Shikoku pilgrimage booming among foreign visitors

posted on May 24, 2016

A pilgrimage route stretching across Shikoku Island, one of Japan's four main islands, has been recently attracting more foreign visitors with various cultural and religious backgrounds with its unique charms.

Some view it as a spiritual journey while others' motivations are more secular-touting its health benefits or how it can connect them with nature's surroundings.

The pilgrimage called "Shikoku Henro" is a 1,200-kilometer circular-shaped route in western Japan which encompasses 88 temples associated with Kukai (774-835), also known as Kobo Daishi, a Buddhist priest who was born and trained in Shikoku and founded the esoteric Shingon sect of Buddhism in the 9th century.

Earlier this month at Ishiteji, the temple No. 51 in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, some foreign visitors were going around the pilgrimage route amid pouring rain in white costumes and the customary conical sedge hats.

Albert Kirch, 56, from Basel, Switzerland, was taking a break on a bench with his friend Mikio Nakaoka, an employee of a trading company in Osaka in his 60s. The two met for the first time during the pilgrimage and have been continuing their journey together ever since.

"I just like pilgrimage in general," said Kirch, explaining the reason he engages in the Shikoku Henro. He also said he has walked other pilgrimage routes overseas, including the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

"Shikoku Henro is physically harder but I'm enjoying the beautiful landscape and nature here," he said. "I've lost more than 10 kilograms in this pilgrimage," Kirch said, smiling.

Kirch and Nakaoka walk about 25 to 30 kilometers per day and plan to complete the whole course by May 22 or 23. Although there are those who complete the trek which can take about six weeks at 30 km per day, others are simply satisfied with taking in some of the sites as tourists.

At 88 temples, pilgrims typically recite sutras or pray silently, and get a pilgrimage book stamped and signed.

source by japantoday
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