The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgramage is one of the few circular-shaped pilgrimages in the world. It includes 88 “official” temples and numerous other sacred sites where Kūkai (Kōbō Daishi) is believed to have trained or have spent time during the 9th Century. If walked, the entire route is about 1,200 kilometers long which allows one to experience the abundant natural surroundings of Shikoku and presents visitors with numerous opportunities to mix with local people.
What is the Shikoku Pilgrimage?
The Shikoku pilgrimage route (or Shikoku Henro) is one of the few circular-shaped pilgrimages in the world. It includes 88 “official” temples and numerous other sacred sites where the Buddhist priest Kūkai (Kōbō Daishi) is believed to have trained or have spent time during the 9th Century. If walked, the entire route is about 1,200 kilometers long which allows one to experience the abundant natural surroundings of Shikoku and presents visitors with numerous opportunities to mix with local people. This pilgrimage provides the an opportunity to reflect on one's life and to change for the better.
People’s motives for making this pilgrimage are varied. For example, some come for religious reasons, some to pray for healing or safety in the home, or some in memory of those who have passed away. In addition, some come just to get away from regular life, some for recreation, or some to spend time alone in reflection and to find oneself. For people today, it is being re-discovered as a healing journey.
This pilgrimage should not be considered as a stamp-gathering relay, but as a religious journey. Do not worry too much. Just take the first step and as you travel around, you will have time to reflect on yourself and obtain something from this endeavor. The local people will welcome you for your decision to embark on the Shikoku pilgrimage.
The first reference to the Shikoku pilgrimage appears in documents from around the 12th Century, however, specific temples or routes are not mentioned. The present pilgrimage consisting of the 88 temples is thought to have been formed between the late 16th and 17th Century. In the modern age, with the development of roads, more and more people are coming to make the pilgrimage either by car or bus. In recent years, however, the number of walking pilgrims has also been increasing.
Different Styles of the Shikoku Pilgrim
There are many ways to make the Shikoku pilgrimage based on one’s schedule, physical health and budget.
This will take about 6 weeks (average 30km/day) and cost about 400,000 yen. This is the most traditional way, but it takes the most time and money.
This will take 9-12 days and cost about 250,000 yen. There is a variety of bus plans provided by travel and bus companies and in each case an official guide (sendatsu) will accompany the group. At present, there are no bus tours available in foreign languages. If a foreign visitor would like to participate in a bus tour then sufficient Japanese ability is required.
This will take about 10 days and cost about 140,000 yen. You can rent a car from the closest train station or airport, but make sure that you are familiar with the rules of the road. It might be possible to request a car with a navigational system that has audio guidance in English or another foreign language.
The above days and amounts are estimates of costs while in Shikoku for accommodation, food, transportation etc. and will vary according to the individual and method of travel. If you are not walking, you will have to take a different route up the mountains.
Using a combination of public transportation (train, bus etc.) and walking. Exclusively for foreign visitors there is an “All Shikoku Rail Pass” (2-5 days), which can be used on all railways in Shikoku. You can buy it once you arrive in Shikoku.
March - May and October - November are the best months for good weather and comfortable temperatures.
The route along the Seto Inland Sea has the least amount of rainfall and the route along the Pacific Ocean has the most.
There is not much difference in temperature between the Seto Inland Sea side and Pacific Ocean side.
Where to Start
Many people start at Temple 1, Ryōzenji in Tokushima prefecture, proceed in clockwise order and finish at Temple 88, Ōkuboji, in Kagawa prefecture. This method is called jun-uchi and it is easier to follow the path markers this way. Others go in reverse order, called gyaku-uchi, but there is no rule as to what order you visit the temples.
Another method is called kugiri-uchi, which means completing a part of the pilgrimage at one time. This is quite common because most people cannot easily leave their everyday lives for a couple of weeks or longer. Thus some visit the temples in one prefecture or some complete miniature pilgrimages, i.e. between temples 13 and 17, or temples 71-77. It is important to start and proceed at your own speed and in your own way.
Temple Administration Office Hours
The office where you can have your pilgrimage book (nōkyōchō) stamped and signed for 300 yen is open all year round from 7 am to 5 pm. Allow extra time here during the busy seasons.
What to Wear
It is not necessary to use all of the following items, which can be bought at various temples and stores along the pilgrimage route, but this is the traditional style of attire. At a minimum, we recommended wearing a white vest and using a staff. If you do so, people will recognize, welcome, and assist you as a pilgrim. In addition, you will have more chances to talk with the local people.
1. sedge hat（菅笠 / sugegasa）
It is useful to block the sun or rain. It is not necessary to remove it when worshipping at a sacred site or when talking with temple staff.
