The Bandō 33 Kannon Pilgrimage is a 780+ year old journey to 33 Buddhist temples, each dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. The 1,300+ km route spans Japan’s fabled Kanto region – once the country’s “wild east,” the area is now home to stunning forested mountains and its most populous cities. Each year, pilgrims from Japan and abroad follow this shōgun-inspired route to experience the east from an entirely new perspective.

What is the Bandō 33 Kannon Pilgrimage?

The Bando 33 Kannon Pilgrimage, often shortened to the “Bandō 33 Kannon (坂東三十三観音)”, is an ancient Japanese pilgrimage route established about ~800 years ago. The 1,300 kilometer journey takes pilgrims all throughout eastern Japan to big cities and striking nature. Along the way, travelers stop at 33 temples dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Mercy, Kannon.

Like the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage from which it was inspired, the Bando Kannon Pilgrimage is both a spiritual path of healing and an incredible adventure. Many temples along the way are world-famous; for example, Sensō-ji Temple in Tokyo (the 13th stop) is the most-visited spiritual site in the world. By going to these places on pilgrimage, one can visit Japan’s most serene places with a special intention not found among usual tourists. Additionally, many temples offer collectible stamps, goods, and experiences especially for pilgrims.

Connected by one of the world’s most advanced train and bus networks, the Bando Pilgrimage can be done in ~12 days by public transit. Shorter options include bicycles, cars, motorcycles, taxis, and tour busses. Rarely, a pilgrim will go on foot -- a roughly ~40-day journey for the fit walker. While many footpaths have been paved over by streets, walking the Bandō 33 is still a challenging and memorable aesthetic experience.

The Bandō 33 Kannon Pilgrimage is the second of three pilgrimages in the “Japan 100 Kannon Pilgrimage” (“nihon hyaku kannon”, 日本百観音 or “hyakuban kannon fudasho”, 百番観音札所). The other two are are the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage and the Chichibu 34 Kannon Pilgrimage.

What will I see in Kanto?

Bandō (坂東, literally meaning “east of the slopes”, which referred to Ashigara and Usui Mountain Passes) is an old name for what is today known as “Kantō” (関東, literally meaning “east of the barrier,” which refers to the Hakone Security Checkpoint). The modern day Kanto region comprises 7 prefectures: Tokyo, Chiba, Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, and Kanagawa. About one-third of all Japanese people live in Kanto.

The Bando 33 Kannon Pilgrimage route brings travelers both on and off the beaten path. It begins in Kanagawa near a samurai battleground, dives through the “Thunder Gate” into the heart of Tokyo, carves into the cliff faces of Tochigi, pauses under 1,000-year-old Gingko trees in Chiba, and ends on the forested sloped of Mount Nago. Pilgrims will visit 9 temples in Kanagawa, 4 in Saitama, 1 in Tokyo, 2 in Gunma, 4 in Tochigi, 6 in Ibaraki, and 7 in Chiba.

Pilgrims on the Bando 33 have a chance to see modern eastern Japan through a historical, spiritual light. In Tokyo and its surrounding cities, you’ll walk the streets with a transcendent purpose. On mountaintops overlooking the sprawl, you’ll see views that once inspired Bashō.

Why do people do the Bandō Kannon Pilgrimage?

Historically, the pilgrimage was done out of religious devotedness to the Goddess Kannon, and just by monks. By the Muromachi Period (AD 1336 to 1573), ordinary men began visiting the temples, often as a coming of age. Old pilgrimage slips show that folks from all over Japan began to make the long journey to Kanto for the Bando 33. The route only grew in popularity throughout the Edo period.

In modern times, the Bando Kannon 33 Pilgrimage is enjoyed as an esoteric spiritual adventure. It is no longer just limited to just men (in fact, a majority of pilgrims nowadays are women). Among Buddhists, visiting all temples along the circuit is still seen as an act of great religious merit... but nowadays, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike are invited to go on pilgrimage, each prescribing to it their own meaning and pace. Many of the temples along the route are wonderful tourist destinations, which are powerful when visited in a more profound light.

How do I prepare for the Bando 33?

COVID-19 Information

Since October 11, 2022, Japan has allowed foreign nationals to enter Japan on short-term tourist visas. Pre-arranged package tours are no longer required to obtain a tourist visa. Please check whether a visa application is required for your nationality, and for any additional documents required to enter Japan.

If you are not a foreign national, please visit the official website of your country’s embassy or consulate in Japan for further details. More information here

The first thing you must consider when embarking on the Bando Kannon Pilgrimage is your mode of transportation; will you go by bicycle? By motorcycle? Perhaps you’ll rent a car, hire a taxi, or book a bus tour? Will you opt to leverage Japan’s legendary public transportation? Or will you be one of the few to hike the route entirely on foot?

Most people and tours complete the Bando 33 out of order (it has been this way for hundreds of years). Like other long Kannon pilgrimages around Japan, the numbering of the temples was originally done to indicate rank (not to optimize for distance). One popular route connects the temples clockwise, circling the Tokyo bay.

Because the Bando Pilgrimage spans over a thousand kilometers, it can take a fair bit of time. Work and family commitments often push people to complete their journey in phases. Sometimes, a pilgrim will take years or decades to visit all 33 places. Other times -- especially if going via taxi or bus tour -- a pilgrim will finish it in one shot. There are no rules stating that it must be completed by a certain time.

Trip planning and budgets can vary widely depending on your mode transportation and how long you will take. Unlike the Shikoku Pilgrimage (where one can encounter long uninhabited stretches), lodgings and food along the Bandō 33 Kannon Pilgrimage are everywhere and easily accessible. Most pilgrims choose to sightsee along the way and spend extra time in and around Tokyo.

Prospective pilgrims should know that some of the temples along the pilgrimage charge an upfront entry fee (usually ¥200 - ¥1,000). These should be factored into their budget.

Like other pilgrimages throughout Japan, there is a tradition of collecting beautiful calligraphy stamps in stamp books. These cost ¥500 each, and are masterfully written by monks manning the “stamp offices” of each temple. Pilgrims are encouraged to wear traditional garb along the way -- we recommend this as well, as it adds to the immersion of the journey. The Kanto region of Japan is full of stunning urban sites, humbling nature, historical and cultural treasures, and world-class dining.

Before they go on the Bando Kannon Pilgrimage, a prospective traveler should be sure to understand Japanese pilgrimage etiquette, history, and culture. If you recite sutras, show deference, and respect the temple with your actions, you will set yourself apart from the tens of thousands of tourists whose only goal is to take pictures. You may even find some of the fabled healing for which Kannon pilgrimages are renowned.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Do I have to be Buddhist to do the Bandō 33 Kannon Pilgrimage?

Do I have to wear the “official” pilgrim attire?

What happens at the end of my pilgrimage?