The Shikoku 88 Temple pilgrimage with Samurai Tours that I did in 2022 was a truly wonderful, unique experience. It is hard to describe the uplifting impact of visiting so many magnificent temples, each with its own character ready to astonish you at every turn. Some are hauntingly beautiful, set deep in mountains and forests, while others are tucked away in the side streets of towns. All are steeped in 1,300 years of Japanese Buddhist history. Whether it be the cedar wood exteriors, the aroma of incense wafting through the air, the extraordinary artistry of thousands of statues, beautiful gardens and water features, and traces everywhere of ancient legends, all combine to create a sustained atmosphere of tranquillity, really an out-of-this-world experience. This was a pilgrimage, not a sightseeing tour, and as such evoked in us a reverential and appreciative attitude, whatever our belief system. We participated in the normal rituals for entering a temple – hand washing, ringing the bell, lighting candles and incense and reciting whatever devotional text we wished – or none. Just standing in front of the temple hall in an attitude of awe and respect would have been enough. Travelling by minibus was comfortable and the journey well organised. Our drivers were knowledgeable and friendly and joined in our adventure. But even though it was much easier than walking the whole trail, we still had to make some efforts – we inevitably covered great distances on the road, climbed many steps and had the occasional long day. The free days were well spaced and necessary to recover our energy. They were also in towns where there was something else to see, such as Matsuyama Castle or Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu. The hotels were all good and most had onsen – providing welcome relief to the weary pilgrim. Breakfasts were substantial – enough to sustain you for the day although we did buy our snack lunches in Japan’s high quality convenience stores. Several hotels were located near shopping streets where there were plenty of restaurants for days where we did not eat together. Most had coin-operated laundries making it easy to wash one’s gear on the days off. Above all this tour was conducted in a joyous communal spirit which is, after all, part of the point of a pilgrimage – to find the best in ourselves and share it. I would love to do it again!
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