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How Many Official Buddhist Temples Make Up The Shikoku Pilgrimage Route


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Dreddy Wales



The Spiritual Journey of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route

Embarking on a journey of spiritual significance and cultural immersion, the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route in Japan stands as a testament to the profound spiritual heritage of the country. This sacred trail, encompassing the island of Shikoku, is renowned for its association with the venerated Buddhist monk, Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi. The pilgrimage, consisting of 88 temples, offers a transformative experience, attracting pilgrims and travelers from across the globe.


The allure of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route lies not only in its religious significance but also in the captivating landscapes and the opportunity for introspection and self-discovery that it presents. As pilgrims traverse through the picturesque countryside, they are not merely undertaking a physical journey but also delving into the depths of their spiritual consciousness.


This article aims to delve into the history, significance, and the official Buddhist temples that constitute the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route. By exploring the essence of this revered trail, we aim to provide insights into the profound cultural and spiritual tapestry that defines this ancient pilgrimage. Join us on a virtual exploration of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route, as we unravel the mystique and grandeur of this sacred odyssey.


History of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route

The origins of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route can be traced back to the 9th century when the revered Buddhist monk Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, undertook a monumental journey across the island of Shikoku. Kukai, the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, embarked on a spiritual quest that led him to visit 88 sacred sites, where he established temples and enshrined sacred relics.


According to legend, Kukai’s arduous pilgrimage was not only a physical odyssey but also a symbolic representation of the path to enlightenment. It is believed that the 88 temples along the route correspond to the 88 earthly desires or human passions, and by visiting each temple, pilgrims seek to transcend these worldly attachments and attain spiritual awakening.


Over the centuries, the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route has continued to captivate the hearts and minds of pilgrims, scholars, and travelers, evolving into a revered spiritual tradition deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. The pilgrimage gained widespread popularity during the Edo period, as pilgrims from all walks of life embarked on the transformative journey, seeking solace, spiritual growth, and blessings from the deities enshrined in the temples.


Despite enduring periods of decline and revival, the pilgrimage route has persevered as a symbol of resilience and spiritual fortitude. Today, the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route stands as a living testament to Japan’s spiritual heritage, welcoming pilgrims from diverse backgrounds who seek to partake in the profound spiritual legacy of Kukai and immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Japanese Buddhism.


The Official Buddhist Temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route

The Shikoku Pilgrimage Route is renowned for its 88 official Buddhist temples, each imbued with profound spiritual significance and historical resonance. These temples, known as “shrine-towns” in Japanese, are scattered across the island of Shikoku, offering pilgrims a transformative journey through breathtaking landscapes and sacred sites. Each temple along the route is a testament to the enduring legacy of Kukai and the spiritual heritage of Japanese Buddhism.


As pilgrims embark on their odyssey, they encounter a diverse array of temples, each with its own unique architectural splendor, cultural significance, and spiritual symbolism. From the tranquil coastal settings to the serene mountain enclaves, the temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route offer a captivating tapestry of spiritual exploration and cultural immersion.


Among the notable temples is Ryozenji, the first temple of the pilgrimage, where pilgrims traditionally commence their sacred journey. This temple, nestled amidst lush greenery, serves as a poignant reminder of the spiritual odyssey that lies ahead. As pilgrims progress through the route, they encounter temples such as Tairyuji, known for its awe-inspiring mountain vistas, and Iwamotoji, revered for its historical significance and architectural grandeur.


One of the most revered temples along the pilgrimage is the Okunoin Temple, situated in the picturesque town of Koyasan. This sacred site, enveloped in serene forests and ancient cedar trees, holds profound spiritual significance and is believed to be the eternal meditation ground of Kobo Daishi. Pilgrims are drawn to the tranquil ambiance and spiritual resonance of Okunoin, where they pay homage to Kobo Daishi and seek blessings for spiritual fulfillment.


Each temple along the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route offers pilgrims a unique spiritual experience, inviting them to partake in rituals, prayers, and moments of introspection. The journey from temple to temple unfolds as a profound spiritual sojourn, allowing pilgrims to immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Buddhist traditions and the timeless allure of the pilgrimage route.


