Delve into Japan's cultural and spiritual heritage on this 13-day trip, following in the footsteps of pilgrims. Visit a sacred shrine in an immense bamboo forest near Kyoto, then transfer to Shikoku Island to begin your multiday trek along the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail. Walk to some of the 88 Buddhist temples and stay in cozy hotels along the trail as you pass through seaside villages, lush meadows, and tall mountain ranges before ending in Osaka at Mount Koya, a beautiful religious complex.


  • Throw clay disks off a mountain to ward off evil spirits at the temple, Jingo-ji
  • Follow white-clad pilgrims across beautiful Shikoku Island on a temple pilgrimage
  • Cross over the ancient swaying vine bridges of the picturesque Iya Valley
  • Trek through lush sugi cedar forests up to Mount Shosan-ji 
  • Sample vegetarian cuisine with the monks on Mount Koya

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Osaka, Train to Kyoto Kyoto
Day 2 Discover Jingo-ji & Arashiyama Bamboo Grove Kyoto
Day 3 Transfer to Tokushima, Begin Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temples 1, 2 & 3) Tokushima
Day 4 Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temple 11 & 12)  Tokushima
Day 5 Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temple 23) Tokushima
Day 6 Explore the Vine Bridges in Iya Valley, Transfer to Ehime Ehime
Day 7 Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temple 44 & 45) Ehime
Day 8 Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temple 51), Explore Matsuyama Ehime
Day 9 Transfer to Kagawa, Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temples 80, 81 & 82) Kagawa
Day 10 Finish Shikoku Pilgrimage at Final Temple 88 Kagawa
Day 11 Transfer to Osaka, Tour Osaka Castle & Museum of Housing and Living Osaka
Day 12 Day Trip to Sacred Mount Koya Osaka
Day 13 Depart Osaka  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Osaka, Train to Kyoto

Kiyomizu Temple is a popular landmark in Kyoto
Arrive in Japan and explore the beautiful, historic city of Kyoto

Welcome to Japan! After you arrive at Osaka's Kansai International Airport, meet your driver for a seamless one-hour transfer to Kyoto. Overflowing with history and more traditional than its Tokyo counterpart, life is slower here, and the people tend to be more laid-back. On arrival at your hotel, check in and then get ready to explore this cultural powerhouse known for its rich historical traditions, geisha entertainers, temples, gardens, and palaces. If you arrive in the morning, you might like to join a half-day tour to the famous Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine, featured in the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha."

Walk through the 10,000 red torii gates and follow the torii-lined route up to the observation deck atop the mountain for panoramic views of the gates and the surrounding forest. Walk back through the forest, discovering smaller shrines, moss-covered animal statues, and ancient stone tablets before reaching the historic Tofuku-ji Temple, a large Zen temple with intricately carved wooden ceilings. Afterward, return to your hotel, change into yukata (kimono pajamas), and enjoy the legendary omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) as you recover from your long flight.

Day 2: Discover Jingo-ji & Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Arashiyama's Dense Bamboo Groves.
Visit the sacred Jingo-ji Temple in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Take a day trip away from Kyoto today to the slopes of Mount Takao to visit the sacred Jingo-ji Temple. Climb 350 stone steps to this 1,200-year-old shrine established by revered priest Kūkai, who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism. While there, visit Bonsho, one of Japan's three "great bells," and the Yakushi Nyorai (healing Buddha) statue. Then, participate in the temple's popular ritual, Kawarake-Nage, which involves throwing clay disks off the mountain to ward off evil spirits. 

The tour continues with a drive to the scenic district of Arashiyama, located on the outskirts of Kyoto. Stroll through the verdant Sagano Bamboo Grove, a natural bamboo forest encompassing more than 3,800 acres (1,537 ha). Walk along the paths and trails through the serene greenery of towering stalks. You may also cross the famous Togetsukyo Bridge, known as the "Moon Crossing Bridge," which ends at Iwatayama Monkey Park and is home to a troop of over 100 Japanese macaques before returning to your hotel in Kyoto.

Day 3: Transfer to Tokushima, Begin Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temples 1, 2 & 3)

Follow your guide to Ryozen-ji, Temple 1, on the first day of your Shikoku Pilgrimage

Your journey on the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage begins today with a three-hour car ride from Kyoto to Tokushima Prefecture. Lace up your walking shoes to follow the path of Buddhist priest Kūkai (posthumously called Kōbō Daishi), who began the pilgrimage in 815 CE. The trail leads you to 88 picturesque temples along paths circling the beautiful Shikoku Island. Once you arrive, traverse the quiet neighborhoods of Tokushima on your way to visit the first three of the most picturesque temples on this sacred trail.

Start at the eighth-century Ryozen-ji (Vulture Mountain Temple) or Temple 1, where many pilgrims pick up the essentials for their trip, including white vestments, walking staves, sedge hats, and prayer beads. Then, continue your 3.7-mile (6 km) walk through flat, lush rice fields to Temple 2, Gokuraku-ji (Celestial Temple), and Temple 3, Konsen-ji (Golden Fountain Temple), famous for its red pagoda and bridge. At the end of the day, your driver will take you to your hotel, where you'll rest before another day on the trail tomorrow. 

