Shikoku Henro, is a pilgrimage made by the Japanese (and more and more foreigners) over a thousand kilometers connecting a total of 88 temples. All this happens in the territory of the island of Shikoku, the smallest among the four main ones that make up the Japanese archipelago. A tradition that is thousands of years old and from which you can learn a lot in this article.
The route of the 88 Japanese temples
To talk about this kind of Asian “Camino de Santiago” we have to refer to the Buddhist monk Kukai (also called Kobo Daishi), who lived between 774 and 835 and was the founder of the Buddhist branch “Shingon”.
The religious center for this faith is in the temple of Mount Koya (Koyasan), which does not belong to the Shikoku Henro route but has been declared a sacred site within the island. This monk is recognized as a great master of calligraphy and a forerunner of the “katakana” (alphabet) syllabary.
But going back to the pilgrimage, it is worth saying that it is a religious and spiritual path, although more and more tourists are crossing it at least in one of its many sections. The scenic and cultural appeal of this route really has to be enjoyed at least once in your life.
Shikoku is the most sacred (and at the same time mysterious) island that Japan has since, it is said, it is charged with positive energy. The route begins in Tokushima prefecture at Ryozen-ji and continues in a clockwise direction. It goes all the way around the island and ends in Kagawa prefecture, more precisely in the Okubo-ji temple.
Although this is only fulfilled by “legal” pilgrims (since tourists walk by sections or even go in the opposite direction), there are no restrictions regarding known temples. Many people travel it on foot but others also do it by bicycle, motorcycle, car or even by bus.
When it comes to tourism (if the spiritual is not so important to you) it is good to know that during the journey you pass through rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, plains, coasts, rice fields and the Seto inland sea, as well as well as by towns that continue to maintain their customs of yesteryear.
Doing the route of the 88 temples of Japan (in whole or in part) is an excellent way to learn and know how the people of the Japanese interior live, try various not so touristy dishes and even bathe in the Onsen (thermal water baths on the way ).
Practical data to perform the Shikoku Henro
The best time to travel this path is during the fall, not only because of the weather, but also because the landscapes are much more beautiful with their ocher and orange tones. You can also do it in the spring to marvel at the colorful flowers.
It is not recommended to choose summer because it is very hot and in winter temperatures can be quite low. Keep in mind that the rainy season begins in June. Therefore the two most suitable months are April and May, although at that time is when you will find more pilgrims on the way.
As for clothing, as with many Japanese traditions, compliance is rigorous: short white cotton jacket (called uwagi), wooden cane and straw hat.
The time to complete the pilgrimage depends on many factors (how long it takes for each to walk through the temples, what means of transport they use, their physical capacities, etc.). Approximately 45 days to complete the 1200 kilometers and the 88 temples, walking at a “normal” pace.
Anyone can do this without having to be born in Japan or even speak the language. Although keep in mind that the area is not (yet) so touristy and many residents do not know English, much less Spanish. It would be good if you at least learned the basic words to communicate during your stay.