This 13-day adventure checks off several Buddhist temples along a famous pilgrimage trail on Japan's remote Shikoku Island. Starting in Osaka, you'll transfer to Tokushima for a dose of urban culture. Then set off toward some of the trail's 88 temples as you pass through lush greenery and towering mountains peppered with hot springs. This self-guided tour offers accommodations and side trips for an utterly customizable trip.


  • Ride a bike down Mount Bizan with a local guide enjoying stops along the way
  • Spend moderately active days exploring historical temples at your own pace 
  • Recharge your body with the local udon noodles and other Japanese specialties
  • Walk along three traditional vine bridges, including one that is 148 feet (45 m) long

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Osaka, Transfer to Tokushima Tokushima
Day 2 Day Trip To Kotohira Tokushima
Day 3 Tokushima & Mt. Bizan Brompton Bicycle Tour Tokushima
Day 4 Transfer to Naruto, Visit the Ryōzen-ji Temple Tokushima
Day 5 Visit the Ido-ji Temple Tokushima
Day 6 Visit the Anraku-ji Temple Tokushima
Day 7 Visit the Fujii-dera Temple Tokushima
Day 8 Visit the Tatsue-ji Temple Tokushima
Day 9 Visit the Tairyuji Temple Tokushima
Day 10 Visit the Yakuo-ji Temple Tokushima
Day 11 Explore the Vine Bridges of Iya Valley Tokushima
Day 12 Visit the Hashikura-ji Temple Tokushima
Day 13 Transfer to Osaka, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Osaka, Transfer to Tokushima

Your journey begins and ends in the city of Osaka

Welcome to Osaka! Upon arrival at the airport, a private driver will pick you up at the terminal carrying a sign with your name. After a 2.5-hour transfer to the city of Tokushima on Shikoku Island, the vehicle will drop you at your hotel, where you'll have the rest of the day to explore at your own pace. This is the capital and the largest city of Tokushima Prefecture, and you can spend the day checking out cultural attractions, shopping malls, and local restaurants.

The Modern Art Museum of Tokushima is a great place to start, considered the best museum on Shikoku Island. Browse the exhibits from local artists alongside various pieces by western artists. You can also spend time in the House of Indigo, an indigo merchant's old residence. Learn the traditional art of indigo dyeing and study the classic patterns of Shikoku Island. For lunch or dinner, make sure to try the famous udon. Shikoku is known in Japan for its famous thick noodles made of wheat flour—a comfort food vastly used in Japanese cuisine.

Day 2: Day Trip to Kotohira

Day Trip To Kotohira
Enjoy the spiritual atmosphere at Kotoshira's large shrine complex

Today you'll visit Kotohira, home to Shikoku's largest shrine complex, in the Nakatado District. The shrine is best known for its extensive staircase of 1,368 steps, and the entire area offers beautiful little shops such as cafés, teahouses, souvenir shops, and local udon restaurants.

Before starting the climb, you can visit one of Japan's oldest and best-preserved Kabuki theaters. Also, make sure to stop at the Main Shrine, located midway to the top of the mountain, which worships many gods of agriculture, livestock, medicine, and marine safety. This is where you can purchase a beautiful Kofuku no Kiiroi Omamori ("yellow charm of happiness"). Kotohira is one of Japan's secret gems, and the stair walk and spiritual atmosphere will make for an excursion to remember!

Day 3: Tokushima & Mount Bizan Brompton Bicycle Tour

Tokushima & Mt. Bizan Brompton Bicycle Tour
Let a local guide lead the way on this five-hour bike tour

Get ready for an exciting guided bike tour to Mount Bizan, which offers a superb view of Tokushima City and the mouth of the Yoshino River. If the weather is clear, you'll even be able to see Awaji Island and the Kii Peninsula on Honshu.

