The Informational Shikoku Pilgrimage Post: Kagawa Prefecture
In tune with some of my past posts regarding my pilgrimage hike, I’m going to have at least one here with the straight-to-the-point details about where I stayed, my recommendations, and relevant anecdotes. This will focus on the last section of the trail: Kagawa Prefecture.
Day 1: Temple 65 (Sankakuji)
The hour and a half ride express train ride from Tokushima station to Iyo-Mishima, the closest to Temple 65, costs roughly 6000 yen. Not bad considering the 10,000 yen ticket I had to pay to get to the area around Temple 40. The hike up to Sankakuji was fine, but the 19 km walk towards 66 afterwards took a lot longer than I expected. I would also not recommend doing both 65 and 66 in one day, as 66 is the highest mountain on the trail! You will be pooped. I stayed at a business hotel a couple of kilometers west of 66 in Miyoshi city. The area has plenty of convenience stores and other lodging as well, so I think going a little bit farther and backtracking the next day is worth it. The city is also fairly close to Bangai #15 if you are also visiting those.
Stay: Awa-Ikeda Business Hotel
Price: ~4500 yen (no meals)
Type: Single bed
Impression: Alright place to stay, though my room smelled a little bit like smoke.
Day 2: Temples 66 (Unpenji), 67 (Daikoji), 68 (Jinnein), 69 (Kanonji)
Although I will always argue Temple 12 was the hardest hike, the trail to Unpenji was a good workout to say the least. It was this hike that would actually cause the rest of my trip to be relatively painful; It being only the second day, and with new boots too, I walked up the mountain intensely. As I reached the summit and the temple, I noticed my Achilles tendon really hurt. After doing some research, and actually applying some common sense, I probably added too much strain too fast going uphill especially after the long hike from the day before. Just make sure to keep your pace and stretch! Don’t make the same mistake I did!
I took the ropeway down from Unpenji and walked from the base to temples 67, 68 and 69. If you do take the ropeway down, make sure to walk the path heading east towards Minshuku Aozora and then head north: That trail is far shorter than the one the stickers point towards after the ropeway.
Around Kanonji station near 68/69, I actually ran into an older couple who was on their third trek around the pilgrimage! They were really helpful and let me in on some really important details I hadn’t heard before.
1) Make sure you don’t light your candles/incense from those already burning, as you’re taking away the “respect” (as the woman explained it) away from the person who originally lit it.
2) Be careful towards the end of the pilgrimage of people actually stealing your stamp book! I personally never heard of any incidents, but the couple said they met people around the 80s who had their books stolen. They said people are more likely to take the books around the later parts since it’s so close to the end. I just made sure to always have my backpack on me, even on the temple grounds. Most likely you’ll be just fine, but just keep watch.
3) Make sure to do the extra little hike at 68/69 to see the coin shaped sculpture on the beach!
On day 2 I stayed at Motodai Business Hotel, which was convenient since it’s so close to Temple 70. Lots of large supermarkets and restaurants around the area as well.
Stay: Motodai Business Hotel
Price: ~4000 yen (no meals)
Impression: The single was actually a HUGE tatami room with a separate kitchen and a hallway! I was very impressed with the size and location for the price. Also it’s right next to a bath house which will give you a discount.
Day 3: Temples 70 (Motoyamaji), 71 (Iyadaniji), 72 (Mandaraji), 73 (Shusshakaji), 74 (Koyamaji)
The morning walk from 70-71 took most of the day, but Iwadaniji really impressed me after finishing the minor hike up. Make sure to stop by the tea shop at the base and stay a little bit, have some tea, and chat with the owners. They were great, and there’s an artist currently living there who likes to practice her English.
At Temple 73, there’s a little extra hike up the mountain behind the temple where it’s said Kukai was saved by angels after leaping off, and there’s a famous temple and view towards the top. I didn’t make the trek due to my knee and Achilles tendon flaring up, but would have otherwise. I saved going to 75 (Zentsuji) for the next day.
I took the train a little southwest towards Kotohira, which is home to Kotohiragu, one of Japan’s most famous shrines, and the mountain Konpira-san. I had done the walk up to the shrine the previous year so I didn’t feel like doing it again, but I would highly recommend checking out the shrine if you’re in the area. The general Kotohira area also has a lot of souvenir shops and local delicacies to try.
Stay: Takaraya Ryokan
Price: 10,000 yen (meals included)
Impression: If you’re shocked by the price of a single room at this place, I can say I was even more so. However this was the only place with a room open for me, so I had to bite the bullet. The general zentsuuji/konpira area is very, very popular, so make sure you get your reservation in the area A.S.A.P. Despite the price, the owner was very nice and the dinner was one of the best I’ve ever had in Shikoku. I have never had a hamburger as good as I have had there.
