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Shikoku Pilgrim Trail

Shikoku Pilgrim Trail

Overview

Shikoku is Japan’s fourth-largest island, home to some of the country’s most spectacular and undeveloped scenery. The island is also the setting for an ancient walking trail, the challenging Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage. The trail connects 88 Buddhist temples and the full walk covers more than a thousand kilometers. For our Shikoku Pilgrim Trail itinerary we have selected the best walks and accommodations, including Shukubo pilgrims lodgings and fine inns in appealing cities such as Tokushima and Dogo Onsen near Matsuyama, which offer convenient transport to the trailheads.

  • Walk on the loveliest parts of the Shikoku Pilgrim trail in Tokushima, Kagawa and Ehime
  • Visit some of the most atmospheric temples on the trail
  • Bathe in natural thermal waters at historic Dogo Onsen
  • Climb the iconic ladder to the meditation spot used by Kobo Daishi, founder of Shingon Buddhism

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Itinerary

Day 1: Tokushima Walk 1 (Temples 1 to 3) | 6 km

Start from Kyoto or Osaka and travel by long-distance bus to Tokushima Prefecture. Begin your pilgrimage with a gentle introduction to the walks on Shikoku through the quiet neighbourhoods of Tokushima. Visit three of the most eye-catching temples on whole trail – Temple 1 Ryozen-ji, Temple 2 Gokuraku-ji and Temple 3 Konsen-ji. Spend your first night as all pilgrims should – with a stay in a Shukubo Temple Lodging. There is also the option of staying at a traditional Ryokan for this first night.

  • Accommodation: Shukubo (Pilgrims lodging) or Ryokan
  • Walking for the day: 6 km, 2 hours, almost flat (An optional additional walk along paved roads to Temple 7 Juraku-ji can extend the day by 3 km and around 45 minutes)

Day 2: Tokushima Walk 2 (Temple 11 to Temple 12) | 10.4 km

Travel south by pre-booked and pre-paid taxi to Temple 11 Fujii-dera, a fascinating hillside temple complex. After time to explore Fujii-dera, your taxi delivers you to Ryusuian Temple, part-way up Mount Shosan-ji. From there you hike up the rest of the mountain to Temple 12 Shosan-ji, then finally descend to the east. The walk is fairly strenuous, but very rewarding with beautiful scenery.

  • Accommodation: Minshuku (family-run Japanese Inn) or Onsen Ryokan
  • Walking for the day: 10.4 km, 4-5 hours ↑550 m ↓1070 m (a longer walk of 6-7 hours and 13.2 km is required if staying at the nearby Onsen Ryokan)

Day 3: Tokushima Walk 4 (Temples 20 to 21) | 8.2 km

Travel by pre-paid taxi to one of the most beautiful and varied hikes on the entire 88 Pilgrimage route. From Temple 20 Kakurin-ji the trail descends to the hamlet of Anan, crosses the Nakagawa River and climbs again to Temple 21 Tairyu-ji. End the day with a cable car ride with wonderful views over a cedar forest and the small town below. Travel by bus to your accommodation for the evening.

  • Accommodation: Ryokan (Travellers Inn) or Hotel
  • Walking for the day: 8.2 km, 3-4 hours ↑460 m ↓470 m

Day 4: Kagawa Walk 1 (Temples 82 to 80) | 13.5 km

Leaving Tokushima, travel by train, bus and finally a pre-booked and prepaid taxi to a rewarding hike in northern Kagawa Prefecture. Walk through lovely scenery and visit a fine collection of temples – Temple 82 Negoro-ji, Temple 81 Shiromine-ji and finally Temple 80 Kokubun-ji. Travel onwards by train for an overnight stay in the old hot-spring town of Kotohira Spa.

  • Accommodation: Ryokan (Travellers Inn)
  • Walking for the day: 13.5 km, 5 hours ↑335 m ↓655 m (shorter option: 6 km, 2-3 hours)
  • The walk can be extended by 1.5 hours (5 km) by walking the first section instead of travelling by taxi. The section climbs 290 m along a paved road with some traffic, but offering good views too.
  • The walk can be shortened by 1.5 hours (5.4 km) by omitting the round-trip diversion to Temple 81 Shiromine-ji.

