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Making Pilgrimages: Meaning and Practice in Shikoku
368pp. June 2006
Making Pilgrimages: Meaning and Practice in Shikoku
Author: Ian Reader;
This study involves a fourteen-hundred-kilometer-long pilgrimage around Japan’s fourth largest island, Shikoku. In traveling the circuit of the eighty-eight Buddhist temples that make up the route, pilgrims make their journey together with Kôbô Daishi (774–835), the holy miracle-working figure who is at the heart of the pilgrimage.

Once seen as a marginal practice, recent media portrayal of the pilgrimage as a symbol of Japanese cultural heritage has greatly increased the number of participants, both Japanese and foreign. In this absorbing look at the nature of the pilgrimage, Ian Reader examines contemporary practices and beliefs in the context of historical development, taking into account theoretical considerations of pilgrimage as a mode of activity and revealing how pilgrimages such as Shikoku may change in nature over the centuries.

This rich ethnographic work covers a wide range of pilgrimage activity and behavior, drawing on accounts of pilgrims traveling by traditional means on foot as well as those taking advantage of the new package bus tours, and exploring the pilgrimage’s role in the everyday lives of participants and the people of Shikoku alike. It discusses the various ways in which the pilgrimage is made and the forces that have shaped it in the past and in the present, including history and legend, the island’s landscape and residents, the narratives and actions of the pilgrims and the priests who run the temples, regional authorities, and commercial tour operators and bus companies.

In studying the Shikoku pilgrimage from anthropological, historical, and sociological perspectives, Reader shows in vivid detail the ambivalence and complexity of pilgrimage as a phenomenon that is simultaneously local, national, and international and both marginal and integral to the lives of its participants. Critically astute yet highly accessible, Making Pilgrimages will be welcomed by those with an interest in anthropology, religious studies, and Japanese studies, and will be essential for anyone contemplating making the pilgrimage themselves.

illus., maps

"More than 20 years in the making, Ian Reader’s book on the Shikoku pilgrimage is simply the best book in English on the subject. If you are planning on making the pilgrimage in Shikoku you will need one of the many guide books, but for background information this book is indispensable. . . . Like most of Reader’s other works, this book gives a solid insight into the meanings and practices of Japanese religion today." —Japan Visitor (April 2009)

"Masterful. . . . Reader has offered the field of Japanese religions an impressive piece of scholarly research, one that is not only informative, but frequently highly entertaining." —Monumenta Nipponica (61, 2006) (Access full review at Project Muse)

"Both a deeply personal appreciation of the experience and a very detailed description of the Japanese practice and its historical background, together with reflection on the comparative notions of pilgrimage and analysis of the theoretical implications." —Journal of Japanese Studies (32, 2006) (Full review on Project Muse)

"Reader’s study contributes not only to Japanese area studies and the study of Japanese religion, but also to the broader field of pilgrimage studies and anthropology. . . . [It is] well rounded and entirely successful. Reader’s vivid prose makes this study a pleasure to read." —Religious Studies Review (32:3, July 2006)

"Well-researched . . . more data-rich and scholarly than Oliver Statler’s Japanese Pilgrimage" —Choice (July 2005)

Author: Ian Reader;
Ian Reader is professor of religious studies at Lancaster University, England. He is the author of numerous books and articles on aspects of Japanese social and religious life.
Read the introduction (PDF).



1 Pilgrimage, Practice, Meanings: Making Pilgrimages in Shikoku

2 Making Landscapes: Geography, Symbol, Legend, and Traces

3 Making Pilgrimages: Pilgrims, Motives, and Meanings

4 History, Footsteps, and Customs: Making the Premodern Pilgrimage

5 Shaping the Pilgrimage: From Poverty to the Package Tour in Postwar Japan

6 Walking Pilgrimages: Meaning and Experience on the Pilgrim’s Way

7 Making Bus Pilgrimages: Practice and Experience on the Package Tour

8 A Way of Life: Pilgrimage, Transformation, and Permanence


Appendix 1. The Eighty-Eight Temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage (in Numerical Order)

Appendix 2. Explanations for the Number of Temples on the Henro

Appendix 3. Ways of Doing the Pilgrimage: Average Duration and Costs