Monday, July 28, 2014

Introduction to the Shikoku Pilgrimage

   There are many famous religious pilgrimages in the world, such as the Way of St. James in Spain and the Mecca Pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Rivaling these is a pilgrimage in our very backyard: the “Shikoku Henro” (Henro = Pilgrimage). This year is the 1200th year since the year that a man named Kobo Daishi (Kukai) from present-day Kagawa Prefecture is said to have selected 88 temples in Shikoku to be part of the pilgrimage, thus founding it. Today, this “Shikoku Henro” is being thrust into the limelight domestically and abroad.

   We looked into why there are 88 temples in the pilgrimage, but it seems that there is no clear answer. Some explanations are that perhaps it is to ward off the bad luck that comes with “unlucky ages” that add up to 88 in Japan (42 years old for men, 33 for women, and 13 for children), or perhaps it is to cleanse a person’s 88 worldly desires one by one.

   This issue of Tosa Wave is for readers interested in the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Even if your current age isn’t one of the Japanese unlucky ages and even if you aren’t plagued by worldly desires, living in Shikoku is a great opportunity to experience the pilgrimage. We cover everything—from pilgrim clothing to the conditions at three of the 16 temples in Kochi handpicked by our staff—and everything in between.

   According to the website of the “Association of the 88 Sacred Temples of Shikoku”’
 (, one should prepare clothing as outlined by the picture on the right.
   White clothing is the standard. (Those who would like to be a bit more casual can probably just wear a white robe and white shoes over normal clothing.)
   A Japanese monk’s stole should be worn, and a walking stick, rosary beads, and stamp book should be carried.
   Those who wear normal clothing should wear a white robe that reads “Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo” (Kukai’s name in Buddhism) vertically on their back.
   By preparing the proper clothing, one will be more emotionally and mentally prepared to visit temples.
   Buying all of the necessary clothing online will cost around 20,000 yen, but buying the bare minimum (a white robe, the monk’s stole, etc) should only cost around 10,000 yen.
Manners for Pilgrims
   The following points were found on the website of a very experienced pilgrim, so please use them as a reference.

1. Greet other pilgrims when you see them.
   Officially, pilgrims are supposed to chant “Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo” in unison when meeting, but in Japanese, a simple “ohayo gozaimasu” (good morning) or “konnichiwa” (hello) is sufficient.
2. Do not touch your walking stick to topside of a bridge.
   It is said that Kukai used to sleep under bridges when he had no proper lodging, so it is considered rude to Kukai touch to your stick to the topside of a bridge.

3. After arriving at a lodging, wash your pilgrim’s staff before doing anything else.
   The pilgrim’s staff (walking stick) represents the feet of Kukai, so pilgrims wash the bottom of the staff.

Reception (Osettai)
   The people of Shikoku fondly refer to pilgrims as “ohenro-san”. They often give food, drinks, and sometimes even money to ohenrosan, and this practice is called “osettai”. You should accept osettai graciously, give the patron your osamefuda pilgrim votive card in return, and say “arigato gozaimasu” (thank you).
   You could say that part of the appeal of the pilgrimage is travelling while being thankful for the various people you have met and been supported by along the way.

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