Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage
The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a 1,200 kilometer pilgrimage to 88 temples in Shikoku associated with Kobo Daishi. The Shikoku Pilgrimage is the most well-known pilgrimage in Japan.
- Shikoku Pilgrimage History
- Kukai (Kobo Daishi)
- Visiting the Temples
- Bangai Temples
- Shikoku Pilgrims
- Alms - osettai
- 88 Temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage
- Japan Temples & Shrines
The Shikoku Pilgrimage (Ohenro) 四国遍路
The approximately 1,200 kilometer circulatory pilgrimage around Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands, is most commonly known as Ohenro.
Pilgrims at temple 75, Zentsuji, birthplace of Kobo Daishi, Shikoku
Statues of Kobo Daishi are commonplace along the Shikoku Pilgrimage
Visiting 88 temples associated with the holy man Kobo Daishi, the Shikoku Pilgrimage is not the oldest pilgrimage in Japan - which is probably the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage in the Kansai Region - nor is it (yet) a World Heritage Site like the Kumano Kodo in Wakayama and Mie prefectures.
However, the Shikoku Pilgrimage is certainly the most well known pilgrimage today, both within Japan and abroad. Every year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from Japan and elsewhere will be found following the route.
The temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage are scattered across the whole of the island of Shikoku, mostly on or very near the coast. And while some are found a little inland on mountains, the interior of the island is avoided.
The route passes through the four prefectural capital cities of Tokushima city, Kochi city, Matsuyama city and Takamatsu, and much of the route is on fairly busy main roads. Some sections are in the less populated countryside and a few are on secluded mountaintops.
Statue of a young Kobo Daishi practising austerities near Tairyuji, one of several remote mountaintop temples on the pilgrimage that are served with a modern ropeway
Groups of pilgrims travelling by tour bus are often seen at the temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage
Shikoku Pilgrimage History
The origins of the pilgrimage are lost in the mists of time, though historians believe there were originally several smaller pilgrimage routes travelled by ascetic monks and yamabushi (hermits and ascetics who lived in the mountains).
By the Edo Period (17th-19th centuries) guide books to the pilgrimage appeared. The Edo Period was the golden age of pilgrimage in Japan when millions took to the roads. The Shikoku pilgrimage was a little different, though, as many of the other big pilgrimage routes were followed by elite members of society, yet Shikoku remained a pilgrimage for the lower classes.
Over the centuries the temples on the route changed. Some disappeared, some moved, and other were added. Before the mid-19th century, some of the sites were actually Shinto shrines. Now the 88 temples, and an "extra" twenty temples known as bangai, are set and well established. The temples belong to different sects and have different main deities, but they all have a Daishi-do, a hall enshrining the spirit of Kobo Daishi, the focus of the pilgrimage.
Kukai (Kobo Daishi)
As a young man he practised austerities at various remote sites around Shikoku, and some of these are now temples on the pilgrimage. He went on an official visit to China and the teachings he brought back became the basis of the new Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism founded by him and with its headquarters based at Koyasan, a mountain temple complex south of Osaka, in Wakayama Prefecture, where he died in 838. Like many religious figures, in the centuries since his death legends about him and his feats grew and grew.
Visiting the Temples
The aim of the pilgrimage is to visit all 88 of the temples, and there really are no rules that determine how you do that. Most people start at temple 1, Ryozenji, in Naruto, Tokushima and then head clockwise around the island.
This is the order in which they are numbered, but some travel anti-clockwise. If you come from Kyushu you can start at the point where you arrive on Shikoku. In fact you can visit the temples in any order whatsoever.
It is also not necessary to do the whole pilgrimage in one go. Many people cannot afford the time, so do it in sections, sometimes with years between. The weather on Shikoku is mild so it's possible to do the pilgrimage at any time of the year, but the end of March to May is the peak season, with October also being popular.
Until modern times, in earlier days there was only one method of travel for the pilgrimage - walking. That is still how many people do the pilgrimage, and it takes between 6 and 8 weeks for most people to finish.
Nowadays a lot of people are doing it by bicycle and of course plenty do it by motorbike or car. Public transport is a viable option with trains and buses passing close to most of the temples and local taxi companies well prepared for the needs of pilgrims, but probably the most popular option for Japanese is the group pilgrimage by tour bus, though most foreigners seem to prefer to walk. Of course, a combination of all transport options is feasible.
Bangai Temples 四国別格二十霊場
The priest Kukai visited many more temples on Shikoku island than just the renowned 88. So, in 1968, twenty other Shikoku temples that he had visited banded together to form the Shikoku Bekkaku Jureijo (literally the "Twenty Other Sacred Places on Shikoku"), but more commonly known as the Bangai. 88 + 20 = 108, evoking the "108 Afflictions" of Buddhist theology which must be overcome. So, including the Bangai temples in your pilgrimage is therefore claimed to further benefit karma by helping the pilgrim conquer these afflictions.
