Japan 88 Temple Pilgrimage

A 1200 kilometer loop Pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku in Japan. Pilgrims follow the 9th century path of Kukai. Pilgrims also pass through many Shinto Shrines and Temples as well.

Many of the temples are said to have been founded or restored by the revered monk and scholar Kūkai, better known by his posthumous title Kōbō Daishi. He brought the tantric teachings of Esoteric Buddhism from China, developed it into the uniquely Japanese Shingon sect, and founded Shingon’s headquarters on Mount Koya near Osaka.

While most modern-day pilgrims (an estimated 100,000 yearly) travel by tour bus, a small minority, just a few thousand, still set out the old-fashioned way on foot, a journey which usually takes five to six weeks to complete. Pilgrims, known as o-henro-san, can be spotted in the temples and roadsides of Shikoku clad in a white jacket or Hakue. It is also common to wear a monkś stole (Wagesa) around your neck, and a traditional Japanes rice field hat (Kasa or Sugegasa). Some ohenros are clad entirely in white and the overall costume is a Shiro-shozoko. Perhaps the most important accessory is a Kongo walking stick. The Japanese people believe that Kukai’s spirit resides in the stick accompanying you on your pilgrimage. Hence you should treat your stick with respect by cleaning its bottom and bringing it inside your accommodation at the end of each day’s journey. Also important is too carry it aloft when crossing a bridge because Kukai may be sleeping under bridge. 

As a long term pilgrim, I don’t personally feel the need to wear all these items as this tradition was started by a tour company just after WWII. I don’t think Kukai cares what ohenros wear. However, there is a nice benefit of wearing at least some items as you will be easily recognized along the way. So, I start with a Hakue, a  green Wagesa(I’m Irish American), and a Kasa. While you can purchase a nice looking shaped walking stick I chose as I do on all my pilgrimages, to just start walking and let a natural stick find me. 

Joining me for 70% of this pilgrimage was Mika Yamanoue, a Japanese national from Kobe. We walked with Kukai 35 days reaching all 88 Temples starting from Temple 1, April 13, 2019, concluding at Temple 88 May  17.

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