The Shikoku island in Japan is home to 88 temple pilgrimage that holds a rich and extensive history. Pilgrimage or most commonly known as Junrei is used to describe two types of pilgrimages for Buddhism or Shinto. Pilgrimages are usually visited in circle order consisting either of 33 or 88 sites. Today many tourism companies organize pilgrimage site visits which can last anywhere from a few weeks up to a few months and these tours are considered to be one of the most culturally filling experiences in Japan.
What is the Shikoku pilgrimage?
The Shikoku pilgrimage on Shikoku Island dates back to the Heian period from 794 to 1185. This pilgrimage consists of 88 temples which are visited all at once during a few weeks or month period. Pilgrimage tours in history were completed on foot, but now in modern days, visitors are able to join comfortable bus tours. A walking pilgrimage tour is approximately 1200 km which takes 30-60 days to complete. Pilgrimage tour does not only consist of the 88 temples, along the way visitors can experience the mesmerizing beauty of Japan as well as bangai temples that are usually not listed on the main tour. What is important to remember is that in Japan everything is a ritual and everything has an order and so does the pilgrimage tour. A pilgrimage tour must be done in order and some even say that it is bad luck to follow another path.
Pilgrimages in the past, as well as today, were walked by the Henro who can be recognized by their white attire and hats, today pilgrimage walk has been modernized where the pilgrims use taxis, trains or buses.
About the history of Shikoku pilgrimage
Shikoku pilgrimage dates back to the Heian Period from 794 to 1185 it was the last period of classical Japanese history. This period is named after the Heian-Kyo or today known as Kyoto city. In Heian Period Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese faiths were at their peak and this is where the pilgrimage was formed. Shikoku translates to – four provinces (Awa, Tosa, Iyo, Sanuki) in the Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime and Kagawa prefectures.
Shikoku pilgrimage is a path to enlightenment which starts by visiting 23 temples to reach “awakening”, the next 24-30 for the discipline, 40-65 for the enlightenment and the rest is to reach nirvana which is the ultimate state of liberation, the end of suffering and the final goal of Buddhism. The path is taken by the Henro pilgrims who dress in a white attire accompanied with walking sticks, sutra books, and ceremonial stoles. The path will consist of many rituals including purification rituals, donations, and chants which will eventually lead to nirvana.
Discovering the temples
The 88 Shikoku pilgrimage temples are also called – Shikoku Hachijūhakkasho or Hachijūhakkasho. The temples are divided into 4 provinces – Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime, and Kagawa prefectures.
Tokushima temples – Ryōzen-ji, Gokuraku-ji, Konsen-ji, Dainichi-ji, Jizō-ji, Anraku-ji, Jūraku-ji, Kumadani-ji, Hōrin-ji, Kirihata-ji, Fujii-dera, Shōsan-ji, Dainichi-ji, Jōraku-ji, Awa Kokubun-ji, Kannon-ji, Ido-ji, Onzan-ji, Tatsue-ji, Kakurin-ji, Tairyūji, Byōdō-ji, Yakuō-ji, Unpen-ji.
Kochi temples – Hotsumisaki-ji, Shinshō-ji, Kongōchō-ji, Kōnomine-ji, Dainichi-ji, Tosa Kokubun-ji, Zenrakuji, Chikurin-ji, Zenjibu-ji, Sekkei-ji, Tanema-ji, Kiyotaki-ji, Shōryū-ji, Iwamoto-ji, Kongōfuku-ji, Enkōji.
Ehime Temples – Kanjizai-ji, Ryūkōji, Butsumoku-ji, Meiseki-ji, Daihō-ji, Iwaya-ji, Jōruri-ji, Yasaka-ji, Sairin-ji, Jōdo-ji, Hanta-ji, Ishite-ji, Taisan-ji, Enmyō-ji, Enmei-ji, Nankōbō, Taisan-ji, Eifuku-ji, Senyū-ji, Iyo Kokubun-ji, Yokomine-ji, Kōon-ji, Hōju-ji, Kichijō-ji, Maegami-ji, Sankaku-ji.
Kagawa Temples – Daikō-ji, Jinne-in, Kannon-ji, Motoyama-ji, Iyadani-ji, Mandara-ji, Shusshakaji, Kōyama-ji, Zentsū-ji, Konzō-ji, Dōryū-ji, Gōshō-ji, Tennō-ji, Sanuki Kokubun-ji, Shiromine-ji, Negoro-ji, Ichinomiya-ji, Yashima-ji, Yakuri-ji, Shido-ji, Nagao-ji and Ōkubo-ji.
It is said that there is no wrong or right way to visit the temples, but it must not be done in reverse.
Preparing for a pilgrimage walk can require quite a lot of research, as the walk can take up to a few months to finish carrying as less as possible is the key. Here is how you can recognize the typical pilgrim on his journey:
Sugegasa hat – it is around coned shaped hat made out of straw that serves for protection against heat and it is complemented by a bandana or a towel. The Sugegasa is decorated with kanji sentences for the grand Buddhist master Kobo Daishi.
Hakui jacket or vest – a sleeveless vest that is made out of cotton, if you are ready to invest more money into to this item you can purchase one with kanji for Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo.
Wagesa stole – this item shows that you are practicing Buddhism, it is a scarf made out of cotton or silk and available in many colors.