todd is armed with only a Japanese map. Between the 88 Buddhist temples he finds help from a wandering ascetic hiding from the Freemasons; naked Yakuza trying to shake him down; a scam artist pilgrim; and a vengeful monk.
Can he find what he’s looking for before the path, or his new friends, break him?
Walking in Circles is an addictive, fun, inspirational travel memoir set in a Japan few outsiders ever get to see. Award-winning writer Todd Wassel draws on over twenty years in Japan to retell his epic journey through the contradictions of contemporary Japan while overcoming the forces that keep us from living a truly happy life.
An inspirational and insightful pilgrimage, beautifully brought to life.
88 temples and 750 miles in just thirty days – there lies the path to madness! Except the author comes across as extremely sane as he journeys as a ‘henro’ pilgrim along the Shikoku trail. Wearing the distinctive white clothing, clutching a staff and scroll, and struggling to find a place to sleep each night along the route, this is a fascinating insight into a gruelling journey. Todd’s descriptions of the temples, the local people, and the other pilgrims he encounters are beautifully illustrated. The author has a wonderful way of describing events and characters, and you can almost feel the pain of his sore, blistered feet as he walks. The smallest details are included along the route, and Todd’s inner musings help to accentuate his story and turn it into a joy to read. His knowledge of Japan and the local customs and ways mean that this is more than just another travel memoir. An inspirational read.
Todd Wassel draws on enduring motifs of pilgrimage narratives in "Walking in Circles" but the story is also so clearly his own--and such an engaging, sincere, and funny account--that you might not immediately notice echoes of "The Canterbury Tales." Yet the classic stuff is all in there, from the unexpected moments of sudden clarity to the dreariness of being trapped in a conversation with a sex addict.
Along the way, a story of self-discovery definitively of its time: caught between his distaste for the lives his professional peers have built for themselves and his envy of them, Wassel also evinces a contemporary preoccupation--without obviously naming it--with authenticity. A pilgrimage, of course, is among the clearest of options for reconciling personal authenticity (being true to thine own self, let's say) and a desire to seek out authentic experience (walking as the truest form of the pilgrimage, engaging only in Japanese) that the average backpacker might only dream of. In many ways, that reconciliation--ironic and surprising, as it unfolds across the narrative--is at the heart of the book.
"Walking in Circles" is, finally, also wonderful just for its insider-outsider insight into Japanese culture. That Wassel's conflicted relationship to Japan echoes his own conflicted relationship to his own culture's expectations of adulthood . . . well, that's also part of the genius and the fun.
This is a Japan most readers won't be familiar with. Wassel probes the underlying reality of a world that continually challenges his perceptions and preset opinions.Isn't that one of the goals of travel - to encounter new ideas that contrast with one's expectations?
Wassel explores this experience, employing an engaging tone that juxtaposes historical and cultural references with his own experiences. This both educates readers and draws them in.
Wassel accomplishes much more than a travelogue of personal encounters, through a story filled with drama and local atmosphere that captivates.While Walking in Circles will mostly likely receive most of its interest from armchair travelers, it's also a top recommendation for those interested in pilgrimages, spiritual journeys, and encounters with Japanese culture beyond the usual Tokyo-centric focus.
Wassel's ability to both entertain and educate makes Walking in Circles a highly recommended read for a wide audience.
Join me as I discuss my journey walking 750 miles around the remote island of Shikoku, Japan.
This week, Peter and Bryan welcome author and traveler Todd Wassel to discuss his 750-mile pilgrimage along the Shikoku Henro path in Japan, the subject of his book Walking in Circles (available at https://toddwassel.com/book).Todd talks about his experiences, from sleeping outside and fighting blisters to meeting fellow travelers and visiting the temples, and shares what led him to take on such an enormous challenge (twice!) and what he learned about himself along the way.