Day 4: Temples 75 (Zentsuji), 76 (Konzoji), 77 (Doryuji), 78 (Goshoji), 79 (Tennoji)
With my pain in my ankle not subsiding, I decided to try the bike rental service close to Zentsuji. While it wouldn’t be a complete rest day for my foot, I had temples to get to and see. For only 100 yen, you can rent your very own Zentsuji-sponsored basket bike. This bike eventually caused the biggest headache of my day, but I’ll get to that in a second.
Zentsuji, said to be the birthplace of Kobo Daishi, has so much to see and do that I easily could have spent most of the morning there. My highest recommendations include the 90 meter path under the main hall, which is pitch black hallway aligned with the 88 sacred buddhas, as well as the training hall hosting a mini-88 temple pilgrimage. The underground path (which also allows entrance to the temple’s treasure museum) costs 500 yen, while the mini-88 pilgrimage is a simple 500 yen donation.
Temples 76 and 77 were fairly small and did not have much to them, but 78 was a nice surprise. Goshoji has a fairly elaborate layout, including a small garden and notable Shinto shrines in the back. The underground Kannon statue sanctuary, with hundreds of small Kannon statues from donators, made the biggest impression.
Sometime around the road to 78, I noticed my bike’s back tire starting to feel a little low on air. I didn’t think much of it, and figured I would just stop at the next bike shop I saw. No more than 10 minutes later, the insides of the back tire were entangled in the gears and chain, eventually taking the tire off completely. Luckily, a Japanese couple noticed me in trouble and helped me to the nearest bike shop. The mechanic, shocked at how messed up the bike was, said “these are too old to be renting out anyway!” While he was able to repair it completely, if you do end up renting from any of the Zentsuji bike rentals, I would make sure to ask them about the condition of the bike first. Don’t make the same mistake I did! The rental place did pay me back for the bill.
After making it all the way to Temple 79, I rode back to Zentsuji, returned the bike and rode the train to Kokubu, which is right where Temple 80 and my hostel was. It was a hell of a day and I was ready to rest.
Stay: Azusa Minshuku
Price: 5,000 yen (meals included)
Impression: Nice little place where my futon was in a living room. The owner also owns a small Udon shop right next door where he prepares the dinners and breakfasts. Fairly standard, and right next to a big drug store if you need anything. The bathroom’s a little old, though.
Day 5: Temples 80 (Kokubunji), 81 (Shiromineji), 82 (Negoroji), 83 (Ichinomiyaji)
The early morning started with a trip to Temple 80, and then the hike up to 81 and 82. I can definitely see people perhaps wanting to do 81 and 82 right after visiting 79, as it’s more direct, but going the numbered route wasn’t too bad. If you’re going from 80->81, there’s a point the path will want to to continue heading north into the forest when you reach the top. My recommendation would be to turn left and follow the driving road towards 81, and then taking a hard-to-miss shortcut which leads to the same forest path. It’s much shorter and the forest path ended up being pretty muddy, so I avoided a early morning mud bath.
I’ve always found the high up mountain temples to be some of the best, and 81 and 82 were no exception. Plenty of space with interesting little buildings and sculptures all around that you just don’t find at the more town focused ones. 82 in particular has a large statue dedicated to an “ox-demon” which was said to terrify folks in the area until a samurai slayed the beast. There’s also a very well put together hut near 82 which provided a great resting place. As long as you stick to the trail from 81->82, you can’t miss either.
I ended up taking the JR train just off the foot of the mountain to Takamatsu city, and decided to experiment with the city’s Kotoden Train system. The Kotoden connects to all the major temples in the general Takamatsu area, and tickets are really cheap, so if you’re especially tired and want to save some time you can go to 83, 84, 85, 86, AND 87 by riding the city’s trains!!
While I had originally made a reservation at Sakika Youth Guest House in downtown Takamatsu, for reasons totally beyond my comprehension I was moved to a hotel right around the corner called the New Grande Mimatsu Ryokan. The only real thing I picked up was “the room is bigger,” which was absolutely true. Either way, I can’t comment as to how Sakika actually is, and I think Mimatsu might be too expensive to reserve for a single. But in the end Mimatsu let me pay the same price as I would at Sakika, roughly 3,500 yen. Takamatsu is filled with more than enough places to stay, but I really enjoyed the area around Sakika and Mimatsu. Also, it was right by one of the major Kotoden stations.
Sakika Youth Guest House phone number: 087-822-2111 (meals not included)
Day 6: Temples 84 (Yashimaji), 85 (Yakuriji), 86 (Shidoji)
The rain and pain gave me a god excuse to take the Kotoden line to most of the temples on day 6. First was to Yashimaji, located in one of the more tourist heavy areas in Takamatsu. Yashimaji is based in a park filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, and an aquarium! Though a little expensive (1200 yen) I stopped by to check out nonetheless.
