Japan: Shikoku Temple Trail Pilgrimage
14 days / Guided walking
Koyasan to Okayama
Shikoku Temple Trail Pilgrimage
Spend two weeks following in the footsteps of Japan’s Kobo Daishi, the monk who brought Buddhism to Japan. Taking in sections of the famous Shikoku Temple Trail Pilgrimage, this walk combines Japan’s breathtaking natural scenery, traditional hospitality and unforgettable food into one transformative experience.
14 days/105 kms
Koyasan to Okayama
PRICE P/P TWIN SHARE
From YEN 525,000
Despite being just a short hop from Osaka, the island of Shikoku remains relatively isolated and unfrequented by travellers. This makes it the perfect place for a pilgrimage, and for many Japanese, completing the Shikoku Pilgrimage of 88 Sacred Temples is a dearly held ambition. The circular route follows in the footsteps of Japan’s greatest monk, Kobo Daishi, who founded Shingon Buddhism and subsequently returned to his home country after studying in China.
This journey will see pilgrims wandering through rural Japan on both paved paths and forest trails, visiting 28 of the 88 magnificent temples. Shikoku is an island of immense naturalbeauty and warm hospitality, rewarding those travellers that make the effort to explore its history, culture and landscapes. Food is a highlight, from the freshest sushi and sashimi to tasty tempura, and you’ll no doubt encounter other pilgrims, or ‘Henros’, making the journey wearing the traditional white robes, and sedge woven hats, while carrying a pilgrim’s staff.
Before crossing to Shikoku by ferry, we’ll spend two nights in the secluded town of Koyasan. This town is of great spiritual significance, being both the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism and the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. Once arriving on Shikoku Island, we’ll base ourselves in different prefectures to explore a variety of temples and unforgettable landscapes across the island.
Day 1 | Arrive in Koyasan
The temples of Koyasan form a small, religious town on a wooded mountain named Mount Koya, which rises to 1000 metres above sea level. The closest major city is Osaka, from where travellers can catch a train to Koyasan. Mount Koya’s most sacred site is Okunoin, a cemetery that contains the remains of warlords, celebrities, samurai, shoguns, high priests, businessmen and artists. Other points of interest include the magnificent Great Pagoda and various Buddhist temples. Your first night temple stay will include your flavoursome welcome dinner prepared and served by the residential monks, enjoy a sake with your meal if you wish.
Day 2 | Koyasan
Our morning begins with a fire ceremony, a ritual to show daily appreciation to Buddhist saints and those loved ones who have passed away. Although attendance is optional, this unique formality is confined to temples, and is a feature of your stay.
The town of Koyasan is centred around Danjo Garan – a Sacred Temple and training centre – which is considered the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism. It’s said that Kobo Daishi, a Japanese monk, returned from his Buddhist studies in China but didn’t know where to set up his school. He threw his trident for guidance and it flew across the ocean and landed in a pine tree on Mount Koya. Here, Buddhist disciples have studied for centuries under the watchful eye of the surrounding mountain peaks, and the tree which is said to have been hit by Kobo Daishi’s trident still stands in front of the Great Portrait Hall.
Day 3 | Koyasan – Tokushima
Transfer by ferry from Koyasan to the city of Tokushima, which is located on Shikoku Island. The 10th-largest city in Japan, Tokushima was founded in 1889 though a large portion of its urban area was destroyed in WWII by US bombers. Here, pilgrims will visit the Ryozen-ji Temple – Temple 1 – which is set in a serene garden with statues carved by Kobo Daishi. The temple also sells the traditional uniform of Shikoku pilgrims, or ‘henros’, including the white robes, woven hats and walking sticks.
Day 4 | Pilgrimage from Tokushima | 15 km / 5 hours
Begin the day with a transfer to Anraku-ji Temple (Temple 6), which is the site of an ancient hot spring. Here, you’ll commence your walk through small, rural villages along generally flat terrain. Visit Juraku-ji (Temple 7), with the 300-year-old ‘parent and child’ pine, as well as Kumatani-ji (Temple 8), which has a gate that’s considered the finest of all 88 temples.
