The Evolution of a Representative Japanese Pilgrimage as a Complex Self-Organizing System

The Evolution of a Representative Japanese Pilgrimage

as a Complex Self-Organizing System


Hiroshi Tanaka Shimazaki




The popular pilgrimage to the 88 temples on Shikoku Island, Japan, associated with Kobo Daishi (774-835 A.D.), the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, is a large scale representative circular pilgrimage covering some 1400 kilometre s (960 miles). The changing nature of how pilgrimages to the Shikoku 88 sacred places are made, how rituals are conducted at each sacred site and how sacred places are maintained reflects Japanese cultural preference. Behind the dynamic process is the s elf-organizing “mechanism” to resolve conflict through compromise. While modern modes of transportation have increased the speed with which the pilgrimage can be completed, the traditional walking pilgrimage is still considered to yield the greatest reli gious merit. Conflict between the attainment of religious merit and finite, externally imposed time restraints symbolize the larger set of incongruities associated with the increased physical pace of life in secularized societies and the yeaning for th e security of some sacred absolute. The resolution of the conflict between religious merit and convenience has been sought in a variety of areas including the way in which the pilgrimage can be made (order of temple visits, segmentation of the total pilg rimage system, establishment of miniature pilgrimages, acceptance of modern modes of transportation), how the rituals are performed at each sacred site and the way in which temple priests manage the sacred places. Exploration of conflict resolution throu gh the examination of the roles played by pilgrims, pilgrim leaders, priests, area residents and transportation providers reveals the underlying strength of the ongoing popularity of this Buddhist pilgrimage and the complex nature of the self-organizing s ystem that has evolved over the last three centuries.








1 Formative Stage

1.1 Kobo Daishi: Spiritual Founder

1.2 Origin of the Pilgrimage

1.3 Following in the Footsteps of Kobo Daishi

1.4 Emergence of the Eighty-Eight Sites

2 Elaboration of the Pilgrimage System


2.1 Formal Pilgrimage System

2.2 Temple Grouping and Symbolic Representation

2.3 Support Systems

2.4 Landscape and Rituals

3 Transformation

3.1 Sub-Pilgrimages and Miniature Pilgrimages

3.2 Contemporary Adjustments

3.3 Ritual Variations

3.4 Management of Sacred Places




Notes and References



Buddhism shares with other great religions the practice of pilgrimage to sacred places both for spiritual benefit and to render homage, although it was not advocated by Gautama Buddha himself. It was not until after the death of Buddha in the sixth century BC that the practice emerged, as his followers began visiting those places associated with his life, i.e., places to which Buddha’s ashes were believed to have been distributed, and/or at which memorial stupas had been erected. What ever its origin, the practice of pilgrimage has been widespread in Buddhism over many centuries in both of its main branches; the Hinayana in southeast Asia and Mahayana in east Asia.

The earliest known reference to junrei, the Japanese word for pilgrimage, appears in Nitto Guho Junrei-goki, which was written by Priest Ennin after he travelled to China in 838 AD to study the teaching of Buddhism. It is commonly thought that the practice of pilgrimage was introduced to Japan in the middle of the Heian period (794-1192) by Buddhist priests who, during periods of study in China, made pilgrimages to various sacred places and, on their return, were ins trumental in establishing the practice in Japan. Today, pilgrimages to Buddhist sites are but one of several types. Others are made to sacred mountains, to sites of historic events, and to scenic wonders, some of which have strong connections with Shint o.

The Shikoku pilgrimage, discussed in this paper, encompasses eighty-eight temples and its circular route extends over 1,385 kilometres (960 miles), making it the largest pilgrimage in Japan (Figure 1 and Table I). Associated with Kobo Daishi (774-835 A.D.), this pilgrimage has been popular since at least the beginning of the seventeenth century and today attracts about 80,000 people annually from all over Japan and from foreign countries.

The changing nature of how pilgrimages to the Shikoku eighty-eight sacred places are made, how rituals are conducted at each sacred site and how pilgrim places are maintained reflects Japanese cultural preference. Behind the dynam ic process is the self-organizing “mechanism” to resolve conflict between religious merit and convenience through compromise. “Religious merit” here refers to the culturally recognized benefits to be gained through participating in the pilgrimage. The term “convenience” refers to the way in which the journey may be made most efficiently with the least disruption to the routine activities of the individuals involved. Conflict between the attainment of religious merit and finite, externally imposed time restraints symbolize the larger set of incongruities associated with the increased physical pace of life in secularized societies and the yearning for the security of some sacred absolute.

This paper identifies the resolution of the conflict in a variety of areas and examines the roles played by pilgrims, pilgrim leaders, priests, area residents and transportation providers. The data on which this paper is based were first collected during seventy-eight days in the fall of 1972 when I participated in the pilgrimage on foot, walking some 1,400 kilometres around the periphery of Shikoku Island. Since then I have returned to Shikoku numerous times, most recently in 19 98, and have had the opportunity to augment and update the data. In the preparation of this paper, I have drawn on information contained in my earlier publications on various facets of the pilgrimage with regard to is traditional aspects.




1 Formative Stage



1.1 Kobo Daishi: Spiritual Founder


It is believed that the Shikoku pilgrimage was established by Kobo Daishi (Figure 2). The association of Kobo Daishi with the pilgrimage is clearly evident in the landscape. Pilgrims, whether they walk or use some mode of transportatio n, carry staves that symbolize Kobo Daishi. Written on them are the words dogyo ninin, meaning ” together with Kobo Daishi”. The belief of the pilgrims in the presence of Kobo Daishi is acknowledged through their behaviour at each of the eighty- eight sacred places. Daishido, the building dedicated to Kobo Daishi, are found at all eighty-eight temples and statues of Kobo Daishi, kuyoto erected in his honour, and trees and stones with which legend has associated him are also frequently fou nd within the compounds. The significance of the association of the pilgrim places with Kobo Daishi manifest in geographic features, together with the acknowledgement of this association by pilgrims through their behaviour, is one important element in th e distinctiveness of the pilgrimage.

