One of the highlights of Shikoku is seeing the small clusters of pilgrims paying homage to Shikoku's revered saint: Kobo-daishi. Recognizable by their matching white suits (bearing the motto which translates: "Daishi and I, going together"), wooden staffs, and sedge hats, the pilgrims embark on what is known as "Shikoku Henro," or the Shikoku pilgrimage, to retrace the steps of Kobo-daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Many stories and myths, similar to the "miracles" performed by Jesus Christ, surround Daishi's accomplishments. But among his many admirable traits, skills, and powers, Kobo-daishi was also credited with introducing many aspects of Chinese culture into Japan, including a system of measures, various Chinese medicines, the growth and processing of tea, as well as architectural knowledge. Kobo-daishi has sometimes been dubbed a "father" of Japan.
Kobo-daishi's quest for truth along the shores of Shikoku
In his search for spiritual truth and enlightenment, Kobo-daishi roamed from the rocky shorelines of Shikoku, to the tops of its mountains, so today his followers often make the pilgrimage by foot (though some make it any way they can, by scooter, train, or bus). There are 88 Sacred Places (Buddhist temples)—88 representing the number of evil passions, as defined in Buddhist religious doctrine. It is believed one can get rid of an evil aspect of one's character at each of the temples, thus it's suggested that visiting only one temple is at least a good start!
Dedicated pilgrims pay homage at shrines and temples
One pilgrim hotspot is Kotohira, or Konpirasan, a combined shrine and temple which can only be reached by climbing hundreds of stone steps (as in over 800 gruelling, exhausting ones). The "reward" isn't that phenomenal, but to say you did it, "you and Daishi going together" as it were, may be worth it.
When crossing back to Honshu (the main island of Japan) via the Seto Inland Bridge, you can stop in Okayama prefecture to visit Zentsuji, a temple built around the birthplace of Kobo-daishi. Not just an ordinary temple, Zentsuji boasts a circular underground tunnel which takes visitors groping through pitch-black passageways until they arrive at a tiny candle-lit alcove, the supposed birthplace of Kobo-daishi himself. There you can take a rest from the dark, light incense and pray, or watch the candlelight dancing on the walls painted with Buddhist figures. Roaming the tunnels in total darkness is supposed to help us clear our minds and concentrate on ridding ourselves of our sins, though most people seem to giggle nervously as they grope along the walls--or maybe that's because someone from behind groped them.
Sins removed: Winterlong chocolate obsession and temptation to attack rude train passengers in Japan.