Day 5: Ehime (Temples 57 to 58) | 4.5 km

Leaving Kagawa, travel by train to Imabari in northern Ehime and begin your hike to Temple 57 Eifuku-ji. The walk gradually passes from urban townscape to rural farming communities before entering a forest with a steady climb to Temple 58 Senyū-ji. Visit Eifuku-ji and Senyū-ji, and there is also an optional detour to Temple 56 Taisan-ji. Overnight at Senyū-ji in the Shukubo pilgrims’ lodgings at the temple, or stay in a western-style hotel in Imabari City.

  • Accommodation: Shukubo (Pilgrims Lodging) or Hotel
  • Walking for the day: 4.5 km, 2-2.5 hours ↑250 m, negligible descent

Day 6: Ehime (Temples 58 onwards) | 4.4 km

The hike continues with a gentle walk down the mountain from Senyū-ji, with the opportunity to explore small village settlements on the way. Return to the town of Imabari, with an optional paved town hike on to Temple 59 Iyo Kokubun-ji and continue onwards to Matsuyama by train and overnight in Dogo Onsen.

  • Accommodation: Hot-spring Ryokan (Travellers Inn)
  • Walking for the day: 4.4 km, 1.5 hours ↓250 m, negligible ascent

Day 7: Ehime (Temples 45 to 44) | 12 km

Head south by bus and pre-paid taxi from Matsuyama to Temple 45 Iwaya-ji, a temple closely linked to Kōbō Daishi – the priest who founded Shingon Buddhism and Mount Koya. Climb the iconic ladder to his meditation spot, with its spectacular views over the surrounding region. From Iwaya-ji, enjoy a lovely forest hike to Temple 44 Daiho-ji before returning by bus to Matsuyama in the evening. Overnight in Dogo Onsen.

  • Accommodation: Hot-spring Ryokan (Travellers Inn)
  • Walking for the day: 12 km, 4 hours ↑650 m ↓580 m

Day 8: Ehime (Temples 60 to 62). Departure | 14 km

The tour ends with a rewarding hike in the east of Ehime Prefecture. Travel by bus and pre-paid taxi from Matsuyama to reach the trail and walk to Temple 60 Yokomine-ji, Temple 61 Kōon-ji and onwards to Temple 62 Hoju-ji. The walk passes through a rural area of Shikoku, and the temples are in lovely natural settings. After the hike, travel onwards by train (included) to the Kansai area, arriving mid-evening.

  • Accommodation: no overnight included
  • Walking for the day: 14 km, 4-5 hours ↑620 m ↓870 m (You can reduce the hike by about one hour to 11.3 km, avoiding the first uphill section. Simply pay locally to extend the taxi ride to Temple 60 Yokomine-ji. Choose on the day – no need to decide in advance)

What to Expect

Accommodation

  • Ryokan (Nabeiwasō, Tokushima, Kotohira Spa, Dogo Onsen)

Ryokan are traditional Japanese-style inns. They may be in modern concrete or older wooden buildings but the rooms are always in the Japanese style with tatami (straw) matting and futons laid out in the evening by the ryokan staff. Evening meals are served together usually in the dining room, and are exquisitely prepared multi-course meals. Many ryokan have both en suite bathrooms (with the exception of some older buildings) and communal hot spring style baths (segregated by sex). They are the classic Japanese experience.

  • Shukubo (Higashihara, Mount Senyū-ji)

These are lodgings in Buddhist temples originally meant for pilgrims, but now open to anyone. The rooms are similar to Ryokan or Minshuku, though with fewer facilities. The food is excellent vegetarian Buddhist ‘Shojin-Ryori’ cuisine. It is a beautiful experience to stay in a Shukubo, and there is often the opportunity to join the early morning religious service.

*Accommodations are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal value and quality level. We will give you the exact accommodation details upon booking confirmation.

Meals

Seven breakfasts and dinners are included. Most meals will be Japanese cuisine. Vegetarian options are available but limited. Strict vegetarian diets, vegan diets, or gluten-free diets will be difficult to accommodate due to the pervasiveness of the fish-based stock dashi and the use of soy sauce and miso in Japanese cuisine. Tips are not required in Japan.

