The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a 1,200-year-old, 1,200km pilgrimage to 88 Buddhist temples located on the island of Shikoku, Japan. Every year, about 150,000 pilgrims from Japan and around the world embark on this spiritual journey to experience the rich culture of Shikoku and bring home lasting memories.

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What is the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage?

The Shikoku Pilgrimage, also called the “Shikoku henro (四国遍路)” or the “88 pilgrimage,” is a historic Buddhist route, established over 1,200 years ago. Inspired by a monk named Kūkai (who founded Shingon Buddhism), the pilgrimage and its customs are deeply ingrained in the people of Shikoku, Japan’s way of life. Visitors are often moved by their legendary hospitality and osettai culture.

For many, the Shikoku Pilgrimage is a life-changing journey. Along the way, pilgrims can eat delicious local specialties, stay in traditional Japanese lodgings, visit awe-inspiring temples and shrines, experience Shikoku’s varied nature, meet other pilgrims from around the world, and reflect deeply on their lives.

The Shikoku Pilgrimage is traditionally walked, and many still chose to go on foot. It takes on average 45 days to complete the circuit this way. Others choose to travel by bicycle, motorcycle, car, or bus. Some pilgrims choose to do it in chunks, taking years to finish their journey. The main route takes travelers in a circle around the island, stopping at 88 temples along the way.

steps leading to a temple main hall in Shikoku
ohenro praying at a temple in Shikoku

What is an “o-henro-san (お遍路さん)?”

“Henro” is the Japanese word for a pilgrim walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage. “o-” and “-san” are both honorifics. O-henro-san is a respectful way to refer to someone completing the journey in Japanese, and it is heard quite often in Shikoku.

There are many customs and etiquettes that one should know before they become a pilgrim in Shikoku. Some of these are tradition, some are religious rites, and others are matters of politeness. For many, the pilgrimage presents a wonderful opportunity to leave their comfort zone and experience a very different rhythm of life.

What will I see in Shikoku?

Shikoku (四国), meaning “four kingdoms,” comprises four prefectures on an island in central Japan: Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime, and Kagawa. The pilgrimage route is diverse; it winds through quiet picturesque villages, along striking coastlines, across bustling modern cities, and up ancient misty mountains. Pilgrims will visit 23 temples in Tokushima, 16 in Kochi, 26 in Ehime, and 23 in Kagawa.

Shikoku is known for its powerful landscapes. Rugged mountains running east to west divide the island, and the southern part faces the expansive Pacific Ocean. Pockets of satoyama (里山), or foothill farm communities, are woven into the forests that surround them.

ohenro praying at a temple in Shikoku
Pilgrims navigating the Shikoku Pilgrimage

Why do people do the Shikoku Pilgrimage?

Pilgrims go for many reasons. Traditionally, motives include the desire to experience an unnadultured version of Japanese cultural identity (“kokoro no furusato”, 心の風呂里); out of filial duty to dead kin; to gain merit for the afterlife; to become a better person; or simply, to go on an adventure to a respected and peaceful place. Very rarely, a pilgrim will walk to seek enlightenment.

More recently, pilgrims go for self-discovery. Common motives include the desire to feel an “authentic” version of a culture; to punctuate a great change in life, like leaving a job; to explore one’s own “spirituality”; to shut out the modern world for a while; to experience a bygone kind of travel; or simply, to “collect” a great adventure.

Older pilgrims are often retired, and travel with savings (or a pension) and ample time. Younger pilgrims are usually more austere, and seek the unique combination of experiences which only pilgrimages can provide.

How do I prepare for the Shikoku Pilgrimage?

食 • 衣 • 住 • 行 (food, clothing, shelter, transportation) - the four basic necessities. While the Shikoku Pilgrimage is a physical and spiritual challenge, it is also a trial of planning and logistics. Before a pilgrim embarks on their journey, they must prepare gear, allocate budgets, and research Shikoku’s customs and dangers. During the pilgrimage, they must make and adjust plans on a daily basis. Something as simple as the weather can upend the journey.

We are here to guide you: when to go, where to stay, what to eat, how to stay safe, and an interactive map to help you travel well.

COVID-19 Information

Beginning October 11, 2022, Japan will allow 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

Tram station in Takamatsu City, Shikoku

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Frequently Asked Questions

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How do I complete the Shikoku Pilgrimage?

How long does it take to complete the Shikoku Pilgrimage?

Do I have to be Buddhist to do the Shikoku Pilgrimage?

How much does the Shikoku Pilgrimage cost?

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

What happens at the end of my pilgrimage?