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My Shikoku Journey (12) by Aki, Taiwan

Aki Tanaka, Taiwan  Complete Shikoku Pilgrimage

When I arrived in my husband’s hometown of Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku, over 20 years ago, having grown up in Taipei, my initial impression was honestly focused on the refreshing air, picturesque scenery, and the same kind of humor found in Taiwan. Yet, there was more to discover. With determination and a spirit of challenge, my husband and I devoted years of effort. Though content with our 9-to-5 jobs, a cozy house shielding us from the elements, and two beautiful children, we’ve traversed numerous challenges and weathered storms along the way. This year marks an equal amount of time spent in both my first and second hometowns. While I still have much to learn and spiritual growth ahead, I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to unveil the allure of Shikoku, my second hometown, as a pilgrimage destination.

The Shikoku pilgrimage stands among Japan’s oldest pilgrimage routes, leading visitors through 88 temples across four prefectures. To me, the Shikoku pilgrimage represents a journey of self-discovery and a profound communion with heaven 天, earth 地, and people 人.

天 This symbolizes the fusion of heaven and humankind’s light and shadow. Spanning around 1,200 kilometers, the arduous path of Buddhist practice challenges pilgrims. To traverse all 88 temples is no small feat. Every step signifies devotion and reverence to deities and Buddhas, while every onward stride, even when exhausted, reflects the patience of fellow pilgrims striving toward a shared goal. As one steps into this serene realm, distant from urban clamor, a harmonization with nature unfolds. Incense calms the mind, candles illuminate the heart, sutras soothe the soul, and prayers transcend the self to embrace the greater world. Simultaneously, by reciprocating these blessings to our kin, friends, and ourselves, we can alleviate real-world despair and apprehension, uncovering inner tranquility and balance through ego reduction. We may not attain Buddhahood, yet we can embellish our lives with the Buddha’s wisdom. Among the greatest rewards for me is collecting temple seals within my sutra book. Beyond memorializing my pilgrimage, these seals underpin connections to the Buddha, celestial realms, and humanity.

地 Shikoku’s pilgrimage routes consistently meander through lush landscapes. Enveloped by nature’s splendor, travelers cleanse their body and soul, traversing mountains, woods, savoring seasonal blooms, maple trees, and rural vistas. Babbling streams and cascades serenade, winding coastlines captivate, and the distant azure sea’s waves create a symphony against the rocks. This pilgrimage also unveils Japanese history and culture. Each of the 88 temples possesses its history, myths, and profound teachings, showcasing myriad god and Buddha statues alongside traditional Japanese architecture’s grace. Local festivals, temple fairs, Shinto rituals, and celebrations further enrich the pilgrimage, enabling a profound connection with local customs and traditions, deepening bonds with people. A pinnacle for me lies in savoring Shikoku’s unique foods and traditional delicacies. Renowned udon noodles, bone-in chicken, seafood, and mountain delights endemic to the region are absolute must-tries. Such sustenance revitalizes both body and spirit, fortifying one for the journey.

人 En route along Shikoku’s pilgrimage paths, the warmth of the unassuming inhabitants often touches one’s heart. Roadside tea and confections, conspicuous wayfinding signs, cost-free or affordable showers and resting spots generously aid those who find it strenuous to undertake the pilgrimage. Such acts of kindness are more rewarding than receiving, akin to a bodhisattva’s benevolence. This generosity has warmed my heart and stomach as I ventured through foreign lands. Influenced by this benevolence, I aspired to share this goodwill and precious experience with fellow pilgrims, weaving it into my daily life to propagate cycles of benevolence.

My pilgrimages invariably introduce me to novel values and wisdom, life treasures deeply embedded within my heart, enabling me to surmount life’s challenges serenely. I hope to ripple this goodwill within your hearts too. My pilgrimage endures, and I anticipate encountering you along the path, sharing the fortune of journeying together through heaven and earth’s four directions.

相逢自是有縁 一同遨遊四国天地人  ―田中 秋月


四國的朝聖之路是指巡回朝拜座落於四國四個縣内的八十八座寺廟,這亦是日本最古老的朝聖活動之一。 對我而言,四國的朝聖是找回自我的重要旅程,也是共享 天・地・人 的時光。