With its unique looped trail, this Buddhist pilgrimage in Shikoku is one of the most renowned spiritual journeys in the world. Whether traveling by foot, bus, or car, this 1,200-kilometer pilgrimage ensures travelers will experience Shikoku’s historic 88 temples and breathtaking landscape. Although Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four major islands, it has plenty of beauty and charm to offer sightseers.
Before packing any bags and heading to Shikoku, there are some essential things that everyone needs to know. When it comes to visiting spiritual landmarks in different cultures, prior research is crucial. From proper attire to local highlights, we’ve compiled the top ten things every traveler needs to know before beginning the life-changing 88 temple pilgrimage in Shikoku.
10/10 The Origin of the 88-Temple Pilgrimage
The loop is said to represent the path taken by the Japanese Buddhist monk Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, who’s thought to have trained and spent time on the Shikoku route in the ninth century. While not the oldest hiking trail in Japan, this pilgrimage is still a historic passage.
Kobo Daishi is one of Japan’s most significant spiritual luminaries. He founded the Shingon school of Buddhism and was also a monk, poet, and calligrapher. Kobo Daishi returned to Japan and established temples all throughout the country after studying Buddhism in China.
9/10 Best Season to Hike in Shikoku
Choosing the right season to visit a destination is essential, and it’s important to plan exactly when to land in Shikoku. The best time to hike in Shikoku is either between March and May or October and November. Reminder, the most popular time to begin the 88 temple pilgrimage is during spring, so crowds may be more saturated during this season.
The majority of pilgrims who travel by foot decide to set out on their journey in early April due to the lower chances of rain. Yet, autumn throughout Japan is stunning and makes it an excellent season for this pilgrimage as well.
8/10 What to Wear When Hiking
While there is a traditional outfit worn by those embarking on the 88 temple hike, it’s pivotal that hikers are wearing whatever makes them comfortable. It is recommended that travelers at least wear a white vest to be easily recognized as a pilgrim by temple staff. As for the traditional attire for those on the Shikoku pilgrimage, it includes:
- Sedge hat: Meant to protect pilgrims from rain and sunshine, but be sure to remove it at temples.
- Stole: Similar to a Buddhist robe, the stole conveys dedication.
- Rosary beads: Used during prayer at each temple for good fortune.
- White vest: Represents purity and originally conveyed that pilgrims were prepared to die at any moment.
7/10 Temple Etiquette to Remember
There’s a specific decorum to practice when visiting the many temples in Shikoku. First, never stand in the center passage in front of the main gate as this path is meant for the gods. Next, visitors should be sure to use the water basin to rinse their hands and mouth of impurities. After, they will need to ring the bell once or twice to announce their arrival to the gods.
At the main hall, it’s necessary to light incense, place a donation in the offertory box, stand to the left, and pray out loud or in silence. When leaving, always exit on the left side and bow once facing the gate.
6/10 Get a Pilgrimage Book
Although optional, it’s recommended to purchase a pilgrimage book that can be stamped at each temple. This book can not only serve as a souvenir of a person’s travels but work as proof that they have been to every temple. After praying at each sacred location, travelers can have their books signed and stamped for a small cost of 300 yen.
Some temples will have their own unique covers with an image of the structure or deity on the cover, sometimes with elaborate patterns. Visitors can buy these books at larger shrines.
5/10 Where to Start the Voyage
Each temple is numbered from one through eighty-eight. While it’s most common to start the pilgrimage at the first temple in Ryōzenji in Tokushima prefecture, many also start in reverse order for good luck. The last temple, number eighty-eight, is Ōkuboji in Kagawa prefecture. Considering that this circular pilgrimage is nearly 750 miles long, many local people complete the journey in segments due to daily responsibilities. This can be from temples one to ten and in separate fragments.
4/10 Critters You May Encounter
While hikers will likely witness some friendly animals like frogs, dainty birds, and so on, there are more dangerous animals to keep an eye out for in Shikoku. One of the two most poisonous snakes in Japan is the mamushi (pitviper), which is present in Shikoku. It is common that individuals are bitten by mamushi snakes which can become fatal. These snakes can be around forty-five to seventy centimeters long. Other critters include venomous centipedes and wild boars who can cause some serious damage.
3/10 How to Get to Shikoku from Osaka & Tokyo
In Osaka, travelers can find flights to Shikoku from both Kansai and Itami Airport. Meanwhile, those in Tokyo can also fly to Shikoku from both Narita and Haneda. When landing in Shikoku, tourists can take a limousine bus to Tokushima station and then a train to Bando station. After reaching Bando station, hikers will need to walk for ten minutes before arriving at Temple 1.
Additionally, those with a JR Rail Pass can head to the JR Okayama Station on the Sanyo Shinkansen bullet train. The train will travel to Shikoku through the Great Seto Ohashi Bridge from Okayama Station. Those planning to visit Japan should research the benefits of a JR Rail Pass and how it can enhance internal traveling in Japan.
2/10 Swim at Katsurahama Beach in Kochi
Aside from visiting temples in Shikoku, there are plenty of scenic stops to make including Kochi prefecture. The Shimanto River, one of the purest rivers in Japan, and the picturesque Katsurahama Beach are both found in Kochi Prefecture. Adventurers can try paddling along this river in a kayak for breathtaking sights if they have the time and energy during the pilgrimage. Aside from boasting one of the most beautiful beaches in Japan, Kochi also has juicy yuzu orchards, fresh tuna, and Kochi Castle.
1/10 Experience the Magical Dogo Onsen in Ehime
Ehime is a pleasant place to pause for some downtime. Dogo Onsen is one of the most well-known onsens in the country. It’s also considered by some accounts the source of the movie Spirited Away. Luckily, this scenic onsen is located in the prefecture of Ehime. When traveling south, visitors may see Kochi and Ehime’s shared national park, Ashizuri-uwakai. Its capital, Matsuyama, also boasts a magnificent castle.
No matter if hikers complete all 88 temples on the pilgrimage or not, they will experience a captivating island filled with ravishing nature and healing spirituality.