Japan is one of my favorite countries, which is why of the 16 trips I’ve done with Wilderness Travel, 3 of them have been to Japan. The first was more than 20 years ago, a hiking trip through the Japanese Alps, then a few years back I went to see the snow monkeys who bathe in the Nagano hot springs, and most recently I traveled to the small pilgrimage island of Shikoku.
For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have journeyed across Shikoku Island on a trek of over 800 miles to 88 specific temples, a trip that takes one to three months to complete. The Buddhist monk Kōbō-Daishi, who was born here on Shikoku, established this tradition around 800 AD and it actively continues today. Pilgrims can be distinguished by their outfit: they carry a walking stick, wear a conical hat woven from sedge and a white jacket. Black characters run down the spine of their jacket and say “two pilgrims, traveling together,” as a reminder that they are never alone along their journey, Kōbō-Daishi is always with them.
The precision of this outfit is a reflection of what I find most intriguing about the culture of Japan: the extreme attention to detail and design, honoring the knowledge passed down through generations. Their temples show this as well, every stone is purposefully placed and every small bush or tree is trimmed precisely, one sprig at a time based on customary practices. And the food is simultaneously delicious and beautiful; each plate is like a small architectural edible masterpiece. This is why I’ll never tire of visiting Japan because the more you explore, the more you find for exploration, as each detail is deliberate in tradition.
Photos and text by 16-time WT adventurer John Aronovici, Hiker’s Journey to Shikoku