Kobo Daishi was born in 774, the son of the prosperous Saeki Zentsu, in what is now Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku. At this time, the literature and philosophy of Japan were only beginning to assume a distinct character and her relig ion a firm structure. Buddhism, introduced to Japan via Korea in the mid-sixth century, had immediately provoked a conflict with the existing religious tradition. At the approximately this same time Japan has been subjected to a flood of Chinese culture , Confucianism, and religious Taoism and, while neither Confucianism nor religious Taoism constituted a separate religion in Japanese history, both traditions had an impact on the existing religious tradition.

Unsettled conditions still prevailed towards the end of eighth century and it was at a time of political unrest that Kobo Daishi began to study Confucianism . During the Nara Period (710-794) Buddhism became the state religion. The prevailing image of Nara Buddhism suggests a religion of the aristocracy and monks, largely confined to the court and monasteries. If Nara Buddhism became famous for its profound philosophy and glorious temples, it became infamous for its increasing decadence and corruption.

As a brilliant student, Kobo Daishi could not escape the turmoil. In his effort to reach a decision as to whether Confucianism or Buddhism should be his chosen way of life, he withdrew from the university on Honshu, visited variou s parts of the country including Shikoku, his birth place, and subjected himself to severe physical and spiritual training. He wrote that in the deep snow of severe winter, he clothed himself scantily, in the burning heat of scorching summer, he ate and drank meagrely, and searched for the truth.

After reading a portion of Dainichikyo (great Sun Sutra, Mahavairocana) Kobo Daishi became interested in the Mikkyo(Buddhism) doctrine; but his biography between the ages of twenty-four (797) and thirty-one (804) is not clear. In 804, in order to gain a better understanding of the Mikkyo doctrine, he travelled to China where he studied under Hui Kuo (746-805) of the Ch’ing Lung temple, the highest authority on Shingon Mikkyo, in Ch’ang An, the T’ang capital, presently Hsi an. From Hui Kuo, Kobo Daishi learned of the doctrine of Kan Chieh (kongokai) and T’ai Ts’ang Chieh (Taizokai), doctrines which together constitute the core of Shingon Mikkyo.5 After the death of his master, Kobo Daishi returned to Japan i n 806 and received permission from Emperor Saga to spread the teaching of Shingon. He served as head priest at several temples, visited various parts of the country, and enthusiastically spread Shingon Mikkyo until his death in 835.

As well, he introduced new elements into Japanese society. Kobo Daishi developed the first dictionary to be used in Japan and in so doing enabled the Japanese to study Chinese writing. It is believed that he created the basic Ja panese phonetic syllables which are used today.6 In 825, Kobo Daishi established a school, Shugeishuchi-in, near To-ji in Kyoto and in so doing offered the common people the opportunity of education. Hasuo suggests the Kobo Daishi may also hav e been responsible for the introduction of several new materials and processes to Japan, namely, sumi, oil, tea, coal, brush writing, textile dyeing and the custom of bathing in hot springs.7

Shikoku being the birthplace of Kobo Daishi, it is reasonable that it was here that the pilgrimage to the various places associated with Kobo Daishi developed. Moreover, all the eighty-eight temples were established before 835, the year of his death. Yet, at least fifty of them also existed before 774, the year of his birth, and of the remaining thirty-seven for which information is available, eight were established before he went to China in 804. Only twenty-nine were establi shed between 806, the year he returned from China, and 835.

An examination of the honzon, the principal deity with which each temple is associated, reveals that at least 49 temples enshrine statues of deities sculptured by Kobo Daishi, thus suggesting a strong link between him and th e sacred places. Of the fifty temples established before his birth, eighteen today have honzon sculptured by him, as compared with all but four of the thirty-five temples established during his lifetime. Table II summarizes the preceding informat ion and shows which temples claim to have been established by Kobo Daishi and which claim to have been consecrated by him. Based on this data it may be argued that the historical records at least partially support the association of Kobo Daishi with t he eighty-eight sacred places.

These eighty-eight temples, however, were not the only temples on Shikoku during Kobo Daishi’s lifetime. There were at least 165 temples in all, of which 130 claim a strong association with Kobo Daishi,8 citing him as founder, consecrator, or sculptor of their honzon, or claiming association with his activities. By the beginning of the ninth century, there were many candidate sites for incorporation into the pilgrimage.



1.2 Origin of the Pilgrimage


In any discussion of the origin of the Shikoku pilgrimage, the initial difficulty lies in the determination of those criteria by which origin should be defined; that is, shall we consider that the pilgrimage originated when the first B uddhist priests travel to Shikoku for spiritual and physical training, or when the common people in considerable numbers began to visit the temples on Shikoku, or when the eighty-eight sacred places were specified as the places of the pilgrimage, or at so me other point in time altogether?


Even when the occurrence which is to be considered as the origin of the pilgrimage has been decided upon, it has so far remained impossible to determine the process through which the pilgrimage came into being. Its origin appears to have been the outcome of an accumulation of complex factors many of which require clarification not readily available through the existing historical records.

Priest Ezen, in Shikoku Henro Nikki written in 1653, suggested that Kobo Daishi visited the eighty-eight sacred places and in this way originated the pilgrimage. In the existing records left by Kobo Daishi, however, there appears to be no reference to a pilgrimage to the eighty-eight places although in Sango Shiiki written in 796, he does mention three places on Shikoku, Tairyu-san, Ishizuchi-san and Muroto-saki, where he went to train himself. In Konjaku Monog atari, edited by Minamoto in 1106-08, there is a reference to Kobo Daishi visiting Manno and reconstructing the irrigation pond there so it would seem that Kobo Daishi did visit certain places on Shikoku though not necessarily all those with which he has come to be associated.



