Nicola on the Shikoku Trail

Culture & History, Macs Adventure, Walking

Why Shikoku Island Was My Ultimate Japanese Highlight

12 Oct , 2017  

At Macs Adventure, our walking itineraries in Japan are based around some of the country’s ancient pilgrimage trails. One such trail is the 88 Temples Pilgrimage on Shikoku Island. The island is one of the most unspoiled areas of Japan, and I was lucky enough to spend 3 days walking there during my trip in June.

Shikoku Island Views under Blue Sky

Some of the views on the Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail

The full route would see you walking a circuit of the whole island, taking in 88 Temples along the way. This is definitely an authentic pilgrim experience as you will be following in the footsteps of Kobo Daishi, who is credited to founding the trail along with Shingon or “True Word” school of Buddhism. Our itinerary features the highlights of the trail over 5 walking days, where you’ll get to experience some wonderful and at times challenging walking, beautiful temples, and an opportunity to stay at a working temple lodging.

Temple hidden behind trees on the Shikoku Pilgrim's trail

There are 88 temples on the full Shikoku Pilgrim’s trail. Our itinerary takes in up to 14 beautiful & spiritual temples along the way.

Even the journey to Shikoku was a highlight for me. We travelled by bus from Kyoto which only took a few of hours but the most memorable moment was seeing the Naruto whirlpools. I don’t know the science around how these are created but they looked amazing. The second thing that struct me when we arrived in Shikoku, is that the island has so many forest covered mountains. It made me appreciate how tough walking the full Temple 88 pilgrimage must be.

I found walking in Shikoku to be a completely different experience to the walking on the Kumano Kodo. As you are walking between temples on this trip, the terrain varies depending on the day and my first day of walking found me visiting 3 of the most beautiful temples on the route. The walk took me through a more residential area where you’ll see a mixture of traditional and modern Japanese houses. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of hills to climb and lots of cool forest walking to be found. Way marking along the route is in Japanese and the first time there were no English translations. I thought this may be a problem (my Japanese isn’t great) but the route notes were fantastic and kept us on track. We even started recognising the Kanji for some of the towns.

Shrines carved in stone on the Shikoku trail

In addition to temples, you will see many shrines and religious monuments, with plenty opportunity to pause for contemplation.

I stayed in a mixture of temple lodgings, traditional Ryokan in a modern city and small Minshuku’s. In the temple lodging you’ll have the chance to go to prayers, which is a wonderful experience. All accommodations offered the traditional tatami mat flooring along with futons and all had amazing banquet meals for both breakfast and dinner. Udon noodles are a speciality in the Kagawa Prefect, so these will definitely feature on most menus and are utterly delicious. I was also quite proud of myself when I managed to pick up a chopstick full of noddles!

A banquet meal laid out on a ryokan table

The food and sincere hospitality is second to none.

Unlike the main Island, there are no English language signs, whether on way marking on the trail or on public transport. This was never a problem though. The locals were incredibly helpful during the few moments we were a bit unsure about which train to catch. Two lovely gentlemen, on their way home from a wedding, helped us out and even gave us some snacks!

There were many things I loved about my trip to Japan, but Shikoku Island was our favourite part of the experience. It offers a truly authentic Japanese experience combined with amazing walking, I recommend this to anyone looking for an adventure!

Walk the Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail combined with nights in Kyoto & Osaka. Visit our website to view the tour, or read more detail from the trail’s blog feature as “adventure of the week”.

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Macs Adventure’s destination specialist for Europe, specialising in Mediterranean destinations. My passions in life are travel and food.