Chiara Terzulo, USA
Course.1. Tokushima Trial Pilgrimage Course
Walking (and Hiking!) the First 12 Temples of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage
Walking part of the Shikoku Ohenro has been a personal goal for well over a decade, and in October 2022 my dream of taking on this historic trail came true.
Over the course of three days, I got to walk the first 12 temples of the pilgrimage, all of which are located in Tokushima Prefecture. I think it is the perfect introduction for those who want to get a taste of this famous pilgrimage, without walking the entire 1200+ kms around the entire island of Shikoku.
Day 1: Short and Sweet (Temples 1 to 6)
The first section of the route has temples at pretty regular distances, so you feel quite accomplished. There are tons of official markers (along with many made by friendly locals), and the 17km walk takes you through cute little towns and along shortcuts through rice fields and little semi-hidden trails. There are plenty of options for fueling up, and I made my own little gourmet pilgrimage to the Fujimura Bakery (about 1km before temple 5, Jizoji) and then Café Brisa, for a very much needed cup of iced coffee.
One of the highlights of this part of the trail (besides the seemingly infinite supply of beautiful traditional houses) is staying overnight at the shukubo at Anrakuji (temple 6). The hot spring baths are perfect after a day on walking, and the special evening ceremony is completely unique and beautiful. You may be tempted to keep on going, but this is a definite must!
I recommend this one-day experience for total hiking beginners, or those who have limited time, just to get a fun taste of the pilgrimage.
Day 2: Long and Green (Temples 7 to 11)
Hardier folks who are used to long-distance walking will enjoy the challenge of the second day, which can be between 22 to 30km, depending on which trails you decide to take. I personally opted to take the more scenic Shikoku no Michi options, which are longer but avoid major roads. (You will find them clearly shown in the excellent Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide).
Make sure to check your map between temples 7 and 9, as a combination of slightly misleading signs and roadwork make it a bit tougher to figure out. Kirihataji (temple 10) has long flights of stairs to climb, so look forward to that! At the foot of the temple there are a number of shops with henro supplies, so this may be a good spot to kit yourself out… getting a hat may be a good idea, as the sun is quite strong!
The walk between the 10th and 11th temple is the longest so far, and crosses a large, agricultural island. Just keep going and collapse at Ryokan Yoshino, where deep baths and a very hearty dinner await.
Day 3: Into the Mountains (Temples 11 to 12)
The final day on my mini-pilgrimage was also definitely the most physically challenging, as the 12km distance between Fujidera and Shosanji is all on hiking trails. You definitely need to be in shape and have hiking experience, but the trail is quite pleasant, with a combination of steep inclines and flatter ridgeline that allow your legs to get a bit of rest.
The signs are limited and mostly in Japanese, but the trail is pretty easy to follow, with a number of spots where you can stop for a breather. One of the most memorable is Ipponsugi, the highest section of the trail, where a massive statue of Kobo Daishi greets you at the top of a stone staircase.
Give yourself at least 5~6 hours to reach the temple, and another hour to hike down to the bus stop in Nabeiwa, which has three daily buses to Yorii, where you can catch another bus to Tokushima Station (alternatively, you can walk another 4 km into Yorii, following the flat main road).