From here, you’ll continue to Horin-ji (Temple 9), which has the pilgrimage’s only reclining Buddha state – carved by Kobo Daishi – and, finally, Kirihata-ji (Temple 10), with 330 steps leading up to the main hall. A private transfer will be arranged from Kirihata-ji to your accommodation for the evening, followed by a stroll to a local restaurant for another food highlight.
Day 5 | Tokushima Prefecture | 10 km / 3 hours
Today’s walk is mainly flat and follows paved paths. We begin with a visit to Ido-ji (Temple 17) and its seven Medical Buddha statues. Then, it’s off to the Soto Zen Buddhist Kanon-ji (Temple 16), Kokubun-ji (Temple 15) and Joraku-ji (Temple 14), which has one of the pilgrimages most unusual courtyards, built on an uneven rock bed. The last temple of the day is Dainichi-ji (Temple 13), a relatively modern temple constructed in the Meiji Period.
Day 6 | Tokushima Prefecture | 12 km / 4 hours
After a private transfer from Dainichi-ji, tackle a short, uphill walk through the forest to Kakurin-ji (Temple 20). This is the Crane Forest Temple, with the crane being a symbol of longevity and good fortune. From here, descend to a small, rural hamlet before climbing once more to Tairyu-ji (Temple 21), which boasts spectacular views over the cedar forest.
Day 7 | Kagawa Prefecture | 17 km / 5–6 hours
Today we will transfer by train from Tokushima to Kagawa and walk to Neogoro-ji (Temple 82) then Shrimine-ji (Temple 81), a complex with some of the oldest buildings on the pilgrimage. These two temples exist on a plateau called Goshiki Dai (the Plateau of Five Colours), which hangs over the Seto Inland Sea. It’s surrounded by five peaks – Konomine (Crimson Peak), Kinomine (Yellow Peak), Kuromine (Black Peak), Aomine (Blue Peak) and Shiramine (White Peak) – which represent the five forms of the Cosmic Buddha and are said to have been named by Kobo Daishi. The views are absolutely stunning. From Goshiki Dai, we’ll continue to Kokubun-ji (Temple 80), which is home to the largest statue on the Shikoku trail, with 11 faces and 42 arms.
Day 8 | Rest day in Kagawa
Enjoy a full rest day in the Kagawa Prefecture to rest your legs, perhaps taking some time to explore Kotohira Spa and its restorative hot springs. Visit Konpira-dai-gongen, a Shinto shrine located halfway up Mount Zozu, or take a trip to the Konpira Grand Theatre, which is the oldest original Kabuki theatre in all of Japan. There’s plenty of tasty local food to keep you satiated too, with udon noodles being a staple of Kagawa as well as seafood from the inland sea.
Day 9 | Transfer to Ehime Prefecture
Situated in the north-western part of Shikoku, Ehime translates as ‘lovely princess’. The area is renowned for its natural beauty while the climate is warm, mild and perfect for walking. Surrounded by the Seto Inland Sea and the Shikoku mountains – including Mount Ishizuchi, the highest peak in Western Japan – Ehime has a unique history and culture as well as a tradition of incredible hospitality. Its capital, Matsuyama, is the largest on Shikoku and known for its wonderful castle as well as Dogo Onsen, one of the most famous hot springs in the country and a frequent destination for Japan’s Imperial Family.
Day 10 | Ehime | 12 km / 4 hours
A private transfer will bring you to Iwaya-ji (Temple 45), which is closely linked to Kobo Daishi. You can visit his meditation spot, which has stunning views of the surrounding region, before walking along mountain trails through serene forests to Daijo-ji (Temple 44), nestled in a quiet cedar forest.
Day 11 | Ehime | 14 km / 4–5 hours
Take a private transfer this morning to Joruri-ji (Temple 46), where there is a stone image of the Buddha’s footprints. If you stand on it with your bare feet, it’s said that any pain in your feet will disappear – well worth a try if those muscles are beginning to ache! From here, we’ll walk to Yasaka-ji (Temple 47), Sairin-ji (Temple 48), Jodo-ji (Temple 49) and Hanta-ji (Temple 50), through a mix of suburban and countryside landscapes on mainly flat trails.
Day 12 | Ehime | 15.5 km / 5 hours
A train transfer will deliver pilgrims at Nankobo Temple (Temple 55), with the walk today taking you from an urban townscape to rural farming villages. There’ll be several gradual ascents and descents through forested areas as you walk between the other temples, such as Enmei-ji (Temple 54), which is dedicated to scholarly learning, and Taisan-ji (Temple 56), known as the ‘Easy Birth Temple’.
