88 temples · 1200 years · 4 prefectures · 1150 km

The Shikoku Pilgrimage | Planning and Preparation

Costs | Electricity | Equipment | Getting There | Language skills | Training | When To Go

When To Go

The Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail can basically be walked all year round. The best time to travel is in spring and fall.

Spring: from mid-March to the end of May
Fall: from the beginning of October to the end of November

The most rainy days are in June and July. Especially in July and August it gets very hot with well over 85 °F / 30 °C. In these midsummer months, tropical cyclones (typhoons) hit Shikoku particularly often.
In December, January and February it can get quite cold. Snowfall can also occur on the higher parts of the pilgrimage route.

Cherry trees usually bloom on Shikoku in late March/ early April, with annual variations due to climate.
Many of Shikoku’s temples are famous for the magnificent colouring of the maple leaves in late November.
This is why the vast majority of pilgrims are on the road during these times.

During the “Golden Week” (ゴールデンウィーク), four fixed holidays are supplemented with weekends and bridge days to form a longer period. Because most Japanese take time off during this period, it is recommended to take this into account in your planning and book accommodations as early as possible.

The Golden Week holidays: 
April 29 – Birthday of the late Emperor Shōwa, or Hirohito (Shōwa no hi).
May 3 – Constitution Day (Kempō Kinen-bi )
May 4 – Green Day (Midori no hi)
May 5 – Children’s Day (Kodomo no hi)

Shikoku – Climate Table

 JANFEBMARAPRMAYJUNJULAUGSEPOCTNOVDEC
Daytime high °F54° max56° max59° max66° max73° max77° max86° max88° max82° max75° max66° max56° max
Nighttime low °F36° min38° min41° min50° min57° min64° min71° min73° min68° min59° min50° min41° min
Daytime high °C12° max13° max15° max19° max23° max25° max30° max31° max28° max24° max19° max13° max
Nighttime low °C2° min3° min5° min10° min14° min18° min22° min23° min20° min15° min10° min5° min
Daily sunshine hours66810109101110666
Rainy days101113131117171615121011
Rainfall (in)1.14 in2.05 in2.52 in3.22 in2.83 in5.16 in3.58 in2.60 in3.90 in3.03 in1.73 in2.05 in
Rainfall (mm)29 mm52 mm64 mm82 mm72 mm131 mm91 mm66 mm99 mm77 mm44 mm52 mm
Snowy days21---------1

Training

The entire route from Temple 1 to Temple 88 and back to the starting point, to Temple 1 has a length of 1,150 km. On this route there are about 10,000 meters of altitude to climb.

The challenges are:

  • The enormous length of the route.
  • The route is 85% on paved roads and only 15% on nature trails. As a result, most of the route runs on very hard ground.
  • Several mountain stages with up to 1,000 meters of altitude and several climbs and descents in alternation.

To master these challenges you should train as much as possible in advance. Don’t just walk/hike for one hour a day, but if possible several hours at a time. The more accustomed you are to walking downhill and uphill, the easier the hike will be on Shikoku.

On some days you will cover a distance of up to 25 km and up to 1,000 meters of altitude on Shikoku.
The better trained you are, the less difficulties you will face with blisters, swollen ankles, muscular problems etc.

Costs

The cost of a pilgrimage hike on Shikoku can vary greatly. Depending on how long the hike lasts and on the personal requirement in terms of accommodation and food. An overnight stay can be free or cost 6,000 yen/night in a ryokan/hotel, as well as 15,000 yen/night or more.

For orientation, typical costs for a pilgrimage lasting 42 days are given below.
1,000 yen is equivalent to about 9.10 USD or 7.80 € (as of September 2021).

Accommodation costs:

AccommodationTypical costsMeals incl.
Minshuku6,500 YENDinner + Breakfast
Ryokan8,000 YENDinner + Breakfast
Shukubō8,000 YENDinner + Breakfast
Business-Hotel7,000 YENnone
Hotel9,000 YENnone
Guest House3,500 YENnone
Henro House3,500 YENnone
Tsuyadō1,000 YENnone
Zenkonyado1,000 YENnone

At Tsuyadō and Zenkonyado, accommodation is generally free. However, you are expected to leave 1,000 yen in the donation box at Tsuyadō before you leave. And after an overnight stay at Zenkonyado, you should leave 2,000 yen if you used a futon, or 1,000 yen if you don’t use a futon.

Cost of food and drinks:
Cost of breakfast from 400 yen.
Many cafes and coffee shops offer an inexpensive breakfast in the morning (morning set).
Usually includes a hot drink (coffee or tea), bread and butter, egg and salad.

Cost for lunch starts at 500 yen.
During the week, most restaurants offer very inexpensive lunch sets.

Cost at the temple:
Stamp in pilgrim’s book: 300 yen per temple.
Offerings in the Main Hall and Daishi Hall: about 100 yen per temple (voluntary).
For 88 temples: 88 x 400 yen= 35,200 yen; calculated over 42 days = 840 yen/day.

Costs for miscellaneous:
In addition, there are costs for pilgrimage equipment and for other things needed in Shikoku, such as sunscreen, band-aids, etc.

