The Sasaguri Pilgrimage is a ~190-year-old journey through the quiet mountainous town of Sasaguri in Kyushu, Japan. The ~60km (37 mile) path starts in unassuming suburbia and becomes lush mountain trails wrapped in ancient Buddhist legend.

Each year, thousands of Japanese and foreign pilgrims walk or drive this cultural treasure of Fukuoka Prefecture.

What is the Sasaguri Pilgrimage?

The Sasaguri Pilgrimage, originally called the “Sasaguri Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage” (篠栗四国八十八箇所) or simply “Sasaguri’s Sacred Sites” (篠栗霊場), is a historical pilgrimage trail in the countryside town of Sasaguri. It is considered one of Japan’s three “Major New Shikoku Pilgrimages” (alongside the Shodoshima Pilgrimage and the Chita Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage). Sasaguri town lies just east of Fukuoka City, and is a peaceful place that divides the mountains from Fukuoka’s denser suburbs.

Like the Shikoku Pilgrimage from which it was inspired, the Sasaguri Pilgrimage passes by 88 beautiful temples, each with their own legends and unique character. Some of these temples are unmanned and managed by the goodwill of neighbors; others are massive, with restaurants, monk’s quarters, and sprawling grounds with many relics to discover.

The Sasaguri Pilgrimage’s connections to legend, stunning nature, easy access, and status alongside other “New Shikoku” pilgrimages make it a living cultural treasure, beloved by locals and visitors alike.

History of the Sasaguri Pilgrimage

Legend has it that a nun named Jinin (慈忍) arrived in the village of Sasaguri in 1835 after visiting Shikoku as a pilgrim. She felt that the town was eerily silent, and asked a local farmer what was going on.

The farmer replied that a sickness and famine had spread throughout the community, and that almost every household suffered from the disease. Because of this, the people of the village were weak and could not easily go about their lives.

Jinin, troubled by this story, recalled her experiences as a pilgrim in Shikoku. Inspired by what she had learned, she told the farmer that when Kobo Daishi first returned to Japan from China, he landed in Fukuoka, and that he actually trained on Mt. Wakasugi in Sasaguri. She reminded him that their village – Sasaguri – was a blessed one.

(To this day, hikers can squeeze through “Hasami-iwa” boulder on Mt. Wakasugi, where Kukai is said to have split the huge rock with his staff. It is said that only virtuous people will make it through.)

Resolved to help Sasaguri with its problems, Jinin devoted herself to prayer and asked Kobo Daishi to save the village. All through the night, she chanted mantras at Fudō Falls (城戸ノ滝不動堂). This tranquil location can still be visited near Temple 45.

Eventually, Jinin’s prayers were answered, and good health returned to Sasaguri’s villagers. To give thanks for their recovery and continually foster good will, the village decided to establish 88 sacred sites in the style of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Over the years, villagers built stone Buddhas. In 1854, these were finally enshrined in temples, built through the efforts of a man named Fujii Tosuke (藤井藤助).

Fujii Tosuke is usually regarded as the modern founder of the Sasaguri pilgrimage. His remains are enshrined at the 72nd temple along the way.

What will I see in Sasaguri?

Sasaguri (篠栗, literally meaning “bamboo grass chestnut”) is located just 12km east of Fukuoka City, a rapidly-growing metropolis in Kyushu, Japan. The western and central parts of Sasaguri are mostly flat, and have quiet modern suburbs punctuated by beautiful rice fields. The eastern part is mountainous, and separates Fukuoka from Chikuho. The winding Tatara River cuts through everything.

Sasaguri town is designated as a “forest therapy base” (森林セラピー基地), where people can “bathe” in trees and seek the restorative benefits of immersion into nature. It is one of only four such bases in Fukuoka Prefecture.

For a small town, Sasaguri has many beautiful sites to see outside of its temples. It is home to Taejo Palace, an Edo-era shrine built on Mt. Wakasugi; the Kyushu University Sasaguri Forest (篠栗九大の森), which is said to have inspired Princess Mononoke; and the Komenoyama Observatory, known for its stunning views of Fukuoka City.

Perhaps the most impressive site along the pilgrimage is the Buddha of Nanzo-in, which overlooks Sasaguri’s idyllic valleys. The gigantic “Reclining Buddha” (Nehanzo) is said to be the biggest bronze statue in the world.

