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
|Daytime high °F||54° max||56° max||59° max||66° max||73° max||77° max||86° max||88° max||82° max||75° max||66° max||56° max|
|Nighttime low °F||36° min||38° min||41° min||50° min||57° min||64° min||71° min||73° min||68° min||59° min||50° min||41° min|
|Daytime high °C||12° max||13° max||15° max||19° max||23° max||25° max||30° max||31° max||28° max||24° max||19° max||13° max|
|Nighttime low °C||2° min||3° min||5° min||10° min||14° min||18° min||22° min||23° min||20° min||15° min||10° min||5° min|
|Daily sunshine hours||6||6||8||10||10||9||10||11||10||6||6||6|
|Rainfall (in)||1.14 in||2.05 in||2.52 in||3.22 in||2.83 in||5.16 in||3.58 in||2.60 in||3.90 in||3.03 in||1.73 in||2.05 in|
|Rainfall (mm)||29 mm||52 mm||64 mm||82 mm||72 mm||131 mm||91 mm||66 mm||99 mm||77 mm||44 mm||52 mm|
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.
The cost of a pilgrimage on Shikoku can vary greatly. Depending on how long you take for the pilgrimage. And depending on your personal requirements in terms of accommodation and food. An overnight stay can be free or cost 7,000 yen/night in a hotel/ryokan, but also 10,000 yen/night and well above.
The cost of travel to Japan can also vary greatly.
For orientation, here are typical costs that can be incurred for a pilgrimage on Shikoku.
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).
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.
I walked the Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail in March/April 2018 and October/November 2019. The daytime temperatures were around 20° C during these times. My equipment was adapted to these mild temperatures.
I spent the night in guesthouses, temple accommodations and henro houses. In larger cities also sometimes in a business hotel. I didn’t spend the night outdoors and therefore I didn’t take any equipment with me, like tent, sleeping bag etc.
Based on my experiences, I have compiled the following tips that can serve as orientation for your packing list. For your own needs you should adapt the recommendations accordingly.
Shikoku offers a variety of different accommodations for pilgrims.
In mishuku, ryokan and shukubo (temple accommodation) – traditional Japanese.
Free of charge in accommodations offered privately or at the temple. In huts set up by Shikoku residents for pilgrims to rest.
In guesthouses, hotels, and business hotels, as found in many other countries.
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.