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  • Making Pilgrimages: Meaning and Practice in Shikoku
  • H. Byron Earhart (bio)
Making Pilgrimages: Meaning and Practice in Shikoku. By Ian Reader. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 2005. xiv, 350 pages. $55.00.

The henro, or pilgrimage around the 88 (or more) holy sites on the island of Shikoku, may take 40 to 50 days on foot, 10 to 12 days by bus, about eight [End Page 478] days by taxi or private car, and three to four days by helicopter. Nowadays it is common to undertake the course in stages, completing one cycle in a number of trips; many devotees repeat the pilgrimage—even hundreds of times. Some become so "addicted" to the sites and the route that they spend their entire lives "on the road" and end their pilgrimage only in death, a memorial stone marking the terminal point of their life's journey.

Ian Reader completed the henro in 1984 by walking; during the next two decades he has returned many times to Shikoku to visit these sites and follow the route both on foot and by bus, and he admits to sharing the same addiction (Shikoku byō; Shikoku sickness) that has prompted many Japanese to retrace their steps over and over again. Reader's study of this subject, first introduced to the West through Oliver Statler's Japanese Pilgrimage, is 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.

As in any fieldwork on a living custom, a primary question is exactly what is being studied. The general rubric of "pilgrimage," which the author admits tends to be overlaid with Western (especially Christian) notions, is accepted (with modification) as a translation of henro: "one of the most prevalent types of pilgrimage found in Japan: a linked circuit in which participants focus not just on one sacred goal, but on a specified number of sites, which collectively form the pilgrimage, and all of which must be visited to complete it" (p. 9). He includes in "pilgrimage" not just the term and practice of henro, specific to the Shikoku phenomenon, but also related Japanese practices—the more generic junrei (and some other terms such as mōde). (Reader and Paul L. Swanson helped prepare the way for understanding "Pilgrimage in the Japanese Religious Tradition" in a special issue of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Vol. 24 [1997].) The focus on henro as a round or route of practices guides the author's selection of comparative materials both within Japan and in other cultural contexts.

Any pilgrimage is a complex phenomenon that moves through time and in itself is a form of movement; the Shikoku pilgrimage is further complicated by the fact that it has no absolute beginning or ending point, such that a person may start and finish the round in any order, and can divide and splice the 88 in any combination/sequence. Also (as with most other Japanese pilgrimage practices), there are additional or optional sites; for the henro, beyond the 88 numbered or official pilgrimage destinations, these unofficial sites are known as bangai. The henro is truly a moving target, or one might say 88-plus targets, some in walking distance of each other, some far apart. A mere cataloging of all known sites would be a capitulation to a mechanical enumeration.

The beginning point for Reader's study is the recognition that "perception of pilgrimage as a goal-centered activity is certainly one that has been [End Page 479] prevalent in standard academic . . . discussions of the subject" (p. 7). His long-term participation in the Shikoku pilgrimage leads to the claim that "pilgrimages are not . . . just transitory performances carried out at specific locations and directed at particular spatial and temporary goals, but may be points of departure for their participants, impacting on and influencing their lives thereafter" (p. 7). This leads him to one of the major contributions of his work, redefining the subject matter of both pilgrimage generally and henro in particular: he includes the standard focus on the pilgrim and the goal...


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pp. 478-482
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