1.3 Following in the Footsteps of Kobo Daishi


That it would have been possible to make a pilgrimage on Shikoku as early as the ninth

century is apparent from the earliest known map of Japan drawn by Priest Gyoki in 805 (Figure 3). This map shows that Shikoku, literally four provinces, was divided into four prefectures and that there was a road leading from Kyoto, th e capital of Japan at that time, across Awaji Island to Shikoku and around most of the island.

Priest Jakuhon, in Shikoku Henro Kudoku-ki, suggests that Shinzei, a follower of Kobo Daishi, may have been the first person to make the pilgrimage,9 visiting those places with which Kobo Daishi was believed to b e associated immediately after Kobo Daishi’s death in 835.

The validity of this suggestion is questioned by Maeda, though, as there is no reference in Shinzei’s biography to such a journey to Shikoku.10 Maeda also draws attention to Hasuo’s statement that the possible visit to Shikoku by Shinzei would have been of a personal nature and that of greater public significance and more likely to have been imitated would have been the probable journey to Shikoku by Shinnyo Shinno, a member of the Royal family, in 861. That Shinnyo Shinno did visit Shikoku is supported by the fact that his grave, constructed prior to his death, lies within the compound of Kiyotaki-ji (temple 35). Whether Shinnyo Shinno actually made a pilgrimage on Shikoku and visited the other sacred places beside s Kiyotaki-ji , however, is not definitely known.

Other theories concerning the origin of the pilgrimage suggest beginnings that have no association with Kobo Daishi. Konjaku Monogatari contains an account of three Buddhist priests who travelled along the difficult terrai n on the fringe of Shikoku11 but it does not relate this journey in any way with Kobo Daishi. A similar reference to priests travelling around the coast of Shikoku is found in Ryojin Hisho12 edited by tonsured Emperor Goshi rakawa (d.1158).

Other accounts suggest that one of the reasons that frequent pilgrimages were made to the south coast of Shikoku was that this area was considered to be close to Fudaraku Jodo or the “Pure Land” which was believed to lie to the south beyond the sea.


The Japanese term now used to refer to both the Shikoku pilgrimage and the Shikoku pilgrims is Shikoku Henro . It should be noted that the term henro is not used in connection with any other pilg rimage. Hen is usually interpreted as “to go around” and ro as “road”. Within the existing records, for example in the above mentioned Konjaku Monogatari and Ryojin Hisho, there is repeated reference to journe ying to the henchi , or hendo of Shikoku.13 Although the pronunciation is the same, the Chinese character for hen used in henchi and hendo is different from that presently used for hen in h enro and is interpreted as “fringe”. Chi and do both refer to place or area. Based on these early references to henchi and hendo and the present use of the term henro it is felt by many that there is a direc t relationship between the present pilgrimage and the early practice of travelling around the fringe of the island. Like pilgrimages elsewhere, the Shikoku pilgrimage has a “peripheral” character. .


1.4 Emergence of the Eighty-Eight Sites


When and how did the pilgrimage come to encompass the present eighty-eight places ? These questions were raised as early as the late seventeenth century by Priest Jakuhom in Shikoku Reijoki. The answers were not known then, nor are they now, although there has been considerable speculation. Priest Jakuhon provided descriptions of, ninety-two temples, without reference to assigned numbers.

The point at which the pilgrimage begins and at which pilgrims prepare themselves, mentally and physically, is of particular significance. In the seventeenth century, the pilgrimage began at Zentsu-ji, today temple 75. The majori ty of early pilgrims were probably Shingon Mikkyo Buddhist priests and, since Zentsu-ji is the birthplace of Kobo Daishi and therefore of great significance, it is reasonable to think that it would have been the initial starting point in the circuit.

Jakuhon does not associate numbers with the temple names.. These appeared some time after the end of the seventeenth century, probably when the pilgrimage gained popularity among people living on the main island. People of all c lasses of society — beggars, actors, royalty, priests, political figures, great teachers, and peasants — have always been present among the pilgrims. The pilgrimage attracted worshippers from all parts of Japan14 and from all sects of Budd hism.

Today the pilgrimage starts at Ryozen-ji, number one on the circuit and the first temple to be reached by pilgrims coming from central Japan via Awaji Island. As well, historical records suggest that pilgrims, primarily priests, m ay have started the pilgrimage by visiting Koya-san, the headquarters of the Shingon Mikkyo sect established by Kobo Daishi and the place where he died. The direct route from Koya- san, on Honshu, to Shikoku brings the pilgrims to a point close to Ryozen -ji. So it seems that the convenience of beginning the pilgrimage at Ryozen-ji, supported by the proximity of this temple to Koya-san and thus Kobo Daishi, gradually overruled the desirability of beginning at Kobo Daishi’s birthplace. Over the years, re peated practice of the pilgrimage starting at Ryozen-ji and continuing in a clockwise direction, reinforced by constant reference to this order in the pilgrim guide books and maps, may have consecrated the sequence.

Thus it could be said that from the early stage of its development, the Shikoku pilgrimage assumed a convenient circuit for the pilgrims. By the early eighteenth century, the total number of temples had become fixed at eighty-eight and each temple had been assigned a number in a clockwise order beginning with Ryozen-ji.



2 Elaboration of the Pilgrimage System


2.1 Formal Pilgrimage System


The exact process through which the eighty-eight temples were selected for inclusion in the pilgrimage is, at best, uncertain. What is known is that the number eighty-eight is richly endowed with meaning within the Buddhist tradition. Four and its multiples, especially eight, have long been considered important within Japanese Buddhist thought. Four ideas predominate regarding this significance.

