Recently, Shikoku Pilgrimage has been used to promote health, although originally the goal of the pilgrimage was to tour the temples visited by Kobo Daishi (Kukai). The temples can also be visited in a reverse order. In 2014, Shikoku Pilgrimage completed 1200 years and Buddhist images never seen before were displayed.
The goal of pilgrimage
The goals of pilgrimage can be prayers for health, discovering oneself, looking for better fortune and luck in marriage. The straw hats that pilgrims wear have characters同行二人 inscribed on them, the first one meaning "oneself" and the second one "Kobo Daishi". Together they mean "two traveling together", implying that the spirit of Kobo Daishi accompanies pilgrims.
●Methods of pilgrimage
"Junuchi" and "gyakuuchi" orders
The ordinary pilgrimage method is to start from temple number one on the list: it is called "junuchi" (clockwise order). If you start from temple 88, it is "gyakuuchi" (counterclockwise order). It is said this order brings three times the divine favor of the "junichi" order. The ways of pilgrimage also include "toshi-uchi" (visiting all the temples at once), "kugiri-uchi" (visiting temples at one particular district) and "ikkoku-mairi" (visiting all the temples in one prefecture). You can choose any way that suits your physical abilities.
Means of transportation
Not only you can choose period of time and temples you want to visit, you are also free in choosing means of transportation. You can conduct pilgrimage either on foot, by car or riding a tourist bus.
Although recently many young women manage to wear fashionable clothes for pilgrimage, traditional pilgrim’s clothes consist of kongotsue (walking stick), sugegasa (conical straw hat) and byakue (white coat of a pilgrim). Since you’ll need to walk both normal and mountain roads, it is essential you choose easy to walk shoes. So, now that you are done with choosing your style, let’s start Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage!
What you need
You don’t need to have all these objects at once, however many people do bring sugegasa, byakue and kongotsue. People around you will recognize you as a pilgrim and will always help you or chat with you. There are places apart from temple number one these items can be purchased, so you can get them whenever necessary.
It protects you from sun and rain. You don’t have to take it off before the Buddhist image, but you do need to take it off after you’ve removed your shoes. The hat bears characters that symbolize Maitreya, characters that say "two traveling together" and those that say "Since there is an illusion, a man clings to his material possessions; once he reaches enlightment, everything will become meaningless. There is no East and West. Neither there is North and South".
Ceremonial equipment of a pilgrim. It usually bears characters, but if used for other purposes than pilgrimage, it is better to have a plain one. It is usually attached to one’s arm and removed when using the bathroom.
In Shingon school, usually 108 beads are used, according to the number of passions. Juzu of other Buddhist schools can be used as well.
Kongotsue (walking stick)
The upper part of the stick has an engraving in a shape of 5 pagoda levels that bear Sanskrit characters, symbolizing air, wind, fire, water and earth. Since the stick is an incarnation of Kobo Daishi, it cannot be left at unclean places. The end of the stick should be washed and wiped, you need to fold hands when you use it.
Zudabukuro/Sanyabukuro (pilgrim’s bag)
It contains book of stamps, good luck charm, rosary, incense sticks, candles writers etc. and is strapped around one’s shoulder. There are various kinds, such as those with a pocket for bottle.
Osamefuda (good luck charm name slips)
You can get these at Kobo Daishi hall or the main hall of the temple. You need to write your address (city and prefecture), your name and the date of pilgrimage. On the back, you need to write your wish. It is common to exchange your name slips after you’ve been received at the temple.
Omie (osugata) ire
There is a special book in which you collect temples’ seals. This is a cover for that book. After you done with the pilgrimage, you can use it as kakejiku scroll.
Kyohon (sutra book)
It can contain the most important sutras of Shingon school, such as "Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra" or sutras of each temple. Even if you know sutras by heart, it is still advised to read them.
Equipment for pilgrimage
For the pilgrimage, the outfit which can be used on both mountain roads and pavement roads is necessary. Easy to walk shoes are also necessary. Think about the weight of your baggage and choose the clothes that fits your abilities.
Choose the shoes that fit you best. It is recommended to use waterproof shoes with high air permeability.
・Backpack/ waist pouch
Choose a backpack that suits you with a recommended volume of 25 liters for men and 20 liters for women. Weight reduction is very important for pleasant walking. Waist pouch where you can put coins and other small things is also very convenient. It is recommended to bring few clothes that easily can be washed in roadside inns.
・Rain wear, hat, torch
It is advisable to bring a poncho that can cover both you and your backpack, as well as a hat that can protect you from drizzle and sun rays. You would also want to bring a headlight and light reflective material if you plan to walk at night.
Underwear should be able to get dry quick and with high sweat absorbency. Bring the socks that fit you.
This is needed to avoid dehydration (bring a big bottle in summer). Drink water before you get thirsty.
Be sure to also prepare towel, cell phone, a watch, mosquito repellent, portable toilet, azimuth magnet, camera, medicines, insurance, chocolate and biscuits.
Order of pilgrimage
The reception at the temple is usually open from 7 AM to 5 PM. Usually, the temples are open 24 hours but mountain temples tend to open with the sunrise and close early. Please be patient. There are especially many pilgrims in spring, autumn, Sundays and holidays, so the reception might take time. Don’t forget to obtain a seal at the reception. You might forget about time, so be careful!
Make a bow at the front gate of the temple. Many temples can be accessed right from the parking lot, but if possible, make a bow at the gates first. It is a question about showing your respect.
Next, scoop some water at chozuya. Hold the scoop with your left hand, then wash your right hand and rinse your mouth with water from your right hand. Pour the remaining water back in chozuya. Purification doesn’t depend on the quantity of water you use, so try to save it. Also, don’t forget to humble your spirit.
3．Ring the bell
Consider your pilgrimage half-done already when you prepare the bag and rosary. Only ring bells at the temples where you want to be heard by Buddha. Don’t ring it in the early morning in order not to become a nuisance for the people. It is considered a bad omen to ring a bell after you visit the temple.
4．Name slips, sutras
Put the name slip in the name slip box and sutra in the sutra box. One name slip per person should be used. Write the date, your name and address (town and prefecture). Some people also write "Heart Sutra" on the back.
5．Candles, incense, donation
Next is candles, incense sticks and small amounts of money. Candles are needed to acquire Buddhist wisdom and incense – to acquire Buddhist virtues. Normally, one candle and three incense sticks are used. Place the incense in the back, saving space for other people and candles in the middle. It doesn’t really matter how you place them. Leave some change for donation.
6．Sutras, folding hands
Here comes the main part! Read the sutras. Fold your hands and, even if you know them by heart, read them from the sutra book. Keep Buddha and Kobo Daishi in your heart.
After you read the sutras and purified your heart, go to the Kobo Daishi Hall. There is such a hall in every temple of the pilgrimage, when you reach there, repeat steps 4-6. If there are other halls, go there as well.
8．Getting a temple’s seal
The last step is getting a seal. You can get a seal, called "shuin" and temple’s writing at the reception. The seal book should be kept after you got all the seals. The price is 300 yen for the book of stamps, 500 yen for kakejiku scroll and 200 yen for the temple’s clothes.