June 18, 2014
MITOYO, Kagawa Prefecture–Efforts to build a rest house here along a Buddhist pilgrimage route in celebration of Japanese and South Korean relations are well under way in spite of xenophobic protests.
Choi Sang-hee, a 38-year-old South Korean who last year became the first foreign woman certified as a guide for pilgrims, decided to erect the building in appreciation of the kindness shown to her during her travels.
Known as the “henro” road, the pilgrimage circuit covering 88 Buddhist temples around Shikoku island is one of the most popular religious sites in Japan.
Choi said that the “Japan-South Korea friendship henro rest house in Takase” is her way of repaying the people who served her tea and helped her on her journeys. She has completed the pilgrimage route four times.
In March, Choi asked Ichiyo Uta, an architect from Tokushima Prefecture who leads a project to set up rest houses for pilgrims on foot throughout the Shikoku region, to design the facility.
A month later, many signs criticizing Choi were discovered across Shikoku. “Let’s protect our ‘important pilgrimage course’ from the hands of Koreans,” the signs read.
Choi, who has put up Hangul stickers to help Korean tourists walking along the henro course, said she thought her efforts may have just made trouble.
But Uta, 66, and his colleagues encouraged her to move forward with the rest house project, saying, “If there is bad news, it is not your responsibility.”
In late May, Choi paid Uta 400,000 yen ($3,916) that was raised from the contributions of fellow pilgrims in Japan and South Korea.
Choi’s rest house is expected to be set up between the 70th stop of the pilgrimage circuit, Motoyamaji temple, and Iyadaniji temple, the 71st stop, a location in Mitoyo where there are few rest areas. The landowner has allowed her to use the site for free.
She intends to cover the construction costs of 2 million yen with donations and hopes to complete the structure by October.