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.
Why January 21st? Since Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Sect of Buddhism went into his eternal meditation on March 21st, the 21st date of the month has special meaning for Shingon temples in Japan.
At Tonosho port, monks from the Shodoshima 88 pilgrimage temples and Yamabushi (Shugendo monks) wait for a ferry arriving at the island. A wooden statue of Kobo Daishi is also with them to welcome the ferry.
When the ferry arrived and was anchored at the port, a line of pilgrims marches out. All in the pilgrims wear white robes and some are holding pilgrim paraphernalia in their hands, walking towards the waiting monks and crowds of local people. Every year, this particular pilgrimage group from Hyogo prefecture come to the island on this day, to be the first Shodoshima 88 pilgrimage tour of the year.
After they greet each other, all people at the port make a long line and start walking to the head temple of Shodoshima 88 pilgrimage association. First, a Yamabushi group, followed by dancers who come from Okayama prefecture for this ceremony. The dancers keep dancing through the 800m way to the head temple.
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About 400 or so people arrive at the head temple and the statue of Kobo Daishi is placed inside. While monks go upstairs to hold a prayer ceremony to wish safe travel for the pilgrims, other people enjoy free Somen noodles and Mochi. The dancers still keep dancing in a circle.
This ceremony is open to the public. The ceremony starts at 10:40 (with the arrival of the ferry from Okayama to Tonosho).