Total costs (approx.) for the pilgrimage in the overview:

Overnight stay inMinshuku/ ShukubōGuest House/ Henro HouseTsuyadō/ Zenkonyado
Accommodation Costs7,500 YEN3,500 YEN1,000 YEN
Dinner + Breakfast inclusive1,200 YEN1,200 YEN
Lunch + Beverages 1,000 YEN1,000 YEN1,000 YEN
At the temple840 YEN840 YEN840 YEN
Miscellaneous 1,000 YEN1,000 YEN1,000 YEN
Costs/day (YEN)10,340 YEN7,540 YEN5,040 YEN
Costs/day (USD)95 USD70 USD45 USD
Costs/ 42 days (USD)4,000 USD3,000 USD1,900 USD
Costs/day (EUR)80 EUR60 EUR40 EUR
Costs/ 42 days (EUR)3,400 EUR2,500 EUR1,700 EUR

Costs for arrival/departure and for Kōya-san:
There are also very different individual costs for your travel to Shikoku (flight/train/bus) and for the return trip. And for a possible visit to Kōya-san in Wakayama Prefecture on the main Japanese island of Honshū before and/or after the pilgrimage.

Getting There

Via Osaka to Shikoku

By direct flight to Osaka-Kansai airport or after a stopover in Tokyo by domestic flight to Osaka-Itami. Itami airport is located in the middle of the city. Kansai was built about 5 kilometers from the coast of Osaka on an artificial island in the sea.

To Shikoku by long distance bus (Kansai Airport Transportation Enterprise) directly from Kansai Airport to Tokushima Station (duration about 3h / cost 4,200 yen).

Alternatively, take a long-distance bus (JR Shikoku Bus) from Osaka (JR Station/Osaka Namba/Osaka Universal Studios); from Kyoto (JR Station); from Kobe (Sannomiya Bus Terminal) or from other cities to Tokushima (Station).

Those who begin their pilgrimage at Temple 1 then have only the short distance from Tokushima Station to Bando by local train.

The other major cities of Shikoku; Kochi, Matsuyama and Takamatsu are also very easy and inexpensive to reach by long distance buses from Osaka, Tokyo and from other cities on the main island of Honshū.

It is also possible to travel to Shikoku by boat:
By long-distance bus (Kansai Airport Transportation Enterprise) from Kansai Airport to Wakayama Station (duration about 1h / cost 1,200 yen). In Wakayama by local train from the station to the ferry terminal (duration 15 min / cost 240 yen). And by ferry (Nankai Ferry) from Wakayama to Tokushima (duration approx. 2h 15min / cost 2,310 yen).

Via Tokyo to Shikoku

After arrival at Haneda or Narita airport by bus or train to Tokyo main station.
From there by Shinkansen to Okayama and by regional train to Tokushima station (duration approx. 6h / cost approx. 20,000 yen).

Language skills

To the question of whether the pilgrimage is possible without knowledge of Japanese, I would answer “yes”. Assuming a certain desire for improvisation and adventure, it is not absolutely necessary to speak Japanese to walk the pilgrimage route. However, it is helpful to learn at least a few Japanese words and phrases beforehand. This makes it much easier to start a conversation with Japanese people, which can then be continued in English in the best case.
Occasionally, you will also meet foreign pilgrims who speak no Japanese and little or no English. These pilgrims also find their way through Shikoku, but often depend on the support of locals and fellow pilgrims.

In finding accommodation away from the cities, the English language pilgrimage guide Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide is extremely helpful.

In all larger and some smaller towns, it is possible to book hotel rooms through the well-known, worldwide internet booking portals.
In many rural areas, however, accommodation, e.g. in minshukus or guesthouses, can often only be booked by phone. In many guesthouses where I stayed, only a few of the owners spoke English. However, usually a fellow pilgrim who speaks Japanese will be found and can and will help with booking an overnight stay by phone.
Another option is to ask the owners of the accommodation where you are staying to make a reservation by phone for the next night at the next accommodation.
Shopping in the very common convenience stores, drugstores, supermarkets, etc. is easily done without any knowledge of Japanese.

Equipment

I walked the pilgrimage route in March/April 2018.
I spent the night in temple accommodations, guesthouses and in larger cities in business hotels. I did not spend the night outdoors and therefore did not take any equipment for it; tent, sleeping bag, etc..

Based on my experiences, I have compiled the following tips, which can serve as an orientation for your packing list. For your own needs please adapt the recommendations accordingly. 

Depending on the distances you cover daily, you will carry everything in your backpack or on your body for about 40 days. During my preparation time, I came across different recommendations for total weight on the internet, in magazines and books. 10 to 15% of body weight, no more than 10 kg for men and 7 kg for women, etc. 

Backpack and contents were about 8 kg on my hike. Before starting the hike, I often walked to strengthen the leg muscles, but almost always without a backpack and always with much less than 8 kg. Those extra 8 kg on my back were fine for me to handle. Less would be better.

Shoes

The most important piece of equipment for the pilgrimage trail, which is about 85% on asphalt and only 15% on nature trails in Shikoku’s mountains and hills. Your shoes should be suitable for both surfaces.
It can be quite slippery on the mountain trails when it rains. Shoes with pronounced tread, such as multi-purpose shoes are very helpful there.