To start this half-day adventure, take your foldable Brompton bicycle on a cable car up to Mount Bizan. After checking out the views and pagoda, you'll cruise back down the mountain. About halfway down, you can take a break in Seibu Park, a spot that's known for its cherry blossoms in season. At the mountain's base, your guide will point out several good places to eat local specialties, such as Tokushima ramen and grilled mochi. Then, you can ride along the back alleys in the city's Temple Quarter as your guide points out important places of interest.

After completing the Brompton bike tour, you'll have free time to visit Tokushima Castle Museum and learn more about the route you've just cycled. 

Day 4: Transfer to Naruto, Visit the Ryozen-ji Temple

Ryozen-ji is often the first temple on the pilgrimage

This morning it's time to transfer 2-3 hours via taxi to Naruto, where you'll start your self-guided tour of the Shikoku Pilgrim Trail that honors the Japanese Buddhist monk, Kobo Daishi. The entire route covers 88 temples over 870 miles (1,400 km) on Shikoku Island, and visitors either pick and choose which temples to prioritize—or trek the entire trail—depending on how much time they have.

Although there are no strict rules about how to visit the temples, it is the general custom to see them in their numbered order. Founded in the eighth century, Ryouzen-ji Temple is the journey's starting point, and it stands near the foot of the Sanuki Mountains in the Tokushima rift valley. Once you enter Ryozenji's wooden gate, you can walk around the attractive gardens with a small waterfall and a two-story pagoda. There's also a popular shop selling pilgrim essentials, including white robes and hats, as well as walking sticks.

After your visit, spend your first night with a traditional stay in a shukubo (pilgrims' lodge). Alternatively, you can stay in the city center at a ryokan (traditional inn).

Day 5: Visit the Ido-ji Temple

Entrance to the Ido-ji Temple

This morning you'll make your way to Ido-ji Temple, which is about 25 minutes on foot from Fuchu Station in Tokushima. Ido-ji Temple is the 17th temple on the Shikoku Pilgrim Trail, and the name means "Well Temple," which refers to the legend that Kobo Daishi and his staff dug a well in just one night.

Though the temple dates back to the seventh century, areas have been rebuilt since then due to different fires over time. There are many statues and monuments to explore, including two dedicated to poetry. As for the well, it's said that if you can see your face reflected in the water, you'll enjoy good fortune. If you aren't able to see your reflection, you'll be met with misfortune within three years. 

Day 6: Visit the Anraku-ji Temple

Springtime blossoms on the grounds of Anraku-ji Temple
Today, you'll head to Anraku-ji Temple, the sixth temple on the trail. To get inside, you'll enter through a big, white gate that reflects the Ming Chinese style, flanked by dramatic guardians. In addition to the two-story pagoda, a pretty pond and 30 Buddhist statues are scattered throughout the bamboo grove. There is also a hot spring on-site renowned for its healing properties. Anraku-ji also offers a popular shukubo with dozens of beds where you can spend the night with an evening meal and a Buddhist breakfast (no meat or fish). Items are also available for purchase.
Plan your trip to Japan
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 7: Visit the Fujii-dera Temple

Fujii-dera is one of three Zen temples on the trail

Today you'll head to Fujii-dera Temple, the 11th temple on the trail, which is located in Yoshinogawa in Tokushima. Fujii-dera means "wisteria temple," and if you happen to visit in late spring, keep an eye out for the colorful purple wisteria in full bloom. 

Another notable aspect of Fujii-dera is that it is one of only three Zen temples among the 88 on the pilgrimage. Behind the pagoda is a miniature version of the pilgrimage, with 88 statues representing each temple. You'll also want to look for the statue of Yakushi, which has survived many fires over the centuries. It is now known among pilgrims for providing protection from disasters. It is not possible to stay in a shukubo on-site here, but many pilgrims choose to spend the night at one of the nearby ryokans.

Day 8: Visit the Tatsue-ji Temple

Explore the gardens and grounds of Tatuse-ji 

Today you'll explore Tatsue-ji Temple, the 19th temple on the Shikoku Pilgrim Trail. This temple is about 16 miles (25 km) from Ido-ji Temple, and the best way to get there is by taxi.