The first relates to mandala, the Hindu term for circle. A mandala is a ritual geometric diagram, sometimes claiming to represent a specific divine attribute or some form of enchantment. As early as 1763 Hosoda suggested, on the first published pilgrim map, that the distribution of the eighty-eight sacred places over the four prefectures of Shikoku symbolized a fourfold mandala situated among ten worlds on each of the eight petals of the lotus altar and shining incessantly ove r the Buddhist world.15 The mandala was therefore surrounded by 80 temples. This leaves eight unaccounted for. But the suggestion was that to make the pilgrimage was to delve into the world of mandala.

Earlier still, in 1689, Jakuhon stated that the eighty-eight sacred places should be conceptualized as corresponding to the eighty-eight kenwaku, or illusions of the mind that distort the truth taught by Kobo Daishi.16 Visiting the temples eliminates the illusions one by one.

The third idea relates to the death of Buddha. It is believed that immediately after his death Buddha’s ashes were distributed among eight “countries” in India and eight memorial stupas were erected. It may be from this divisi on of the ashes that the number eight, and combinations of eight, came to have particular significance. Eighty-eight is not only a multiple of four and therefore sacred but also it is two eights together making a significant unit. Ashes from one or all of the eight Indian stupas are believed to be buried within the compound of each of the eighty-eight sacred places.17

As well, the eighty-eight sacred places may be thought to represent the sum of the thirty-five hotoke, or Buddha, who live in the present world and the fifty-three hotoke who live in the past world. To visit eig hty-eight sacred places is to pay homage to these eighty-eight Buddha and to receive their charity.18

Any or all of these ideas, together with the Buddhist belief that four and its multiples are sacred, may have rendered the number eighty-eight significant. In turn, the practice of maintaining the number of sacred places at eighty -eight has itself contributed to the significance and sacred character of this number. Its persistence over the years has given a strong collective identity to the eighty-eight temples, while reinforcing their special religious significance. Acting as a consistent binding force, it has contributed much to the integration of the Shikoku pilgrimage as a spatial and symbolic system.



2.2 Temple Grouping and Symbolic Representation


The distribution of the eighty-eight sacred places over Shikoku’s four prefectures has contributed to the concept of Shikoku as a Buddhist dojo or holy place of learning and practising The Way (Figure 4). Within this larger dojo, there are four smaller dojo, each serving a specific purpose reflected in its name (Table III). These four dojo correspond to Shikoku’s four “countries”, as they were traditionally called, or present day prefectures.

Within each dojo, one sacred place functions symbolically as a sekisho or, in this context, the spiritual checkpoint which sinners cannot pass. Their locations do not follow any particular rule with respect to their spatial relationship to other sacred places within the dojo, but, with the exception of the sekisho in the first dojo, the sekisho is one of the most difficult sacred places to reach within each dojo.

In addition to the four prefectural sekisho, there is the ura-sekisho, a fifth sekisho for the four dojo together. Located approximately halfway along the circular route from Ryozen-ji (temple 1), i t is the first sacred place pilgrims visit after crossing into the third dojo.

The traditional integrated spatial and symbolic organization of the eighty-eight sacred places is summarized schematically in Figure 4. Each temple occupies a prescribed position along the established circular pilgrim path. The s patial organization into four dojo is shown in the inner circle. Shown in the centre of the figure are Kobo Daishi and the 12 honzon with which the eighty-eight places are associated.

The process through which the concept of Shikoku as a Buddhist dojo emerged is obscure. More likely it was developed by Buddhist priests/scholars who wished to offer deeper and additional meaning to the pilgrimage.



2.3 Support System


As the pilgrimage increased in popularity the custom of settai developed. Local residents

along the pilgrim route endow pilgrims with gifts of food, money, accommodation and, sometimes, transportation. It is believed that such actions will not only help the pilgrims but will also bring merit to the offerers. This custom is still practised today and has expanded with the development of settai-ko. Settai-ko are voluntary groups of people who band together to provide settai on a large scale. They often come from outside Shikoku and may spend an ent ire pilgrimage season in a temple ministering to pilgrims, handing out food, towels, and sometimes money. Some settai-ko construct a separate building within the temple compound from which they can carry out their activities.

Though different in nature from settai, legends also support the Shikoku pilgrimage system. There are many legends associated with Kobo Daishi. For example, the legend that has grown up around Uemon Saburo has caused many to consider him to be the originator of the pilgrimage. It is recorded in the temple history of Ishide-ji(temple 51) that Uemon Saburo visited the eighty-eight sacred places twenty-one times as penance for his refusal to assist Kobo Daishi and the result ing death of his eight sons. In 831, on his twenty-second time around the island, Uemon Saburo died near Shosan-ji(temple 12) and his grave may still be seen there today. The graves of Uemon Saburo’s children, on the other hand, are located near Ishide- ji in Matsuyama city at the opposite end of the island from Shosan-ji. Thus the legend functions as a bond between these three sites to further strengthen their spatial interaction within the pilgrimage.




2.4 Landscape and Rituals


Through the examination of historical records and field investigation, it became evident that the positions of sacred places are not necessarily absolutely fixed. As far as can be determined, there are fourteen sacred places, the exact locations of which have changed since the mid-sixteenth century, the earliest time for which records exist. It may be argued, therefore, that the geographic setting of the sacred place is characterized not solely by the site as it exists unaltered by ma n, but rather primarily by the assemblage of landscape markers that have been invested with special meaning.

