I had originally planned to visit Tokyo during Golden Week and enjoy the benefits of the great city – Kabuki, Sumo, Roppongi, and trips to Kamakura.
However, it’s come to my attention that I have enough time to walk the first twenty three temples in Tokushima Prefecture on the first leg of the 88 temple pilgrimage (八十八ヶ所巡り) in Shikoku.
Every year, usually in the months of April and October, travelers come to Japan’s southern island in search of themselves. Although the trek itself follows the temples of Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師) and thus is intended for Buddhists, many foreigners and locals alike go for the experience, to become ohenro (お遍路) pilgrims and see a more traditional and favorable side of Japan. You might have seen pilgrims in larger cities like Matsuyama; they are usually dressed in white robes and carrying long wooden staffs.
This is also an excellent opportunity to see the more generous side of Japanese culture: during the journey, pilgrims are offered gifts (Osettai), ranging from a free bed for the night, to a few hundred yen, to a full Japanese dinner. You must always accept these gifts, as they bring good fortune to both the traveler and giver.
Although many people travel with tour companies, personal vehicles, and even bicycles, I believe the only way to do this trip, to be a true henro, as it were, is to go on foot. For the entire trek, that’s almost 1,700 km. For the first twenty three temples… it can be done in a week if you keep a good pace.
Ryōzenji (霊山寺) to Yakuōji (薬王寺)… wish me luck.