FAQs

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1. Start your research here

The best places to start your research are by looking around this website:

shikokuhenrotrail.com

Reading this free ebook:

http://henro88map.com/pdf/Henro-ENG.pdf

And ordering the Route Guide (the pilgrims bible):

http://www.shikokuhenrotrail.com/shikoku/pilgrimagebooksGuidebooks.html#88RouteGuide

2. How to get from KIX (Kansai International Airport) to Ryozenji (Temple One)

There are no direct buses from KIX to Tokushima. (The through bus will resume March 16th. See below for details.)

There are many choices of how to go. This is my recommendation:

There's a ticket machine just outside the arrivals hall at KIX. You can take a bus from there to OCAT, the regional bus terminal next to Namba Station. Two or three platforms from where you arrive at OCAT, you can get a bus to the Naruto Nishi (Naruto West) bus stop. That is ten minutes’ walk from Temple One, Ryozenji. There are four inns near the temple. They are shown in the Route Guide and on Google Maps. One of them, Henro House Ichiban Monzen Dori, can be reserved online (https://henrohouse.jp/en) – the others (and that one as well) can be reserved by phone. (The phone numbers are in the Route Guide.) It's best to make a reservation for an inn before you get on the bus. This is especially important if you want meals at your inn. (Ichiban Monzen Dori does not serve meals, but there are a couple of restaurants and a convenience store nearby.)

If you prefer, you can take a bus from OCAT to Tokushima City, spend the night there, and take a train to Bando Station early the next morning. If you spend the night in Tokushima City, you can get additional information at the Tokushima Welcome Center near Tokushima Station.

There are also direct buses from the airport to Tokushima city, but only THREE buses per day. They leave Terminal One at 10:05, 12:20, and 16:20. Details are here (in Japanese only): https://www.tokubus.co.jp/news/detail/884

Ryozenji is 10-15 minutes' walk from Bando Station. In case you have not yet bought the Route Guide, you can get it at the Kiosk Shop in the station, at the Welcome Center, or at the temple. If you need to store luggage during your pilgrimage, your best choice is to spend one night at Hostel PAQ, near Tokushima Station (https://www.hostelpaq.com/). They will let you store one bag throughout your pilgrimage as long as you stay there at least one night before and after. Most people also spend their 5th or 6th night in the city since, after about 87 km., the main route passes through downtown.

Bus schedule are here (Thanks Jesse Milner!) https://japanbusonline.com/en

3. Nope! Nope! Nope!

Common misconceptions about the Shikoku Pilgrimage

A lot of what you read about the Shikoku Pilgrimage is wrong. This is just as true for books and magazines as it is for websites and online discussions. What you hear about it from other pilgrims is just as bad, just as likely to be wrong – or worse, only half-right, and you don’t know which half.

What I tell you here is probably accurate. (Trust me! I’ve walked the pilgrimage five times, cycled most of it, driven all of it, I live in Tokushima and I spend much of my time talking about it with pilgrims and pilgrimage lovers.)

1. There is an official route that most pilgrims follow.
NOPE!

The aim of the pilgrimage is to visit 88 temples with strong connections to Kobo Daishi. There is a traditional order to visit them, but nobody really cares if you visit some out of order, do the pilgrimage in sections, drive, take the bus, walk, or cycle. The main English guidebook “Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide” by Naoyuki Matsushita shows the shortest walking route with a number of options. Sometimes the options take you by a more scenic or more historical way. Sometimes they take you to additional temples which some pilgrims visit, but which never got a number (or got one of a different set of numbers). The main Japanese guidebook uses a different map, though both books are based on the same original guidebook, which was written almost 50 years ago by Tateki Miyazaki. In many cases, you will find that Japanese walking pilgrims often take regular car roads even when there is a marked trail which may be shorter, quieter, and more beautiful. Non-Japanese like me will sometimes take those roads (more food options, etc). You can go any way you like. There is no official route. Also, there is no rule that you have to walk all of the route, or any of it.

2. The traditional way to do the pilgrimage was to camp out or sleep in free accommodations provided by temples or by local people.
NOPE!

There have always been a few people who have done the pilgrimage this way, but it has always been a small number, a very small number. The overwhelming majority of pilgrims have always stayed at inns of various types, or at those temples that have shukubo, temple lodgings. In the past, most temples had lodgings. Now there are fewer than ten. The number goes down every year.