At the foot of the small mountain is an area called Shikokumura, which is a park recreated to look like Edo and Meiji-era Shikoku. While I didn’t check out the park, there were plenty of recommendations to try the popular Udon restaurant, called Waraya, located right at the entrance. I was not disappointed.
After making the rounds to 85 and 86, I actually decided to ride back from Shido to Tokushima station, pick up my car, and drive to my minshuku for the night. That way when I was finished with the pilgrimage the next day, I would have direct access to my car. I would stay at Azumaya Ryokan, conveniently located literally in front of Temple 87, Nagaoji. Little did I know that Azumaya was one of the most popular and notorious ryokans to stay along the trail. The exceptionally bright owner welcomed me and said my dinner was ready when I was. As I sat down to eat, I was stunned by the amount of memorabilia surrounding the room. Pictures from celebrities of long past, autographs of directors and actors whom had stayed, official certificates, and art relating to the pilgrimage absolutely filled the walls. On the table was also a very detailed folder containing maps with the all the routes to Temple 88, info on how to get your official “completion” certificate, and other bits of trivia for the final day ahead. The hostel journal, filled with pilgrims who came from all over the world, praised Azumaya as one of the best places they had stayed at in all of Shikoku. I made sure to write my fantastic review as well.
Stay: Azumaya Ryokan
Price: 6,000 yen (meals included)
Impression: Stay. here. You will not regret it.
Day 7 (the final day): Temples 87 (Nagaoji), 88 (Okuboji), 1 (Ryozenji)
During my early morning breakfast, the owner came in and showed me an egg. “This isn’t any ordinary egg,” she said as she cracked it on the side of a small bowl. Two yolks came out from the shell, to my utter amazement. “I always make sure to serve these two-yolked eggs to pilgrims on their final day ahead,” she said. “It’s a symbol of you and Kobo Daishi, and the link that has brought you all the way here.” She gave me a final rundown of the walk ahead, gave me a small energy drink and a large chocolate bar as a gift, and sent me on my way.
Because my knee and ankle was still acting up, I decided to drive to the Maeyama Henro Salon located right before the mountain leading to Temple 88 and park my car. I figured the salon was a good starting and stopping point for the final leg. I stopped into the salon for a bit to check it out, and actually ended up staying an hour chatting with a Canadian and two Tokyo biker pilgrims who were also taking a short rest. At the salon, the volunteers offer certificates to walkers and bikers who complete the trail, thus becoming official “ambassadors” of our respective ways. Although we had yet to visit 88, they gave all of us our certificates anyway. “We know you’ll complete it without any issues,” the volunteer told me with a small chuckle as he handed my my certificate and badge.
The salon also has an extensive museum dedicated to the history of pilgrims and the trail, with notable pieces of art, early versions of the stamp book and name cards, and artifacts found along the trail. It was completely free, and I was really impressed with how well kept the entire center was. It’s the perfect place to relax and meet some fellow pilgrims, or even bask in your victory once you’re done. Do not pass up the salon on your way to Temple 88.
I find it poetic that the walk to Temple 88 is one of the more challenging one of the trail: Another direct hike up, and at one point I literally had to get on my hands and knees to climb up strategically placed rocks. Even in the final stretch, the trail keeps you on your toes. And even when you reach the summit, there’s still a steep road to walk down to actually get to 88.
The walking trail leading to 88 actually comes from the back on the temple, subtly connecting to the main grounds. Once I finally arrived (which took far longer due to the pain in my knee), I was in bliss. It was actually pretty hard to believe that I had made it to all 88. Okuboji does not disappoint, and has very elaborate memorials, halls, and statues to check out. The most interesting was the “Walking Stick” depository, where many pilgrims leave their walking stick once they have completed the trail thinking that its job is complete.
After getting my final stamp and the completion certificate (an extra 2000 yen), I took the local bus back to my car. There was only one more thing to do: complete the circle and go back to Temple 1.
Taking the expressway back to Naruto, I arrived at Ryozenji in the mid-afternoon. It was surreal to think how much had changed since the last time I had been here: no more fumbling around and confused about what to do, I actually knew the names and significance of the varies statues and deities, and wrote down my info on my final name slip. I heard a rumor there was actually an unofficial “last” stamp to get once you returned to Temple 1, and the priest was more than happy to sign the last page of my stamp book with a special insignia and the date. After some tea and photos, I headed back home and promptly fell asleep.
There’s a lot to take away from this trail, but I will leave that for a separate article. In my next post, I will have a more introspective piece about my thoughts on the trail, what it taught me, and my relationship to it all.