Across a Sacred Temple Route In the Footsteps of Kobo Daishi

Overview

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, the most revered figure in Japanese Buddhism. We’ve selected the most beautiful temples—and hikes—to create our own unique journey across this legendary isle. Arriving in Shikoku by boat, the way pilgrims did in centuries past, we’ll hike 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, including meeting fellow pilgrims, relaxing in the thousand-year-old Dogo Onsen (hot spring), and staying overnight in a temple with a magical atmosphere.

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-4
Osaka / Koyasan Monastery / Temple Hikes

At the Koyasan Monastery where Kobo Daishi is buried, pilgrims traditionally come to ask for his “support” before starting their hikes and we’ll do the same. After getting our pilgrim’s passport (to be stamped at each temple), we boat to Shikoku and begin our pilgrimage at Ryozen-ji, the first temple on the circuit. We also visit Kakurin-ji, a mountain temple 1,500 feet above the sea, and a special temple where pilgrims touch an ancient tree said to have been planted by Kobo Daishi.

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Days 5-10
Iya Valley / Kochi / Matsuyama / Dogo Onsen

In the Iya Valley, whose high peaks and deep gorges made it a safe haven for the Heike Clan during the civil wars of the 12th century, we hike up sacred Tsurugi-san (6,412'). We also visit the famed Taga-jinja fertility shrine, hike to cliff-perched Iwaya-ji Temple, and enjoy seaside Kochi. In Matsuyama, we visit its feudal-era castle and soak in Dogo Onsen hot springs, one of the oldest public bath houses in Japan, dating back a thousand years.

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Days 11-13
Kompira-san / Okubo-ji / Awaji Island / Osaka

We visit Zentsu-ji Temple, where Kobo Daishi was born, walk through an underground tunnel that pilgrims must “feel” their way through, then climb the 1,368 steps to the Shinto shrines of Kompira-san, dedicated to sailors and seafarers. Our final stop is Okubo-ji, or Temple 88, the last temple on the pilgrimage trail, known as the Temple of the Completion of the Vow. The stone in front of this temple is said to be where Kobo Daishi left his walking staff. After an overnight on Awaji Island, known in Japanese folklore as the birthplace of Japan, we depart on Day 13 via Osaka.

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Highlights

Highlights

Hike pilgrim paths to the legendary temples of Shikoku
Explore the traditional Iya Valley, with its thatched houses and vine bridges
Meet pilgrims and hikers, sample Shikoku’s delicious fresh seafood
Visit atmospheric Matsuyama-jo, a feudal castle completed in 1627 and still in its original state

Details

Length: 13 days
Cost From: $7395  
Arrive: Osaka, Japan
Depart: Osaka, Japan
Lodging: 11 nights hotels, inns, and ryokans, 1 night temple lodging
Meals: All meals included except 1 dinner
Activity: Cultural Adventures, Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level:

Easy to moderate hikes, 2-5 hours a day on hiking days, walking tours, many temple stairs