Shodoshima: Annual Shimabiraki Ceremony

Every year, on January 21st, the Shodoshima 88 pilgrimage has an annual ceremony called “Shimabiraki”. 

Shimabiraki literally means “opening the island” and this ceremony is held to mark the beginning of Spring pilgrimage season. 

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Shodoshima: Masako’s Journey

I walked Shodosima 88 in fall of 2016. After my first pilgrimage, the Shikoku 88 in fall of 2015, I got totally hooked on long-distance walking along old historical trails and visiting old temples and shrines.

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Shodoshima: Walking in Fall

I arrived at on Shodoshima on September 16, 2016, with all accommodation for my eight days pilgrimage booked. My original plan was to walk the entire route and visit all 88 temples at once. However, the weather forecast had already shown that a typhoon was approaching Japan.

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Ishizuchi Journey

The Ishizuchi mountains are located on the border between Ehime and Kochi prefectures on the island of Shikoku. The local tourism association recently produced a series of beautiful short films about the region.

“A journey of the spirit through natural wonder.”

Pilgrims will no doubt enjoy seeing some familiar places in the films. You can find out more on the official website.

Yamabushi Mountain Monks

Mountain Monks is a short film by Fritz Schumann about a group of Japanese monks called the Yamabushi who regularly walk barefoot through rivers, meditating under waterfalls and spending the nights on mountaintops. They walk into the forest to die and be born again.

Their teachings of Shugendō 修験道 were first established 1400 years ago and peaked in popularity during the 17th century, when Yamabushi visited around 90 percent of all villages in northern Japan. The monks were said to have magical powers and served as advisors to samurai and warlords.

In the late 19th century, when Japan opened itself to the west and moved from a feudal state towards industrialization, their religion was forbidden. Only the monks of Yamagata prefecture in northern Japan practiced the tradition in secret. Their isolation near the three holy mountains of Dewa helped them to save their customs.

The osettai culture of Shikoku’s pilgrimage route appeals to travelers from across the world

Calling these pilgrims “o-henro-san,” or those who walk the path, the locals support their safe journeys by offering meals and places to rest. The custom, called “osettai,” is rooted deeply in their daily lives. In recent years, it is impressing visitors from overseas.

This summer, Olivia Kivel from the United States began volunteering at a local inn near Ryozenji Temple in Naruto City, Tokushima Prefecture. The inn is one of several so-called “henro-yado.” Kivel went there in hopes of learning about the osettai culture.

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Frederick Starr and Temple 22, Byōdō-ji

About an hour’s drive south of Tokushima train station in the village of Aratano is Temple no. 22 of the Shikoku pilgrimage route, Byōdō-ji – the temple of equality. If you stop at the main gate, the Daishi hall (Daishidō) is in front of you on your left, the temple office and other buildings are on your right, and the main hall (hondō) is located at the top of many stairs in front of you.

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Waraji – Footwear for Pilgrims of the Past

Have you ever seen a pair of gigantic waraji (草鞋: straw sandals) leaning against the main gate of a Buddhist temple? Some are more than two meters tall! Who made them and why are they are there? According to some temple priests, it seems that local people, either children or adults, wove and donated them to the temple to protect the temple, to ward off evil spirits, to bring happiness, and so that people will have healthy legs and feet.

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The Early Life of Kūkai and His Stay at Dōgaku-ji Temple

It is almost impossible to talk about the Shikoku pilgrimage without mentioning the name of Kūkai (空海:774-835), or his posthumous name Kōbō Daishi, the renowned Buddhist priest who founded Shingon Buddhism in Japan during the 9th century. His name permeates Japanese history and there are countless stories based on legend and fact about his life and accomplishments. We know that he was born in 774 near the present-day Temple 75, Zentsū-ji (善通寺) in Kagawa prefecture and was given the name of Mao, but details about his childhood are few and perhaps unreliable.

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Whirlpools and Giant Kites in Naruto

Naruto, in the northeastern part of Tokushima prefecture, was formed in 1947 by uniting Muya town, Okazaki port, and some surrounding islands. Today, Naruto has a population of about 60,000. Most visitors to Naruto come to see the amazing whirlpools in the Naruto Strait, either up close from a boat or from a boardwalk called Uzu no Michi that was constructed under the bridge that connects Shikoku and Awaji Island.

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