Day 4: Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temple 11 & 12) 

Join the Shikoku trail today with other pilgrims dressed in white

After a nourishing breakfast, you'll start your day by climbing to Temple 11, Fujii-dera (the Wisteria Temple), a fascinating mountainside temple complex with flowering wisteria thought to have been planted by Kūkai. As it's the most challenging stretch of the trip (often called henro-korogashi, or "the pilgrim tumbler"), make frequent stops along the way to soak in the views and note the small shrines marking the path.

Continue your trek through mountain forests for 7.4 miles (11.9 km), with a tricky elevation gain of over 3,800 feet (1,185 m). Follow the shrine-lined paths up Mount Shosan-ji to Temple 12, Shosan-ji, where you can pause to admire the panoramic views before heading down the mountain toward the east. Today's walk is relatively strenuous and will take about seven hours, but the scenic views are gratifying. Enjoy other highlights along the path, including ancient sugi cedar forests and a charming farming community. Finally, return to your hotel for another restful night. 

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Day 5: Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temple 23)

Pause to take a closer look at the small Buddha statues on your pilgrimage

This morning, you'll travel with your guide to Hiwasa, a quiet harbor town on the Pacific Ocean, to visit Temple 23, Yakuo-ji, on the pilgrim trail and the last temple in Tokushima. A brief hike of about 2.5 miles (4 km) will take you up the stairs to the picturesque red-and-white pagoda, popular with hundreds of thousands of Japanese visitors due to its reputation as a good place to pray for protection against the so-called "unlucky years" and its medicinal powers against aging. Once there, enjoy far-reaching views of the town below and endlessly blue Hiwasa Bay.

Stop and admire the gong under a wooden canopy purported to eliminate misfortune. Then, walk the winding coastal cliff paths through forested areas, with occasional yet spectacular views of sandy beaches in small coves and the islands of the great ocean beyond. Take your time to soak in these vistas before returning to the hotel. 

Day 6: Explore the Vine Bridges in Iya Valley, Transfer to Ehime

Cross the ancient vine bridges in the lush Iya Valley

Today, you'll join a tour of the remote Iya Valley, one of the most beautiful spots in the heart of Shikoku Island. Enjoy nature as you explore its deep rocky gorges, towering peaks, and pristine rivers. Part of the valley's off-the-beaten-track allure is its distinctive old vine bridges, made from vines intentionally grown in extraordinary lengths and woven together to provide river crossings. As you walk across, each bridge will sway, making for a thrilling experience. Rest assured, the vines are renewed and strengthened every few years with side rails and steel cables. 

Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the forest trails and then cross the river Iya on the Oku Iya Niju-Kazurabashi (Husband and Wife Bridges), 329 feet (100 m) apart and within dense virgin forest. Wade into the river near the Husband Bridge beside a pretty waterfall, or pull yourself across the river on the Yaen, a wooden cart that slides across on wires. At one point, Iya Valley boasted 13 vine bridges, but only three remain today. The longest is the 148-foot-long (45 m) Iya Kazurabashi Bridge. Afterward, meet your driver for the three-hour trip to Ehime Prefecture, where you'll spend three nights. 

Day 7: Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temple 44 & 45)

Visit the temples that make up the halfway point of the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage 

You'll hop on local transport with your guide this morning and head to Kumakogen Highlands in central Ehime. Take a lovely forest hike to Temple 44, Daiho-ji (Great Treasure Temple), the halfway point on the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage. From there, continue your journey along a mountain trail meandering through thick sugi forests and over a steep mountain pass before descending through Kawai, an ancient village that was once a stop-over place for pilgrims.

After walking for about 7.3 miles (11.7 km) with a total elevation gain of 2,130 feet (650 m), you'll arrive at Temple 45, Iwaya-ji (Rock Cavern Temple), founded in 805 CE. As you explore the temple, you'll encounter a wooden ladder leading up to a secluded cave. Visit the cave adorned with lucky coins where the Buddhist monk Kūkai (Kōbō Daishi) meditated and chanted for hours and admire the incredible views before returning to your hotel in Ehime. 

Day 8: Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temple 51), Explore Matsuyama

Explore the temples and castles around Matsuyama

Begin your day at Temple 51, Ishte-ji (Stone Hand Temple), a Shingon temple in Matsuyama, the capital city of Ehime Prefecture. The temple comprises seven beautiful buildings housing numerous cultural artifacts. Explore every corner of the temple complex, immerse yourself in the rich heritage, and mingle with pilgrims in their white vestments while your guide shares how the temple got its name. Admire the main hall and pagoda in the architectural style of the Kamakura Period (1192-1333 CE), then wander through the cave tunnel from the main hall to reach the inner temple.

Afterward, take public transport and follow your guide on a short walk up to the iconic Matsuyama Castle, which overlooks the city. The regal white building dates back to 1603 CE and is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan. While in the area, take the opportunity to soak in the famous Dogo Onsen (bathhouse), walk up the steep steps to the sacred Isawina Shrine, and try the famously sweet mikan oranges before returning to your hotel for the evening.