3. It’s usually okay to sleep in the rest huts you will see along the trail.
NOPE!

4. It never’s okay to sleep in the rest huts you will see along the trail.
NOPE!

For #3 and #4, the obvious answer is that it is sometimes okay, but it’s difficult to judge just what okay means in this case. Some huts have signs saying it’s okay to sleep there. Some have signs saying it’s not okay to sleep there. The other 95% have no sign either way. Pilgrims have been told that you can sleep in a hut if some local person says it’s okay. There are three problems with this advice. First, who is this person and do they really have the authority to give you permission to sleep there? Second, though the person who says it’s okay may be the one who has authority to say so, what about other people who see you sleeping there? How will they feel? You might think, “Why should I care if someone objects?” But you may be giving the impression that people like you feel entitled to sleep wherever they want, thus giving a bad name to people like you. This can have a negative effect on how future people like you are perceived and treated.

I say people like you because some of the people who see you will categorize you and think your behavior is typical of whatever category they have put you in. That's their bad, as we say in the U.S., but it still has an effect. I'm not saying you shouldn't sleep in a hut even with permission. I'm just saying that you should be aware of the possible effects of what you do. (Note: I’ve slept in huts several times, but I don’t recommend it. This gets to number three. They're often uncomfortable and usually noisy, sometimes extremely noisy. Also, for women pilgrims they may not be completely safe – see #9 below.)

5. It’s okay to sleep in small, deserted train stations.
NOPE!

Private property. Who gave you permission?

6. It's okay to camp discretely, setting up after dark where you won't be seen and leaving very early in the morning.
NOPE! (Well, . . .)

Stealth camping is illegal. Also, is there a toilet? On the other hand, if you are some place where you really, really can’t be seen and you have a non-polluting toilet option...

7. Vegetarian food is easy to find and commonly served at the temple shukubo (lodging houses).
NOPE!

A couple of the temple shukubo on the pilgrimage route serve vegetarian food, but most do not. One of the most popular temple shukubo is at Anrakuji, Temple Six. They've had a shukubo there for hundreds of years. The temple website says this about meals, “When you think of a shukubo, you may think of vegetarian cuisine, but we prepare dishes that include meat and fish to help build up the stamina of pilgrims who visit the 88 temples of Shikoku.” They go on to say that they do not make changes for, “dietary restrictions.”

8. Buddhist priests in Japan are normally vegetarians.
NOPE!

Some certainly are vegetarians, but most are not. At least, that has been my experience. I have many friends who are priests, have eaten at many temples, and have lived at a temple.

9. Women traveling alone in Japan don’t get hassled by men, especially if they are wearing pilgrim’s clothes.
NOPE!

Sadly, this is not true. There have been at least three incidents I know of in the past year when foreign women walking alone have been hassled by aggressive men. In the most serious incident, a man exposed himself to a woman walking the pilgrimage solo. She reported this to the police. I don’t know what happened later. You could say these incidents are statistically rare, and I’ve never heard of a rape or attempted rape of a pilgrim, but still...

10. You can reserve your pilgrimage accommodations online.
Yes and no

This one is part true and becoming more true every year, but there is a long way to go. For most places where pilgrims usually stay, you must phone to make a reservation. Even if the inn or hotel has a web page with a reservation function or email address, you can't count on that working. I always try using those but perhaps half the time either they don't work or I get incorrect information. It's usually necessary to call. (No, WhatsApp doesn't work either.) Many inns list a FAX number next to their phone number on their web page (if they have a web page) and I've heard that works for making reservations. There are some free fax services available online.

11. You don't need to make reservations.
NOPE! NOPE! NOPE!

If you show up at an inn at 4:30pm and ask for a room, they will try to accommodate you. But even if they can, you have upset the system. They have probably bought food (and started to prepare it) only for the number of reservations they had. They probably haven't prepared extra rooms. If they refuse you (either because they literally have no room or because they don't feel like changing their plans) you may have to walk five or ten kilometers farther (or take a bus, train, or taxi), with no guarantee that there will be a room for you there either. Always reserve no later than the morning of the day you want to stay.

12. You can ship your bag ahead to the next inn.
NOPE!

This is almost never possible. If you ask for this as a special service (paid or not), you're coming across as a pushy person who feels entitled to extra service. There is a new (paid) service at the beginning of the pilgrimage where you can leave a bag (your nice clothes for visiting Kyoto?) during the pilgrimage. Contact [email protected] or phone 080-2989-8070. There is also free luggage service between some of the inns just before Fujiidera (Temple 11) and Sudachi-An, an inn just after Shosanji (Temple 12).