A very colorful rest space with free refreshments offered by locals along the coastal pilgrim route in Geisei Village in Kochi
Staffs, kongozue, left by pilgrims after completing the pilgrimage at temple 88 Okuboji
Pilgrims: jacket, hat, staff
Pilgrims can easily be recognized by three particular items. They are usually dressed all in white, or if not completely white, then at least a white jacket or vest called a hakui.
Historically white was how a corpse was clothed and so signifies that the pilgrim was prepared to die on the pilgrimage, something that did happen in earlier times though nowadays the white is said to represent purity.
Many pilgrims wear a conical sedge hat called a sugegasa, good for protection against the sun and rain. It is very unusual to find a pilgrim not carrying a wooden staff called a kongozue. Even pilgrims travelling on a group tour bus will carry one of these as it is said to be the embodiment of Kobo Daishi himself accompanying you on the pilgrimage.
Volunteers all along the pilgrimage route offer free drinks and snacks to walking pilgrims: here at a rest hut in Mugi, Tokushima
Some temples and individuals offer free accommodation to pilgrims
One of the most well known features of the Ohenro is something called o-settai, which translates as alms or gift giving, and is the tradition on Shikoku of local people supporting the pilgrims.
Quite commonly you will find strangers coming up to you and giving you snacks or drinks. Sometimes it is quite organized, with places set up where locals hand out food and drink to every passing pilgrim.
Many businesses will offer free gifts to passing pilgrims, onsens offer reduced rates for pilgrims, for example, and many places offer free, though quite simple and spartan, places to spend the night.
All over the island are rest huts where walking pilgrims can get shelter for a while, and in some cases spend the night. Even more so than in the rest of Japan, strangers will be helpful, to Japanese and non-Japanese alike.
You don't have to be Buddhist to take part in the pilgrimage, and you don't need to take part in any of the religious activities. Some people walk the pilgrimage simply as a form of tourism - which is actually what a part of pilgrimage was about in pre-modern Japan. However, it is necessary to respect the sacred places and those walking the pilgrimage for religious reasons.
Anyone thinking about doing the pilgrimage, even in part, and also anyone going to spend time on Shikoku, should get hold of the Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide, a small pocketbook truly packed with all the practical information you need to plan your trip.
Shikoku 88 Temples
Map of the 88 Temple Shikoku Pilgrimage
1) Ryozenji Temple 霊山寺 - temple number one on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
2) Gokurakuji Temple 極楽寺 - temple number two on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
3) Konsenji Temple 金泉寺 - temple number three on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
4) Dainichiji Temple 大日寺 - temple number four on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
5) Jizoji Temple 地蔵寺 - temple number five on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
6) Anrakuji Temple 安楽寺 - temple number six on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
7) Jurakuji Temple 十楽寺 - temple number seven on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
8) Kumadaniji Temple 熊谷寺 - temple number eight on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
9) Horinji Temple 法輪寺 - temple number nine on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
10) Kirihataji Temple 切幡寺 - temple number ten on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
11) Fujiidera Temple 藤井寺 - temple number eleven on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
12) Shosanji Temple 焼山寺 - temple number twelve on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
13) Dainichiji Temple 大日寺 - temple number thirteen on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
14) Jorakuji Temple 常楽寺 - temple number fourteen on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
15) Kokubunji Temple 国分寺 - temple number fifteen on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
16) Kannonji Tokushima 観音寺 - temple number sixteen on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
17) Idoji Temple 井戸寺 - temple number seventeen on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
18) Onzanji Temple 恩山寺 - temple number eighteen on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
19) Tatsueji Temple 立江寺 - temple number nineteen on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
20) Kakurinji Temple 鶴林寺 - temple number twenty on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
21) Tairyuji Temple 太龍寺- temple number twenty one on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
22) Byodoji Temple 平等寺 - temple number twenty two on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
23) Yakuoji Temple 薬王寺 - temple number twenty three on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
24) Hotsumisakiji Temple 最御崎寺 - temple number twenty four on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
25) Shinshoji Temple 津照寺 - temple number twenty five on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
26) Kongochoji Temple 金剛頂寺 - temple number twenty six on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
27) Konomineji Temple 神峯寺 - temple number twenty seven on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
28) Dainichiji Temple 大日寺 - temple number twenty eight on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
29) Tosa Kokubunji Temple 国分寺 - temple number twenty nine on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
30) Zenrakuji Temple 善楽寺 - temple number thirty on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
31) Chikurinji Temple 竹林寺 - temple number thirty one on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
32) Zenjibuji Temple 禅師峰寺 - temple number thirty two on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
33) Sekkeiji Temple 雪蹊寺 - temple number thirty three on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
34) Tanemaji Temple 種間寺 - temple number thirty four on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
35) Kiyotakiji 清瀧寺 - temple number thirty five on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
36) Shoruji 青龍寺 - temple number thirty six on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
37) Iwamotoji 岩本寺 - temple number thirty seven on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
