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Kūkai Henro Museum

An eclectic collection of pilgrimage-related exhibits in a remarkable traditional building.

Kūkai Henro Museum

Kūkai, founder of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, is said to have found enlightenment in a cave behind Fudōiwa Rock on the Muroto Peninsula. Close to this rock, a traditional wooden and plaster building has been erected, which houses an eclectic collection of pilgrimage-related exhibits. It’s called the Kūkai Henro Museum.

Exhibits include an explanation of the origins of the pilgrimage and the gear worn by pilgrims. There are photos of all 88 temples and Mt. Kōya. When Kūkai practised austerities where Temple No. 26, Kongōchō-ji is today, he was pestered by various malign spirits in hideous bodily form. These were depicted in a painting that now resides in a temple in Kyōto. Inspired by this image, an artist recreated them as painted wooden carvings, which are almost as diverting as the creatures which tested Kūkai’s patience.

The building itself is extraordinary. The Yasuda region on the Muroto Peninsula was once home to a major forestry industry which produced trees of immense size and superior quality. The Kūkai Henro Museum was built by the former head priest of Kongōchō-ji with sponsorship of a timber merchant who had collected some of the very biggest and best lumber of the region. The thickness of the main pillars is unequalled in any building of recent construction. The museum as built by craftsmen who specialise in temple architecture, and the pillars and beams are joined with intricate joinery and wooden pegs instead of metal fittings. There are also some fine wood carvings.

The information is unfortunately all in Japanese, but admission is free, and the visual appeal of the exhibits and the building itself make it worth the visit.

Information

Name in Japanese: 空海遍路文化会館

Pronunciation: kūkai henro bunka kaikan

Address: 2477 Motoko, Muroto, Kōchi 781-7107

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