Religious Pilgrimage in Japan

Standard dictionary definitions of the words pilgrim and pilgrimage tend to emphasize the aspect of process, as in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary's definition of pilgrim as “one who journeys to some sacred place ... as an act of religious devotion.” ... What is perhaps more important to note as a characteristic of the pilgrimage process is the question of separation or departure from normal, everyday routines, with pilgrimages thus standing in contrast to ordinary patterns of behavior. ... This sense of separation may be marked out by the assumption of a special set of symbols and clothing, as well as by the taking of vows and observance of abstinences during the period of pilgrimage. ... Such ways of marking oneself as a pilgrim are not always obligatory however, for one theme that runs through much of pilgrimage activity is that it is by and large a voluntary act, driven by volition rather than obligation. In the present day, for example, many Japanese pilgrims prefer to wear everyday clothes rather than special pilgrimage garments. Even when traveling in such an apparently mundane guise, they normally also carry some objects, such as the scroll or book (kakejiku 掛軸 or nokyocho 納経帳) in which to get the stamp (shuin 朱印) of the sites they visit, that invest their journeys with some special significance beyond the parameters of ordinary shrine and temple visiting. (Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 229-30)

じゅんれい                   まいり

Circuitous & Unilocal Pilgrimages
In Japan, pilgrimages can be divided into two general types. The first type is exemplified by the pilgrimage to 33 Sites Sacred to Kannon in Western Japan and the pilgrimage to 88 Holy Sites of Shikoku, in which one makes a circuit of a series of temples or holy places, sometimes separated by great distances, in a set order. The order of visitation is an important feature of this type of pilgrimage. The second type is a journey to one particular holy place. Pilgrimages in this latter group include the famous Kumano Sanzan (Wakayama), the Ise Shrine (Mie), Mt. Koya (Kii Peninsula, Wakayama), Mt. Fuji and other holy mountains in Japan. 

In common usage the term junrei 巡礼 usually refers to the first type only. It is thought that pilgrimages were first undertaken in the Nara Period (710-794 AD), but the custom did not become popular until the Heian Era (794-1185 AD). Kumano, in southern Wakayama Prefecture, became a large center for adherents and pilgrims of the Shugendo sect during the Heian Period. Other popular pilgrimages at the time were to Hasedera (Kyoto), Shitenno-ji (Osaka), and Mt. Koya.

In the Edo Period (1600-1868 AD) the number of people making pilgrimages to both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines increased rapidly, especially to Ise Shrine, Kotohira Shrine (Kagawa), the 88 temples of Shikoku and Western Japan, to Zenkoji (Nagano), Kiso Ontake (Nagoya), and Mt. Fuji (Shizuoka). One phenomenon of the Edo Era was Okage Mairi — the special pilgrimage to the Ise-Jingu Shrine. The Okage Mairi tradition continues unabated even today, with approximately six million people visiting the Ise Jingu Shrine yearly. Behind this phenomenon perhaps lies a nostalgia for the past, a resurgent interest in religion, and a desire for temporary escape from crowded urban centers. (www.onmarkproductions...)

Unilocal Pilgrimages
Mt. Fuji
Fuji: Sacred Mountain of Japan
Oesterle: 200.952 F95m

Circuitous Pilgrimages


The Henro
The 88 Holy Sites of Shikoku
遍路 ~ 四国八十八箇所
へんろ ~ しこくはちじゅうはっかしょ