Shikoku's Temple Pilgrimage: O-henro

O-henro is the pilgrimage to the 88 sacred sites of Shikoku. History, temples architecture, beautiful Japanese gardens, temple lodges - experience o-henro your own way.

What is o-henro?

O-henro is the journey to the 88 sacred sites of Shikoku taken by the buddhist monk *Kukai 1200 years ago.
The pilgrim road is quite rare in that it forms a circuit, running for about 1,200km if walked (1,400km if driven) and passes through all four prefectures on Shikoku. On completion of the pilgrimage, it's said that one can find themselves and be freed of earthly desires; "a journey of the mind" as some call it.

The appeal of this pilgrimage is that anyone can join, regardless of nationality or religion. Pilgrims can also choose which order they visit the sacred sites in and even the mode of transportation. There are basically no rules in regards to dresscode, however, walking the route with a pilgrim's staff and wearing the traditional white robes and sedge hat really instills a sense of motivation.

*Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi) was a monk born in 774 in Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku, and was the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan.

How to offer prayers

There are three steps for offering prayers at the temples. Putting your heart and mind into the steps 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 at a place that allows you to toll the temple bell, only strike the bell once.

2. Pay respects at both the Main Hall and the Great Priest's Hall.
Light a candle and some incense. Place osame-fuda (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. Place your hands together in prayer and bow 3 times. After you've recited some sutra (or made a prayer), place your hands together and bow once. The same steps are repeated at both the Main Hall and the Great Priest's Hall.

3. Get your go-shuin (temple seal)
Go-shuin is a unique seal that proves you've visited and prayed at a certain temple. The book that one collects these temple seals in is called a go-shuin cho. Having a seal written in your go-shuin cho costs 300 yen.

Visit sacred places where the legends of Kukai remain

In Kochi, the wilderness that Kukai (Kobo Daishi) would have experienced during his younger days of training still exists. The rough landscape of Cape Muroto with its strange rock formations is one of those places. There is a pond here that Kukai is said to have cleansed himself in called Gyozui-no-ike, and a pond called Mearai-no-ike whose waters are said to have cured people's eyes. You can see both from the walkways around Cape Muroto.

Also at Cape Muroto is Mikurodo, the cave where Kukai is said to have awakened, and next door is Shinmeikutsu, the cave where he attained enlightenment towards the end of his training. If you put on a helmet, you can explore inside the cave.

After visiting all the legendary places, head to the tip of Cape Muroto to visit the first temple on the Kochi stretch of the pilgrimage, Hotsumisaki-ji Temple.

Staying at shukubo (temple lodges)

Shukubo are lodgings set up within the temple grounds created for monks and pilgrims.
Shukubo generally offer simple Japanese-style rooms with air-conditioning, and include breakfast and dinner. Most even offer alcoholic beverages.

The main attraction when staying at these temple lodgings is joining in the morning (sometimes evening) service, called o-tsutome. During o-tsutome, you recite Buddhist sutras along with a monk inside the temple hall (a part of the temple you're generally not allowed to enter). At Iwamoto-ji Temple, you can join in the 30min o-tsutome starting at 6am for free! They have even prepared sutras in English letters, so you can follow along.

Appreciate the beauty of the temples

Chikurin-ji Temple in Kochi City, is famed for the beauty of its garden. Moss-covered gardens spread out before you as you enter through the main gate. The garden's beauty changes with the seasons; cherry blossoms in the spring, a sea of green in summer, and the reds and oranges of autumn foliage. The garden view from the reception hall is particularly worth seeing. It was created by a Zen monk, called Muso Kokushi, roughly 650 years ago.

At the previously mentioned Iwamoto-ji Temple, the paintings on the ceiling of the inner hall are especially noteworthy. In 1978, during renovations on the temple, 575 paintings were collected from artists and locals and fixed to the ceiling. There are a wealth of Japanese paintings, watercolor paintings, ink paintings, collages, with works featuring Buddha to paintings of Marilyn Monroe.

The sacred sites in Kochi Prefecture

For information on what to see, access, functions, history etc. of each of the sacred sites, 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
31th Chikurin-ji Temple 竹林寺 3577 Godaisan,Kochi City
32th Zenjibu-ji Temple 禅師峰寺 3084 Tochi,Nankoku City
33th 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