The Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage is a ~1200km walk around the island of Shikoku in Japan, visiting as the name suggests… 88 temples.
It is believed that the founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan, Kobo Daishi (otherwise known as Kukai, 774-835), trained or spent time at these temples so it is in his footsteps that the route follows. Many people start or finish their pilgrimage at Koya-san, in Wakayama prefecture on the mainland (honshu) because this is the mountain top where Kobo Daishi established the Shingon school of Buddhism in 819.
The word, ‘Shikoku’ means 4 provinces, and Shikoku is divided into the 4 provinces of Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime and Kagawa. Traditionally, walking this pilgrimage through these 4 provinces was seen as progressing through 4 stages of enlightenment. The four stages are:
Tokushima prefecture = place of spiritual awakening
Kochi prefecture = place of ascetic training
Ehime prefecture = place of enlightenment
Kagawa = place of nirvana
2014 is said to be the 1200th anniversary of the founding of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage and there will be various anniversary events held throughout the year at various temples.
There are three Pilgrim Oaths:
I will believe that Kobo Daishi will save all living beings and that he will always be with me.
I will not complain if things do not go well while on the pilgrimage, but consider such experiences to be part of ascetic training.
I will believe that all can be saved in the present world and I will continually ask to be able to achieve enlightenment.