Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage: Ohenro

Ohenro is the term for the Buddhist pilgrimage to 88 temples around the island of Shikoku. Learn about the Kochi section of this 1200km trek through the history, sacred sites and nature of Japan’s smallest main island.

About the Pilgrimage

Ohenro is the traditional name for the Shikoku Pilgrimage, the journey to 88 sacred sites around the island taken by the Buddhist monk Kukai around 1200 years ago. Also known as Kobo Daishi, he was the founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism and established the main temple on sacred Mt.Koya.

The pilgrimage road forms a circuit around Shikoku, stretching over 1200km through all four prefectures on the island. Those that complete the pilgrimage are said to find themselves and be freed of earthly desires. Besides the physical act of walking, many also find the experience to be a journey of the mind.

You do not have to be a Buddhist to walk this pilgrimage, everyone is welcome to follow in the footsteps of Kukai, regardless of nationality or religion. Pilgrims can also choose which order they visit the sacred sites and even the mode of transportation, although walking is traditional. While many pilgrims choose athletic gear for their walk, bearing the pilgrim's staff and wearing the traditional white robes and sedge hat really instills a sense of motivation and connection with the spirit of the pilgrimage.

Walk in the Footsteps of Kukai

In Kochi, the wilderness that the monk would have experienced over 1200 years ago seems almost unchanged. The dramatic Cape Muroto area is particularly closely linked with Kukai, as he is said to have trained in the Mikurodo Cave near the cape, and achieved enlightenment in the Shinmeikutsu Cave next to it. There is also a large rock formation that resembles a human face named after him, along with the Gyozui-no-ike pond where Kukai is said to have cleansed himself, and a pond called Mearai-no-ike whose waters are said to have cured people's eye ailments. You can see both from the walkways around Cape Muroto.

After visiting all the legendary places, head to nearby Hotsumisaki-ji Temple, the 24th stop on the pilgrimage and first temple on the Kochi stretch of the Ohenro.

Two Must-Visit Temples in Kochi

Although all of the temples on the pilgrimage have something special that touches the hearts of pilgrims (and regular visitors), among those in Kochi Prefecture there are two that stand out.

Chikurin-ji Temple (the 31st stop) is located in Kochi City, and is known for the beauty of its gardens. The moss-covered approach welcomes those who pass through the main gate, and throughout the year the gardens are filled with cherry blossoms in the spring, a sea of fresh green leaves in summer, and the reds and oranges of autumn foliage. For a small fee, you can take in the view of the private garden from the reception hall, created by Zen monk Muso Kokushi over 650 years ago.

At Iwamoto-ji Temple, the 37th temple on the pilgrimage, the paintings on the ceiling of the inner hall are especially noteworthy. During renovations in 1978, the temple collected 575 paintings from artists across Japan and fixed them to the ceiling. There is a wealth of Japanese paintings, watercolors, ink paintings, collages and more, with subjects ranging from the traditional (images of the Buddha and flowers) to a painting of Marilyn Monroe!

Staying at Shukubo (Temple Lodging)

Shukubo are lodgings set up within the temple grounds for monks and pilgrims. They generally offer simple Japanese-style rooms with air-conditioning and include breakfast and dinner. Most even offer alcoholic beverages in case you want a beer after a long day of walking.

The main attraction when staying at these temple lodgings is joining in the morning (and sometimes evening) prayer service, called otsutome . During the service you can recite Buddhist sutras with a monk inside the temple hall (an area visitors are generally not allowed to enter). At Iwamoto-ji Temple, you can join in the 30 minute otsutome starting at 6:00am for free! They have even prepared sutras written alphabetically, so reading Japanese isn’t necessary. Of course, chanting is not required, and those taking part are welcome to sit quietly and listen to the deep, sacred chants resounding through the quiet of the incense-scented hall.

Tips for Praying Correctly at the Temples

There are three steps for offering prayers at the temples along the pilgrimage. Putting your heart and mind into the steps and having good intentions is more important than trying to copy the steps exactly.

1. Cleanse your mind and body
At the main gate of the temple, put your hands together and bow once. Once inside the temple grounds, there will be a dedicated space to cleanse your hands and mouth. If the temple allows you to toll the temple bell, only strike it once.

2. Pay respects at both the main hall and the great priest's hall
Light a candle and some incense. Place osamefuda (a votive paper that acts as proof of your worship) into the dedicated box. Then place coin offerings into the collection box; while there is no set amount, 5 and 10 yen coins are most commonly offered. Bring your hands together in prayer and bow 3 times. After you've recited a sutra (or said a prayer), bring your hands together and bow once more. Repeat the same steps at both halls.

3. Get your goshuin (temple seal)
Goshuin are handwritten seals that prove you've visited and prayed at a certain temple. These are collected in a little book called a goshuincho . Having a priest draw a seal in your goshuincho costs 300 yen.

The Sacred Sites in Kochi Prefecture

There are 16 temples that are part of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Kochi. For information on how to get to the various temples, please visit the Shikoku Transport and Tourism Bureau's official homepage.
24th Hotsumisaki-ji Temple 最御崎寺 4058-1 Murotomisaki-cho,Muroto City
25th Shinsho-ji Temple 津照寺 2652-I Murotsu,Muroto City
26th Kongocho-ji Temple 金剛頂寺 523 MotoOtsu,Muroto City
27th Konomine-ji Temple 神峯寺 2594 Tonohama,Yasuda Town,Aki-gun
28th Dainichi-ji Temple 大日寺 476-1 Bodaiji,Noichi-cho,Konan City
29th Kokubun-ji Temple 国分寺 546 Kokubu,Nankoku City
30th Zenraku-ji Temple 善楽寺 2-23-11 lkkushinane,Kochi City
31st Chikurin-ji Temple 竹林寺 3577 Godaisan,Kochi City
32nd Zenjibu-ji Temple 禅師峰寺 3084 Tochi,Nankoku City
33rd Sekkei-ji Temple 雪蹊寺 857-3 Nagahama,Kochi City
34th Tanema-ji Temple 種間寺 72-1 Akiyama,Haruno-cho,Kochi City
35th Kiyotaki-ji Temple 清瀧寺 568-1 Tei,Takaoka-cho,Tosa City
36th Shoryu-ji Temple 青龍寺 163 Ryu,Usa-cho,Tosa City
37th lwamoto-ji Temple 岩本寺 3-13 Shigekushi-cho,Shimanto Town,Takaoka-gun
38th Kongofuku-ji Temple 金剛福寺 214-1 Ashizurimisaki,Tosashimizu City
39th Enko-ji Temple 延光寺 390 Nakayama,Hirata-cho,Sukumo City