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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Anraku-ji – The 6th temple along the Shikoku Pilgrimage route

Temple 6, Anraku-ji (安楽寺), is approximately 16.5 kilometres from Temple 1, Ryōzen-ji (霊山寺), and is where many people stay for their first night when embarking on the Shikoku pilgrimage. In fact, 100 foreigners from about twenty countries spent a night here in 2013 and 2014. The temple has eighty rooms, which can accommodate up to 350 people, and the price for one night’s stay including dinner and breakfast is 7200yen.

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Ōkubo-ji – Shikoku’s 88th Temple

Those who commence their pilgrimage at Temple 1, Ryōzen-ji (霊山寺) will most likely finish at the eighty-eighth temple, Ōkubo-ji (大窪寺). In that case, one can ask the staff in the temple office for a certification of completion (kechigan shomeisho: 結願証明書) [2000 yen fee]. However, some people do not stop here, but go back to Ryōzen-ji to complete the circuit and/or visit Mt. Kōya in Wakayama to report to Kōbō Daishi that they have successfully completed the journey.

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The Maeyama Ohenro Kōryū Salon

Surprisingly there is no visitors centre near Temple 1, Ryōzen-ji, the most common starting point of the Shikoku pilgrimage. In fact, the closest thing to a museum dedicated to the pilgrimage can be found between Temple 87, Nagao-ji and Temple 88, Okubo-ji in Kagawa prefecture.

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Pilgrims giving the finger along the Shikoku Pilgrimage

Imagine if people from the past left no clue as to how they lived. How would we able to piece together such aspects of their life as their eating habits, their customs, and their belief systems? How would we be able to understand the joys and struggles they went through? How would we learn from them? When you visit a temple along the Shikoku pilgrimage route what do you look at? Do you try to find traces of people who have visited there in the past and when you find them are you curious to find out when, why, or how this was left there by those people?

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Stories about water along the Shikoku Pilgrimage

Water, an essential element for life, plays a significant role in the religious culture of people around the world. For example, water in certain rivers and wells is believed to have curative properties. Water is used for purification and has mysteriously gushed up from where a spiritual person has thrust a staff on the ground. The close relationship between water and the people on the island of Shikoku is no different and so, I would like to describe some well-known and lesser-known stories related to water along the Shikoku Pilgrimage route.

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Walking the Kamo-michi up to Temple 21, Tairyūji

Recently various organizations and governmental groups have been working to get the Shikoku pilgrimage route recognized as a World Heritage Site. However, to do so it is necessary to prove to UNESCO that the sacred sites and paths leading to them have outstanding universal importance.

While the pilgrimage route might have been significant to people hundreds of years ago, a lot has disappeared with modernization or is in a state of disarray. Thus, one strategy is to find and reestablish original sections of the route. One example is a short section by Temple 20, Kakurin-ji (鶴林寺) and another by Temple 21, Tairyūji (太龍寺), which are now designated national historical sites (国指定史跡).

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Giving up your hair along the Shikoku pilgrimage

Osettai head shaving in 1822

As the popularity of the Shikoku pilgrimage continues to grow, many people are wishing to complete this journey by spending the least amount of money possible. Some try to find inexpensive or free places to stay and others develop interesting strategies to eat cheaply, such as going to a supermarket in the evening and buying fresh food products which have been discounted.

But if you do not stay at a pilgrim inn or hotel every night, where do you wash your body and shampoo your hair, something that you cannot ignore more than a few days. In fact, what do you do about your hair for such a long journey? Do you get a haircut or head shave beforehand, or go for a haircut midway through, or let it grow and wait to get a haircut when until you finish?

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