Continue to Eifuku-ji (Temple 57), which has historically been a favourite location for offering prayers for safety at sea, then on to Taisan-ji (Temple 58) and Iyo Kokubun-ji (Temple 59). Kobo Daishi is said to have stayed at the latter and painted five great deities.
Day 13 | Ehime | 13.5 km / 4–5 hours
After a full Japanese breakfast, take a train and private transfer to the day’s starting point. From here, walk uphill to Yokomine-ji (Temple 60), which is located at the top of a 700-metre peak, then continue down through forests and rural landscapes to Maegami-ji (Temple 64), set in another picturesque location. These are the final temples that you’ll visit as part of this journey and it’s well worth spending some extra time reflecting on your journey in their serene atmosphere.
Day 14 | Okayama
Your adventure in Shikoku comes to an end after breakfast this morning, though the journey will no doubt live on in your memories of this unique, transformative place.
Vist www.wanderingtheworld.com.au for more information.
- 13 nights accommodation, all carefully selected to enhance your walking Japan experience
Combining western style hotel accommodation with private en-suite facilities in major cities and Japanese style ryokan and temple accommodation where possible with gender share bathrooms and onsen. (Japanese baths)
- Luggage transfers from accommodation to accommodation. (1 x 20kg bag per person)
The occasional night is in remote regions without your main luggage. For your comfort our Japanese style accommodation provides toiletry products, slippers and a yukata (a casual summer kimono) which is encouraged to be worn after your evening onsen, and to dinner in the dining room, joining all other guests in the same attire.
- Daily breakfast
- 10 Japanese style evening meals
- 27 Temple visits
- Private and local transport as per itinerary
- Experienced guide throughout your journey
- Emergency contact details and 24/7 local on-the-ground support
- Pre-departure and ongoing support from Australian office
- Single supplement for your own room
- Additional nights accommodation before or after trip (please advise at time of booking)
- Travel to trip’s starting point
- Transfers not already outlined in detailed trip itinerary
- Lunches, except for the 5 included on walking days
We know from personal experience that a good night’s rest can make or break a trip, which is why we carefully select all our accommodation. In Japan, our selection between a mix of traditional Japanese style and more modern hotels, depends on the itinerary, and the trail the group is walking. In the larger cities we select Western style hotels with private en-suite facilities. However, we endeavour to maximise the cultural experience wherever possible, taking the opportunity to stay in ryokans and temples to enjoy the traditional Japanese lifestyle and hospitality. This style of local accommodation incorporates elements such as tatami floors, futon beds, communal Japanese style bathing, or Onsens – hot spring baths, conveniently separated between female and male and undoubtedly a highlight of walking in Japan, the perfect way to soothe your muscles. Owners embrace the ancient traditions of hospitality turning healthy, seasonal produce into exquisite meals. You may find yourself waking each morning in a Buddha-like state of Zen – the perfect frame of mind for continuing your walk.
Single supplements are available so you can enjoy your own room. The Western style hotels offer private en-suite, the traditional Japanese style accommodation are shared facilities only. A single supplement will apply if you are travelling alone, or if there is no gender share option. You can request a shared room through Wandering the World at the time of booking, however this is not guaranteed.
Food & Dining
You may have signed up for a walking trip but you will undoubtedly find yourself on a culinary adventure on any of our Japan itineraries. Every meal celebrates and highlights the flavours, textures and colours of seasonal and local produce. Almost as important as the exquisite flavours, is the presentation and visual beauty of every dish.
The traditional Japanese breakfast focuses on savory, salty flavours that are hearty but not too filling, perfect for the start of your walking day. It typically includes many small dishes such as Miso soup, steamed rice, grilled fish and pickled vegetables.
Lunch might be taken in a local restaurant, perhaps a tempura or noodle dish, or we may carry a delicious Bento box to the perfect picnic spot. While it may not be something you would expect at home, the local convenience stores have a great selection of traditional foods, fresh and tasty and we sometimes purchase our lunch and snacks (we think they have the world’s best egg sandwich) to enjoy while on the trail.
