The 88 Temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage
The eighty-eight temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage are extraordinary in their diversity.
The Henro temples 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.
Many of the temples are very old, although wars and natural disasters have taken their toll, and some temples have modern buildings in their precincts.
Most of the pilgrimage temples are Shingon, the sect founded by Kukai, but three are Zen. These are No. 11 Fujiidera, No. 15 Kokubun-ji, and No. 33 Sekkei-ji. In the days before the Meiji period, the foreign religion of Buddhism was closely integrated with the native Shinto, and numerous temples share space with Shinto shrines. Some, such as No. 64 Maegami-ji, are built in imitation of Shinto architecture.
Although the 88 Henro temples are very important aspects of the pilgrimage, it’s often said that they aren’t the most important. They’re just way-stations on a journey, places for pilgrims to drop in as they travel to discover the meaning of life through exposure to the hardships of the road, and the kindness and companionship of the people they encounter on the road. Nevertheless, for travellers to Shikoku from distant places, each temple in its own local setting amply repays a visit and a moment of reflection.