There is one last story of Shōdo to tell, and it is appropriate to save it for now, for it was on a night like this, on a ferry departing Shōdo for the mainland, that an eighty-four-year-old man—a pilgrim—walked out onto the deck and, quietly, unobtrusively, slipped away. His name was Ichikawa Danzo VIII, a Kabuki actor of note, and in his death he gave his last and greatest performance, a performance that would assure him immortality.From Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson
Ichikawa first appeared onstage as a child in arms. When he retired in April 1965, it was celebrated as eighty-two years onstage. After the fetes and final farewell performance, he travelled to Shikoku and set off, alone, to follow the Eighty-Eight Temple Route of Kōbō Daishi. It was a remarkable undertaking for a man in his late years, and there are suggestions that he never expected to finish the pilgrimage, that he expected to die on the road. But Ichikawa finished his trek at the end of May, after the sakura had fallen and the circle had closed. He was at a loss over what to do. He sailed for Shōdo, apparently to complete that islands pilgrimage as well—but something changed his mind.
Why he chose to leave the final circle unfinished remains a mystery. Perhaps he was simply tired. He spent the last days of his life alone in a small inn on Shōdo before boarding a midnight ferry for Osaka. Rain was washing across the deck as Ichikawa made his way to the stern and stepped over the guardrail into a dark sea. He was never seen again. It was as though his body had vanished. He had chosen the moment of his exit carefully; the ferry was crossing the strong eastern currents of the Inland Sea and he was swept away into the whirlpool of Naruto—and the endless circles it spins.
Ichikawa's death became legend, the ultimate act of autonomy, the pilgrim deciding for himself how the journey would end. In Japanese Pilgrimage, Oliver Statler writes, "His was not an act of desperation but of resolution. He walked out of life as he had walked on the stage, with composure."
/misc | Dec 17, 2013
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