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Shikoku Guide

Shikoku Pilgrimage, Japan: Travel Guide

Roman Reynolds
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Shikoku Pilgrimage, Japan. Travel Guide. Vacation Packages. This is a Buddhist pilgrimage around the circumference of the Japanese island of Shikoku. Of the several hundred thousand people who do it each year, only a few thousand walk; the vast majority travel in organized bus tours. If you only walk to the main 88 temples, the trail is about 1,100 km (~670 mi.). If you also walk to the 20 bangai temples (of secondary importance, but still visited by some), the distance increases to about 1,400 km (~860 mi.). Visiting all 108 temples takes about 50–55 days. Visiting only the main 88 temples takes about 40–45 days. How long it takes for each henro (pilgrim) depends on their fitness level and their seeming need to hurry. There are several legends related to the beginnings of the pilgrimage on Shikoku Island. The most popular legend, of course, is that Kūkai walked to all of the sacred places on the island, founded many of the temples, and established the pilgrimage itself. While we don't know everything about his early life, we do know enough about what he did, where he lived, and where he traveled, that it is fairly easy to refute this and say that it can't be true. Documents do show that Kūkai did travel to several of the mountains where temples are currently located. He did not, however walk around the island or perform the first pilgrimage. As will be described below, those first pilgrims were the hijiri, or wandering ascetics, that came from Mt. Kōya to visit the religious centers on the island