Each sacred place is a geographic complex encompassing a multiplicity of concrete “physical features”, both artificial and natural, each of which possesses a unique character, although when the eighty-eight sacred places are viewed collectively, their shared characteristics permit a categorization of the features into several representative types. Through the repeated observation of the sacred places it was possible to ascertain from among the numerous concrete physical features t hose which might best serve as the “observation units” in the conceptualization of the physical setting of the pilgrimage places. Thirty-six types of discrete features found within the precincts of the eighty-eight places today are shown in the order of t heir frequency of occurrence in Table IV.

Records of the earliest temple landscapes are sparse. The first surviving comprehensive description of the eighty-eight pilgrimage sites is contained in Jakuhon’s aforementioned Shikoku Henro Reijoki published in 16 89. Here Jakuhon’s written description of each sacred place is supported by detailed sketches showing the landscape features of each site. From Jakuhon’s data it has been possible to reconstruct the seventeenth century landscape. The reconstructed seven teenth century landscape model is shown in Figure 5.

One of the significant aspects of the places of pilgrimage is that they are the focal points of various ritual activities performed by countless pilgrims. Such pilgrim ritual is rooted in Buddhist teaching and has been tempered by Japanese cultural tradition. The nature of the pilgrim rituals repeatedly linked to specific physical features is summarized in Table V. In this table the ritual units, that is discrete sets of pilgrim activities associated with the dominant physical f eatures, are listed in the order in which they ideally occur. From repeated observations of the pilgrim ritual, discussions with pilgrim leaders and priests, and the examination of published pilgrim guide books, various aspects of pilgrim behaviour could be selected, fused, and simplified to facilitate a construction of this traditional ideal order.



3 Transformation


3.1 Sub-pilgrimages and Miniature Pilgrimages


To make the pilgrimage to the eighty-eight sacred places in the traditional manner, on foot, required about sixty days, or longer for the sick and crippled who visited the sacred places hoping to be cured of their afflictions. A pilgri mage of two months’ duration after possibly travelling to Shikoku from other parts of Japan was, for many, a difficult task. Personal considerations of finances and time were barriers to participation in the pilgrimage, as were political constraints duri ng the Edo period when free movement from one prefecture to another was hindered. Perhaps it was in response to these difficulties that sub-pilgrimages to parts of the eighty-eight sacred places and miniature pilgrimages elsewhere copied after the Shik oku pilgrimage were developed.

A division of Shikoku’s eighty-eight sacred places into distinct sub-groups gradually evolved. At least twelve such groups of temples are clearly indicated by special names that have been assigned to them. Eight of these , includ ing anywhere from five to seventeen temples each, may be regarded as foci of ” local” pilgrimages, since they primarily attract Shikoku residents. Each of the remaining four groups encompasses all of the temples in one of Shikoku’s four prefect ures. It is common for pilgrims to call at all of the temples in just one prefecture, returning to Shikoku several times until all four prefectures have been visited. Thus, through the division of the eighty-eight sacred places into smaller groups, pilg rims have been permitted to make the pilgrimage in convenient segments. With the completion of each segment, certain religious merit is believed to have been attained, and when all segments of the pilgrimage have been completed the religious merit is alm ost equal to that gained when the pilgrimage is made all at once. The relationships between the Shikoku pilgrimage and sub-pilgrimages are shown in Figure 6.

The emergence, elsewhere in Japan, of miniature pilgrimages patterned on the Shikoku model provided another means of facilitating pilgrimage participation. Of at least forty-one such miniature pilgrimages19 establis hed outside Shikoku, many are still undertaken today (Figure 7). A more detailed comparison between Shikoku and three of the imitative pilgrimages, Shodo, Chita, and Sasaguri, is provided in Table VI. All contain eighty-eight sacred places and all share the belief that soil from each of the original places was brought to and embedded in its counterpart in the miniature pilgrimage. They also tend to cover a shorter distance, although there is considerable variation in circuit length; some, if made on fo ot, take two weeks to complete, while others can be made in one day.

Each of the imitative pilgrimages had an enthusiastic local initiator who travelled to Shikoku and the regions in which they occur are each believed to have been visited by Kobo Daishi. Like the original pilgrimage sites, the mini ature pilgrimage places are circular in arrangement, although the assigned temple numbers do not always conform to the sequential-spatial order of the sites. While the eighty-eight places of Shikoku are each marked by a temple complex which consists of a variety of structures, the miniature pilgrimage sites are marked by smaller structures with limited variety, or, in some cases, by natural features, such as caves or waterfalls. Each pilgrimage site, whether original or imitative, has an association wit h Kobo Daishi and one or more Buddhist deities. In the miniature pilgrimages, however, the association with Buddhist deities differs from the Shikoku model with regard to the range and frequency of occurrence of images enshrined. In the Shodo pilgrimage, for example. variations among the deities are particularly great, with a number of Shinto deities included. When a new miniature pilgrimage is inaugurated it is with considerable ceremony.

In addition to these twenty miniature pilgrimages, the sacred places of which are primarily marked by temples, there are throughout Japan, including Shikoku, numerous miniature pilgrimages of a much smaller scale. In these, the eighty-eight sacred places are represented by a set of stone markers each of which has carved on it the name of one temple and the figure of the chief deity of that temple. Very often these stone markers stand side by side in a row, although sometimes t hey are spread over a more extensive area. Often these markers stand within a temple compound and can be visited in a matter of minutes. They particularly attract the local residents of the area. These miniature pilgrimages have been instigated by the he ad priest of the temple in which the markers are found, either at his initiative or in response to congregational demand.

