SHIKOKU: Japan’s Authentic Buddhist Pilgrimage Circuit

Him Lal Ghimire

Professor/Founder at REHDON College (Affiliated with Tribhuvan University), Nepal; Visiting fellow, Japan Foundation at Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, Nanzan University, Nagoya and International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken), Kyoto; Tourism Expert/Writer/Planner and Editorial Board Member, the GAZE Journal of Tourism and Hospitality. E-mail:


Cultures and heritages are any country’s unique properties, attractions, and identities. Cultures and heritages hold great importance for communities around the world. The history of modern tourism is not as old as pilgrimage tourism- the oldest concept or original art of travelling. The ideal pilgrimage is an expression of the human aspiration for perfection, and those myths and legends associated with sacred journeys define the ideal and structured symbols for its enactment. Pilgrimage is a moving meditation. On pilgrimage, you walk; however, it is the process of spiritual purification in your body and mind. The ascetic wanderings of individuals took the form of pilgrimage routes, which were then adopted by the aristocracy and, later, the common masses. In early modern Japan, many sacred places lured pilgrims from near and far by claiming that they were sanctuaries where familiar deities manifested to the human world. Pilgrimage visit to multiple sites has been widely practised for a long time in Hinduism (e.g. four dharma visits in India are supposed to be completed by the final visit of Pashupatinath in Nepal). Likewise, the Buddha mentioned four places that a pious disciple should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence. It is, for instance, a common practice for pilgrims doing multiple-site routes in Japan, and Shikoku is the one. The Shikoku, 88 Sacred Places pilgrimage (henro) is one of Japan’s authentic, most prominent, evocative and photogenic pilgrimages with a highly developed pilgrimage culture. Kōbō Daishi (774–835), a miracle-working figure with origins in the Japanese Buddhist tradition comprised of several ancient local pilgrimages and developed this pilgrimage route. The beginnings of the Shikoku pilgrimage date back to the ninth century when the Buddhist priest Kukai, later to be canonised as Kōbō Daishi, made a journey around the Shikoku Island in his search of enlightenment. The pilgrims may fulfil their wishes, gain an inner feeling ofsomething missing in their lives, experience Japanese culture, self-improvement and personal satisfaction, broaden their understanding of Buddhism, improve mental and personal health, and more in Shikoku. The government and tourist organisations should promote the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan and worldwide.

Keywords Buddhism . Heritage . Culture . Enlightenment . Self-improvement