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The Way of the 88 Temples

Journeys on the Shikoku Pilgrimage

Robert C. Sibley

Publication Year: 2013

Compelled to seek something more than what modern society has to offer, Robert Sibley turned to an ancient setting for help in recovering what has been lost. The Henro Michi is one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimage routes in Japan. It consists of a circuit of eighty-eight temples around the perimeter of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands. Every henro, or pilgrim, is said to follow in the footsteps of Kōbō Daishi, the ninth-century ascetic who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Over the course of two months, the author walked this 1,400-kilometer route (roughly 870 miles), visiting the sacred sites and performing their prescribed rituals.Although himself a gaijin, or foreigner, Sibley saw no other pilgrim on the trail who was not Japanese. Some of the people he met became not only close companions but also ardent teachers of the language and culture. These fellow pilgrims’ own stories add to the author’s narrative in unexpected and powerful ways. Sibley’s descriptions of the natural surroundings, the customs and etiquette, the temples and guesthouses will inspire any reader who has longed to escape the confines of everyday life and to embrace the emotional, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of a pilgrimage.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I want to thank the editors, past and present, at the Ottawa Citizen—in particular, Gerry Nott, Neil Reynolds, Scott Anderson, Lynn McAuley, Christina Spencer, Derek Shelly, Rob Warner, Julius Majerczyk, Kurt Johnson, Sue Allen, Peter Robb, and Mike Gillespie—who, in their various capacities, contributed to this work, ...

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1. Bells

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pp. 1-25

I stumbled up the bell tower steps, grasped the rope, and hauled the long wooden pole back as far as possible in its cradle. Then I swung the rope forward and slammed the pole against the bronze bell. A loud bong echoed through the courtyard of Shōsanji temple and across the mountain valley. ...

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2. Companions

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pp. 26-47

I was in the foyer of the Shōsanji temple lodge by six the next morning, trying to jam my feet into a pair of outdoor slippers for a pre-breakfast stroll to the coffee machine, when I saw Jun and his father approaching. ...

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3. Blessings

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pp. 48-70

I was parked on a bench beneath the sakura, or cherry trees, at Yakuōji temple, admiring my ugly new shoes, when a man carrying a little girl in his arms approached. He said something in Japanese that I didn’t catch, but with a camera in hand, the child in the crook of his arm, and the cherry trees in bloom, it wasn’t hard to figure out what he wanted. ...

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4. Spirits

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pp. 71-95

I’d been lying on Katsurahama Beach, absorbed in the grating wash of the Pacific Ocean along the gravel shoreline, when Shūji crouched beside me. He held out his arms and opened his hands to reveal a stone in each palm. ...

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5. Dreams

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pp. 96-116

I draped the wet cloth on my head, closed my eyes, and lay back to let the Kami no Yu, the Water of the God, soothe me. Hot water lapped across my chest as I rested the back of my head against the rim of the pool. My sigh of pleasure must have been audible to the half-dozen other bathers in the Dōgo Onsen. ...

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6. Enchantments

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pp. 117-142

Tanaka-san taught me how to pray properly as we stood between the pillars at the entrance to Emmyōji, Temple Fifty-Three. Inside the temple, facing out toward us, was the gilded and cloth-draped statue of Amida Nyorai, the temple’s honzon, or deity. ...

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7. Blossoms

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pp. 143-168

I wandered among Buddhas. There were hundreds of them: life-size figures lining the maze of paths around Unpenji, clustering in groups in the corners of the courtyard, lurking half-hidden in the forest, standing in phalanxes near the pagodas and prayer shrines, and peering out from a copse of mist-shrouded cedar trees. ...

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pp. 169-172

It had rained in the night, and I stepped carefully as the winding path descended through a copse of dripping cedars. Rounding a curve in the trail, I spotted the red bench half-hidden in a cavern of sumac on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. ...


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pp. 173-182


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pp. 183-186


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pp. 187-192

E-ISBN-13: 9780813934730
E-ISBN-10: 0813934737
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813934723
Print-ISBN-10: 0813934729

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 867741722
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Way of the 88 Temples

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Shikoku Region (Japan) -- Description and travel.
  • Buddhist temples -- Japan -- Shikoku Region.
  • Buddhist pilgrims and pilgrimages -- Japan -- Shikoku Region.
  • Sibley, Robert C. (Robert Cameron), 1951- -- Travel -- Japan -- Shikoku Region.
  • Spiritual biography.
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