13. You should bring a sleeping bag, “just in case.”
NOPE!

If you plan to sleep out regularly, of course you should bring a sleeping bag, etc. Don't bring it, “just in case.” There are always other options that don't add weight to your pack all day, every day. You can take a bus, train, or taxi once or twice if necessary. (See #1 above about there being no rule that you have to walk every step of the way.)

4. Snakes on Shikoku

Snakes aren't a problem on the pilgrimage. I've never heard of a pilgrim being bitten. I've asked two local doctors and they have never heard of a fatality from snakebite on Shikoku. HOWEVER, you will probably see a few snakes on your pilgrimage, so you may as well know what they are. There are four common snakes on Shikoku:

shimahebi Japanese four-lined rat snake They are not venomous.
aodaisho Japanese rat snake They are not venomous.
mamushi Japanese pit viper They are venomous and dangerous if you get close.
yamakagashi tiger keelback They are venomous but not dangerous. (see below)

Shimahebi and aodaisho eat mice, birds, lizards, etc. It you try to pick one up, it might bite you, but they don't have venom. Shimahebi are usually 1-1.5 meters long. Aodaisho are usually 1-2 meters long.

Mamushi are the most dangerous snake on Shikoku. The adults are 50-60 cm long. At any age, they can bite and inject venom. If you get bitten, go to a hospital for a shot of antivenom. Every year, there are two thousand or more mamushi bites in Japan and about ten deaths. As I said before, local medical staff tell me they have never heard of any deaths on Shikoku from mamushi or any other snake bites. Mamushi are small, usually 50-60 cm.

Yamakagashi are the most beautiful snakes I've seen on Shikoku. They are mostly black with a vivid diamond pattern of red and yellow, or sometimes orange. They can inject venom, but it's difficult because the venom is at the back of the mouth. They have to really grab on and chew. Also, they are very shy. Only once have I come across a yamakagashi that didn't run (or swim) away as fast as it could. Yamakagashi are usually 60-100 cm, but they look longer because they always seem to be gliding away rapidly.

NB All four of these snakes can sometimes appear black or almost black. In Japanese, these are called karasu hebi – crow snake. You don't want to get close enough to try to tell the difference.

Juvenile snakes are sometimes hard to tell apart. You don't want to get close enough to try to tell the difference.

5. Travel Light Really light! Lighter than that!!!

Anyone can do the Shikoku Pilgrimage with a pack weighing under 5 kg, plus whatever snacks and drinks they want for the day. Many days you don't need to carry any snacks or drinks – you can buy them along the way.

In this FAQ I’ll explain WHY you should go light, HOW you can, WHAT I carry, and what you think you need but DON'T.

WHY you should travel light

The Shikoku Pilgrimage is longer, harder, and less well-organized than other similar pilgrimage routes. It is 1137.3 km if you don’t take any detours and you never get lost. Since you will do both (trust me), assume you will travel 1200 km or more. Also, there are thousands of meters up and down (details here: http://shikokuhenrotrail.com/shikoku/pilgrimagemap.html). If you walk the whole route, it will take 6-8 weeks.

Some trails have luggage delivery service. The Shikoku Pilgrimage does not. There is luggage delivery service in only one place, arranged by the kind-hearted owners of the inns on either side of the mountain trail to Shosanji – Temple 12. The famous takkyubin (Japanese package delivery companies) don’t have same-day service on Shikoku. You can hire a taxi to take your bag from one inn to the next, but will cost a few thousand yen each time.

Another reason you should carry everything you need with you is because, at some point during your pilgrimage, you may not make it to your planned destination due to weather, illness, injury, mental stress, or some other problem. If you have sent your bag ahead, you will be without a change of clothes. (If this happens, you MUST call your reserved lodging and let them know you won’t be staying there.)

HOW to travel light

Traveling light is a Japanese tradition. When you see Japanese pilgrims, you may notice that their packs are smaller than the packs of most foreign pilgrims. They understand the system. The lodgings along the pilgrimage route have yukata that you can sleep in. Most Japanese will wear the yukata to dinner in the inn. You can also wear the yukata while your clothes are being washed and dried in the coin-operated washers and dryers that nearly all the inns provide. (Some are free for pilgrims – others cost 100-200 yen for the washer plus 100-200 for the dryer. A few only have washing machines.) All inns have hair dryers, soap, shampoo, small towels, and body wash. In addition, you will pass stores every day. You can replace your used-up toothpaste, sunscreen, insect repellant, etc. at any convenience store or supermarket. (Convenience stores also stock underwear, caps, gloves, and catalytic heat packets.) If you need something more, the towns have stores with shoes, pants, rain-gear, etc. You can buy a cheap umbrella (300 yen), use it for one day, and leave it at your inn for the next pilgrim. If worse comes to worst, you can order almost anything from Amazon Japan and have it delivered to an inn one or two days ahead (call and ask the inn). (Exception: People like me with very large feet can only buy shoes and socks at a few places in Japan. Amazon.jp has a very limited selection of large-size, high-quality trail runners and hiking shoes.)

