Shikoku Henro pilgrimage

The Shikoku Henro pilgrimage is a magnificent journey around 88 sacred temples, all of which are related to the Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi (Kukai). This pilgrimage spans 1,400 kilometers across the four prefectures of Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime and Kagawa, which make up the Shikoku region. The roots of Shikoku Henro pilgrimage are believed to stem from sanrin shugyo (religious practice in the mountains), through which Kobo Daishi attempted to become one with the nature of Shikoku more than 1200 years ago. Additional influences include the Buddhist practices of jogyo (purification) in the 700s, through which one could purify the soul and build good karma by practicing asceticism in the wilderness, and henji shugyo (religious austerities in a remote place) from the late 700s to the 1100s, in which one would venture to dangerous mountain and sea areas far from the capital. Born in Sanuki, (the ancient name for Kagawa Prefecture), and attaining enlightenment in Shikoku, Kobo Daishi learned Esoteric Buddhism in Tang China and spread this view of the world throughout Japan. Once Kukai gained reverence as Kobo Daishi, his posthumous Buddhist name, in the late 1100s followers began religious practices that involved visiting his relics, and this practice took the form of a pilgrimage called the Shikoku Henro. By the early 1800s, a total of eighty-eight sacred places were designated as part of the pilgrimage, and a Daishido Hall for worshiping Kobo Daishi was erected at each of the temples along the journey. Among typical Japanese pilgrimages, the Shikoku Henro is the most developed and popularized example, representing a pilgrimage in its perfected form. Supporting this is the regional practice of osettai, in which pilgrims are treated to tea and sweets by local residents, making the Shikoku Henro a living form of Shikoku culture.