Henro: The Pilgrimage Route and 88 Temples of Shikoku

Henro: The Pilgrimage Route and 88 Temples of Shikoku

By masa.tamura (iTWSjapan)

1100 years has been passed after Kobodaishi (The reate priest Kukai) was given the name “Daishi” by emperor Daigo. There will be some memorial events this year.

The Shikoku Henro is a pilgrimage route of 88 temples that was established by the great Buddhist priest, Kukai(Kobo Daishi), over 1200 years ago on Shikoku Island.
It is one of the world’s longest circular pilgrimage routes, extending some1400 kilometers across Shikoku’s regions of Awa, Tosa, Iyo, and Sanuki.
Pilgrims still make the journey on steep mountain roads, up long stone stairways, through pastoral countryside, along calm seashores and around remote promontories.
Walking the paths, visitors can easily find other pilgrims journeying around Shikoku.
This circular type of pilgrimage is different from those practiced under Christianity or Islam which focus on the voyage to and return from a holy place.
In Japan, anyone can be a pilgrim regardless of nationality or religion, and all are sure to receive a warm welcome from the locals.
Walking the “Henro Route” and retracing the footsteps of Kukai(Kobo Daishi)–whether for the sake of a memorial, personal discipline, redemption, or health–is a spiritual journey and a rare opportunity to experience the culture of pilgrimage and of Shikoku Island.
The history of Shikoku Henro begun to visit the sacred place where Kobodaishi (Kukai) had practiced ascetic training by priests and mountain ascetics in Heian Period. In Kamakura Period famous priests such as Saigyo, Honen or Ippen visited Shikoku Island. General people had gradually visit it, and in Edo Period, pilgrimage over the distant provinces had become popular together with development of sea traffic. As the Buddhist faith of Kobodaishi grows, the Shikoku Island itself has become the sacred place, and it became widely known to general people.

Today, people use transportation facilities such as bus, train, or personal car, but many people walk themselves.  

Shikoku Henro has been handed down by people for more than 1200 years, changing as times goes by.
There are variety of routes in Shikoku Henro. Steep mountain roads and long stone steps which bothers pilgrims, a calm and peaceful rural scene, a bustling quarter, a coast with small waves, the farthest cape.
A scenery “Ohenro-san” or pilgrims who are attired in white with a pilgrim’s staff come and go has become natural poetry of Shikoku Island. A satisfied expression of Ohenro-san is full of serenity. The sound of staff which stick to a stone pavement goes well with the sound of bell.


Long pilgrimage route of circular trip, a representative of Japan

 Shikoku-Henro is a long circular pilgrimage route which is spread all over Shikoku Island. It differs from that of Christianity or Islam whichgoes to and from the final destination. It takes more than 40 days for visiting all the offices in a temple where ofuda are distributed to worshippers. According to the growth of heart of man, Awa (Tokushima) is called “Religious awakening” meaning to decide to do training, Tosa is called “Place of ascetic practices” meaning to struggle hard to himself, Iyo is called “Place of Enlightenment” meaning to be awakened from doubts, Sanuki is called “Place of nirvana” meaning to the end of a sacred vow and perceive a truth.
But it is not needed to visit all temples at once. Every temple is ranked as the same, people can start from any temple. It is available to visit 10 temples and leave other temples for next time. Or visit all temples in one of four countries (for prefectures), “Sakauchi” means to visit temples in opposite order, “Midareuchi” means to visit temples at random.
In Shikoku-Henro anyone can be a “Ohenrosan” crossing over nationality or religion, visit temples with Kobodaishi, asking for help or emotional healing, or holding a memorial service or doing ascetic practices. It is a journey of heart which is facing oneself.


Entertainment culture which is supported by local people

People of all ages and both sexes in Shikoku welcome Ohenrosan as a familiar existence, watching over them fondly, help them by special support called “Osettai”.
People stand meals or drinks, expressing one’s gratitude to them, teaching way to whom missed a turn, sometime offer a place to stay called “Zenkon-Yado”. Doing Osettai is to rely on the pilgrimage instead of himself. It is said that Osettai itself is gaining merit.Ohenrosan is shaked off one’s tiredness by contacting local people, or by a word, vitalized and continue pilgrimage.The difference between Shikoku-Henro and other pilgrimage culture is that Shikoku-Henro has become blended into the local community and people sit close to Ohenrosan. The symbol is Osettai.Shikoku-Henro is an unparalleled pilgrimage culture which combines “faith” to Kobodaishi, “place” in which ascetic practices are held, “region” which supports the pilgrimage. It is a living cultural heritage which has been handing down the history of Japan, culture, or the spirit of Japanese.


By Masa


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