Wandering on Shikoku, a pilgrimage-centric island

Presuming you have loads of free time, that is. So if you’ve recently lost your job or have large amounts of free time for some other reason, such as laziness, now is the time for you to go on pilgrimage. Hit the road Jack, and don’t you come back for five or six weeks.

Pilgrimage, perhaps Japan’s first form of travel, is a chance to reconnect with those fundamental Japanese values of yore — simplicity, austerity and nature (or if you prefer, hiking, camping and insects). It’s about detachment: leaving behind the Japan of shopping malls, Kobe beef and, egads, Disney!

Having just come back from four days of wandering 78 km of the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage myself, I was reminded how important this particular pilgrimage is to the Japanese. I encountered 10 other walking pilgrims who ranged in age from 28 to 70. They were from Tokyo, Nara and Shikoku itself. They were solo pilgrims, couples, friends and even a father and son team walking together. Far from being strictly a religious undertaking, many people were doing it because, with a tradition of over a thousand years, it’s on many people’s list of things to do before they die.

The walking pilgrim needs five to six weeks to complete the 1,440 km pilgrimage, in which he or she will walk the entire island of Shikoku, from rice fields to mountains to long stretches of surfing beaches, visiting sacred sites along the way (unfortunately, none of them related to surfing).

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