88 Hallowed Grounds of Shikoku – A Pilgrimage 1200 Years in the Making

A Pilgrimage of Nature and Humanity

Shikoku island comprises the four prefectures of Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi. Shikoku Henro spans all four regions, linking 88 temples associated with the monk Kukai (posthumously known as Kobo-Daishi), founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism and native of Shikoku. Aside from the scenic settings of the temples, there are examples of strikingly beautiful gates, main halls, precious images of Buddha and other treasures.

Special “goshuin-cho” stamp booklet
Special “goshuin-cho” stamp booklet

Shikoku Henro’s approximately 1,400-kilometer (870 mile) route along all 88 temples will take you through mountains, pastoral scenery, along the ocean, and into townships. On foot, the journey takes some 40 days to complete, but visitors can tailor their schedule to visit a portion of the temples by train, car or other means.

People from all over Japan make the pilgrimage to these temples to pray for spiritual training. As long as temple rules are observed, anybody may worship at these sacred places. Many travelers carry a special booklet called a “goshuin-cho” in which they receive stamps from each temple to commemorate their visit.

Worshippers along the Shikoku Henro route
Worshippers along the Shikoku Henro route

Along this fabled journey, you’ll most likely see worshippers wearing special white apparel and carrying a pilgrim’s staff. Affectionately called “O-henro-san,” they’re a welcome sight in many towns and villages. The mind of hospitality of local people who sympathize with them still remains in the form of directions as well as food and drink.

Sublime Architecture and Japanese Gardens

Make the pilgrimage to an unforgettable spiritual and physical journey

Shikoku Henro starts from Tokushima Prefecture, said to symbolize “hosshin,” or the awakening of the mind to enlightenment. There are 23 temples in Tokushima. The first temple on the route – Naruto City’s Ryozenji Temple – features ceiling paintings in the main building and fascinating architecture throughout the precinct. You can also receive general information on Shikoku Henro here, and even purchase “O-henro-san” garb.

The stretch from temple number 20 – Katsuura City’s Kakurin Temple – to number 21 – Anan City’s Tairyuji Temple – is a national historic site that features a series of steep slopes and untouched mountain scenery.

Five-storied pagoda at Chikurin-ji Temple in Kochi Prefecture
Five-storied pagoda at Chikurin-ji Temple in Kochi Prefecture

Next along the route is Kochi Prefecture. Kochi may only feature 16 of the 88 temples, but accounts for 400km (249 miles) of the route, making the prefecture itself an ascetic training grounds of sorts. Chikurin-ji Temple (number 31) in Kochi City boasts famously picturesque Japanese gardens and 17 precious Buddhist images, designated as cultural treasures. Also known for its spring cherry blossoms and fall colors.

A Temple on the cliff and Kukai’s birthplace

Ehime Prefecture's Iwaya-ji Temple – man, nature and spirituality become one
Ehime Prefecture’s Iwaya-ji Temple – man, nature and spirituality become one

Moving on to Ehime Prefecture, you will find 26 of the 88 Shikoku Henro temples in what is called “the dojo of enlightenment”. Above the town of Kumakogen at an altitude of 700m (2297 ft.) is temple number 45 – Iwayaji Temple. Incredibly, this sacred place of worship is built into the cliff face, surrounded by lush nature and wild birds. Temple 51 – Ishiteji Temple – is close to the legendary Dogo Hot Spring of Matsuyama City. Various buildings and structures in the temple precinct are national cultural treasures.

Yashimaji Temple (Kagawa Prefecture)
Yashimaji Temple (Kagawa Prefecture)

The final prefecture of Shikoku Henro is Kagawa. Called the “dojo of Nirvana”, Kagawa features 23 of the 88 temples. Of particular note are three locations. Zentsuji Temple (number 75) is said to be the birthplace of the famed 9th century monk Kobo Daishi, also known as Kukai – whose training route in Shikoku is traced by this pilgrimage. Zentsuji is known for its five-storied pagoda and collection of over 20,000 treasures. Yashimaji Temple (number 84) is located in Takamatsu City’s Yashima region, the whole area being designated as a natural monument. This temple offers a panoramic view of the Seto Inland Sea. The final stop on the epic Shikoku Henro route is Okuboji Temple, in Sanuki City. If you’ve reached this far, you deserve a delicious bowl of sanuki udon!

The final stop on the 88-temple Shikoku Henro – Okuboji Temple (Kagawa Prefecture)
The final stop on the 88-temple Shikoku Henro – Okuboji Temple (Kagawa Prefecture)

The 88 temples along the Shikoku Henro Sacred Pilgrimage route offer natural scenery and an unforgettable chance to experience the humanity and spirituality that thrives on Shikoku island. Before you take on the entire route, why not visit a few of the outstanding locations?