Four Treks in Kochi to Experience the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage

Intrigued by the 1400-km Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage, but don't want to commit to walking the whole trail? In Kochi you can get a taste of the pilgrim life on these four one-day treks. Varying from coastal roads to mountain trails, urban roads and farming tracks, each section shows a different side of Kochi’s diverse landscapes.

Muroto Peninsula Section (12km)

Located along the Muroto Peninsula, the three temples are within 12km of each other. Known as the Muroto Sanzan, this trio gives visitors a perfect taste of a day in the life of a pilgrim (especially considering that the previous temple is over 75km away!). The main road is clearly marked with signs for those walking the pilgrimage, so is ideal if you don’t have a great sense of direction.

We recommend starting with Hotsumisaki-ji (temple 24), which sits high atop a cliff at the very tip of Cape Muroto. According to legend, the young monk Kukai (who is deeply connected with this pilgrimage) is said to have meditated in a nearby cave until he reached enlightenment, then built this temple. Check out the ‘musical stone’, which has indentations that produce bell-like sounds when struck.

After taking a break, continue walking for about 6km along the scenic coastline to reach temple 25, Shinsho-ji. This temple has a strong connection to nearby Murotsu Port and the fishing industry, as shown by the golden ship’s wheel on the bell gate. The Kajitori Jizo (“helmsman Jizo”) is said to protect fishermen at sea. Legend has it the statue turned into a priest and saved a lord caught in a storm off the coast!

Your final temple of the day is another 5km walk away, heading into the forested area on the west side of the peninsula. Temple 26, Kongocho-ji, is located atop a steep flight of steps. After paying your respects, check out the giant pair of straw sandals meant to ward off evil. There is also a large pot where Kukai supposedly boiled three portions of rice which multiplied by the thousands to feed the starving.

From this area there are regular buses on the Aki-Geopark bus line that can take you to pretty Kiragawa or the former samurai town of Aki, which has train connections to Kochi City.

Ino Section (16km)

This trail between two temples starts in the paper-making town of Ino, which is just a 30 minute train ride from Kochi Station.

From JR Ino Station take a quick 15-minute taxi ride to the first temple on the itinerary, Kiyotaki-ji (n. 35). You should be dropped off near a narrow trail, so follow the signs up to the temple. After paying your respects to the large, 15-meter figure of Yakushi Nyorai, take a moment to enjoy the view of the Niyodo River and countryside below.

Head back down the same way you came, and make your way through Tosa City for about 7km. There are a number of cute little shops and eateries on the way, so you will have several opportunities to try some local treats.

After this somewhat urban section, you should reach the trailhead of the Tsukaji Pass, which has a much more ancient vibe. The pilgrimage pathway that crosses the Tsukaji Pass is known as the Shoryu-ji Trail, and has been designated a National HIstoric Site. After crossing the pass, you will descend into the fishing town of Usa, with some lovely views of the Pacific Ocean.

After walking through the town you will get to cross the ocean via the Usa Ohashi bridge, heading back to the forested trail of the Inoshiri Pass. Once you descend into a little settlement, follow the signposts to reach the 36th temple, Shoryu-ji. Tucked into a little valley just off the coastline of the peninsula, this serene spot is approached by a trail lined with small Buddhist statues.

You can opt to stay at the Sanyo-so ryokan (a hot spring inn) before returning to Kochi City the following day using their shuttle bus, or catch a bus from the Ryuu bus stop nearby. More helpful information and detailed maps for this section available here.

Kochi City Section (17km)

There is no need to travel far from Kochi City to walk part of the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage. This section allows you to visit three temples in one day, including Chikurin-ji with its famous gardens.

Starting in the center of town, hop on a tram heading to Monju dori or Gomen from the Harimayabashi tram stop. You will get off at the Monju dori stop, and from there start your walk to Chikurin-ji (temple 31). Once you turn off the main road and into the little side streets that lead toward the mountain, you should soon find yourself on the pretty Chikurin-ji Henro Trail, which passes through Mt. Godai, a designated National Historic Site. Part of the trail passes through the flower-filled Makino Botanical Garden, which is well-worth a visit if you have time (just make sure to buy a ticket!). Chikurin-ji literally means “bamboo forest temple,” and the grounds are dotted with bamboo groves, mossy enclaves and vivid fall colors in season.

Continuing on, descend the mountain via the Zenjibu-ji Henro Trail, then follow the little pilgrimage signs that will take you along the Shimoda River and a pond, until you reach a narrow mountain trail by zigzagging your way through little settlements. Zenjibu-ji is the 32nd temple on the pilgrimage, and once you reach it via a flight of steep stone steps you will be rewarded with a great view of the Pacific Ocean. The 11-faced Kannon enshrined here is particularly dear to fishermen and sailors.

From here descend the mountain and walk for about 6.5km until you reach the little port town of Tanezaki. Here there are regular free ferries (one per hour) that will take you on a quick 5-minute trip across the water to Nagahama Port. Another 1.5km walk will take you to the final stop of your trek, Sekkei-ji Temple. (Along the way you may want to stop for a rest and some tastings at the Suigei sake brewery). The 33rd temple is one of only two Zen temples on the pilgrimage.

Nearby there is a bus stop and a taxi stand where you can get an easy ride back into the center of Kochi City. Detailed maps and photo guide available on this page.

Bonus: Buddhist Training at Iwamoto-ji Temple (0~20km)

If you are looking for an extra-special pilgrim experience, then make your way to temple 37, Iwamoto-ji. This artistic temple offers a variety of experiences, including meditating under the tutelage of a Zen Buddhist priest while you sit in the middle of the cool, pure Shimanto River!

If you want to walk the ancient pilgrimage roads but don’t feel comfortable doing so alone, between March to June and September to November they offer guided tours of the 20km Osaka pilgrimage trail, going from the beautiful retro village of Kure all the way back to Iwamoto-ji Temple. No need to worry about maps, as your guide will tell you about the history and culture of the region, and take you to some of the hidden gems you might miss on your own.

Once your trek is done, you will have access to a nice warm bath in the shukubo (temple lodging) to sooth your tired legs. On weekends and holidays you can also enjoy tasty sweets at the temple cafe' once you dry off, available from 11:00 to 15:00. You can also stay overnight in the temple lodgings, to get a deeper feel for the lives and routines of Buddhist priests.

For some alternative hiking trails, be sure to check out these options near the beautiful Niyodo River, another of Kochi's beautiful waterways.