Shikoku's Spiritual Journey: Exploring Japan's 88-Temple Pilgrimage

By Ivan PetrenkoApr 10, 2024 14:30 PMNews
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A couple of people sitting on top of a lush green hillside
A couple of people sitting on top of a lush green hillside. Source: unsplash

For those who have traversed the Camino de Santiago and seek a new pilgrimage blending spiritual quest with cultural immersion, Japan's Shikoku Island offers the Henro, an 88-temple trail winding through misty mountains, rural landscapes, and centuries of Buddhist tradition. This path, less trodden by international visitors compared to Spain's famed pilgrimage, promises a unique journey through the heart of Japanese spirituality and the natural beauty of Shikoku, Japan’s fourth-largest island.

Morning Reflections and Ancient Rituals

Begin your pilgrimage with the dawn, embracing the ritualistic start at each temple: bow at the gate, cleanse at the fountain, sound the bell, and leave a name slip with your wishes. This ceremonial process, repeated at each temple, roots the pilgrim in the Henro's traditions, fostering a deep connection to the path and its spiritual heritage.

Embracing Flexibility on the Sacred Path

The Henro's 700-mile circuit, established by the revered Buddhist monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi), offers flexibility unknown to many Western pilgrimages. Whether by foot, car, or bike, clockwise or counterclockwise, in traditional attire or modern gear, the Henro accommodates all, emphasizing respect and the personal journey over strict adherence to form.

A Journey Through Time and Nature

From the architectural marvel of the Mercado Municipal to the historical richness of the Pinacoteca Museum and the lush landscapes of Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo unfolds as a city where every corner tells a story. Whether indulging in the flavors of local cuisine or immersing in the vibrant art scene, each moment on this journey offers a glimpse into the heart and soul of Brazil's largest metropolis.

As you traverse the route, the landscape shifts from bustling urban centers to serene natural settings, offering expansive coastal views and glimpses into Edo-period Japan. Each temple, from the starting point at Temple 1 in Tokushima Prefecture to the remote reaches of the circuit, serves as a milestone in both physical and spiritual exploration.

The Culture of Osettai: Kindness Along the Way

Integral to the Henro experience is 'osettai,' a tradition of kindness and giving, where locals offer sustenance, encouragement, and even monetary gifts to pilgrims. This unique aspect of the pilgrimage underscores the communal spirit and deep-rooted hospitality found along the Shikoku trail.

A Tapestry of Experiences

Beyond the spiritual pursuit, the Henro offers encounters with Japan's living traditions, from the art of ai-zome indigo dyeing in Tokushima to the culinary delights and crafts that have flourished on Shikoku for centuries. Each step is an opportunity to engage with practices and artisans preserving skills passed down through generations.

Embarking on the Henro

As the number of international pilgrims on the Henro rises, the path beckons as a profound journey of self-discovery and cultural connection. Whether seeking enlightenment, adventure, or a deeper understanding of Buddhism and Japanese culture, the 88-temple Shikoku Trail offers a pilgrimage ripe with opportunities for both the seasoned and novice traveler.

With each temple visited, each mountain crossed, and each act of osettai received, pilgrims on the Shikoku Henro weave their own stories into the tapestry of this ancient pilgrimage, leaving with a sense of fulfillment and a deep connection to the spiritual and cultural heartbeat of Japan.

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