Six Days in Shikoku: The First of the 88 Temples, Ryozenji

The photo shows a chamber with a ceiling full of lit up lanterns.  In the foreground at the top are a series of papers hanging down with Japanese kanji on them.  In the room there are various small statues, candles, and places to burn incense.  Two people are inside the chamber.

The #1 reason people travel to Shikoku is to experience one of the world’s great pilgrimage trails – the 1200 km trail around Shikoku visiting the 88 temples established/refurbished by Kobo Daishi, founder of Japanese Shingon Buddhism.

This photo shows a mannequin dressed as a henro - straw hat, walking stick, white clothes with orange thingy tied around the neck and drooping over the chest, with a set of prayer beads in one hand

The traditional attire for a henro (pilgrim)

Since I only had about a week to spend in Shikoku, I obviously did not have time to walk 1200 kilometers to see all of the 88 temples. And if I did have the time/energy for such an undertaking, there are other treks which I would find more tempting (even in Japan, I think I’d rather spend that time hiking more of the hyakumeizan).

I went from downtown Tokushima City to Bando station by train to start my mini-pilgrimage.

I went from downtown Tokushima City to Bando station by train to start my mini-pilgrimage.

However, it would be a shame to be in Shikoku and not experience the 88 Temples at all, and it turns out that the first five temples are relatively close to each other and I could easily walk to all five in a day. Thus, I decided to be a henro (pilgrim) for just one day.


Traditionally, a pilgrim should start at Koyasan (which is not in Shikoku) to ask for Kobo Daishi’s assistance. I’d already been to Koyasan, and saw the building where Shingon Buddhists claim Kobo Daishi is meditating, even though I forgot to ask Kobo Daishi to help me travel in Shikoku while I was there. Oh well. Ryozenji is considered Temple #1 because it is the temple which is closest to Koyasan, and thus the most convenient starting point for pilgrims who are doing things the ‘proper’ way.


Once the train pulled out of Tokushima City, it got rural very fast. Shikoku doesn’t have expansive urban metropolises like the other major islands of Japan. The area around Bando station was very typical of small town Japan.


To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the temples. I had already seen enough temples in Japan to get Temple Fatigue. I was more interested in the walking part than seeing the temples.


I was pleasantly surprised by Ryozenji. It’s not a big temple, and it’s charming. It’s also … how can I say it? It’s not like temples built in an imperial city (*cough* Kyoto *cough*), which are trying to Be Sublimer Than That Temple Over There, or are tucked away and seems particularly humble compared to the temples aiming for sublimity.


It’s like an important temple in a rural area far from any megacity, probably because it actually is an important temple in a rural area far from any megacity. It doesn’t try to be particularly sublime or humble, it’s just there.


Also, it’s simply a pleasant place to be.

The photo shows part of the wooden gate to the temple, centering on a wooden statue of one of the Buddhist demon guardian kings

And of course, it was the first place I got a look at henro culture.

The photo shows a walking stick, a straw hat, and a backpack left on the ground

It looks like someone dropped their henro equipment

Most of the pilgrims nowadays travel with a bus tour. I hear that a bus tour of the 88 temples typically takes about four days.

On the far side of the pond, we see a large group of people in white clothes, and behind them is a temple building

Most of the people in these bus-pilgrimage-tours are older Japanese people.


However, I met a couple people who intend to complete the entire pilgrimage on foot at this temple.

In the background is a three-story pagoda building.  In the lower right, there is a man wearing a blue shirt, with a walking stick and a straw hat on the ground beside him

If I remember correctly (and if my Japanese was good enough), this guy is one of the ones who plans to do the whole pilgrimage on foot.

I went to the place where pilgrims get their stamp (pilgrims can collect stamps from all of the temples they visit). They offered me a stamp too, but I told them I wasn’t collecting stamps.


And of course, there is a shop selling henro and all kinds of things someone starting their pilgrimage may want to buy.


I spent more time at Ryozenji than I expected, but eventually, I left and walked to Temple #2, Gokurakuji, which I’ll present in the next post.


4 thoughts on “Six Days in Shikoku: The First of the 88 Temples, Ryozenji

  1. Wow…if I ever go back to Japan, I’ll have to remember this pilgrimage trail. I think I might have gotten temple fatigue when I went, even though it was only for 10 days. Walking sounds fun though, and now that I’ve been to Zen centers I think I’d “get it” more. I liked seeing the hanro outfit…very interesting.

  2. Pingback: Six Days in Shikoku: The Second Temple, Gokurakuji | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  3. Pingback: Six Days in Shikoku: Matsuyama | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  4. Pingback: I Was a Walker Who Put the Temples First | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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