Tatsue-ji is significant for being the first Sekisho temple. These were once considered the control points on highways in Japan from ancient times until the late 19th century, when government officials checked travelers' papers to ensure they had permission to continue. Once you pass a small bridge and enter through a high gate, walk inside the main hall and marvel at the 286 ceiling panels painted by more than 40 teachers at the Tokyo University of the Arts. 

The temple offers a shukubo where you can spend the night.

Day 9: Visit the Tairyuji Temple

One of the sets of steps leading to Tairyuji 

Today you'll head to the 21st temple on the trail, Tairyuji Temple. This temple can be reached on foot in about four hours or via taxi in about 25 to 30 minutes.

No matter how you arrive, Tairyuji Temple is known for being difficult to reach. Set at just over 2,000 feet (610 m) above sea level, it involves a descent followed by a steep ascent. Most visitors take the Tairyuji Ropeway for easier access. This is the longest cable car in western Japan, with a length of 9,104 feet (2,775 m), yet the journey only takes 10 minutes. There are no accommodations directly at the temple, but ryokans are available near the cable car station.

Day 10: Visit the Yakuo-ji Temple

Visitors are rewarded with views of Hiwasa Bay from the top

This morning you'll head to Yakuo-ji Temple, 23rd on the pilgrim trail and the last temple in Tokushima. It's located about 45 minutes from Tairyuji Temple via taxi in the small coastal town of Minami—and you'll likely be able to spot the modern pagoda from miles away as you enter. Upon arrival, start climbing the stairs to reach the top, where you'll enjoy great views of the town below and Hiwasa Bay. For a small fee, you can also go into the basement and see the little museum of model ships, a beautiful Kannon statue holding a basket of fish, and an amusing selection of paintings of hell.

This temple receives hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over Japan yearly due to its reputation as a good place to pray for protection against the so-called unlucky years. It's also considered to have medicinal powers against aging. For instance, behind the main hall is a small shrine where sacred water contains radium, which is considered effective against lung diseases. Meanwhile, the gong under a wooden canopy eliminates misfortune.

Day 11: Explore the Vine Bridges of Iya Valley

Explore the Vine Bridges of Iya Valley
Hang on as you walk along three vine bridges of Iya Valley

Today you'll have a free day to explore Iya Valley, known for its breathtaking vine bridges. These vines have been intentionally grown in extraordinary lengths and were initially woven together to provide river crossings. The vines are renewed and strengthened every few years with side rails and steel cables. Nevertheless, it is an adventurous experience to walk on one or more of these vine bridges since they move slightly as people cross them.

At one point, Iya Valley boasted 13 of these bridges, but only three remain today. The biggest one is the Kazurabashi Bridge, which is 148 feet (45 m) long. You can also walk along the Husband and Wife Bridges, situated side by side close to a small waterfall. 

Day 12: Visit the Hashikura-ji Temple

Hashikura Temple
Hashikura-ji Temple is especially pretty in spring and autumn

Today you'll visit the Hashikura-ji Temple, well-known in Tokushima for its mysterious atmosphere and incredible scenery, especially during the spring cherry blossoms and the changing autumn leaves. The temple complex takes up a large area of the mountain and is linked by long flights of stone steps, where you'll encounter several buildings built in various styles with impressive wood carvings. Although a winding path and cable car are typically used to access this temple during pilgrimages, the main gate can also be reached by motorcycle or on foot.

While visiting the shrine, you'll have an opportunity to eat some great udon at a cafeteria just in front of the cable car. If visiting in autumn, look for the seasonal matsutake udon containing a local variety of mushrooms. This dish is available around November, so keep that in mind when you visit.

Day 13: Transfer to Osaka, Depart

Until next time, Shikoku Island!

It's time to say goodbye to Tokushima! At the appointed time, you'll be picked up and transferred to Osaka for your onward journey. Safe travels! 

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Map of Japan's Shikoku Pilgrim Trail - 13 Days
Map of Japan's Shikoku Pilgrim Trail - 13 Days