Importance of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route

The Shikoku Pilgrimage Route holds profound importance as a spiritual and cultural landmark, deeply ingrained in the fabric of Japanese heritage. This sacred odyssey, comprising 88 official Buddhist temples, serves as a revered pilgrimage that beckons travelers and pilgrims seeking spiritual enlightenment, cultural immersion, and a deeper understanding of Japanese Buddhism.


At its core, the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route encapsulates the essence of spiritual introspection and self-discovery. Pilgrims from diverse backgrounds embark on this transformative journey, seeking to transcend worldly attachments, attain inner peace, and cultivate a sense of spiritual awakening. The pilgrimage serves as a conduit for personal growth, as pilgrims navigate through the scenic landscapes and immerse themselves in the rituals and traditions associated with each temple along the route.


Furthermore, the pilgrimage holds immense cultural significance, offering a gateway to the rich tapestry of Japanese Buddhist heritage. The temples along the route stand as architectural marvels, each steeped in history and adorned with sacred artifacts, paintings, and sculptures that reflect the artistic and spiritual prowess of bygone eras. Pilgrims and visitors alike are afforded the opportunity to witness the intricate craftsmanship and profound symbolism imbued within the temple structures, providing a glimpse into Japan’s rich cultural legacy.


Moreover, the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route serves as a unifying force, fostering a sense of communal harmony and spiritual camaraderie among pilgrims. As individuals from various walks of life converge on this sacred trail, they form enduring bonds, share spiritual insights, and partake in collective rituals and prayers. The pilgrimage transcends cultural and societal boundaries, fostering a spirit of inclusivity and reverence for the shared spiritual heritage that unites pilgrims in their quest for enlightenment.


From a broader perspective, the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route contributes to the preservation and promotion of Japan’s intangible cultural heritage. The pilgrimage sustains traditional rituals, architectural marvels, and sacred traditions, thereby safeguarding the legacy of Japanese Buddhism for future generations. By attracting visitors and scholars from around the world, the pilgrimage route serves as a cultural ambassador, fostering an appreciation for Japan’s spiritual and artistic heritage on a global scale.


In essence, the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route transcends its role as a mere physical trail; it stands as a testament to the enduring spiritual, cultural, and historical legacy of Japan, inviting all who tread its path to partake in a profound journey of self-discovery and cultural enlightenment.



The Shikoku Pilgrimage Route, with its rich tapestry of history, spirituality, and cultural significance, stands as a revered testament to Japan’s enduring legacy of Buddhism. This sacred odyssey, comprising 88 official Buddhist temples, offers pilgrims and travelers a transformative journey through the heartland of Japanese spiritual heritage.


As we reflect on the profound history and spiritual resonance of the pilgrimage route, it becomes evident that the Shikoku Pilgrimage transcends its role as a mere physical trail. It serves as a conduit for spiritual introspection, personal growth, and cultural immersion, beckoning pilgrims from all corners of the globe to partake in the timeless tradition of pilgrimage.


Moreover, the pilgrimage route holds immense value as a cultural treasure, preserving and showcasing Japan’s intangible heritage through its architectural marvels, sacred artifacts, and enduring traditions. The temples along the route stand as living testaments to the artistic and spiritual prowess of bygone eras, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the captivating world of Japanese Buddhism.


Furthermore, the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route fosters a sense of communal harmony and spiritual camaraderie, uniting pilgrims in their quest for inner peace and enlightenment. It transcends cultural and societal boundaries, offering a space for collective rituals, shared experiences, and enduring bonds that traverse the realms of geography and language.


As we bid farewell to this virtual exploration of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route, let us carry with us the profound spiritual insights and cultural revelations that define this sacred odyssey. Whether as a spiritual pilgrim or an admirer of cultural heritage, the allure of the pilgrimage route remains etched in the annals of Japan’s spiritual and artistic legacy, beckoning all to partake in its timeless mystique and grandeur.