WHAT I CARRY (and how much it weighs - very personal list)

PACK: maximum weight not including food and drink – 4301 g. I say maximum weight because sometimes I wear some of these things like the Goretex jacket and rain pants. This includes the weight of the pack but doesn’t include one set of clothes since I always wear that. VEST: I also carry some things in a many-pocketed vest, so the total amount I carry is more than 4303 g. The weight of the vest is part of my total weight, but so is the weight of the clothes I wear and the weight I put on last year from eating too many cookies.

[See a separate Food FAQ (not yet written) for information about how much food and drink you may need to carry. It will usually be 1-2 kg This list includes no food or water.]

Clothing (I wash clothes every other day – it keeps my pack light)
0330 – 2 tee-shirts
0201 – lightweight knit top
0070 – undershorts
0325 – puffy (very light down jacket) in stuff sack
0059 – knit cap in cool weather, baseball-type cap in warm weather
0118 – socks (I wear Smartwool socks from REI)
0301 – rain pants (I wear them or a yukata at the inn when I wash my hiking pants)
0317 – Goretex jacket
0033 – gloves in cool weather
0050 – two bandanas (they have so many uses)
0030 – net bag for laundry (I often share a washing machine with others)
TOTAL for clothes – 1834 g

Henro goods (in a big ziplock bag)
0479 – nokyocho (stamp book)
0098 – name slips (100 name slips and two pens) (I don't carry candles or incense.)
TOTAL 0577 g

Electronics
My phone, charging cable, plug, and extra battery are always in the pockets of my vest. Sometimes I carry an iPad and other electronic items, but of course these aren’t necessary.

Medical, toiletries, repairs
0042 – towel (The inns always have towels, but I carry this anyway. Don't forget your towel!)
0120 – tooth care, nail clippers, etc.
0031 – bandaids and alcohol wipes
0090 – repair kit (needle and thread, strong tape, etc.)
TOTAL – 283 g

Other
I carry a lightweight cotton shoulder bag/tote bag (75 g) that I use for shopping and when I am leaving my pack behind for a day hike up a mountain, etc. This is enough because I always wear a many-pocketed vest – an important part of my pilgrimage gear.
0140 – two lightweight water bottles (sometimes empty, sometimes full)
1179 – pack
0148 – pack cover
0075 – cotton shoulder bag/tote bag

My backpack is an Osprey Exos 48 large men’s pack. I remove the “brain” from the pack. The pack weighs 1179 g. I carry at least two large plastic bags so everything in the pack stays dry even in an all-day rain. This pack is much bigger than necessary for what I carry. I use it because it is tall enough that I can keep 100% of the weight on the waist-belt – no weight at all on my shoulders. You can put a finger under the shoulder straps when I wear this pack. Most people use a pack of around 35 liters.

Sleep system for camping (I don’t normally carry this.)
0474 – bivy sack
0535 – down quilt
0068 – inflatable pillow
0443 – Thermarest Pro Plus mattress in stuff sack
0084 – underpad for the bivy
TOTAL 1604 g

Conclusion
My pack, fully loaded, not counting food, drink, and some things in my vest, normally weighs a little over 4 kg plus whatever snacks and drinks I am carrying for the day. You can do this too. Go light. Go lighter! It will make your pilgrimage simpler, less painful, and more rewarding.




EXTRA things to consider

DO NOT take all of these! You can buy just about anything in stores along the way or online.

1. Bring any prescription medicines you need with the prescriptions. Some prescription drugs you have may not be allowed in Japan – check! Some over-the-counter drugs you have may be prescription-only in Japan – check!

2. If you are prone to blisters, you might bring something to treat them. You can, of course, buy all of that in any pharmacy in Japan, but you might want it sometime when you are not right in front of a pharmacy. I carry a small roll of tape (sold in Japan as “taping tape”) for other people if they have a hot spot that might turn into a blister. I haven't needed it myself for about four years, since I started wearing Altra trail-runners with Smartwool socks. (Altras are great for most people, but not everybody.) I think everyone should carry a small roll of tape just in case. (I said SMALL. You can buy more.)

