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How Long Does It Take To Complete The Shikoku Pilgrimage


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Aimil Beavers



The Shikoku Pilgrimage, also known as the Shikoku Henro, is a profound and spiritually enriching journey that encompasses the entirety of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands. This ancient pilgrimage is deeply rooted in the teachings of Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, the revered Buddhist monk who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism. The pilgrimage comprises 88 temples, each with its own unique history and significance, and it attracts pilgrims and travelers from around the world seeking introspection, cultural immersion, and a physical challenge.


Embarking on the Shikoku Pilgrimage offers a rare opportunity to traverse diverse landscapes, from rugged mountains and serene forests to coastal paths and bustling urban centers. At each temple, pilgrims have the chance to engage in prayers, rituals, and meditation, creating a profound connection with both the natural surroundings and the spiritual essence of the pilgrimage.


The allure of the Shikoku Pilgrimage extends beyond religious and cultural exploration, as it provides an avenue for personal reflection, self-discovery, and a deeper understanding of Japanese traditions. Whether undertaken as a religious quest, a cultural odyssey, or an adventurous escapade, the Shikoku Pilgrimage promises a transformative experience for all who partake in its journey.


History of the Shikoku Pilgrimage

The origins of the Shikoku Pilgrimage can be traced back to the 9th century when Kukai, the esteemed monk and scholar, undertook an arduous journey across Shikoku to spread the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism. Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, is revered for his profound impact on Japanese Buddhism and is believed to have established the 88-temple pilgrimage route before his passing in 835 AD.


Following Kukai’s death, the pilgrimage gained momentum as a means for devout Buddhists to honor his legacy and attain spiritual enlightenment. Over the centuries, the pilgrimage route evolved, with temples being added, relocated, or rebuilt due to natural disasters, wars, and the passage of time. The completion of the pilgrimage became a revered aspiration for pilgrims seeking to cleanse their souls, seek blessings, and gain merit in the afterlife.


During the Edo period (1603-1868), the Shikoku Pilgrimage experienced a surge in popularity, with pilgrims from all walks of life undertaking the journey. The pilgrimage became deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, inspiring literature, art, and folklore, and contributing to the development of the local economy as pilgrims patronized inns, teahouses, and merchants along the route.


Today, the Shikoku Pilgrimage continues to be a revered tradition, attracting pilgrims, tourists, and spiritual seekers from across the globe. The pilgrimage’s historical significance, coupled with its enduring spiritual and cultural impact, has solidified its position as one of Japan’s most revered and captivating religious odysseys.


Route and Temples

The Shikoku Pilgrimage route spans approximately 1,200 kilometers, encircling the island of Shikoku and encompassing 88 temples, each with its own distinct allure and historical significance. The pilgrimage is traditionally undertaken in a clockwise direction, allowing pilgrims to follow the path believed to mirror Kukai’s own journey and symbolize the cycle of life and death.


The pilgrimage route is divided into four main prefectures: Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime, and Kagawa, with each prefecture housing a significant portion of the temples. The temples themselves range from grand, imposing structures to modest, secluded sanctuaries, offering a diverse array of architectural styles, artifacts, and spiritual ambiance.


Among the notable temples along the route are Ryozenji Temple, the starting point of the pilgrimage and home to a sacred statue of Kukai; Byodoji Temple, renowned for its tranquil garden and historic pagoda; and Ishiteji Temple, known for its serene atmosphere and healing waters. Each temple holds its own legends, rituals, and cultural treasures, providing pilgrims with a multifaceted exploration of Buddhist heritage and Japanese history.


Traversing the pilgrimage route allows pilgrims to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Shikoku, from lush forests and cascading waterfalls to panoramic coastal vistas and quaint rural villages. The juxtaposition of spiritual introspection and awe-inspiring landscapes creates a profound and unforgettable journey for those who undertake the pilgrimage.


Walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage

Walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage is a transformative experience that offers pilgrims a profound connection with the island’s landscapes, culture, and spiritual heritage. The pilgrimage is traditionally completed on foot, allowing pilgrims to embrace the physical and mental challenges of the journey while fostering a deep sense of introspection and mindfulness.


Pilgrims embark on the pilgrimage equipped with a traditional white vestment known as a “hakui,” a staff called “kongotsue,” and a sedge hat to shield against the elements. The act of walking from temple to temple, often along rugged mountain paths and serene countryside trails, encourages a meditative state of mind and a heightened awareness of the surroundings.


Walking the pilgrimage route also presents opportunities for cultural immersion and interaction with local communities. Pilgrims often receive warm hospitality and support from residents, who recognize and respect the significance of the pilgrimage in Japanese tradition. This communal exchange fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose among pilgrims, creating lasting memories and meaningful connections along the journey.


While the physical demands of walking the pilgrimage should not be underestimated, the experience is deeply rewarding, offering a unique blend of adventure, spirituality, and personal growth. Pilgrims often describe the journey as a transformative odyssey that leaves an indelible mark on their lives, instilling a sense of resilience, gratitude, and spiritual fulfillment.


Transportation Options

While walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage is the traditional and revered method of completing the journey, modern pilgrims have a range of transportation options to suit their preferences and circumstances. These options allow individuals to tailor their pilgrimage experience to align with their physical abilities, time constraints, and personal inclinations.


For those who wish to adhere to the traditional practice of walking, the pilgrimage route offers a network of well-marked trails and paths, ensuring that pilgrims can navigate the journey on foot with relative ease. Walking the entire pilgrimage route provides a deeply immersive and authentic experience, allowing pilgrims to engage with the landscape and culture at a leisurely pace.


Alternatively, pilgrims may opt to utilize public transportation, such as buses and trains, to access and navigate between the temples. This approach enables individuals to cover longer distances and visit multiple temples in a day, making it suitable for those with time constraints or physical limitations. By strategically combining walking and public transportation, pilgrims can tailor their itinerary to accommodate their individual needs while still partaking in the pilgrimage’s spiritual essence.


Some pilgrims also choose to cycle the pilgrimage route, leveraging the island’s cycling infrastructure and rental services to traverse the temples on two wheels. Cycling offers a balance between physical activity and efficient travel, allowing pilgrims to cover greater distances while savoring the scenic beauty of Shikoku’s diverse terrain.


Ultimately, the availability of diverse transportation options ensures that the Shikoku Pilgrimage remains accessible to a wide spectrum of individuals, fostering inclusivity and enabling everyone to engage with this profound spiritual odyssey in a manner that resonates with their unique circumstances and preferences.



Accommodations along the Shikoku Pilgrimage route cater to the diverse needs of pilgrims, offering a range of options that align with varying preferences, budgets, and cultural experiences. Pilgrims have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local hospitality and traditions while seeking respite and rejuvenation after a day of spiritual exploration.


One of the most iconic lodging choices for pilgrims is the “shukubo,” temple lodgings that provide an immersive and contemplative experience. Staying in a shukubo allows pilgrims to reside within the temple grounds, partake in morning prayers and rituals, and savor vegetarian meals known as “shojin ryori,” which are prepared according to Buddhist dietary principles. This unique accommodation option offers a profound connection to the pilgrimage’s spiritual essence and provides insight into the daily life of Buddhist practitioners.


For pilgrims seeking more conventional lodging, a variety of guesthouses, inns, and minshuku (family-run guesthouses) are scattered along the pilgrimage route. These accommodations offer comfortable amenities, warm hospitality, and the opportunity to interact with fellow pilgrims, creating a sense of camaraderie and shared experiences. Many of these establishments also provide meals, allowing pilgrims to savor local cuisine and replenish their energy before continuing their journey.