Dinner is undoubtedly one of the day’s highlights and you will have the opportunity to try many of the traditional Japanese cooking methods, including Shabu Shabu, Nabemono, Yakimono and perhaps cook your own Okonomiyaki.
This trip is guided, and you are part of a group and the pace of the walk is dictated by the group. There are some uphill sections and a number of steps and stone paths, where extra care needs to be taken if wet. An average walking day for our Japanese itineraries is 14km.
This itinerary is carefully designed for easy to manage walking days. Averaging less than 20km on most days, approximately 4-6 walking hours. Surfaces are fairly even with moderate ascents and descents. A reasonable level of fitness is recommended.
Given you only need carry a lightweight day bag, this trip is very manageable for those new to walking holidays. Preparation and training make all our walks more enjoyable.
For your comfort and enjoyment Wandering the World arrange luggage transfers. On the occasional day where our preferred accommodation is remote and cannot be accessed by road, your luggage will be sent forward to join you the following day.
Although you will be without your main luggage for a night, you need only carry a day pack as our Japanese inns provide all the necessities for your stay, including toiletry products, slippers and a yukata (a casual summer kimono) which is encouraged to be worn after your evening onsen, and to dinner in the dining room, joining all other guests in the same attire.
Luggage allowance is one bag per person of no more than 20kg. Luggage must be left in the reception of your hotel before breakfast (8am) each day, or as instructed by your guide.
*Please note only one bag will be moved each day, additional charges will apply if your bag is heavier than 20kg. Should you require special arrangements for additional luggage transfers, this can be booked ahead of time and must be paid as a part of your final payment to Wandering the World.
Wandering the World guided groups have a maximum group size of 12 participants. This small group size has many advantages including flexibility to stay in a wide range of accommodation options, dining together of an evening, the opportunity to get to know your travelling companions, and the freedom to walk alone or together.
Wandering the World use local services such as bus, train, ferry and taxis to transfer our groups to the start and end point of our Japanese walks. Your guide will inform you and make all these arrangements to fit with the itinerary, as you travel as a group.
The weather and climate in Japan varies from region to region, and of course from day to day. Each season has its benefits, with lovely long warm and sunny days in Spring and early Summer, to cooler walking temperatures early Spring and late Autumn. Talk to Wandering the World when making your plans and to discuss your preferences. Our expertise can guide you.
Once on your walk, the weather can play an important part in the enjoyment of the journey. Your guide will be checking the forecast and managing the walking and travel times as best as possible for your comfort.
24/7 SUPPORT & CARE
Your local guide will be on hand to assist with any questions throughout your walk with Wandering the World. You will also have the international contact number in the event of an emergency, and we have local on the ground support to give you any assistance you may need.
GETTING THERE / GETTING HOME
This itinerary begins in Koyasan and ends in Okayama
The closest airport to arrive at is Osaka Kansai Airport (KIX) which has flights from international destinations.
From your airport of choice there are here are train and flight options for arriving and departing your walking commencement destination.
Koyasan is most conveniently accessed by Nankai Railways from Osaka‘s Namba or Shin-Imamiya Stations. For more information go to How to travel between Koyasan and Osaka.
You can purchase train tickets up to one month in advance from inside and outside Japan.
Find out more here – How to Buy Japan Rail Tickets and Shinkansen Tickets Online
Getting from Okayama
Osaka and Okayama are two major stations along the JR Sanyo Shinkansen. The one way trip between Okayama Station and Shin-Osaka Station takes approximately 45 minutes and costs around 6000 yen. For more information go to How to travel between Okayama and Osaka
Insurance is compulsory for everyone who travels with Wandering the World. The insurance policy must include cover against personal accident, medical expenses, emergency repatriation and personal liability. Wandering the World recommends insurance coverage for cancellation to be taken at the same time payment is made, as no exception to the cancellation provisions can be made.
BOOKING AND TRAVEL TERMS AND CONDITIONS
Wandering the World’s full booking terms and conditions are available upon request and will also accompany your initial invoice for deposit.
“The Shikoku Temple Trail is a highlight of my visits to Japan, which is why I have walked this path 4 times and counting!! There is a sense of peace here, and a serious stepping back in time. This is one place where I am continually awestruck by the friendly approachable locals, who are generous beyond belief, with their time and their offerings. And the Japanese leave the world behind when it comes to food, the curry donut as unappealing as this may sound is worth the trip in itself!” – Glenyce, Founder of Wandering the World.