3. The pillows at Japanese inns are usually VERY hard. You might want to bring an inflatable pillow. I just put some clothes in the stuff sack for my puffy.

4. Most Japanese inns give you a futon on a tatami floor. There are usually extra futons in a cupboard in the room. Of course, you can always ask for extra pillows and futons. If you need a softer bed, you might bring a lightweight inflatable mattress. I sometimes do. This is probably more important for side-sleepers like me.

5. If you bring souvenirs to give to people you meet, they should weigh little or nothing. But really, this isn't necessary. The pilgrimage tradition is to give people one of your name slips (filled out) as a thank-you.




A few more notes about traveling light

Souvenirs

If you buy souvenirs, unless they weigh almost nothing, send them home immediately. It may be possible to send them back to the hotel where you left your city clothes, but only if you arranged this ahead of time. (I don't recommend it.) You can mail things to your home anywhere in the world from any Japanese post office. They also have boxes and mailing bags. Some tourist shops will send souvenirs directly to your home.

Leave your city clothes behind

Several hotels and inns in Tokushima City and near Ryōzenji will store one bag for you if you stay there at least one night before and after the pilgrimage. (Many people also spend one or two nights in Tokushima City between Idoji and Onzanji (temples 17 and 18). Ask when making reservations. Hostel PAQ has a large storage room. Other hotels may or may not have room for your bag.

Things you think you might need to bring that you probably don't:

A pair of pants to change into in the evening. At the inn, you can wear the yukata they provide or your hiking pants (or hiking shorts in warm weather). If you go out to dinner, wear your hiking pants/shorts. You're a pilgrim, not a tourist. How often do you need to wash your hiking pants – once a week? Wear the yukata.

Extra shoes. Most people get through the pilgrimage with one pair of shoes. Start off with a new pair of a kind you have used before. There are shoe stores in every town, outdoor clothing/equipment stores here and there, plus Amazon Japan. You really don't need to carry a second pair. (Possible exception, as I said before, people with very large feet.)

Camping gear. If you plan to camp, bring it, but don't bring it just in case. There are always options. You may have to take a bus or taxi sometime, or take one very long day or very short day, but doing that once or twice is better than carrying full camping gear for 6 – 8 weeks and only using it once or twice – or not at all.

6. Luggage Storage and Forwarding for the Pilgrimage

A. There are four options for leaving luggage in and around Tokushima while you do the pilgrimage.

Option 1 -- The best is the free option. A few hotels near the station and a couple of the inns near Ryozenji (Temple One) will store a bag for you during your pilgrimage if you stay with them at least one night before and after. Most have only limited space, but Hostel PAQ, a very popular pilgrim guest house near the station, has lots of room.

Option 2 -- Lockers in the basement of Tokushima Station. (Open 6 am to 11 pm) Seventeen lockers for large items (700 yen), 50-plus for medium itens (500 yen), and 50-plus for small items (400 yen). Three-day limit.

Option 3 -- Tokushima Welcome Center, across from the station (500 yen per day).

Option 4 -- Oyado Eleven, in front of Fujiidera (Temple Eleven). This one has the advantage that you don't have to collect your bag at the end of your pilgrimage. Masuda-san will send it to you at the airport for your departure or to TekTek, an inn in front of Nagaoji (Temple 87). You can even send him the bag from another location such as the airport when you arrive in Japan. For details and price, email him at [email protected].

B. There are two options for forwarding luggage during the pilgrimage, and only for two specific places, two mountain temples. (Actually three options if you include using Japan Post and poste restante, but that's logistically complicated.)

Option 1. If you want to avoid having to carry your pack up to Shosanji (#12) and down the other side, stay at one of the inns just before Fujiidera (#11) and at one of the inns just after Shosanji. Your pack will be taken ahead for you free of charge.

Option 2. If you want to avoid having to carry your pack up to Yokomineji (#60), Guest House BEKKU (between T59 and T60, map. 73-b) has started a luggage forwarding service.

[cost]

Guest House BEKKU => Business Ryokan Komatsu 1,000 yen each

Guest House BEKKU => Guest House Himi 1,200 yen each

Guest House BEKKU => Yunotani Onsen 1,500 yen each

(It may be possible to have your bag taken to Nojima House or Yushin-an. This is a new service as of April 2024. I don't know.)

NOTE: There is no transportation for you, only your bag.