Additionally, modern amenities such as hotels and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) can be found in the vicinity of major pilgrimage sites, providing pilgrims with a blend of comfort and convenience. These accommodations offer a range of services, including hot spring baths, delectable dining options, and relaxation areas, allowing pilgrims to unwind and recharge amidst the rigors of the pilgrimage.


Regardless of the chosen accommodation, the hospitality and warmth extended to pilgrims contribute to the overall richness of the pilgrimage experience, fostering a sense of belonging and support throughout the journey.


Time and Duration

The time required to complete the Shikoku Pilgrimage can vary significantly based on individual preferences, physical abilities, and the chosen mode of transportation. While the pilgrimage can be tailored to accommodate diverse schedules and pacing, several factors influence the overall duration of the journey.


For pilgrims who opt to walk the entire pilgrimage route, the duration typically ranges from 30 to 60 days, depending on the daily distance covered and the time allocated for rest, exploration, and spiritual engagement at each temple. Walking the entire route allows pilgrims to fully immerse themselves in the pilgrimage experience, fostering a deep connection with the surroundings and the spiritual significance of the journey.


Those who incorporate public transportation into their pilgrimage itinerary may complete the journey in a shorter timeframe, often spanning 10 to 20 days. By strategically utilizing buses, trains, or other modes of transport, pilgrims can visit multiple temples in a day, effectively reducing the overall duration while still engaging with the pilgrimage’s cultural and spiritual facets.


Cycling the pilgrimage route presents an alternative approach, with the duration typically ranging from 10 to 20 days. The efficient nature of cycling allows pilgrims to cover greater distances each day while experiencing the diverse landscapes and cultural nuances of Shikoku.


It’s important to note that the duration of the pilgrimage can be influenced by seasonal considerations, such as weather conditions, daylight hours, and the availability of accommodations and services along the route. As such, pilgrims may choose to undertake the pilgrimage during the spring or autumn seasons, which offer favorable weather and vibrant natural scenery, contributing to a more enjoyable and comfortable journey.


Ultimately, the time and duration of the Shikoku Pilgrimage are deeply personal and can be tailored to align with the unique preferences and circumstances of each pilgrim, ensuring a fulfilling and meaningful experience for all who embark on this profound spiritual odyssey.



The Shikoku Pilgrimage stands as a timeless testament to the enduring spiritual legacy of Kukai and the profound cultural heritage of Japan. This transformative journey, encompassing 88 temples and the diverse landscapes of Shikoku, offers pilgrims and travelers an unparalleled opportunity for introspection, cultural immersion, and personal growth.


Throughout its rich history, the pilgrimage has evolved into a revered tradition, attracting individuals from all corners of the globe seeking spiritual fulfillment, adventure, and a deeper understanding of Japanese traditions. The pilgrimage route, with its array of temples, each with its own unique allure and historical significance, serves as a conduit for profound experiences, fostering connections with the natural surroundings and the spiritual essence of the pilgrimage.


Whether undertaken on foot, by bicycle, or through a combination of walking and public transportation, the Shikoku Pilgrimage offers a diverse range of experiences, accommodating the needs and preferences of modern pilgrims while preserving the pilgrimage’s timeless allure and cultural significance.


As pilgrims traverse the pilgrimage route, they are enveloped by the warmth of local hospitality, find solace in the serene landscapes, and forge meaningful connections with fellow travelers. The pilgrimage serves as a catalyst for personal reflection, resilience, and gratitude, leaving an indelible mark on the lives of those who partake in its journey.


Ultimately, the Shikoku Pilgrimage transcends the boundaries of religious and cultural exploration, offering a transformative odyssey that resonates with the spirit of all who seek self-discovery, connection, and a deeper appreciation for the profound tapestry of human experience.


Embarking on the Shikoku Pilgrimage is not merely a physical journey but a profound odyssey of the heart and soul, weaving together the threads of tradition, spirituality, and the timeless allure of Japan’s cultural tapestry.