The Shikoku Pilgrimage
The Shikoku Pilgrimage, or Henro in Japanese, is a pilgrimage of 88 temples associated with the Buddhist saint Kūkai. It has a history dating back over 1,200 years.
Shikoku Pilgrims, known as ohenro-san, undertake the journey around Shikoku island to atone for sins, to pray for health and success, in pursuit of enlightenment, and to experience the mysteries of Japan’s least developed island. On their hats, they write the characters 同行二人 (reading: dogyo ninin), expressing their faith that Kūkai is walking with them.
Originally, all pilgrims walked the Henro trail, and many still do. But completing the pilgrimage on foot takes too long for most people. Today, many pilgrims opt to use motor transport while walking some of the route. Here we look at the history of the pilgrimage and the characters who shaped it. We explore the eighty-eight temples and the preparations for the journey. And we present a selection of tours to enable you to undertake this unique pilgrimage yourself, whether in total or in part.
The 88 temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage are extraordinary in their diversity. They are found in cities, towns and villages, among forests and agricultural land, on coasts and inland, at the foot and on top of mountains. Some are inconspicuous and hidden, while others are marked by tall pagodas and golden roof ornaments.
Each of the four prefectures of Shikoku is assigned a function in the progress of the pilgrim. Tokushima, where the pilgrimage starts, is the place of Awakening. Here, the pilgrim first becomes aware of their Buddha nature. In Kōchi, there are many long stretches on the Henro trail between temples, and the pilgrim experiences trials and doubts. This is a time of Asceting Training. On entering Ehime, the pilgrim has become used to the journey and is able to see things as they are, which reflects Enlightenment. When the pilgrim reaches Kagawa, they’ve entered a state of complete equanimity and non-attachment, a situation akin to Nirvana. Actually though, pilgrims typically become very attached to Shikoku, and many come back again and again!
Find out about the pilgrims and their uniform.
Learn about all the unique characters who made the Shikoku Pilgrimage what it is today.
Shikoku Tours offers unique tours with a focus on the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Our 88 Temples and Mt. Kōya tour visits all of the pilgrimage temples, as well as the headquarters that Kūkai built on Mt. Kōya. The Best of Shikoku Pilgrimage tour visits only the most scenic and impressive temples, as well as some other sites associated with Kūkai. And our Shikoku Pilgrimage with Walks tour enables you to enjoy the experience of a walking pilgrim, tackling some of the most challenging and picturesque sections of the Henro trail and staying in pilgrim accommodation. Some of our other sightseeing and adventure tours also visit some of the 88 holy sites.