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Walk the 88 temple circuit

The 88 temple route is by far the most famous pilgrimage route in Japan. The route is a remarkable 1400 km (870 miles) journey walked by the realized Zen master Kobo Daishi, who achieved enlightenment upon completing this route. The circuit begins at a station named Bandõ, situated on the island of Shikoku. This is where you can find the first temple of the 88 temples.

Pilgrims or "henros," dressed in white vests, walk through the gate in an ethereal environment. You can see stone figures of saints and monkeys all around, and there are burning candles too. The atmosphere is super serene. The henros wash their hands ritually at a watering place, then they ring the bell and read a sacred text. After a final bow they get a stamp, silently take their walking stick and leave for the second temple. Ahead of them lie 87 more temples and an impressive 1400 km (870 miles) journey.

Shikoku Island's fame stems from this extensive pilgrimage route. For centuries, individuals have walked spiritual journeys along the temples dotting the island. Thousands of Japanese walk this legendary route annually, considering it a crucial milestone in their lives. The journey is personal and flexible, with pilgrims free to travel by foot, bike, car, bus, or any means they find suitable.

The warmth of the local community is an important part of the pilgrimage. As a gesture of goodwill and respect, locals often offer pilgrims chocolates, oranges, rice balls, or tea. Some may even provide you with a lift, driven by the belief that their kind act brings them also a step closer to enlightenment. The pilgrimage is open to all, irrespective of nationality or faith. The underlying goal is to visit the temples, meditate, and aspire for enlightenment.

At each temple you get a stamp in your beautiful pilgrim booklet for a small fee, as a sign that you have been there. Like most Japanese pilgrims, foreigners often dress in white. And with a bamboo hat on your head and pilgrim's staff in the hand you might feel why the great Zen master Kobo Daishi walked this circuit.

A recommended time to undertake the 88 temple circuit is between April and November. However, it's worth noting that the weather in July and August can be hot and humid. For more detailed climate information in Matsuyama, Japan, click here.

This article was last updated on August 04, 2023.