I cannot recommend a specific shoe for the pilgrimage, the requirements of the hikers are too different for that. But for most, heavy hiking shoes are unlikely to be suitable due to their heavy weight and cushioning that is too weak for asphalt trails. Ankle-high shoes, with very good cushioning, low weight and profiled sole are probably the better choice.  Special cushioning insoles can also be helpful.

Herren Trekkingschuhe

It is advisable to get the appropriate information from a specialist retailer and to break in the purchased shoes very well. On my pilgrimage in March/April 2018, I wore a multifunctional shoe (Meindl Exaroc GTX), which I can thoroughly recommend. The next time: I will take an even more cushioned shoe with me, which will cushion the harshness of the long asphalt stretches even more.

Socks

Should be well suited to personal requirements. They should be able to absorb moisture, dry quickly, and be cool or warm, depending on the season and your own requirements. 

To prevent blisters, double-layer socks can be a good choice for you.

Backpack

The second most important item on a hike after your shoes.

Rucksack - 34 Liter

On my pilgrimage in March/April 2018, I used a backpack from Deuter, with a volume of 34 litres and a weight of 1.5 kg (ACT Trail PRO 34).

Decisive for my choice were very good back ventilation and a comfortable hip belt. The integrated rain cover was also positive.
Like the shoes, the backpack should also meet your individual requirements in terms of features, comfort and size and be as light as possible.

The next time: I was very satisfied with my backpack in every respect. My companion also for the next pilgrimage.

Regenschutz

Regenponcho

Umbrella – sufficient for light rain.

Rain poncho/rain cape – available in various designs. With extension for backpacks; storm protection against sliding up, etc. Very good rain protection, but not breathable, “sauna effect” at high temperatures.

Rain trousers and rain jacket – effective, but not cheap. Your decision should depend on the time of year and the likely climatic conditions. If you are going in late fall, you should protect yourself better against rain than in April or May because of the cooler temperatures.
I would not take an umbrella. As an alternative for light rain, the pilgrim’s hat “sugegasa” or a sun hat can be sufficient.

On my pilgrimage in March/April 2018 I had a rain poncho with me and had good experiences with it.

The next time: I would save even more weight and packing volume and only take a rain jacket. 

Clothing

Washing machines and often a dryer are available for a small fee in almost all temple accommodation, minshukus (guesthouses) and in some business hotels. Pajamas are provided for the night. One set of hiking clothes, two sets of underwear and two pairs of socks are therefore already sufficient.

The clothes themselves should be comfortable, hard-wearing and functional, and quick-drying. Hiking trousers and shirts are well suited. Cotton clothing gets damp while hiking and also stays damp and dries very slowly.

Technical items

The decision, which technical items are useful for the hike, is very different for each individual. Therefore, here are just a few suggestions to help you with your decision. Also remember to plan in addition to the device also the necessary equipment.

Smartphone –  can replace several other devices, items. Flashlight function makes additional headlamp unnecessary. Possible alternative to camera, dictionary, etc.

Tablet – can replace several other devices, items. Possible alternative to camera, printed guidebook, pilgrim’s guide, etc.

Laptop – only useful in exceptional cases.

Camera – difficult to do without for photo enthusiasts. High weight depending on the model. A lot of additional equipment required; battery, charger, spare battery, memory card.

Headlamp, alternatively also flashlight – useful for routes through tunnels, sometimes up to 2 km long and poorly lit. And for all those who want to start before sunrise. Only necessary if more than 40 day-km are planned.

On my pilgrimage in March/April 2018, I had with me: smartphone, tablet, compact camera and headlamp, with 3 batteries.

The next time: I did not use the headlamp. In some tunnels I went through, lighting was necessary. For this, however, the flashlight function of my smartphone was sufficient.  As a photo fan, I would pack the compact camera and the necessary additional equipment again.  

Other equipment

Medicines and drugstore items – according to your own needs. Bringing band-aids (can also be re-purchased on Shikoku) and blister plasters is recommended.

Sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hat – highly recommended depending on the season. Those who hike with pilgrim hat “sugegasa” do not need a sun hat. For sunscreen, a small pack is enough. On Shikoku you can easily buy more.

Knife and small scissors – the knife I used mainly for peeling and cutting fruit. The scissors were very useful for cutting band-aids.

Lighter – for lighting candles and incense sticks at the temples.

Electricity

If you bring electronic devices to Shikoku, the plugs of the devices must have the two flat pins commonly used in Japan. Or you can use an adapter.

The voltage throughout Japan is 100 volts. In Shikoku, as in all of western Japan, the frequency range is 60 hertz.
Most foreign devices can be operated in Japan with an adapter. Make sure to check for your devices in time before your departure to Japan.

 

Source of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route overview map: “Von Lencer – own work, used:KML-file of coordinates made by Lilleskuthttp://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln275/Images275/Shikoku.jpg for routeGeneric Mapping Tools and SRTM3 V2-files for reliefMinimap made with Provinces of Japan.svg by Ash Crow, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5154361”
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