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.
2014 marked the 100th year of foreigners observing and experiencing the increasingly popular pilgrimage. Below I have described the key people, events and publications related to this under-examined part of the history of the Shikoku pilgrimage.
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).
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?
The first two days of the Shikoku pilgrimage from Ryōzen-ji (Temple 1) to Fujii-dera (Temple 11) are easy because the path is on flat paved roads. However, on your third day, you will face a strenuous twelve-kilometre hike up and down mountains on a dirt path through the forests to reach Shōsan-ji (Temple 12). It is said that the journey from Fujii-dera and Shōsan-ji takes between five to eight hours depending on your physical fitness.
In spring 2018, David Gogh walked the entirety of the Shikoku Pilgrimage and has compiled a beautiful video of photos and short clips synchronised with a map showing his progress around the island.
For anyone who has undertaken the journey, the images provoke a lot of nostalgic feelings. For those thinking about taking their own pilgrimage, it provides a snapshot of life as a Henro and the natural wonder of Shikoku.
Dedicated to those who also may have had the same dream.
A dream where the first week felt like a month but the following month felt like a week.
Dewa Sanzan, in Yamagata Prefecture, has been an important center for yamabushi since the beginnings of Shugendo in the eighth or ninth century, although it didn’t grow in popularity as a pilgrimage route for spiritual rebirth until the Edo Period (1603-1868). To this day, each yamabushi in good health is required to make the journey.
Read more (via The Japan Times)
I am sitting on the rim of a volcano crater, munching my midday sandwich while watching a friar and a frog. El Fraile and La Rana are sculptures fashioned by nature from solidifying magma 3,000 years ago. That might sound like an aeon, but in geological time is only about yesterday afternoon. I have reached my picnic spot by crunching over naked grey lava, feeling like an ant on an elephant’s back.
Read more (via The Sunday Times)
Oliver Statler (1912-2003), a renowned scholar on the Shikoku pilgrimage and author of Japanese Pilgrimage (1983), said in a documentary that “visits to the temples do not constitute the pilgrimage, they merely punctuate it.” He was referring to the eighty-eight officially designated Buddhist temples along the Shikoku pilgrimage route, which at times are located very far apart. However, I would like to emphasize that there are many more sites such as Shinto shrines, bekkaku (別格：special) temples, bangai (番外: outside the number) sites, okunoin (奥ノ院：inner sanctuary), and odō (お堂: small building) that play an equal role in the pilgrimage and are worth visiting.
If you would like to experience part of the Shikoku pilgrimage route close to central Tokushima city, then I recommend going to Dainichi-ji (Temple 13), Jōraku-ji (Temple 14), Kokubun-ji (Temple 15), Kannon-ji (Temple 16) and Ido-ji (Temple 17). Visiting these temples is called gokasho mairi – a five-site pilgrimage that it said to have been created more than 300 years ago. The total distance is only about eight kilometres and since the route is on flat ground it can be easily completed in a few hours. Here are some details about each of these temples that all seem to offer relief from physical problems or cures from illnesses or ailments.