Ahhhh, the Shikoku pilgrimage. It’s been on my bucket list since I studied abroad.
What is it?
88 temples relating to the Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi.
Kobo Daishi! He founded a form a Shingon Buddhism, and, according to legend, created both hiragana and katakana!
Who does this pilgrimage?
Anyone and everyone! Pilgrims in Japan are called お遍路 (ohenro) and people do it for various reasons. Some do it because of religious reasons, some do it for tourism.
What do you do?
If you’re super serious, you can buy pilgrim clothing at many of the larger temples. It consists of:
- A conical straw hat — to keep you safe from Shikoku’s unpredictable weather
- A white jacket — White is the color of death in Japan. A little morbid, but traditionally, pilgrims in Japan wear white so if they die on their pilgrimage, whoever finds them won’t have to worry about finding them burial clothing.
- A purple scarf — to show that you are on a religious pilgrimage
- A walking stick — It is said to represent Kobo Daishi (so he travels with you) and help the pilgrim along their journey. It is treated with great respect because of this.
- A stamp book (optional) — to mark where you’ve been
Many pilgrims also chant the Heart Sutra, among others, at each temple. If you’re not super serious, then go, pray, get a stamp if you want, and continue on! I’m a huge fan of the temple/shrine stamps found across Japan (御朱印). In fact, I bought a fancy stamp book JUST for the 88 at the first temple, Ryozen-ji!
How do you do it?
In the old days, everyone used to walk to all 88 temples, a journey taking over a month to complete. These days, most people travel by car; there are even some tour groups you can join that will take you by bus to each spot on the pilgrimage! This cuts the journey to about 2 weeks.
Do you have to complete the entire pilgrimage at one time?
Nope! Go at your own pace! You don’t even have to visit the temples in order. Most people go clockwise around Shikoku (thus going in order), but some people go counter-clockwise (like me!)
Starting next week, I’ll post about the five temples I went to on the pilgrimage!