While being one of the most naturally diverse countries in the world in terms of the great outdoors, it is fairly linear in terms of religious culture with Buddhism being the dominant school of belief throughout the Land of the Rising Sun. Those visitors culturally inclined however, may wish to explore Japan in one of the most culturally intimate ways – by experiencing the Shikoku Pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage is practised by Buddhist monks who visit 88 temples along their journey.
One does not have to be religious to partake in the Shikoku Pilgrimage, just willing. The Pilgrimage is definitely not for the faint of heart – traditionally the pilgrimage covers a distance of over 1,200 kilometres, a distance the monks covered on foot. This could take anywhere from one to two months depending on extent of the pilgrimage. Officially, there are 88 temples to stop by during the trip, however there are even more potential, optional, stops along the way that one might pay a visit to.
Of course, in modern times, things are not quite as they were historically, making the trip a viable journey for visitors who do not have one or two months of their lives to dedicate to such a strenuous journey. Nowadays, the pilgrims avail of all modes of transportation to reach the destinations of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. The first stop along the trip is normally the Koya Mountain in the Wakayama Prefecture. There is much history behind the pilgrimage, with each stop along the journey representing values significant to the practitioners of Buddhism. The first 23 stops represent the concept of spiritual awakening, followed by 15 for the principles of austerity and discipline. The next 15 are representative of attaining enlightenment while the last 22 stand for having reached nirvana in itself.
As a foreigner, partaking the journey is one massive outdoor adventure and will allow the visitors to see Japan in a different light, one that isn’t impressed by the flashing neon signs of the large cities. Even if one doesn’t feel inclined to do the whole pilgrimage, simply retracing its steps in any order will showcase some of the most beautiful landscapes the country has to offer. Many of the stops along the way are famous Japanese landmarks and sights which one might have wanted to see regardless. Those with a vested interest in Japanese history and culture should find the pilgrimage enlightening, especially since it takes significantly less time when making use of transportation methods such as buses and trains.
First image by pamnjeff.com
Second image by nanoda.com