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 kilometres. Pilgrims, known as O-henro, traditionally covered the journey on foot over many weeks, staying overnight at Shukubo temple lodgings. Most modern travellers now travel from temple to temple by tour bus, but we have found sections of the original route which can still be enjoyed on foot.
On your final day, you may wish to try your hand at Sanuki Udon noodle-making. Please ask for information about tour extensions to the mountain-top temple town of Mount Koya with its monastery lodgings, the art island of Naoshima or the UNESCO World Heritage of Miyajima Island, and Tomonoura Bay on the Setouchi inland sea.
This tour offers more advanced hiking. Please see here for trips best suited to families.
Read about luggage options here.
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 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 city-centre Ryokan for this first night.
Walking distance: 5.8km / 3.6 miles
Elevation gain: Negligible ascent and descent
Time required: About 2 hours
An optional additional walk along paved roads to Temple 7 Juraku-ji can extend the day by 3km / 1.9 miles and around 45 minutes.
Accommodation: Shukubo (Pilgrims Lodging) or Ryokan (Travellers Inn)
Travel south from your Shukubo pilgrims lodging by pre-booked and pre-paid taxi to Temple 11 Fujii-dera, located at the bottom of a fascinating hillside temple complex. From Fujii-dera undertake a challenging hike to Temple 12 Shosan-ji. The full walk is one of the longest and most strenuous on the tour, but very rewarding with beautiful scenery. Walk onwards to Yorii and board a bus to the small Onsen village of Kamiyama and your inn for the evening.
Walking distance: 19.2km / 11.9 miles
Elevation gain: 1,330m / 4,365 feet of ascent and 1,210m / 3,970 feet of descent
Time required: About 7-8 hours
You can reduce the walk to 5-6 hours (14.1km / 8.8 miles) and avoid the first half of the strenuous ascent up Mt. Shosan-ji. Simply pay locally to extend the taxi ride on the day - no need to decide in advance.
Accommodation: Onsen Ryokan (Travellers Inn) or Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
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.
Walking distance: 8.2km / 5.1 miles
Elevation gain: 460m / 1,510 feet ascent and 470m / 1,540 feet descent
Time required: About 3-4 hours
The walk can be extended to about 5 hours for clients staying in Tokushima city - please enquire if you would like to undertake this longer option.
Leaving Tokushima, travel by bus and a pre-paid 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.
Walking distance: 13.5km / 8.4 miles
Elevation gain: 335m / 1,100 feet ascent and 655m / 2,150 feet descent
Time required: About 5 hours
The walk can be shortened by 1.5 hours (5.4km / 3.4 miles) by omitting the round-trip section to Temple 81 Shiromine-ji.
Accommodation: Ryokan (Travellers Inn)
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
After breakfast, spend some time exploring Kotohira Spa. Board a train after lunch for the return journey to Osaka or Kyoto, arriving late afternoon.