Miniature pilgrimages and sub-pilgrimages have been established for the convenience of those who wish to make the pilgrimage but find it difficult to visit all of the eighty-eight Shikoku places.. The opportunity provided for symbolic and/or partial participation in the Shikoku pilgrimage affords the participants at least some religious merit. Such pilgrimages also possibly stimulate the desire to make the so-called Hon-Shikoku, or “Real Shikoku”, pilgrimage at a la ter date so as to attain further religious merit. Thus, miniature pilgrimages and sub-pilgrimages are integral parts of the spatial and symbolic Shikoku pilgrimage



3.2 Contemporary Adjustment


The circular arrangement of the temples makes it possible for the pilgrimage to be initiated at any desired point. The emerging contemporary trend is for pilgrims to begin their journeys at the most readily accessible temple. Two of the three recently planned bridges linking Shikoku to Honshu have been completed. The first, opened in 1987, was the Naruto automobile bridge connecting Sumoto on Awaji Island and Naruto in Shikoku. Its completion had little impact on the pattern of pil grim circulation, as pilgrims using it continued to arrive on Shikoku at a point close to temple number one. The second, the Seto Bridge, opened 1988, is an automobile and railway bridge connecting Kojima on the mainland and Sakaide on Shikoku. It bring s pilgrims close to Zentsu-ji(temple 75), the birth place of Kobo Daishi. The third bridge is scheduled for completion in the late nineties and will link Onomichi on the mainland with Imabari on Shikoku, bringing pilgrims close to Nanko-bo (temple 53) on arrival on the island. This bridge, like the Seto Bridge, is expected to bring about a change in the origination point for many pilgrims.

Modern modes of transportation have affected pilgrimages everywhere by continually expanding their catchment areas and by making participation easier. Although the Shikoku pilgrimage is traditionally made on foot, it has been af fected by modern modes of transport. In the 1920s, some pilgrims began to use horse-drawn wagons, and in the 1940s it became common to make the pilgrimage using local rail facilities. Today, the most common form of transport is a chartered bus. Chartere d bus companies offer pilgrims all-inclusive packages with transportation, accommodation and meals included in the price. Under the direction of a pilgrim leader, the pilgrimage is usually completed within two weeks Pilgrims also travel by taxi, privat e car, bicycle, and motorcycle, with the result that the required time to complete the pilgrimage has been reduced from two months to about two weeks. With that has also come a reduction in the overall cost of accommodation until, today, to make the pilg rimage on foot is likely the most extensive way. Furthermore, the savings in time and cost have increased the frequency with which the pilgrimage may be made by any one participant, thus increasing the opportunity for the pilgrim to accumulate religious merit. Yet most pilgrims still seem to consider that the traditional practice of journeying on foot to the sacred places yields the greatest religious merit.

Until 1973, one temple in each prefecture was accessible only by foot. Since then paved roads, and in one instance a cable car, have been built into these temples. But, if time permits, many pilgrims travelling by chartered bus re quest that the bus park at some distance from the temple so that they may approach it on foot and thus participate at least symbolically in the walking pilgrimage.

Visiting the eighty-eight sacred places in sequence in a clockwise direction, following the route believed to have been designated by Kobo Daishi, gave rise to the term junrei- literally, “sequentially ordered visit”. Ma ny pilgrims believe that Kobo Daishi made the pilgrimage in a clockwise direction, and that they are following in his footsteps. But visiting the eighty-eight places in sequence in a counter-clockwise direction is not prohibited, and is done occasionally often by pilgrims who believe that, by travelling in the opposite direction, they will meet Kobo Daishi coming towards them. As more and more pilgrims use some form of transportation, fewer and fewer follow the prescribed sequence exactly. Because it was originally designed for the walking pilgrimage, it is not always well suited to vehicular travel, and access to some temples from the preceding temple in the sequence does not always make good sense ‘economically”. These changes are relatively minor though, occurring only within small groups of temples in each prefecture. Prefectural boundaries are never crossed out of sequence, no matter how the order of sacred places is altered, and the overall clockwise direction of the pilgrimage remains. Despite the minor changes, the established spatial symbolic organization of the eighty-eight sacred places is still essentially intact.



3.3 Ritual Variations


Today pilgrims have only a short time to spend at each temple if the pilgrimage is to be completed in the time available. In order to complete the ritual activity at each temple as quickly as possible, contemporary pilgrims often abbre viate the rituals, even the most important ones.

Chanting in front of the hondo and daishido is considered to be central to the ritual. The chant begins with the Hannya-haramita-shingyo commonly known as Hannya-shingyo. This is a compendium of Buddhi st teachings in 262 characters. To chant the 262 characters is to chant the Buddhist scripture. This is followed by Honzon no Shingon or the true words of the honzon. Shingon proclaims the greatness of the Buddha, and as this great ness cannot be expressed through

human language, shingon is actually a set of sounds, not words. The particular shingon chanted at each temple depends upon thee type of honzon enshrined therein.. The final part of the chant is “Namudaishi-henjo-kongo“, words dedicated to Kobo Daishi. These words, like the shingon, are repeated three times. In order to minimize the time spent chanting, pilgrims mumble the words at top speed, sometimes omitting entire se ctions. In the most extreme case s pilgrims merely glance at the hondo and/or daishido, bow in its general direction, and hurry to receive the temple stamp, omitting most other ritual activity.

The hoin or temple seal was given originally in exchange for handwritten okyo (Buddhist scripture), but now pilgrims pay a prescribed sum and get the seal which signifies that the pilgrim has visited the temple. This is very impo rtant to most of the pilgrims and not a step to be missed. As pilgrims enter the temple compound, they often observe the nokyosho (place where the temple stamp is given), and if it is not crowded, will go there immediately. Busloads of pilgrims e ntrust their stamp books to the drivers and/or someone employed especially for the purpose who will take them to the nokyosho and wait while they are stamped. Some of these individuals even take part in administering the stamp. In the meantime th e pilgrims proceed with other ritual activities. In the height of the pilgrim season in spring and fall the nokyosho is very crowded and stamping is seldom completed in the time it takes pilgrims to complete the rituals. At these times it is not uncommon for the stamp books to be driven around the island in a separate vehicle and the stamps to be collected independently of the pilgrims’ visits. Such activities as these have brought about considerable variation for the traditional, ideal pilgrim age ritual process.