The pilgrimage trail starts in neighborhoods before ascending into the mountains. The majority of the path is paved, and nature along the way make for a memorable journey. Pilgrims that walk the Sasaguri 88 have a chance to break away from the rapid pace of Fukuoka City and partake in a cherished tradition built on neighborly goodwill.

Why do people do the Sasaguri Pilgrimage?

Until its peak in the late 1960s, the Sasaguri Pilgrimage hosted hundreds of thousands Japanese pilgrims every year. Many Kyushu residents who were physically unable make the journey to the Shikoku Pilgrimage (or spare the time) appreciated the chance to complete a meaningful journey locally.

Like the Shikoku Pilgrimage, Sasaguri pilgrims go for a number of reasons. Chief among them is to pray for good fortune and health for themselves or their loved ones, to grieve a family death, to experience authentic Japan, and to have fun. Because Sasaguri town is so proximal to Fukuoka, it makes for a great escape into a different rhythm of life.

Temple 1 (Nanzoin) also has a reputation as a “lottery power spot.” In 1995, the chief priest of Nanzoin Temple – Mr. Kakujo Hayashi – won the lottery for 130 million yen (roughly $1,000,000 million US dollars) while holding lucky “shusse daikokuten” (出世大黒天) amulets from the temple. In 2008, Mr. Toshiya Shouta won 600 million yen (about $4,413,000 USD) after visiting Nanzoin. Today, many people visit Nanzoin to pray for good luck and financial success.

How do I prepare for the Sasaguri 88?

The first thing you must decide when planning your Sasaguri Pilgrimage is your mode of transportation. Typically, pilgrims go one of two ways: either by foot or by car. Car (or hired taxi) is the most common way to complete the journey nowadays, but zooms past many of the more memorable mountain paths.

On foot, the Sasaguri pilgrimage takes most people between 3-4 nights and 4-5 days, assuming a pilgrim is spending the entire day walking. The path uses the paved residential road and wooded mountain trails. By car, the pilgrimage can be completed in just 2 days and one night. That said, a pilgrim can take as long or as little time as they need to complete their pilgrimage – there are no rules saying that it must be completed in one shot.

The official published route for the Sasaguri Pilgrimage optimizes for distance, and does not follow the “official numbers” of the temples chronologically. For example, the first temple is #33 (Honmyou-in, 本明院), the second is Temple #21, (Takadakokuzodo, 高田虚空蔵堂), etc. A physical map can be purchased at any manned temple or from tourism centers (or is available for free online).

Only 24 of the 88 temples have monks within them who operate calligraphy stamp offices. Pilgrims typically purchase a stamp book, called a “goshuin-chou” (御朱印帳), at any of the manned temples or at local pilgrimage supply shops.

Like most Japanese pilgrimages, a pilgrim can collect beautiful ornate stamps at every temple along the way. At the manned temples, these cost ~¥300 yen each. At the un-manned temples, stamping is self-service, and costs ¥100 yen each. There is a place to pay your ¥100 payment at each stop, and an ornate box containing that temple’s stamps and ink pads.

Sometimes, you have to search a little bit... the stamp box may be tucked in a drawer, or hidden behind the back of the temple. Sometimes, ink runs a little dry (and you’ll have to press hard for the stamp to be legible). Instructions are typically written only in Japanese – if you cannot find or understand the payment box, your ¥100 JPY can alternatively be placed into any of the numerous offering boxes. For a few temples (like #66, “Kannonzaka Kannondo,” 観音坂観音堂), the nearest manned temples handles its calligraphic stamps.

The majority of temples along the Sasaguri Pilgrimage are maintained by volunteers and generous donations. Because most are unmanned, it is important that you practice the utmost respect and care when you visit them. If you take a stamp, you must pay the ¥100 JPY.

Although most choose not to nowadays, it can be a powerful experience to wear to wear traditional pilgrimage clothing along the way. Before you visit Sasaguri, make sure you also research and understand Japanese pilgrimage etiquette and customs. Those who recite sutras and practice traditions of respect along the Sasaguri 88 will find it is an immersive experience that can spark the most wonderful conversations with locals.

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

Frequently Asked Questions

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Do I have to be Buddhist to walk the Sasaguri Pilgrimage?

Do I have to wear “official” pilgrimage clothes?

What happens at the end of my Sasaguri 88 Pilgrimage?