The 88 temple pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku in Japan

- through Henry Oudin

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From Compostela to Machu Picchu, journalist Fabienne Bodan has traveled a number of pilgrimage routes. Taken from his book Guide to the world's pilgrimage routes, let's go with her to Japan for a 1200 kilometer walk in the footsteps of the founder of Shingon Buddhism.

"The island of Shikoku is the smallest and least populated of the Japanese archipelago, but it has one of the major tourist attractions of the Land of the Rising Sun: a 1200 kilometer road, the Shikoku Henro or 88 temples, which unites 88 Buddhist shrines. The Asian trail has many similarities with the Camino de Santiago. But unlike the European cultural route, the Japanese Camino de Santiago is circular. It starts at Ryozenji Temple, ends at Okubo-ji Temple, and goes clockwise. As on the Jacobean routes, pilgrims are provided with a notebook, called nokyocho or shuincho, which will be stamped in each temple.

Twinned with the Spanish Way since 2015, the Shikoku Path bears another similarity to its Galician counterpart: their respective origins seem to date back 1200 years. The story begins in the 774th century and evokes one of Japan's legendary characters. Kukai (better known under the name of Kobo-Daishi) was born on the island of Shikoku in XNUMX. Monk, calligrapher, man of letters, art and expert in public works, he founded the Shingon Buddhist sect to dispense the knowledge of esoteric Buddhism received in China.

Kobo-Daishi, "the great broadcaster of the law"

The Mikkyo, close to the Vajrayana, of Indian origin, designates the secret teaching of the school of the one who will be credited with the posthumous title of Kobo-Daishi, "the great broadcaster of the law". If it is believed that Buddhism, which came from the kingdom of Baekje on the Korean peninsula, was imported to the land of the Rising Sun in the year 538, Kukai systematized the transmission of this philosophy to the people. The Shikoku pilgrimage links the island's 88 sacred places in a loop, in which Kobo-Daishi would have deepened his knowledge of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama.

“The Shikoku path is a route that unites 88 Buddhist shrines. »

Walking over such a long distance in lush nature, in the footsteps of such a spiritual being, discovering Buddha statues and the temples that bear his imprint along the way, is one of the ways to reconnect with the sacred. , to reflect on oneself and to come closer to the state of satori, or spiritual awakening. The walkers of Shikoku stroll all dressed in white and conical straw hat on their head. They are thus recognizable and welcomed as pilgrims by the population, who can offer them rest, drinks and food for free.

Four dojos to achieve enlightenment

Shikoku Henro became popular in the 1689th century. The Buddhist monk Yûben Shinnen wrote the guide Shikoku henro michishirube, published in 88 and detailing the 1 temples of the circuit. The four prefectures of the island divide the route into four dojos (or places of practice). The prefecture of Tokushima designates the Hasshin-nodojo, path of spiritual awakening, and includes temples 23 to 24. That of Kochi, the Shugyo-nodojo, place of ascetic practice (temples 39 to 40). That of Ehime, the Bodai-no-dojo, path to enlightenment (temples 65 to 66). Finally, that of Kagawa bears the name of Nehan-no-dojo, place of Nirvana (temples 88 to XNUMX).

Pilgrim's equipment

If there is no strict rule as to the outfit and accessories of the pilgrim, it is considered that the minimum necessary consists of a staff, the pilgrimage notebook, a white outfit and a conical hat in straw on the head. The staff is said to be the embodiment of the Creator of True Word. The white jacket (hakui) represents purity. In the past, the death of pilgrims along the way was not uncommon: white also symbolized the habit of the dead. The stick was planted as a grave marker at the place of death. The notebook, stamped or calligraphic, attests to his passage in a temple. The pilgrim will be able to insert labels bearing his name, address or a wish in the urns of the shrines, and give them to people offering him a gift.

THEset or, this hospitality towards the pilgrim dressed as a ohenro-san, turns out to be one of the most striking facts of this experience. The villagers will serve him food and drink, or offer him a place to rest. Be careful, there as elsewhere, the "false pilgrims" are rampant, who take advantage of the generosity of the natives without any real motivation.

You can complete the panoply with a stole (wagesa), a bell for the recitation of the sutras (jirei) and a prayer beads (juzu). It is possible to equip yourself from the first temple. »


Extract from Guide to the world's pilgrimage routes by Fabienne Bodan
(Ouest-France Editions, 2018)

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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