3.4 Management of Sacred Places


Pilgrim places, like any other places, do not just “happen” and/or “exist”. They are centres of meaning and the focus of human endeavour to foster their special significance. Just how are sacred places maintained ? The temple land scape is an expression of the priests’ intentions, managerial abilities, and the accommodation of pilgrims’ needs. Tasks involved in the management of the pilgrim places became apparent through repeated visits to the sacred places and conversation with priests (Table VII).

Proper maintenance of the temple landscape today, as in the past, is an important issue facing priest managers concerned with the continuing existence of pilgrimage. The tasks and nature of decision making with regard to site m aintenance are diverse and complex. Although priorities among the tasks may vary from temple to temple and from year to year, some of the tasks require particular effort on the part of the priests.

Construction and maintenance of the structures is one of the major concerns. Today many temples are facing major new construction and reconstruction needs. It is up to the priests to identify those features which should be repla ced and/or added to the compound, and to set priorities within the financial limitations of the temple.

The central argument with regard to this particular issue often revolves around the decision concerning building materials. The tradition of temple architecture which has developed over the centuries has given rise to a “prescribe d” correspondence between the function and form of the structures. Ideally, therefore, buildings should be constructed to closely resemble the “original”. However, there are problems in realizing this ideal. Materials traditionally used in temple cons truction such as zelkova wood (keyaki) and Japanese cypress (hinoki) are becoming scarce and expensive ; carpenters skilled in temple craftsmanship have almost disappeared. With regard to this primary area, three courses of action present themselves: construct the structure of wood; build only a wood facade with the remainder of the structure being concrete; construct the structure entirely of concrete.

Priests favouring structures made of wood maintain that the prevailing atmosphere of the temple must be one in which the worshipper can communicate with the sacred beings. Compared to wood which creates a soft, warm and authenti c atmosphere, concrete buildings, some priests feel , are bleak and without comfort, tending to shut off the human mind. On the other hand, those who have used concrete point out virtues of its durability, fire resistance, lower cost, and lower maintena nce. Those priests who favour building with concrete emphasize the economic factor while priests who choose all wooden structures emphasize authenticity. Priests who seek a compromised position do not escape the problems. Here the main concern is the s uccessful integration of the two materials, physically and aesthetically.


Regardless of the building materials chosen, the quality of the structures depends directly upon the priests’ ability to generate funds. The priests’ intentions and managerial abilities will no doubt be reflected in the building v arieties, forms and materials, and will thus affect the total temple landscape.

The financing of building and reconstruction projects is an ongoing concern. There are three primary sources of revenue available. The first is the temple congregation, the size and affluence of which varies. About one third of the eighty-eight temples do not have a local congregation. Pilgrim contributions are another important source of funds. At many temples a pilgrim donating a specified sum receives a tile on which to write his/her name. The tile is then used in the bu ilding project. Third source of revenue is the national and/or prefectural government. This funding is only available, however, to those temples at which particular building have been designated “Important Cultural Assets” or ” National Treasures”. If a particular statuary is so designated, government funding is also available for the upkeep of the building in which it is housed. If, however, the hondo (main building) no longer provides the honzon (principal image) with the protection it requires, government funding is available for the construction of a concrete, climate-and security-controlled storehouse for the statue but not necessarily for the construction of a new hondo , a very expensive undertaking.

Priests must also concern themselves with the security (primarily against fire and theft) of the temple buildings. The majority of these are wooden structures. The presence of koro (insence burners) and rosokutate ( candle stands) essential to pilgrimage ritual, close to the hondo and the daishido greatly increases the possibility of fire. A contemporary countermeasure to this hazard

has been to move the koro and rosokutate away from the buildings and, in the latter, to use only modern metal ones designed to contain the fire.

A watchful observation of the main buildings from the priest’s residence is seldom possible due to the mountain location of most of the temples, reducing the chances of early detection of fire. Some wealthy temples are now equippe d with smoke detectors and infra-red flame sensors which can identify fire from outside the buildings. Early detection of fire is critical, especially in the case of the twenty-four temples whose mountain top locations make the accessibility to fire-figh ting equipment difficult if not impossible. At these temples particularly the effective use of water and/or fire extinguishers is essential.

Theft of offerings occurs occasionally but is minimized by more frequent emptying of the offering depositories. Stealing of temple property is controlled by tighter surveillance. Usually this means increased observation of visit ors by priests and temple employees. But at some temples hidden security cameras and infra-red sensors have been added recently to further reduce the risk of theft.

With the increasing number of pilgrims, problems related to “mundane” aspects of the pilgrimage multiply. Priests must concern themselves with such things as the provision and maintenance of parking, toilet, and garbage facilities , not to mention the daily upkeep of the grounds: raking, sweeping, watering, pruning. Beyond the temple boundaries they must concern themselves with the upkeep of the traditional pilgrim walking path leading to the temple including the maintenance of tr aditional and contemporary route markers. Recently, there has been an effort on the part of the Japanese government to preserve historical pathways throughout Japan. On Shikoku, these pathways are primarily those of the original pilgrimage route. The in flux of government funds for route maintenance has helped to relieve the financial burden of the upkeep of the traditional walking path.

The eighty-eight pilgrim places share many of the same problems. Their priests are members of Shikoku Reijo-kai, an association of Shikoku sacred places. Three or four times a year they meet in their prefectural groups an d once yearly in a single gathering to discuss common problems and concerns. These may include the setting of accommodation and temple stamp fees and the timing of increases, the process of pilgrim leader nomination and recognition, and appropriate templ e landscape changes. In addition, priests and pilgrim leaders meet annually at the birthplace of Kobo Daishi to exchange ideas and information with respect to new regulations, financial concerns and matters related to pilgrim ritual. Regular and special meetings, often including temple congregations, are held as required to discuss matters related to the role and the function of the temples with respect to immediate local issues.

