Walking Through History
With over 1200 years of history as a place of rest, reflection and recuperation the secluded hot-spring (onsen) town of Shuzenji on the Izu Peninsula has had many years to refine what it takes to help you soak away the stresses and pressures of everyday life and remember the things that are most important. Every year in early November people come to this area to participate in a 3 day Buddhist Pilgrimage that dates back up to 1200 years.
The town of Shuzenji was originally established by the famous Buddhist Monk Kobo Daishi in the 8th century. Kobo Daishi (also referred to as Kukai) founded the Shingon (True Word) school of Buddhism in Japan and is credited with building Shuzenji Temple and, if legend is to be believed, created the rejuvenating hot springs for which the town is now highly revered.
Kobo Daishi is most famous for his work establishing Mt Koya Wakayama Prefecture which is now seen as the World headquarters of Shingon Buddhism. Kobo Daishi was born on the Japanese island of Shikoku in what is now Kagawa Prefecture – he would often travel back to the island of his birth he would walk around the island visiting some of the shrines in the area which eventually became the famous 88 point pilgrimage.
Because of its close connection to Kobo Daishi and the True Word school of Buddhism many of the monks that practiced in Shuzenji would travel to Shikoku and do the 88 point pilgrimage. As many of the local villagers in the area could not make the pilgrimage to Shikoku it eventuated that the priests that went down started to collect a small sample of dirt from each of the 88 temples around the island of Shikoku which they buried in strategic spots around Shuzenji.
Every year, on November 7-9, the local people get together and conduct their own 3-day pilgrimage to each of the spots with the local monks to pay their respects and pray – a tradition that has continued for decades and has become a yearly community event with everyone pitching in clearing and tidying some of the mountain paths, serving hot drinks and snacks or helping to make sure pilgrims don’t get lost.
The Shuzenji version of the 88 point pilgrimage is much shorter than the epic week long edition that is now famous in Shikoku and you can choose to join all 3 days or just join in on 1 of the 3. If you choose to do the 1-Day option the second day is possibly the highlight – although it is the longest of the 3 Days this is the most scenic trail heading up into the hills behind Shuzenji and through lush forest and bamboo (good hiking shoes are advised!)
In total it is about a 6 hour walk with stops at many of the total 88 points along the pilgrimage. The first half of the walk through the woods and the second half walking along local roads dotted with rice paddy fields until you reach your destination which is a buddhist shrine in the forest. Then it is back to the town by bus, a soak in the famous hot springs while enjoying the start of the fall foliage and a feast of Japanese cuisine.
As it is with joining other local festivals around Japan, such as the Haruno Autumn Festival in Hamamatsu, joining the locals for a day that is essentially designed to bring the local community together and by participating can open up many possibilities to meet and talk with the locals.
As part of a 2-3 day Shuzenji trip, the pilgrimage adds another dimension to your Japan experience and is highly recommended.
An ideal 2-day 1 night itinerary would include : After arriving from Shuzenji Station and checking into your Japanese Ryokan slip out of your city clothes and spend half-day strolling around the town in a traditional kimono, visiting the famous Shuzenji shrine.
Although Shuzenji is small there are plenty of things to see and do and the pace is leisurely making it easy to pass the time and leave the outside world behind – enjoy the various hot spring foot spas and trying some of the local delicacies such as soft serve ice cream with locally sourced wasabi or Shizuoka green tea and Japanese sweets.
After a good look around town retire to one of the many Japanese style inns in town for some real Japanese hospitality and max relaxation – soaking in the hot springs and enjoying a typical Japanese set menu before settling in for the night.
The next day is an early start joining the rest of the pilgrims at Shuzenji shrine and a day of walking in the footsteps of history.
Before you leave Shuzenji behind and head back to the real world jump in a taxi and head to Baird Beer’s Shuzenji Brewery for a tour of the beer making factory and a sample of some of Japan’s finest craft beer – the perfect way to end a 2 day break.
Shuzenji will leave an impression and you will find yourself day dreaming about it for years to come.
For more information on the 88 point pilgrimage and how you can join check the following links:
Mt Fuji Travel Website (Eng)- A page with more details on meeting place, start times, access information and other important details
Shuzenji Tourism Website (Eng) – The Official website for Shuzenji with information on all of the attractions in the area and access details
Visit Shuzenji Facebook Page (Eng) – A great resource for updated information and inspiration to help you plan your visit.
Check the video below for more details on what a Pilgrimage in Shuzenji might look like.