WCU Student Pilgrimage in Japan to Raise Money for Central Asia Institute

A group of Western Carolina University students and faculty members will bicycle 870 miles to visit 88 Buddhist temples this summer during an educational pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku in Japan.

“The Shikoku Pilgrimage is believed to be one of the most famous pilgrimages in Japan and in the world,” said Masafumi Takeda, WCU’s Asian studies coordinator and Japanese instructor. “According to legend, one of the most respected Buddhist monks, Kukai, walked to many sacred places on the island to establish 88 temples. The hardship involved in founding the temples has attracted many followers.”

The WCU group is seeking sponsors to pledge support as part of their pilgrimage fundraising effort for the Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit organization created to support community-based education in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Inspired by the book ‘Three Cups of Tea’ by Greg Mortenson, we will raise money to help the Central Asia Institute build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan to promote peace as we search for our own inner peace throughout the pilgrimage,” said Takeda. “Three Cups of Tea” was WCU’s Freshman Reading Program selection for incoming students in fall 2008.

The students, who all have taken Japanese at WCU, plan to complete the pilgrimage in 25 days. Group members will purchase bicycles after arriving in Japan in mid-May with the help of a partner university and then camp or stay in local hotels. Most plan to wear special clothing for pilgrims, which is typically white and loose-fitting.

WCU pilgrimage student participants are Marysa Burchett, a senior Spanish major from Warren, Ohio; Michael Curtis, a senior English major from Apex; Justin Guy, a junior electrical and computer engineering major from Franklin; Max DeGrove, a junior engineering technology major from Sylva; Ben Miller, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major from Burnsville; Mike Robson, a junior international business major from Cashiers; and Jared Utecht, a senior philosophy major from Woodstock, Ga. Faculty participants on the journey are Takeda; Leo Bobadilla, associate professor of psychology, and Mark Couture, associate professor of Spanish.

Burchett said she chose to take part because the pilgrimage combines everything she enjoys – learning new languages and cultures, traveling and helping people.

“That’s what I want for my future, and I thought this pilgrimage would be the perfect place to start,” said Burchett. “I am looking forward to experiencing a different culture, and I am excited to see how different the lifestyle is. It will be a definite eye-opener as well as an intense and scary adventure.”

Guy said he went on a two-week educational trip last year to Japan and wanted to return to explore the more rural areas.

“I am probably most excited about being able to converse with so many Japanese people and being able to visit elementary schools and give English lessons,” said Guy. “One other thing I can’t deny is that I am really looking forward to delicious Japanese food throughout the trip.”