Thanks to another Dutch Henro, Geertje Preuter, I discovered at temple 10, that there are henro Facebook groups. In these experienced henro share their tips and tricks. I thought it useful to sign up for them, so I clicked the button which would make me a member. Apparently, that did not work as it should through the Facebook app. Only after a day or two I received a messenger-chat from Elly Jührend, one of the administrators. She asked me to tell her why I wanted to become a member. That seemed quite obvious to me. I was already at temple 17 at this point and wanted to share my experiences. Thankfully she quickly added me to the Dutch and international groups. That made me finally have a look at the experiences of the other henro and contribute myself.
Sim-card in my iPhone
During my preparations for the route, I had seen multiple solutions for maintaining communications with friends and family. It is quite easy to purchase a wifi-box which allows you to communicate through mobile data. That seemed useful, but it would have been an extra thing to carry around, adding weight. Other henro reported that they had used a Sim-card from a Japanese provider. With those you can combine data and phone services. In the end, I chose the sim-card. After an extensive search through the internet, I found a good deal. In 2019, Japan organised the World Championship for Rugby. And especially organised for that occasion, providers revealed some discounts. My choice was a Mobal subscription for 60 days with 7GB a month and after paid telephone-option. With that, I had 4G everywhere on my iPhone SE, and I was able to make calls.
Aid: starting at the airport
I could pick up the sim-card at the airport. In one of the shops, they handed me a card and some documentation. After a reboot of my iPhone, I was operational. In my current iPhone, I can upload an eSIM, and you could probably even work on that back home. Through a credit card-registration the costs of use were subtracted monthly. Thanks to the Mobal website I was able to check the costs of my phone calls. All of this worked superbly. I would recommend this option to anyone. Of course, unless your own service provider offers viable services in Japan!
Aid: contact with the home front
Before leaving, I had no clue of how much I would want to contact the people that remained back home. I had promised to Katja that I would send her a thumbs up every day. And that she should not be worried if she heard nothing from me for three days. Some parts of the planned route go through inhospitable terrain. I did not know if there would be connectivity. Luckily cell coverage is very good.
Aid: video calls
In the end we communicated almost every day through texts or WhatsApp. Katja was able to follow my journey intensively through my posts on Facebook. Because of the time zone difference, I was able to talk to her in the morning. We used Messenger, WhatsApp, a phone call, or FaceTime. For her that would be around bedtime. When I had safely finished my hike for the day in the afternoon, I would send her a message. She would usually be just waking up around that time and would know that I was safe! I have also been lucky a few times with good Wifi at sleeping locations and was able to video-call. It was very nice to speak to my parents and see my children too.
Aid: on the road
Because I could make calls, I was able to arrange several reservations for- and make contact with sleeping locations myself. Most of the time, I asked Japanese hosts or hostesses to make calls with my phone. Calling in Japanese was still hard for me because I only speak a little Japanese. But when the need is high, even that wall is surmountable. That became apparent when I knew that I would be two hours late in arriving in Koyasan. I called the Shukubo of Muyokoin in my best Japanese to tell them I was still making my way there. Luckily one of the monks there was able to speak some English. That helped me to realise that my call had been understood.
Aid: other henro
Through Facebook I had some exchanges with other henro on the trail. For instance, I met up twice with Geertje Preuter, who completed the round trip at about the same pace. At a certain moment she decided to use the train and bus over walking. Miraculously we happened to meet upon each other again at a Minshoku. Via Facebook I was also reunited with Xavi, whom I had met before. This led to us rejoining and doing the hike from temple 86 to 88 together. And I still, with great enthusiasm, keep in touch with other henro.
Share your experiences!
It is worth it to share your experiences online. You will receive, sometimes unrequested, sometimes requested advice and tips. That helped me to find quite a few sights to see that I would have missed otherwise.