Detailed information about the internal operation of Shikoku Reijo-kai and the various meetings in which the priests participate is not readily available, but I have been able to ascertain from casual conversation with a nu mber of priests over several years that there are diverse opinions on many aspects of pilgrimage system maintenance. Despite this, consensus is often reached and the association and meetings help to guide priests toward effective management of the sacred places.





Pilgrimage is an inherently dynamic entity: pilgrimage sites emerge and decline and the spatial pattern of pilgrimage and ritual activities at specific locations change over time. That some of the world’s age-old pilgrimages have sur vived and are apparently serving an important function is due in part to the fact that they have been able to accommodate those changes, while not divorcing themselves from tradition.

Focussing on a representative multiple site Buddhist pilgrimage in Japan, this paper has identified the changing nature of the Shikoku pilgrimage. The evolution of this complex pilgrimage system was examined in terms of the se lf-organizing “mechanisms” that have developed over the centuries in response to individual and cultural forces. Exploration of compromise in the conflict between religious merit and convenience through the examination of the roles played by pilgrims, pilgrim leaders, priests, area residents and transportation providers reveals the underlying strength of the ongoing popularity of this pilgrimage and the complex nature of the self-organizing system that has evolved over the last three centuries. The n ature, intensity, and focus of the roles played by those individuals and institutions central to the foundations and practice of the pilgrimage have shaped the direction and texture of the evolution of this open pilgrimage system.

The Shikoku pilgrimage has witnessed dynamic change in spatial setting, temple landscapes and pilgrim ritual and movement. Despite the increasing secularization of Japanese society, the popularity of the Shikoku pilgrimage show s no signs of waning. Changes are ongoing to accommodate the modern pilgrim and his/her fast-paced, affluent lifestyle. The most recent innovation in mode of pilgrim transport, for example, came in 1998 with the advent of charter helicopters for “flyi ng visits” to the sacred sites. This development may play an important role in the future in offering members of Japan’s rapidly aging society yet another alternative in

pilgrimage travel.


Notes and References



1 A.S. Geden, “Pilgrimage (Buddhist),” Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, 10 (New York: Scribner, 1918), p.13.

2 See J.M. Kitagawa, “Three types of pilgrimage in Japan,” in E.E. Urbach et al. (Eds.), Studies in Mysticism and Religion (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1967), pp. 155-64.

3 Ninsho Miyazaki, Henro: Sono Kokoro to Rekishi (Tokyo: Shogakkan, 1974), pp. 12-13.

4 Kobo Daishi travelled to China on the Kento-sen, a Japanese ship used expressly for the purpose of sending Japanese literati to Tang’s China to become acquainted with the “higher culture”.

5 For further discussion of the Mikkyo doctrine, see Joseph M. Kitagawa, “Master and Saviour”, Studies of Esoteric Buddhism and Tantrism. In Commemoration of the 1,150 Anniversary of the Founding of Koyasan (Koyasan: Koyasan University, 1965), pp. 100-03.

6 There is a controversy over who, in fact, did develop the Japanese syllabary.

Shotoku Taishi, Dengyo Daishi, Soga no Umako, Sadaijin Fuyutsugu and Tachibana no Hayanari are each believed by some to have been the originator; however, the majority of Japanese credit Kobo Dai shi with its creation.

7 Kanzen Hasuo, Kobo Daishi-den (Koyasan: Kongobu-ji, 1931), pp 575-89.

8 This is indicated in temple records and in Y. Hori (ed). Dai-nihon Jiin Soran (Gazetteer of Buddhist Temples in Japan) (Tokyo: Meicho Kankokai, 1966).

9 Jukuhon, Shikoku Henro Reijo-ki (1690), II, p. 10, reprinted in Shikoku Reijo-ki-shu, ed. by Yoshihiro Kondo ( Tokyo: Benseisha, 1973), p. 436.

10 Taku Maeda, Junrei no Shakaigaku (Kyoto: Mineruba Shobo, 1972), p. 28.

11 Takakuni Minamoto, ed. Konjaku Monogatari (1106-08), section 14, reprinted in Konjaku Monogatari, ed. by Tokichi Nagano (Tokyo: Asahi Shimbunsha, 1956).

12 Goshirakawa Tenno, ed., Ryojin Hisho (1171), Section 33, reprinted in Ryojin Hisho-ko, ed. by Junichi Konishi (Tokyo: Sanseido, 1941).

13 For a discussion of the terms Henchi and henro in relation to the Shikoku pilgrimage see Kondo, Shikoku Henro, pp. 26-42.

14 Those who have made the pilgrimage range from beggars and lepers to Kabuki actors, famous painters and priests, the Prime Minister and members of the Imperial family. At present males and females visit Shikoku in approximately equal numbers and range in age from one year to over 90 although the largest percentage (25%) would appear to be between 60 and 69 judging from an Examination of 879 ofuda (calling cards).

15 S. Hosoda, “Shikoku Henrei Ezu”, Monumenta Cartegraphica Japonica (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1972).

16 Jakuhon, pp. 438-39.

17 Kanzen Hasuo, p.350.

18 Bukkyo Daijii, ed. by Ryukoku University (Tokyo: Fuzando, 1937), p. 1772.

19 Tsunezo Shinjo, Shaji Sankei no Shakai Keizaishi-teki Kenkyu (Tokyo: Hanawa Shobo, 1964), pp. 811-12.


~ by James Myoe on November 15, 2007.

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