38) Kongofukuji 金剛福寺 - temple number thirty eight on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
39) Enkōji 延光寺 - temple number thirty nine on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
40) Kanjizaiji 観自在寺 - temple number forty on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
41) Ryukoji 龍光寺 - temple number forty one on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
42) Butsumokuji 佛木寺 - temple number forty two on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
43) Meisekiji 明石寺 - temple number forty three on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
44) Daihoji 大寶寺 - temple number forty four on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
45) Iwayaji 岩屋寺 - temple number forty five on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
46) Jōruriji 浄瑠璃寺 - temple number forty six on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
47) Yasakaji 八坂寺 - temple number forty seven on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
48) Sairinji 西林寺 - temple number forty eight on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
49) Jodoji 浄土寺 - temple number forty nine on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
50) Hantaji 繁多寺 - temple number fifty on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
51) Ishiteji 石手寺 - temple number fifty one on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
52) Taisanji 太山寺 - temple number fifty two on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
53) Enmyoji 圓明寺 - temple number fifty three on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
54) Enmeiji 延命寺 - temple number fifty four on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
55) Nankōbō 南光坊 - temple number fifty five on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
56) Taisanji 泰山寺 - temple number fifty six on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
57) Eifukuji 栄福寺 - temple number fifty seven on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
58) Senyūji 仙遊寺 - temple number fifty eight on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
59) Kokubunji 国分寺 - temple number fifty nine on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
60) Yokomineji 横峰寺 - temple number sixty on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
61) Kouonji 香園寺 - temple number sixty one on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
62) Hōjuji 宝寿寺 - temple number sixty two on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
63) Kichijōji 吉祥寺 - temple number sixty three on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
64) Maegamiji 前神寺 - temple number sixty four on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
65) Sankakuji 三角寺 - temple number sixty five on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
66) Umpenji 雲辺寺 - temple number sixty six on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
67) Daikōji 大興寺 - temple number sixty seven on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
68) Jinne-In 神恵院 - temple number sixty eight on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
69) Kannonji 観音寺 - temple number sixty nine on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
70) Motoyamaji 本山寺 - temple number seventy on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
71) Iyadaniji 弥谷寺 - temple number seventy one on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
72) Mandaraji 曼荼羅寺 - temple number seventy two on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
73) Shusshakaji 出釈迦寺 - temple number seventy three on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
74) Kōyamaji 甲山寺 - temple number seventy four on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
75) Zentsuji Temple 善通寺 - temple number seventy five on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
76) Konzōji 金倉寺 - temple number seventy six on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
77) Doryuji 道隆寺 - temple number seventy seven on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
78) Goushoji 郷照寺 - temple number seventy eight on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
79) Tennoji 天皇寺 - temple number seventy nine on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
80) Kokubunji 國分寺 - temple number eighty on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
81) Shiromineji 白峯寺 - temple number eighty one on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
82) Negoroji 根香寺 - temple number eighty two on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
83) Ichinomiyaji 一宮寺 - temple number eighty three on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
84) Yashimaji Temple 屋島寺 - temple number eighty four on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
85) Yakuriji 八栗寺 - temple number eighty five on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
86) Shidoji 志度寺 - temple number eighty six on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
87) Nagaoji 長尾寺 - temple number eighty seven on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
88) Okuboji 大窪寺 - temple number eighty eight on the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
If you are starting the Shikoku pilgrimage at temple number one Ryozenji you will need to arrive in Tokushima.
Tokushima Airport (Tel: 088 699 2831) is 8 km north of the city with hourly buses to and from Tokushima Station (30 mins). There are daily flights to Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka and flights to Sapporo in summer from Tokushima.
JR Marine Liner trains from Okayama Station connect south to Takamatsu in 55 minutes and Tokushima (with a change in Takamatsu to the Uzushio Express) in around 2 hours.
The main bus station is the the main square outside JR Tokushima Station. There is a booth here from where you can buy tickets. The bus departure points are clearly marked with the names of the destination cities.
A little to the east of JR Tokushima Station is another highway bus departure point, the Kaifu Kanko Bus Oasis, from where there are buses to Anan, Nakagawa, Matsushige, Sannomiya, Shin-Kobe, Osaka and Busta Shinjuku Bus Station (4F) and Tokyo Station in Tokyo. Overnight buses for Tokyo leave at 9.20 pm, 9.50 pm and 10.05 pm.
For further information on routes and prices see the Kaifu Kanko website.
The Ocean Tokyu Ferry (Tel: 088 662 0489) takes 18 hours to get to Tokyo, and then goes back to Tokushima and Kita-Kyushu-Tokushima-Tokyo in a loop.
Entrance to Horinji Temple, temple number 9, Tokushima
Kumadaniji Temple, temple number 8 of the Shikoku Pilgrimage