Old bird's-eye view of Shikoku drawn by Hatsusaburo Yoshida.
By the courtesy of Waseda University Dokukan Institute.
The full pilgrimage is to 88 temples located around the island of Shikoku. It is said that by visiting some or all of these temples, especially on foot, one's worldly desires will gradually dissipate and reduce the frustrations of everyday life by becoming fully aware of your true self.
The pilgrimage was initiated by the Buddhist priest Kukai and follows the trail he walked in 815, when he was 42 years old. Thereafter, all of Shikoku became a place of pilgrimage for his followers. Shikoku's four prefectures also reflect the four separate parts of the mandala ( symbol of the universe ) that shows the world of Buddhism and seeing into one's true nature, the ultimate comprehension of being. Tokushima is the place of spiritual awakening; Kochi, the place of ascetic training; Ehime, the place of enlightenment; and Kagawa, the place of Nirvana.
Those who follow in the footstep of Kukai are known as O-Henro-san ( pilgrims ). Some locals hold that such pilgrims and Kukai are at one with each other, and in a spirit of generosity, offer gifts of fruit and sweets ( osettai ) to pilgrims.
The pilgrim trail goes through untouched pastoral scenery, along the coasts of the calm Seto Inland Sea, the wild Pacific Ocean, and up steep, sacred, mountains. In these surroundings, one gradually becomes aware that they are something very special, and a feeling of affection arises for ordinary things, which is enhanced by the warmth of others.
The length of the full trail is 1,400 km and can be started or completed anywhere. There are no set rules of where to visit or how many temples to see. Just suit yourself.
Let's go on the Shikoku 'Route 88' Pilgrimage Trail!
This circular pilgrimage route is the most famous pilgrimage in Japan. It was established by disciples of the Buddhist monk Kukai, who trained at several sacred places in Shikoku, and many believe this route follows his footsteps. This is a journey to find your true self and attain peace of mind.
Traveling as a pilgrim in Shikoku is very safe, especially when traditional pilgrim wear of a short, white cotton coat is worn. Locals will be very helpful if they recognize you as a pilgrim, and will aid you in your journey by offering small gifts, which must always be accepted. Such gifts are called osettai , and are an important part of the Shikoku pilgrimage culture.
Pilgrims from the world over visit the sacred sites in Shikoku and follow the trail that Kukai walked in his youth. Many say that during the pilgrimage the spirit of Kukai is with them, a belief expressed by the phrase dogyo-ninin (we walk together).
Shikoku means 'four provinces' – originally called Awa, Tosa, Iyo, and Sanuki. They were reorganized after Japan's modernization into the prefectures of Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime, and Kagawa. Each prefecture has a Buddhist dojo name (place of spiritual training). The pilgrim journey through these four provinces is likened to a symbolic path to enlightenment, with temples 1-23 being the places of Spiritual Awakening (Hosshin dojo), 24-39 those of Ascetic Training (Shugyo dojo), 40-65 places of enlightenment (Bodai dojo), and 66-88, the places of Nirvana (Nehan dojo).
Kira-no-Edohigan cherry blossom in spring in Tsurugi Town, Tokushima Prefecture.
Shimanto River in summer in Shimanto City, Kochi Prefecture.
Mt. Ishizuchi-san in autumn in Saijo City, Ehime Prefecture.
Ritsurin Garden in winter in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture.