Book Review | NEON PILGRIM by Lisa Dempster

  • Publisher: ‎ Ventura Press
  • Published:   1st August 2017
  • Paperback:  320 pages

My Review: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Seriously unfit and unmotivated, Lisa Dempster is an unlikely candidate for a gruelling outdoor adventure.

But when her life needs a shake-up, she decides the only thing for it is to hike the henro michi, a 1200 kilometre Buddhist pilgrimage through the mountains of Japan. Lisa plunges into life on the road, getting well off the beaten track and experiencing the highs and devastating lows of solo long-distance hiking.

Along the way she sleeps in a public toilet, befriends a motley crew of wandering ascetics, falls in lust with a monk and tries her darndest to avoid the local wildlife. As the kilometres tick excruciatingly by, she realises that to finish the pilgrimage it’s more than just physical hardship that she’ll need to overcome…

Lisa’s journey from overweight dole bludger to intrepid explorer is a witty and fascinating insight into Japan’s famed 88 Temple Pilgrimage.

Told with refreshing warmth and humour, Neon Pilgrim is a deeply inspiring story, with fascinating insights into Japanese culture and the Shikoku 88 Temple pilgrimage.

My Review:

I’ve been curious about Japan and it’s culture since I was about thirteen, when we had a young student from Japan live with us as part of an exchange program.

There is a UNESCO path – the Kumano Kodo – in southern Japan that offers a dual pilgrim certificate if you’ve already walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. That’s been tempting me, and it may be something I do in a couple of years, but there is a longer walk in Japan, 1200 kilometres, that is also of interest to me – the Henro Michi, or the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. It is a trail that takes you around the island of Shikoku.

Neon Pilgrim is an Australian woman’s memoir of her journey doing this pilgrimage, after finding herself overweight, unemployed, depressed, and living with her mother at the age of twenty-eight.

I couldn’t put this book down, and I read it during my recovering from spine surgery, where nothing held my interest.

Yes, it’s a novel that talks about sore muscles, giving up, loneliness on the trail, the heat (!) and wondering why she’s doing it, sometimes on repeat. But it’s also a book about perseverance. In fact, most pilgrims give up the walk only days into walking this trail. But I’m a big believer in the power of the trail and how it can transform someone.

If you need any convincing, this woman now runs the annual Melbourne Literacy Festival and started the Emerging Writer’s Festival. Both are huge events in Australia.

Definitely a book to read if you’re into the Camino or any long distance walks.

You can find more about the book here:



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