The Shikoku Pilgrimage - on pilgrimage in Japan

The Shikoku Pilgrimage leads to 88 Buddhist temples spread over a distance of 1,150 km across the entire island of Shikoku. Some of the 88 temples are located directly by the sea or lonely in the mountains up to 900 m above sea level. Many are in the middle of the villages and towns of Shikoku’s four prefectures.

88 temples · 1200 years · 4 prefectures · 1150 km

The Shikoku Pilgrimage was established 1,200 years ago. Its beginnings can be traced back to the monk Kūkai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan.
Kūkai, posthumously Kōbō Daishi (774-835) practiced ascetic training in several places on Shikoku. The veneration of Kūkai plays an essential role for pilgrims.

What you will find here

Culture and nature, country and people of Shikoku have fascinated me during my pilgrimage. 
I would like to share this enthusiasm.
And encourage you to walk the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Even if you don’t speak Japanese. Even if you are not a trained hiker.
If I can inspire you to make your way to Shikoku, I will be glad.

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Good to Know

Shikoku Henro 四国遍路

Pilgrims in Temple 1 - Ryōzenji (霊山寺)
Pilgrims in Temple 1 Ryōzenji (霊山寺)

The Shikoku Henro 四国遍路, Japanese for Shikoku Pilgrimage, was traditionally covered by pilgrims on foot. Today, one to two percent of the 150,000 annual pilgrims still do so. The majority of today’s pilgrims use modern means of transportation. Bus, car, train, motorcycle and bicycle.

The pilgrimage to all 88 main temples takes 40 to 45 days. 
The route passes through all four prefectures of the island and touches 20 secondary temples (bekkaku). These are historically connected to the pilgrimage route. For pilgrims who visit the 20 Bekkaku temples in addition to the 88 main temples, the route lengthens to 1,400 km and takes 50 to 55 days. 

Everybody goes on pilgrimage in his own way

Map - Shikoku Pilgrimage
Map – Shikoku Pilgrimage1

Most pilgrims start their journey on Shikoku at the temple with the number 1 “Ryōzenji” in Tokushima Prefecture. Visit the other temples in Kōchi and Ehime prefectures in ascending order and end at temple 88 “Ōkuboji” in Kagawa. Or continue from there to Temple 1 to complete the circle.
However, pilgrims are free to start at any of the 88 temples. Pilgrims who live on Shikoku often start their journey at their home temple.

Today, many people, especially Japanese pilgrims, walk the pilgrimage with several breaks, spread over longer periods of time (kugiri-uchi). They walk part of the route every weekend, every annual holiday, every spring.
After an interruption, the pilgrims continue their walk where it was last completed. Public transport is used to get to the starting points.

Traditionally, pilgrims have walked the entire pilgrimage without interruption (tōshi-uchi). If only because the journey to Shikoku was often long and arduous.

The goal of most pilgrims was and still is to visit all 88 temples (kechigan).
The order in which the temples are visited is not important. The 88th temple visited by a pilgrim is his “kechigan temple”. This can be the temple with the number 88, but also any other temple. Another interpretation is that kechigan is reached when all 88 temples have been visited and the return to the temple where the pilgrimage began has been made. The “circle” is closed.
In both cases, it is customary to continue travelling to Kōya-san. And to report to Kūkai about the successful pilgrimage.

The first pilgrimage

Shikoku Pilgrimage Route - Signpost (henro michi)Especially for a first pilgrimage on Shikoku, it is recommended to go clockwise and visit the temples in ascending order (jun-uchi). In this direction, the path is well signposted and there is less chance of getting lost.

The counter-clockwise pilgrimage is particularly difficult and therefore worthy of special recognition. The temples are visited in descending order (gyaku-uchi). Signposting in this direction is limited, and the right paths are difficult to find.

Elevation profile of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route

Elevation Profile Shikoku Pilgrimage Route 2023 with all 88 temples and sea level information

Many thanks to Matsushita-san, the author of the „Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide 2023“ for providing the elevation profile of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route.

What is most important is not reaching the goal, but the journey itself. The warm hearts of the people you meet and the beautiful nature of Shikoku you see will perfectly complement your action of doing the pilgrimage.
(from: „Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide“)

Shikoku 四国 (four provinces)

“Shi” means “four” and “koku” means “province” or “country”.

Shikoku used to be divided into four provinces. The borders of the four provinces corresponded to those of today’s prefectures.
Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. With a population of four million, it extends up to 250 km in a west-easterly direction and between 40 and 150 km in a north-south direction (18,300 km²). The larger cities are in the north of the island. The only major city in the south is Kōchi. Apart from the four larger cities, Shikoku is rural.
It is separated from the main island of Honshu in the north by the Seto Inland Sea. On the south coast, the Pacific Ocean.

Capital of
the Prefecture
Tokushima (徳島県)730,000Tokushima260,000T1 - T23; T66165 kmAwa
Kōchi (高知県) 700,000Kōchi330,000T24 - T39415 kmTosa
Ehime (愛媛県)1,350,000Matsuyama510,000T40 - T65390 kmIyo
Kagawa (香川県)960,000Takamatsu420,000T67 - T88175 kmSanuki
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