Difficulty & terrain

This holiday is suitable for walkers of good fitness (read more about difficulty grades). Some of the walks can be optionally shortened (or completely skipped) using the excellent local public transportation system. Routes are well signposted in most parts. We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never try to shorten the path through the unknown and unmarked terrain.

We will provide you with detailed road notes and maps, and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime. More detailed info on route navigation will be included in your holiday information pack.

When to go

The tour is arranged from April to October. The best time to visit is the end of April – May and September – October when the weather is pleasant and warm. June is within the rainy season and in July and August, it gets very warm. The flexibility of self guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates and you can start your holiday on any date in the season – so please indicate desired beginning date when booking.

Please note that travel during Golden Week, O-Bon, or the End of Year holidays may incur supplements of up to 20%. We will only pass along to you the actual supplement charged to us by the accommodation, and we do not mark these up.

Getting there

FCO up-to-date travel advice

Click to view travel options

By plane

Our recommended airport for this tour is Kyoto/Osaka.

By train or bus
  • Individual arrival and departure train tickets from Kyoto/Osaka to Shikoku and from Shikoku to Kyoto/Osaka are included in your package. You have to make your own airport transfer arrangements.

Inclusions

Included

  • Accommodation in hotels, Japanese-style inns (ryokan, minshuku). Japanese-style accommodation will generally be in tatami-mat rooms
  • 7 breakfasts and 7 dinners
  • Individual return train tickets from Kyoto/Osaka to Shikoku
  • Individual train tickets for intermediate train journeys along the Shikoku 88 trail
  • A pre-booked and pre-paid taxi on Day 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8
  • Detailed day-to-day itinerary and walking directions along with Topographical maps
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative

Excluded

  • Airfare to and from Japan
  • Airport transfers
  • Lunches, drinks and snacks
  • Luggage transfers
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Entrance fees to museums, temples etc.
  • Local bus journeys on Day 2, 3 and 7
  • Personal expenses
  • Local tourist taxes and entry fees (payable on-site)
  • Any items not explicitly listed as included

Options, extras & supplements

  • A supplement applies to members of a group who require a single room
  • This holiday is available for solo travellers; a supplement will be charged as accommodation and luggage transfer costs are not shared (we never mix and match – solo travellers will be accommodated in single rooms)

Baggage Transfers

Daily luggage transfer is not available for this itinerary. For most clients on our self-guided walking tours, the best way to deal with your main luggage is to send it ahead by the wonderful Takkyubin Courier service. Takkyubin is the brand name of the best-known service provider. These services are secure, efficient and economical, typically around JPY 2,000 per bag per transfer. The sent luggage does not re-join you each night; it is waiting for you at the accommodation where you stay at a night or two later on. You carry overnight essentials in your daypack for the intervening nights.

Send your main luggage from the hotel you stay at before the trail to an inn part-way along the path. For this itinerary, that suggested location is Kotohira Spa (Day 4) and then from Kotohira (on the morning of Day 5) to wherever you stay after the trail. Another alternative is to send your bags to Kamiyama Onsen (Day 3), then to Dogo Onsen (Day 6) and finally onwards from Dogo Onsen.

Takkyubin does not need to be arranged in advance. You arrange and pay for the service yourself in Japan, usually with help from the concierge of your hotel or inn. Some smaller local hotels and inns may not offer the service, but they will direct you to the nearest location where the service is available – a local convenience store, for example.

Travelling light on the trails is easy. All inns provide cotton yukata gowns and slippers for you to wear after arrival for dining, relaxing in your room, exploring outside and sleeping. They also offer small towels, soap, shampoo and hairdryers. You don’t need a complete change of clothing for the evening, so it is possible to manage with just a medium daypack to carry overnight essentials. Takkyubin may be a novel experience for clients who have walked self-guided in other parts of the world, but it works wonderfully well in Japan.

Takkyubin allows you to travel throughout Japan without having to handle your main luggage. You can avoid carrying your bags on trains and buses, where luggage space is often limited, or through busy railway stations. The only disadvantage is that you are without your main bag for one or more nights while it is in transit.

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