From the writer's afterword in 1983 and its brownish pages, I did not think I would enjoy or finish reading this paperback at all. However, I found it amazingly readable and informative since Oliver Statler has written form his direct experiences as a pilgrim on the island of Shikoku with Nobuo Morikawa his Japanese friend along the formidable thousand-mile, almost two-month journey in 1971, his first being in 1968 (p. 335).
His style of writing is uniquely challenging, for instance, he narrates his pilgrimage like telling what he does, sees, reacts, etc. naturally to his friends; moreover, he does not write about all 88 temples but he simply states that it depends, rather he has told his readers intensively on those interestingly holy, charismatic and highly-respected priests dating back more than 1,000 years ago, for example, the great Kobo Daishi (774-835) as seen from a 14th-century copy detail of the original painting (p. 23) is possibly the most admired/revered one. One may be wondering or in doubt on such a remote figure, this excerpt reveals his fame: “The eminent historian Sir George Sanson called him the greatest figure in the history of Japanese religion, … As the founder of Shingon, a major sect, he is a giant figure in the naturalization of Buddhism, in molding it to flourish in Japan. He is one of his country’s greatest scholars: a poet, a calligrapher, an artist, an educator, a social worker, and, among other things, a first-rate civil engineer.” (p. 22)
Moreover, a few paragraphs of the following narration would shed more light on how the Daishi’s expertise in civil engineering has since been famous:
He arrived in the early summer of 821; the people rushed to him in such a haste (says the chronicle of those years) that many slipped into their sandals wrong-foot-too. He began with a fire ceremony and prayers (an inlet in today’s reservoir marks the spot). To the crowd assembled he explained that he had been given an imperial order to reconstruct the pond; he asked for their help, they gave it. The job was completed in less than three months.
This and other reservoirs that he was associated with demonstrate that he had an advanced knowledge of civil engineering. For instance, the dam is curved back against the impounded water; engineers today are often surprised to find that he knew that principle. The earthen dam that he built has never failed. …
… I feel a sense of exhilaration: after being asked so often to take on faith that he did this and that, it is tonic to stand before a certified achievement. This reservoir alone would account for the faith in the Daishi among farmers.
There is a statue of him overlooking the lake, and higher on the shore, a temple. We seek out the priest and he gives us some figures. This is the fourth-largest irrigation reservoir in Japan, the largest held by an earthen dam. The dam is more than 500 feet long, rises 105 feet from the valley floor. It is nearly 13 miles around the edge of the lake, which irrigates almost 12,000 acres – more than one-eighth of the Sanuki plain. It is named Manno-ike, the “Pond for Ten Thousand Fields.” (pp. 304-305)
This book is, I think, quite reader-friendly, that is, you would find it enticingly captivating due to its generous black-and-white illustrations: 2 maps, 16 paintings, 18 prints, 2 calligraphies, 7 illustrations, 8 sculpture carvings/photos and 2 drawings. Hopefully, some color ones should be considered and processed in its future hi-tech printing.