Asia, Japan

Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage Trail

Asia Japan

Shikoku is Japan’s fourth largest island, but one of the least developed. The island features four prefectures; Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime and Kochi,. They each come with their own distinct feeling, foods, and scenery. From beach to peak, Shikoku is home to some of the country’s most spectacular and undeveloped scenery. The island is also the setting for one of the world’s best known pilgrimage routes, the challenging Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (which is one of the few circular pilgrimages in the world). The trail connects 88 Buddhist temples and the full walk covers more than a thousand kilometres, circling the entire island.

Pilgrims, known as o-henro, still follow the route today – and as you make your own journey through the island, you will see them in your travels. Perhaps you can only spot them from the wagesa or the scarf that marks them as embarking on a religious journey, and their rosary of prayer beads; or perhaps you will see them dressed in distinctive white jackets, straw hats, and walking sticks commonly worn by many pilgrims.

Originally, the pilgrimage was exclusively followed by monks, but over the centuries, the popularity of the pilgrimage route grew to include common people walking in entreaty, in penance, in gratitude, and in devotion. O-henro san embarking on the entire 88 temple route, would walk for weeks and months at a time. Pilgrims walk for various reasons: religious, to pray for healing, to spend time alone in reflection, to find oneself, etc.

Fascinating aspect of this 1200 years old journey is how little is known of its origins as well as its mysterious connection to Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism.

The island has a long tradition of hospitality, as illustrated in the continuing practice of o-settai, or sustaining pilgrims on their journey, and this is reflected in the warmth of the welcome you receive on the island. You stay in traditional country inns as well as ryokan enjoying regional cuisine prepared from local ingredients from the island, soak in natural hot springs, and enjoy the exceptional hospitality of your hosts. Local delicacies draw on the bountiful harvest from the sea and the mountainous terrain, and you will enjoy meals that include tai fish, and local udon noodles; both exquisitely prepared in accommodations, and at local markets.