The Shikoku Ohenro Pilgrimage

At 1200 years and 1150 kilometers, the Shikoku pilgrimage is one of the worlds oldest and longest spiritual pilgrimages.  Consisting of eighty eight temples and numerous other sacred sites the pilgrimage roughly rings the perimeter of Shikoku island.  Established by Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, in the early 9th century, Kobo Daishi (as he is known posthumously) continues to play a central role in the pilgrimage today.  To learn, more about the history of the pilgrimage, click here.

Discover Shikoku provides customized pilgrim experiences tailored to our clients’ individual goals and needs. From an afternoon of temple highlights to extended walking experiences, anything can be arranged.  Accommodations vary from simple temple retreats to luxurious ryokan and natural hotsprings, while meals include everything from local handmade noodles to sumptuous kaiseki courses.  

Though not required in order to participate in the pilgrimage, we can provide a full fitting of traditional Ohenro clothing including hat(sugegasa),  staff(kongo-ze), white clothing(hakui), stoll(wagesa), rosary(juzu), bag(zuda-bukuro), and stamp book (nogyo-cho).

Below please find a sampling of some of the experiences you will discover on the Shikoku pilgrimage.

Tairyuji Temple #21

Tairyuji, The Great Dragon Temple, is one of only a few temples on the pilgrimage to have a written documented connection to Kobo Daishi.  At the age of 15 the Kobo Daishi spent 50 days here reciting a mantra one million times in an attempt to attain enlightenment.  Although that attempt failed, he later returned at the request of Emperor Kanmu to establish a temple here and become its head priest.  

Shiromineji Temple #81

Guardian of some of Shikoku's oldest architecture, dating back to the 7th century, Shiromineji is home to the mausoleum of Emperor Sutoku who was murdered just outside the grounds of Tennouji Temple in 1156 shortly after having been exiled to present day Kagawa prefecture for failing to put down the Hogen rebellion.

Shousanji Temple #12

Arguably one of the most picturesque settings of all the ohenro pilgrimage temples, the climb here from Fujiidera temple is a 6 hour long trek not for the faint of heart.  This is the legendary location of a cave where Kobo Daishi trapped and forever extinguished the flames of a fire breathing dragon.

Byoudouji Temple #22

The temple of equality, it celebrates the healing deity Yakushi Norai.  Water from the well, dug here by the Kobo Daishi, is said to have healing properties, specifically for those suffering from eye ailments.  

Yakuriji Temple #85

The temple of the 8 Baked Chestnuts, it refers to the 8 chestnut trees rumored to have been planted here by the Kobo Daishi before he departed on his journey to China.  The beautifully maintained more than 50 years old cable car that carries you to this mountain top temple is a true treasure of mid-century modern design and a delight to ride on.

Some interesting facts you may not know about our pilgrimage...

The standard walking course for the entire pilgrimage generally takes between 40 and 60 days. 

The pilgrim's journey through these four provinces during the Shikoku Pilgrimage is likened to a symbolic path to enlightenment, with temples 1–23 in Tokushima prefecture represent the idea of awakening, temples 24–39 of Kochi prefecture represents austerity and discipline, temples 40–65 of Ehime prefecture represents the attaining of enlightenment, and temples 66–88 of Kagawa prefecture represents entering nirvana. 

There are pilgrims called “substitute pilgrims” who do the trek for a fee on behalf of clients who contact them through the Internet.

Pilgrims, also known as henro, are treated with great reverence and hospitality in Shikoku, often given osettai (money and food) and free lodging by random people they meet along the way. 

It is said that white is worn during the pilgrimage because long ago some pilgrims would collapse from physical exertion and die during the pilgrimage and the white robes could serve as their burial clothes.  The color white also carries the meaning that all pilgrims are equal in front of the Buddha. 

A Shikoku pilgrim’s conical hat has dōgyō ninon (two traveling together) written on it. This basically means that even if you are traveling alone the spirit of Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, is always with you, protecting you and guiding your way. 

There is an anecdote stating that during his pilgrimage in Shikoku, one night Kobo Daishi had to spend the night under a bridge. For that reason, when coming to a bridge, Shikoku pilgrims are often reminded that Kobo Daishi may be sleeping under this bridge, and to walk carefully across it without using their walking stick so as not to wake him. 

The Shikoku pilgrimage is the only known pilgrimage going in a circular direction. And it doesn’t need to becompleted in numerical order. In fact, it is believed that going in reverse will bring you three times the divine favor than going in standard order will. 

Zentsuji Temple #75

Considered one of Japan's top 3 pilgrimage destinations, Zentsuji is the birthplace and spiritual home of Kobo Daishi(774-835), founder of Shingon Buddhism and the person credited with establishing the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

Shidoji Temple #86

Built in the year 694, Shidoji temple is home to this spectacular Pagoda. Many may be unaware that traditional pagoda architecture with its free standing center column still forms the foundation of modern seismic engineering in Japan, considered the best in the world.

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