For 1,200 years, o-henro-san (pilgrims) have walked the 88-temple pilgrimage route across Shikoku Island, following in the footsteps of the great 8th century Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi. We’ve selected the most beautiful temples—and hikes—to create a captivating journey across this legendary isle. You’ll follow trails between venerated temples, climb one of Shikoku’s highest peaks, and discover the remote Iya Valley, a vestige of old Japan with its kazura-bashi (vine bridges) and 300-year-old thatched farmhouses. Cultural adventures abound as well, from a soak in the thousand-year-old Dogo Onsen (hot spring) to stays at a temple lodging and a family-run ryokan in the mountains.
Osaka / Koyasan Monastery / Temple Hikes
Our journey begins at historic Koyasan, the monastery where Kobo Daishi is buried. Pilgrims traditionally come here to ask for his “support” before starting their hikes and we’ll do the same. After getting our pilgrim’s “passport” (at each temple we get a red lacquer stamp), we head to Shikoku by boat, the time-honored way, to begin our pilgrimage at Ryozen-ji, the first temple on the pilgrim circuit. On these initial days of our journey, we’ll visit a temple where pilgrims touch a tree supposedly planted by Kobo Daishi, in the hope for a long life, and Kakurin-ji, a mountain temple set 1,500 feet above the sea.
Iya Valley / Matsuyama / Dogo Onsen
In the Iya Valley, with its high peaks and deep gorges, our hike brings you up sacred Tsurugi-san (6,412'), a peak shrouded in mystery and legend. After a visit to the famed Taga-jinja Fertility Shrine, hike to Iwaya-ji Temple, perched on a cliffside above the valley floor. In Matsuyama, explore Matsuyama-jo, a castle with bird’s-eye views of the Seto Inland Sea, and soak in Matsuyama’s ancient Dogo Onsen hot springs.
At Zentsu-ji Temple, where Kobo Daishi was born, you’ll walk through an underground tunnel that pilgrims must “feel” their way through, then climb the 1,368 steps to the shrines of Kompira-san. Our final stop is Okubo-ji, the last temple on the pilgrimage trail, with an overnight on Awaji Island, the legendary place where Japan was formed from a drop of saltwater from the spear of a god. Depart on Day 11 via Osaka.