KIKUSUI HENRO HOUSEOsettai (charitable giving)by Hiroshi Kushima
(translated by David C. Moreton)

What is osettai?

Osettai is the action of giving of food and money to pilgrims. I believe that pilgrims of olden times who traveled for long periods of time without such modern day conveniences as vending machines or the like were extremely thankful for this custom. And so, it became that pilgrims who received such kindness could not refuse it.@In today's society, there is some sense of expectation under the name of settai used by companies when they deal with customers. However, the osettai that occurs along the Shikoku pilgrimage is, in most cases, done voluntarily.

Osettai that remains in the present day

What actually surprised me the most while walking the pilgrimage route was that this custom of osettai is still very much prevalent today. When one travels around Shikoku as a pilgrim holding the staff and wearing the white pilgrim vest, one receives various forms of osettai in different places. In my case, on numerous occasions, I received osettai in the form of money, candy and fruit. Similar to this, one will receive osettai during your pilgrimage from people you unexpectedly meet or from others who will offer meals and their homes to stay the night in. Such peoplefs homes are called zenkonyado. While others build places of settai where one can stay the night or rest at.

In todayfs society, it is not common to think of receiving something or allowed to stay the night from someone you have just met or have no relation to. Yet receiving a little amount of candy or extra food is within the limit of acceptance, but sometimes, money is given to the pilgrim! At first, one is shocked and at a loss at how to react, but because the giving of osettai is custom in Shikoku, I think the most appropriate reaction to do is humbly accept it.

Okatoyo settaijo

The photo to the right is at a place of settai (settaijo) that the president of a stoneworks company in Kochi Prefecture of Shikoku built. He told me that, "This place was not built for pilgrims. It is my action of religious training to provide this place as osettai for pilgrims. So, I built it for my own sake."

The first experience I had with osettai was between Temple 10, Kirihataji and Temple 11, Fujiidera. When I was lost and when I stopped to ask an elderly woman in the fields the way. She said after telling the way, "Come inside for some tea." However I had became flustered because of becoming lost and declined her offer by saying, "No, thank you." Then she replied, "Ok, then, how about taking some rice or would money be better?" Before embarking on the pilgrimage, I did have some knowledge about the concept of osettai, however, this time my first reaction in my mind was "I am not a beggar." And so in shock, I left the place as if running away.

Some time later I thought, "Why didn't I have a cup of tea?" and even now when I think about that incident, I feel bad for my actions.

The Double Meaning of Osettai

It can be thought that the action of offering help and support towards those participating in arduous ascetic training and to travelers from other lands is a basic characteristic of helping one another. However when one looks at the history of pilgrims, it seems that osettai has a double meaning.

One meaning is the action of supporting those in a worse condition than oneself, in other words, an extension of giving. The other being a financial or material deposit with the meaning, "I want you to do the pilgrimage to Kôbô Daishi in my place." As well, people believe that the pilgrim who is taking part in this different route is a transformed Kôbô Daishi, thus I believe osettai has the meaning of both, in other words, giving to Kôbô Daishi.

Even today, there are pilgrims who have no money and continuously walk the pilgrimage relying only on osettai and offerings. However, businessmen pilgrims like me who have saved money for traveling ahead of time who come to Shikoku by plane or train and walk while staying at places that cost thousands of yen are not being supported economically by osettai. Whether it is in the form of food or money, we do not accept it as ourselves, but I believe we should accept it as osettai to all the many different types of pilgrims who walk the Shikoku pilgrimage as well as part of the faith in Kôbô Daishi.

One must not refuse an offering, whether you think you need it or not because is an inconsiderate act towards the belief of the person who trying to give osettai.

When you receive osettai

When one receives osettai, one must put your hands together and say, "Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo" three times and give the person who has offered osettai a nameslip, osamefuda. This action cannot be done quickly, so I recommend putting a few nameslips, other than those used at the temples, in an easy to reach place.

Osettai is a voluntary act, and normally, there is not need to offer money in return. However, if you wish for the continual availability of such places of settai for pilgrims and are thankful for those at 'places of settai' or zenkonyado, it would be thoughtful to offer a monetary donation of some degree.
My donation bag
(I received this at the Ryokan Kadoya
in front of Temple 13, Dainichiji)

By the way, when one receives osettai in form of money, one always worries about the amount received. Amongst the pilgrims who walk living on donations from osettai and takuhatsu (religious mendicancy) there are some who boastfully talk about the amount of settai money. Such manners are not necessary; however, human emotions are always influenced by the amount received. For example, if 10 yen is provided, some might think, "Thank you. I accept it, but ..." or in the case of a large amount, "Wow! I am not someone who deserves such respect." In either case, I believe you are affected in the way you feel towards the giver. I came to dislike this mixed feeling in my heart, so one day I decided to not to look at the amount when money is offered as osettai. I do not receive it by hand, but presented an opened offering bag and got that person to place it inside. Thus, finally through this way, I could, for the first time, calmly receive the unusual action of osettai money.

Refusing osettai

When you receive osettai in the form of money that you think it is too much, or something that is too heavy or not necessary for you, by principle, you ought not to refuse such a gift because by accepting it, you are showing courtesy towards the giver. You may pass it along as osettai to someone who needs it or by donating it at some place of worship and it becomes osettai to pilgrims coming by a later time.

Walking pilgrims have a problem of what to do when someone offers a ride in a car. On occasion when one is plodding along the national roads, sometimes someone will stop and ask, "Do you want a lift?" There are some who willingly accept rides and proceed around Shikoku in this way; however, those who are strictly walkers did not easily accept such an offer. However, by refusing such a charitable offer goes against the rule of 'do not refuse settai.'

There is no correct answer to this problem and I decline the offer by saying, "I am walking for ascetic training." As much as possible, I offer my refusal in such a way as to not hurt the other person. Fortunately, until now I have not had to witness someone being awfully disappointed, however, there have been cases where I could not refuse, got a ride and then later felt regretful for doing so. I think it would be good to carefully think about this matter of 'riding in a vehicle' before proceeding on the journey.

(translated by David C. Moreton)

Glossary TOP Copyright (C)1999-2000 Hiroshi Kushima / (C)2004 David C. Moreton