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Monday, April 28, 2008

Henro Pilgrims


Listen to the sound of henro chanting

A familiar sight at the temples of Shikoku are the scores of henro, white-clad pilgrims making their way around the 1,400km pilgrimage route of the 88 Sacred Temples of Shikoku.

Henro Pilgrims

The pilgrimage covers the island in a clockwise route starting and finishing at Ryozenji Temple near Tokushima. The 88th temple is Okuboji Temple, south of Takamatsu.

The pilgrims are retracing the route of Kobo Daishi (aka Kukai 774-835), the Buddhist saint and founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism, headquartered at Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture.

Henro Pilgrims at Ishiteji Temple

Pilgrims have been following in Kobo Daishi's footsteps for over a 1000 years. The first guide book to the trail was written back in 1685. Pilgrims traditionally stayed at temple guest houses (shokubo) along the way and you can find lodgings at shokubo today. Walking the 88 Sacred Temples of Shikoku can take around two months, though many of the henro are now older people who visit the temples by bus over the course of a week.

Lonely Planet's Guide to Japan suggests three books if you are interested in doing the route: Japanese Pilgrimage by Oliver Statler, The Traveler's Guide to Japanese Pilgrimages by Ed Readicker-Henderson and Tales of a Summer Henro by Craig McLachlan.

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