2. white vest（白衣 / hakui or hakue）
The white clothing worn by the pilgrim represents purity and innocence, however in the past it also held the meaning of a death shroud, symbolizing that the pilgrim was prepared to die at any time.
3. rosary（数珠 / juzu）
This is a very familiar religious object to the Japanese. If you hold this while holding your hands together, it is said that the illusions of the mind will disappear and good fortune will come upon you.
4. bell（持鈴 / jirei）
The bell should be rung after each sutra is recited.
5. bag（頭陀袋/ zudabukuro）
Items such as candles, incense, nameslips, pilgrimage book etc. are put in here.
6. stole（輪袈裟 / wagesa）
This is symbolic of the full Buddhist robe and shows one`s devotion. Choose the colour that you like.
7. staff（金剛杖 / kongōzue）
This is said to be the embodiment of Kōbō Daishi, who guides pilgrims around the route. Formerly it was used as a grave marker for pilgrims who passed away while on the pilgrimage along the journey.
8. nameslips（納札 / osamefuda）
Write your name, address, date and wish on this and place it in the nameslip box at the Main hall and Daishi hall. Give it to people from whom you receive gifts.
9. pilgrimage book（納経帳 / nōkyōchō）
This acts as proof that you have visited each temple. Have it signed and stamped after worshipping at each sacred site.
Proper Etiquette at a Temple
1. Main Gate（山門）
Stand to the left of the main gate, put your hands together and bow once.
2. Wash basin（水屋）
Wash your hands and mouth here, and then put on your wagesa and juzu.
3. Bell tower（鐘楼）
Ring the bell once. It is bad luck to ring it when you leave. Note: some temples have limited hours for ringing the bell.
4. Main Hall（本堂）
Place your nameslip and copied sutra in the appropriate box, light three sticks of incense and one candle, place a donation in the offertory box, stand to the left, put your hands together, and recite the sutras. At the Main Hall, it is common to begin reciting in order the Heart Sutra, then continue with the GoHonzon Shingon and Gohogo sutras. However, it is all right to pray silently. Later on, you might start reciting the sutras when you get used to hearing them.
5. Daishi Hall（大師堂）
Worship in the same way as at the Main hall.
6. Administration Office（納経所）
Get your pilgrimage book stamped and signed here. (Fee: 300 yen)
7. Main gate（山門）
Exit the main gate on the left side, turn around, and bow once.
Hidden Mountains: Tairyuji, Kakurinji and the Valleys of Tokushima
One of the more challenging temples to reach by foot. Tairyuji lies atop Mount Shashinzan surrounded by cedars, pines, bamboo, and mountain slopes. Walking through the lofty gates and ascending the stone stairs one can feel the history of the location as one can see monks going about their temple business in bright yellow robes. The peaks of Kakurinji too, allows one to view the rugged landscape and hidden statues. The hike to reach untouched Tairyuji is well worth the effort but the ropeway to the mountain temple shouldn't be missed. Rising high over two mountain peaks one can see the sweeping mountains and farms that stretch across the region as the ropeway gondola glides over mountain slopes. The area is important too for the story of Kūkai as the monk also had an enlightening experience amid the mountains here. And visitors can actually walk to "Shashinga-An," the area were Kūkai supposedly did his ascetic training and view the mountain scenery next to a massive statue of the monk overlooking the valley. The heavy forests and deep valleys of the area are also famous for wild game and fresh local produce, making a great meal to finish the day.
Information about Kamo, Katsuura Area
Sightseeing Spot (Viewpoint, Facilities etc.):
The ancient walking road connecting Tatsueji to Kakurinji and the ancient trail between Kakurinji and Tairyuji, Yottene Market, the Tairyuji Ropeway, mountain side statue of Kūkai, the Katsuura Doll Museum (open from late February to early April)
Temple #20 Kakurinji, Temple #21 Tairyuji, Temple #22 Byodoji Temple
Garden Time KONOMU (cafe, western style dishes)
Awa Wild Game Restaurant AOKI (wild game, local food)
Of all pilgrimage experiences to be found in Japan, the 88 Sacred Sites of the Shikoku pilgrimage is at the center. This pilgrimage, often referred to as “Shikoku88” is registered as an important Japanese heritage site, and is a unique cultural treasure that significantly represents the soul of both the nation and its people. This pilgrimage can only be found in Shikoku.
For your own personal experience and exploration, we would like to propose nine different courses that consist of 2 days and 1 night. For foreigners visiting Japan thinking that they might enjoy some pilgrimage exposure, combined with other sightseeing venues, these courses may be ideal.
Shikoku is ripe with beautiful vistas of both sea and mountain, an incredible array of culinary delights, and places that are unique, ancient, and undiscovered. All of these are yours to explore with your senses and which can be found here when you visit and discover Shikoku.