The Shikoku Pilgrimage is growing in popularity, and many visitors from overseas are setting their sights on completing it. Typically it takes 40 days or more to walk it, requiring considerable preparation and outlays, not to mention physical fitness. But for those who want to visit all of the temples in a shorter time-frame, Shikoku Tours offers a safe and efficient 12-day taxi tour of the Shikoku pilgrimage.
The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a pilgrimage of 88 temples located around the island of Shikoku. Other names for it include Shikoku Henro, Shikoku Junrei, and Hachijuhachikasho. The pilgrimage is said to have been started by the Buddhist monk Kukai, who is also known as Kobo Daishi. The pilgrimage and its temples are a popular and distinctive feature of the Shikoku's cultural landscape, and large numbers of pilgrims undertake the journey for a variety of ascetic, pious, and tourism-related purposes. The pilgrimage is traditionally completed on foot, but modern pilgrims also use cars, taxis, buses, bicycles, or motorcycles. The standard walking course is approximately 1,200 kilometres long and takes about 40 days to complete.
In addition to the 88 official temples of the pilgrimage, there are over 20 temples not considered part of the official 88, known as 'bangai'. It's not necessary to complete the pilgrimage in order, or all at once. Some like to do it in stages, or in reverse order. Pilgrims, who are known as 'ohenro-san', typically wear a white jacket and sedge hat. They carry a staff called a kongo-zue, which is said to embody the spirit of Kukai who accompanies every pilgrim on the journey. They also have a satchel holding a book which is stamped at each temple. Local people like to offer pilgrims alms in the form of money or food, called osettai. Traditionally, the journey begins and ends with a visit to Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture, which was settled by Kukai and where his mausoleum is located in the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism.
Kukai was born at Zentsu-ji (Temple 75) in 774. He studied esoteric Buddhism in China, and promoted it in Japan when he returned, establishing Mt. Koya as a Shingon retreat. He wrote extensively and undertook many engineering works. Some of the agricultural ponds he built can still be seen today. During visits to Shikoku, he's said to have established or visited many of its temples and to have carved many of their images. His image is found all over Shikoku.
When they arrive at a temple, the pilgrim washes before proceeding to the main hall or hondo. After offering coins, incense, and a name-slip, the pilgrim chants the Heart Sutra, the Mantra of the main image, and the Mantra of Light, and offers prayers. The pilgrim then proceeds to the secondary temple dedicated to Kobo Daishi and offers coins and another name-slip. The Heart Sutra is chanted, along with repetition of the Gohogo Mantra.
Those who walk the pilgrimage trail typically prepare by walking long distances carrying heavy packs to toughen themselves. They try to study some Japanese so that they won't be at a complete loss for communication. And since few companies allow weeks of vacation time, would-be pilgrims are often forced to abandon their job. But with our taxi pilgrimage, none of this is necessary. Our drivers are qualified pilgrimage guides (sendatsu), and they know the route inside out, so no time is wasted in getting lost between temples. The drivers speak only Japanese, so it helps if you know some. But it's not a major obstacle if you don't. We select clean and comfortable accommodation, which is all booked in advance. This includes luxury onsen ryokan and temple lodgings. We occasionally receive enquiries about self-drive tours, and we have offered them in the past. But our taxi tour actually costs around the same as a self-drive tour, and the quality of the experience is much higher.
If you'd like to customize the taxi tour by adding or subtracting days, adding a guide, or visiting some other sights, please let us know. We can also provide a bus instead of a taxi for larger groups.
Please note we can't provide services to those who are walking, cycling or driving. Taxi and bus tours are the only Shikoku Pilgrimage service we offer at present. For those hardy pilgrims going it alone, we recommend joining one of the support groups on Facebook and researching the options online. We wish you a safe and rewarding journey!