Monday, August 13, 2012

Pilgrimage Culture

   When living in Shikoku Island, you will occasionally happen to see people in white clothing walking along the road. They are called “O-henro-san”, Japanese pilgrims who visit the designated 88 temples scattered across the island.

   They are engaged in the “O-henro-mairi” (‘mairi’means visit to pray) that dates from the Heian Era (794-1185). In the beginning, roads were not as well maintained as they are today, so pilgrims had to beat their own path, making the pilgrimage a true test. Thus, the Shikoku pilgrimage was first undertaken by ascetic monks whose travels were part of their religious training.

   The pilgrimage was later popularized, with fewer monks and more of the general public participating. In the Edo Era (1603-1867) when the road network was completed, the general public – especially farmers – often went on the pilgrimage with their wife and children. Socially vulnerable people, including the sick and beggars were said to prefer the Shikoku pilgrimage because of its mild climate.

   Meanwhile, the custom of “O-settai”, or giving pilgrims hospitality, emerged in this period. Local individuals and groups offer pilgrims food, money or other services.

   Modern modes of conducting the present pilgrimage are diverse, ranging from the original method of walking to using bus, taxi, bike, motorbike or car. People can choose how to travel according to their physical strength, the time available or financial circumstances.

   The pilgrimage seems to no longer be an exclusively Japanese affair, with foreign O-henro-san sometimes to be seen walking the route. Why not try out the pilgrimagewhile you are living in Shikoku?

Taken from vol.24 PDF

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