Heian Era Pilgrimages

Pilgrimages to Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and sacred mountains are still popular in Japan, particularly with those over 60 who have time on their hands.


A priest leads a group of pilgrims to Makinoodera temple.

Many of the temples on the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage date from Heian times and still attract many pilgrims.


Pilgrims walk down to the hondo at Hogonji Temple.


A pilgrim dressed in traditional white garb walks down to the main hall at Yoshimine-dera.

Kurama, in the Northern Hills, was a popular place of pilgrimage in Heian times, and Kurama-dera temple is mentioned in The Sarashina Diary (Sarashina Nikki).


Kurama-dera hondo.

One of the most well known pilgrimages was Kiyomizu-dera, which Genji passes on his way to Yugao's funeral at Mount Toribe. Another was Ishiyama-dera, a favourite of Murasaki Shikibu herself.


Kiyomizu-dera has been a popular pilgrimage since Heian times.

On the road to Ise, Hatsuse (Hase-dera) was probably the farthest pilgrimage for aristocrats of the Heian era.


Pilgrims and tourists on the veranda of Hase-dera.

After the Latter Days of the Law (mappo) began in 1052, Amidism became increasingly popular. The Daibutsu in the new capital became a popular pilgrimage in the Kamakura era.

Kamakura Daibutsu

The enormous bronze statue of the Buddha Amida at Kamakura.

Present-day pilgrims to Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines can buy a nokyocho (pilgrim's book) and have their visit recorded with an official stamp and a handwritten name and date.

Hachiman Nokyocho

The front and back covers of a nokyocho depict a procession up to the Iwashimizu Hachiman shrine on Mount Otoko.

Mementos at shrines and temples include omamori (amulets) made from cloth and wood.

Seiganto Temple Omamori

An omamori amulet from the Seiganto Shrine near Nachi Falls.

For a taste of the type of forest path used by early pilgrims, try the Takisaka-no-michi trail from Yagyu to Nara.