Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage

While in Shikoku I learned about a pilgrimage that people make to visit 88 of the temples on the island. It is believed that the Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi visited them all and that doing so can bring the pilgrim good luck and/or remove bad spirits. The pilgrims are called Ohenrosan ("O" being an honorific, "Henro" being the pilgrim, and "san" a title like Mr./Ms./Mrs.). The long trip was traditionally made on foot but today people are using vehicles to do it quicker.

It is a belief held in Japan that the 42nd year (41 years old) for men and the 32nd year (31 years old) for women is a bad year. A Shikoku pilgrimage is a way for people to try to minimize the bad spirits that they have at those ages. Being currently in my 42nd year, this was a great opportunity to make my own pilgrimage! Unfortunately, I was on a bus tour where I couldn't dictate to stop at each temple so I had to make due as I could.

Here's an old photo that I found on the internet that shows some Henro:

The whole pilgrimage is steeped in tradition. From the outfit that is worn to what you do at each temple is set. For example, on the trip around the island you'll see many Henro walking to the next temple along the road. You can spot them easily due to their white clothes, straw hats (sugegasa), walking sticks, and bags. This illustration shows the traditional outfit, which is still commonly used today:

Pilgrimages are not just made by men and women of a set age. You'll see all types of people out walking. All are doing it for different reasons but some common ones are when someone wants a special wish granted, good luck in a new venture, a change of fortune, and so on. Also, the clothes that people choose to wear can be flexible too. I found this picture showing the variety of people and clothes that you might see (maybe the guy on the right is from the U.S. as we're the only ones who wear shorts when traveling???):

Along with the clothes, the ritual that is performed at each temple, tradition says, must be done exactly the same. If, for example, you buy a candle and donate 100 yen at the first, you must repeat this at each temple you visit. As I mentioned, I was on a bus that wasn't stopping at each temple so I had to do what I could. :-) Each time the guide told us we were passing one of the temples, I did a small, seated bow and waved my right hand towards the temple. I'm not sure if this will qualify for completing the pilgrimage but I figure it can't hurt.

Oh yeah, I (sorta') did the Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage and I DID get the shirt! Are you jealous yet?

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