Day 9: Transfer to Kagawa, Shikoku Pilgrimage (Temples 80, 81 & 82)

Continue your pilgrimage in the prefecture of Kagawa today

Leave Ehime behind today as you join your driver for a 2.5-hour trip to Kagawa Prefecture. Once you arrive, check into your hotel and then hop on local transport with your guide to travel to the well-preserved Temple 80, Kokubun-ji (Awa State Provincial Temple). Initially founded in the Nara period (710-794 CE), the entire complex is designated a Special National Historic Site. See the temple bell (the oldest on Shikoku) before making the ascent up to Temple 81, Shiromine-ji (White Peak Temple) at the top of Mount Shiromine.

Follow your guide across a small stone bridge over a stream, through the main gate, and then past well-preserved structures to the 99 steps leading up to the main hall. Look for the small white maneki neko (cat figurines) around the temple, which were placed by visitors seeking good fortune in business. Take a rest to enjoy the far-reaching views, then make your way back down the mountain to Temple 82, Negoro-ji (Fragrant Root Temple), known for its intricate lanterns. On today's five-hour hike, you'll have covered a rewarding 8.4-mile (13.5 km) before returning to your hotel. 

Day 10: Finish Shikoku Pilgrimage at Final Temple 88

Meet other pilgrims in their white vestments at Temple 88, Okubo-ji, the final temple on the Shikoku trail

Enjoy your last day hiking on beautiful Shikoku Island with a scenic walk through charming rural landscapes to the hidden mountain shrine, Temple 88, Okubo-ji (Great Hollow Temple), the final temple of your pilgrimage journey. As you trek the 4.3 miles (7 km) to this revered spot known as the "Completion of the Vow," where wishes are said to come true, you'll walk through tranquil rural landscapes that will instill a sense of peace in your stride.

When you reach the temple, pass through the large wooden Niten gate and follow the path to the main hall, a two-story pagoda. Spend some time here, resting as you reflect on your journey over the last few days. Spend your last night on the island with a relaxing soak in a local onsen. 

Day 11: Transfer to Osaka, Tour Osaka Castle & Museum of Housing and Living

Osaka Castle
Tour Osaka Castle and its historic, picturesque grounds

Say a fond farewell to Shikoku Island and meet your driver for a 2.5-hour transfer to Osaka, considered by many to be Tokyo's younger (and cooler) sibling. Check into your hotel, then meet your guide in the lobby for a half-day tour of Osaka's most famous sights, starting with Osaka Castle and its blossom-filled grounds. Learn more about Osaka's history at this beautiful landmark, which bears witness to the bloody power struggles that preceded the establishment of the Edo era in 1603 CE.

Roam around the complex to appreciate its beautiful features and learn the stories behind its reconstruction from your guide. Then, continue your discovery of Osaka's history at the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, a detailed recreation of the townscape through different periods. Wander through the exhibits while your guide provides insights into the city's culture and lifestyle in the past. Afterward, head back to your hotel and relax.

Day 12: Day Trip to Sacred Mount Koya

Buddhist Temple Accommodations on Mt Koya
Wander through the forest shrine of Mount Koya near Osaka

For your final pilgrimage destination, you'll take a two-hour private transfer south to Mount Koya, a significant temple settlement in Wakayama Prefecture on the southern side of Osaka Bay and headquarters of the Kōyasan sect of Shingon Buddhism. During your visit, you'll learn more about Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan over the centuries and the monastic life at Mount Koya.

Be immersed in the peaceful and serene atmosphere of the temples while enjoying traditional vegetarian cuisine and observing the monks' prayers. Take your time to explore the grounds and appreciate the tranquil surroundings. Visit the ornate Kongobu-ji and Garan temples, and admire the towering Konpon Daito Pagoda as you stroll through the Banryutei Rock Garden. End your tour at the Reihokan Museum, where you can browse the collection of cultural treasures and artwork.

Finally, along with your guide, follow the signs to the Okunoin Cemetery, one of the country's largest and most revered cemeteries. Enter the lantern-lit corridor of Torodo Hall and walk along the centuries-old tombstones belonging to countless monks, samurai, and other notable figures. At the end of the trail, visit the mausoleum of Kōbō Daishi himself. After paying your respects, return to your hotel in Osaka for your final night in Japan. 

Day 13: Depart Osaka

Transfer From Osaka to Kansai Int. Airport
Take a last look at beautiful Osaka on your way to the airport 

It's time to say goodbye to beautiful Japan. Depending on your departure time, you could take a quick stroll around the vibrant Dotonbori shopping district or glimpse Osaka Castle from a different view before you head to Kansai International Airport. Safe travels wherever the road takes you next!

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Map of Temple Tour of Japan's Shikoku Pilgrim Trail, Kyoto & Osaka – 13 Days
Map of Temple Tour of Japan's Shikoku Pilgrim Trail, Kyoto & Osaka – 13 Days
Written by Fei He, updated May 30, 2024