Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Traveler's Guide to Japanese Pilgrimages

I recently finished reading The Travelers Guide to Japanese Pilgrimages by Ed Readicker-Henderson. It describes three popular temple pilgrimages in Japan, the Mt. Hiei pilgrimage near Kyoto, the 33 temple Saigoku Kannon temple pilgrimage, and the 88 temple Kobo Daishi temple pilgrimage.

It was interesting to read about pilgrimages in Japan which I was not that familiar with. And the brief descriptions of all the temples was also interesting to read about.

What caught my attention was the great disparity in the prosperity, or lack of, between many of the temples. Some temples on the pilgrimages are extremely well off while others apparently are in such a dilapidated state that they appear to be ready to collapse any day.

It also would seem that most of the temples survive or exist or prosper based primarily on the thousands of pilgrims that pass through each year. The more prosperous temples are usually so well off because of some tradition or religious practice that draws people to the temple. One such practice that is very popular at some of the temples is for potential mother's who are planning to or attempting to have children. Many mother's-to-be come to these temples to pray for a child or a safe birth.

Often, according to the book, the poorest temples are located very near or next to the richest temples. It's a little sad to hear about a temple that was founded over a thousand years ago that is in such a poor and lonely condition. If it was not for the pilgrimage, they most likely would cease to exist.

If anyone is planning to embark on one of these pilgrimages, this is a good book as you can easily take it with you. You can probably also find a lot of other useful guides and information about taking on one of these pilgrimages from the internet.

11 comments:

  1. I think there are temples and shrines for just about everything. I stumbled across one in Morioka for fertility last year.

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  2. I wonder how much of that is authentic cermony and how much it is just a money making effort.

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  3. You're probably better off buying the book. Aside from the 88 temples pilgrimage, which is very well-organized, the temples have next to nothing online in English (and very little in Japanese). I know this because a friend of mine is in the middle of the 33 temples pilgrimage and just assumed that the first temple on the route would have some information or a map to all the others. Nope! He's an actual monk, though, so he just accepts it.
    The consolation, I guess, is that you're not going to get a bunch of tourists at your temple, only dedicated pilgrims.

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  4. As for the authenticity,you could say that about any religious ceremony. Ironically, many of the rural fertility festivals in Japan were pretty raunchy affairs (lots of drunkenness and nudity – they were trying to get pregnant, after all!). During the Occupation, though, a lot of those ceremonies were either cancelled or cleaned up a bit – they offended the small-town morality of the American soldiers.

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  5. Thank you for the comments colin. I see your point. If I was doing the pilgrimage, I would want to have a guide book with me too, whether this one or another one.

    I think it is good that these pilgrimages do not turn into tourits trips but remain for pilrims.

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  6. I am going on the Saigoku pilgrimage and strangely enough it is difficult finding information, even online, that I can use especially for the "less popular" temples. I have not read this book but anything will be a good resource since it is so hard to come by especially in English. I have found some sites though and have been very helpful even one with a map. I am actually have a really hard time finding this book. Where did you get your copy?

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  7. Healingmystic, I got this book at the Public Library here in Los Angeles, specifically the Little Tokyo Branch. You might have to see about finding it on Amazon or Ebay.

    It sounds like from the comments that there is not too many English websites on these pilgrimages so this book is probably a good idea to have.

    Good luck finding it and good luck on the pilgrimage.

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  8. Hm, the link to the 33 pilgrimages is broken.

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  9. Sorry 'bout that. It's fixed now.

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  10. I've been joining my mother-in-law in completing her route on the Saikoku 33. My wife and I will start on our own soon. It's amazingly beautiful. Thanks for the info on this book, now I got to find it some place here in Japan. ACK!

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  11. I'm jealous. I would love to do that.

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