A few years ago, a very good friend of ours whom we have travelled with over many years to exciting locations both locally and overseas, invited me to join her on a trip to Japan walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage Temple Trail. She highly recommended walking with Glenyce Johnson from Wandering the World as she had previously done many walks with Glenyce and couldn’t praise her and the team highly enough.
Having now done our trip to Japan, I personally found many aspects of traditional Japan from the culture, hospitality and countryside very memorable and breathtaking.
From the first moment of booking the trip until the end, I found Glenyce to be extremely friendly, welcoming and all correspondence promptly attended too.
I would highly recommend Glenyce and her team for such an organised and professional travel company to anybody thinking of venturing outside the box.
Leonie S, Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail, 2017
I was 74 when I went on this walk at the end of March 2018. It activated all my senses from the “physical” walking distances, to the “challenging” of up and down mountains and out of my “comfort zone” by bathing in Onsens to sleeping on the floor.
Visiting the temples and the ritual of lighting candles, burning incense and saying prayers was for me very “spiritual”. The cherry blossoms, the colours of the trees and vistas from mountain tops were just beautiful. I enjoyed eating amazing and delicious food and enjoyed the pleasure of fellow walkers, and the absolute delight of our guide Alena, a beautiful, gentle lady.
Of course, Glenyce and Dawn were amazing, giving support and help when needed, showing us lots of fun, sharing their knowledge, and generally being good walking buddies!
I loved every minute! (even with one meltdown!!) and I would definitely recommend this trip!
Barb P, Shikoku Temple Pilgrimage, Japan 2018
In March 2018 our team of 8 pilgrims (Henro) plus our exceptional Buddhist guide Alena, arrived at our first temple accommodation in Koyasan 1000 metres above sea level. It snowed. It was here that we were introduced to the teachings of Kobo-Daishi who founded the “Mantra” school of Buddhism in the eighth century. For the next fortnight Kobo-Daishu accompanied us in spirit. In the course of visiting 30 temples along the way we became increasingly familiar with the Buddhist rituals and prayers. Alena was an exceptional guide. We were so lucky she was with us. Her knowledge, kindness, respect and great sense of humour were welcomed by us all.
For two weeks, we stayed either in temples, guesthouses or sometimes a hotel. We quickly became accustomed to eating the local cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner with no meal the same as another. We tasted a wide range of Japanese culinary delights. At the end of each day we were always eager to locate the Onsen (communal bathhouse). Any shyness quickly dissipated as we enjoyed the body scrub before plunging into the deliciously hot water pool.
Our days were full of unexpected surprises such as the very rainy one when some very wet pilgrims discovered a little bakery and ate hot donuts straight from the oven, or when we were too early to check in to a temple and discovered a little café that concocted delicious and very artistic ice cream sundaes. We even think we may have spotted the very first cherry blossom of the Spring season. Each day thereafter there were more and more trees covered breaking into bloom.
Every traveller can cite a range of different experiences and surprises. Our decision to choose Wandering the World for this trip proved a very wise one. On all our WTW trips with Glenyce and Dawn we have appreciated their unwavering enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and good humour. Our Japanese pilgrimage was no exception.
Alison H, Shikoku Island Pilgrimage Temple Train, 2018
I joined 3 friends on this trip having experienced independent travel in Japan with my wife a few years earlier. It was my first organised walking trip after quite a bit of independent travel and overseas working adventures over the last 40 years. I am in my early 70’s and prepared for the trip by simply increasing my daily walking distance to around 10 to 15k in the weeks before the trip.
The organisation of the walk by the team made life easy, allowing us to focus on the experience and maximise time spent walking, chatting, eating and sleeping. Travel, accommodation and transport and meals were all organised efficiently and with good humour. The group was a nice size enabling the opportunity to get to know everyone over the two weeks. We were challenged at times by the gradients or the weather, but care was taken to ensure everyone made it through each day without being put under undue pressure.
The Shikoku walk was a complete and refreshing break from day to day city life in Australia and an insight into the richness of Japanese history, culture and landscape.
Bruce E, Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail, 2019