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After graduation, Kyle Cleary (’17) went on a journey.

It began in China during his senior year as a Business Administration major at WSU. Cleary joined a travel study led by Dr. Kathy Ready that journeyed to four cities in China to study Chinese business and culture.  As part of the course, they toured several businesses including three with Winona connections. They also visited national museums and gardens, participated in a Sichuan cooking class, and cruised the Huangpu River to experience the spectacular city lights of some of the world’s tallest buildings. Bucket-list activities such as climbing the Great Wall were coupled with interacting with local residents in favorite Chinese pastimes such as tai chi and mahjong.  However, for Cleary, it was a visit to a Buddhist temple that changed his outlook on life. He was fascinated with the religion and culture and soon found a way to explore it further after graduation.

This fall, Cleary decided to walk the Henro, a pilgrimage trail to 88 temples in Shikoku, Japan. The smallest Japanese island, Shikoku’s circular “Route 88” is the most famous pilgrimage in Japan. Legend has it that the route was established by the Buddhist monk, Kukai, who trained at several locations on Shikoku island. Many believe that this circular route follows in his footsteps. The journey is not just a hike, it is an excursion to find your true self and realize peace of mind. Many who live along the route consider it an honor to provide housing and gifts for the sojourners. Cleary met a couple who, after retiring from their busy life in Tokyo, retired to Tosashimizu-shi, Kochi and purchased two houses along the route. Cleary and his friend, Hitomi (in the background), experienced the generosity and kindness of people all along the route.

Residents on Route 88

Along the route, Cleary and all pilgrims have their book stamped by a monk at each temple they visit. According to Cleary, completed books are very valuable and often people are buried with their book. He is hiking through farm land, mountains and fishing villages. He is staying in temples and some homes as well as camping. Locals along the route have been very “kind and supportive.” Often, Cleary is offered gifts of food, money and drinks because, he asserts, that Japanese people believe in karma, so giving back now will produce rewards in another life. Some locations along the route are more dangerous than others. On October 5th, Cleary posted this picture to his Instagram account after he arrived in Ehime Prefecture with the following caption: “This part of Japan has the nastiest spiders I’ve ever seen but damn it’s worth it.”

A picture off the coast of Japan facing the ocean.

Cleary’s route has also been plagued by inclement weather. His Instagram account chronicles him waiting out two typhoons during his time in Japan—once at the beginning of his trip and one at the very end. His post from September 16th documents the first typhoon, Talim. He writes, “My feet crave the pain, my mind begs for new stimulant, and my body feels uneasy without the added 35lbs, but until typhoon Talim passes, I’ll make my home in this beautiful fishing town [of] Hiwasa, Japan.” Sometimes living rough has its downside, so on September 23rd, Cleary escaped his tent for a modest hotel in Tosa City. In a reflective moment, he wrote, “Across the street is a hospital, through the windrows I can see people that I can only assume are on their death beds taking their last breaths. Spending their last days listening to the busy road beside them and hopeful[ly] with family. I selfishly wonder what they would think of my traveling to thru their country at 22. Maybe foolish, envious, or joyful. Either way, I try to find enlightenment in the fact that we all end up there one day. Regardless of what your belief is after death, we all have that one thing in common and when facing death, I can only imagine that so much of the everyday bullshit that we spend so much time and energy now on becomes irrelevant. I can only hope for myself and everyone else that we find what’s beyond the bullshit before we lay on that bed.” This type of reflective self-dialogue is beneficial at any age, but especially at age twenty-two. So many students launch out into the world after graduation without taking breath or break that it is refreshing to see a recent alum doing just that.

Cleary poses outside a temple.

Cleary poses in front of the mountains of Japan

Now, at the end of his journey on October 21st, Cleary paused for a picture between temples 87 and 88 after the “hardest hiking” of the trip. He was rewarded with the “best view” while waiting out another typhoon. Cleary plans to be home soon.

Cleary looks over a valley in Japan

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