Shikoku pilgrimage: Kōbō Daishi statue


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This photograph relates to the Shikoku pilgrimage (Shikoku henro 四国遍路 , which involves a route of around 1400 kilometres around Japan's fourth largest island, Shikoku, that takes in eighty-eight temples. It is centred on Kōbō Daishi 弘法大師, the posthumous name of Kūkai 空海, the founder of the Shingon Buddhist tradition in Japan, who was born and practiced austerities in Shikoku. According to legend Kōbō Daishi transcended death and became a miracle-working mendicant figure who wandered around Japan dispensing blessings to the worthy and punishing wrongdoers. According to legend he founded the Shikoku pilgrimage in 815—although in reality it was not until some centuries later that the pilgrimage actually developed - and is said to accompany every pilgrim on the route; pilgrims usually wear clothing with the insignia dōgyōninin同行二人 ("two people doing one practice together") to indicate that they travel with the Daishi ("great teacher"), as he is commonly known..

   Symbolically, the journey is considered to be both a journey together with the Daishi on a journey to enlightenment, and also a journey associated with death; pilgrims generally wear pilgrimage clothing and carry accoutrements associated with their symbolic death, as they step outside the ordinary world to become pilgrims. Completing the journey thus can be seen as a form of symbolic rebirth. As is common in pilgrimages in Japan, completion is seen as a way of eradicating bad karma. Pilgrims need not complete the journey in one go; it is common, especially in the modern day, for participants to break the journey into a series of sections that they do when they have free time, and often people complete the journey over an extended period of time. It is common for pilgrims to make all manner of wishes and prayers seeking worldly benefits, as well as doing the pilgrimage as a memorial for deceased kin, for whom they seek salvation in the afterlife. As is common in pilgrimages worldwide, entertainment and sightseeing, especially of Shikoku's natural scenery, also play a part in pilgrim motivations and practices, and while some pilgrims nowadays walk the pilgrimage, the majority make use of the convenient transport system that exists in Shikoku. The development of bus tour pilgrimages from the 1950s onwards in particular has boosted pilgrim numbers in Shikoku and made the pilgrimage more accessible to people - notably older people and women- who in earlier times were rarely found among the pilgrims.

This statue is of Kōbō Daishi, depicting him in his guise as a wandering mendicant complete with Buddhist robes, monk's hat, pilgrim's staff and begging bowl. (1/3 of Kōbō Daishi )..

    For further information about pilgrimage in Japan, including the Shikoku pilgrimage, click on "related image" below.


Ian Reader


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Related Pages

Ian Reader 2005 Making Pilgrimages: Meaning and Practice in Shikoku (Honolulu: University of Hawaii a detailed discussion of the Shikoku pilgrimage in historical and contemporary contexts.

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