What is it?
The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, also known as Shikoku Henro, is one of the oldest pilgrimages in the world. This Buddhist pilgrimage follows almost the entire circumference of the island, spanning nearly 1200km and visiting 88 temples (even more if you include Bangai temples).
Legend has it that the Shikoku Pilgrimage follows in the footsteps of Japanese Buddhist monk Kūkai, known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism.
Map courtesy of Bob Foulkes, bobfoulkesadventures.com
Who is Kobo-Daishi?
Kūkai (posthumously known as Kōbō-Daishi) is the founder of Shingon Buddhism.
Born in Shikoku in 774, Kūkai was a man of many talents. A Japanese Buddhist monk, he was also known for being a scholar, an engineer, an artist, and a poet.
At the age of 22, Kūkai gained an interest in Buddhism and become a monk. After an expedition to China at the age of 30 to study the Mavavairocana Tantra, an Indian text of tantric Buddhism, he stayed for a few years where he learnt esoteric Buddhism, calligraphy and poetry. Returning to Japan a few years later, Kūkai continued to study and teach what is now known as Shingon Buddhism.
Kūkai is renowned for establishing hundreds of temples across Japan; inventing kana, the written Japanese language; and is responsible for the first public schools in Japan.
At the age of 42, Kūkai began work on establishing a Buddhist haven on Mount Kōya, which is now known as the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism. It is here where at the age of 62, Kūkai passed away from illness.
His body is entombed at Mount Kōya, where his many followers believe that Kūkai is not dead but is in a state of meditation, awaiting the coming of the next Buddha, the Maitreya Bodhisattva.
Where is it?
Shikoku is the smallest of the four main islands of Japan. It is comprised of four main prefectures: Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime and Kagawa. There are three main bridges connecting Shikoku to the other islands; Osaka is only 2 hours away via public transport.
Why do it?
There are many reasons one may want to do the Shikoku Henro. It may be to grieve for the loss of a loved one and honour their memory, maybe one wants to seek adventure along the trail. Some might walk just to experience the natural beauty of the countryside in this foreign land.
For most Pilgrim though, there is a simple motto - it’s not the destination that’s the goal, it’s the journey along the path that matters.
How to do it?
There are many ways to complete the pilgrimage. These days the most common way is by bus, car or motorcycle. Many of the elderly opt for bus tours, and can visit all the temples in approximately one week and saves them from the long walks in between. Completing the Shikoku Henro on pushbike is just as popular, however you are limited to certain roads and tracks. The most traditional way is to walk the path, which can take roughly 40 to 60 days to complete. This may be the most challenging, yet possibly the most rewarding way to experience the Shikoku Henro.