The Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage (Saikoku Sanjusansho junrei) covers 33 temples dedicated to Kannon in Western Japan and is the most famous of Japanese pilgrimages. Kannon (sometimes Kanzeon or Kwannon) is the Japanese name for the bodhisattva Avalokitasvara, or Bodhisattva of Compassion, one of whose 33 manifestations (the only female one) corresponds to the Chinese bodhisattva Kuan-yin, known in the West as the "Goddess of Mercy."
Kannon greets pilgrims in front of
Seiganto Temple, the first stop on the Saigoku
Kannon's ability to take 33 different forms is the reason why there are
33 temples on this 1500-mile pilgrimage that stretches from Lake Biwa
to Kobe and touches Japan's east and west coasts.
By tradition, pilgrims visit the temples in order from 1 to 33, but
they can also be reached in day-trips from Kyoto using public transport
and averaging about two per day. Kyoto's Tourist Information Office can
help with train and bus schedules for the more remote temples.
Signpost on the pilgrim's path to Kannonshoji Temple.
The basic procedure at each temple is to have your nokyocho inscribed
and stamped at the nokyo (pilgrim's office), which will cost 300
yen. Then find the hall with the Kannon image, toss some money into the
donation box, ring the bell (actually a kind of gong that you strike
with a vertical rope) three times and say a prayer. You may also light
three incense sticks or three candles, the number representing the
Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
Nokyocho entry for the first temple of the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage. On
the left is the temple stamp, name and the date. On the right is a prayer
and information about the temple.
Many of the Saigoku Pilgrimage temples charge an entrance fee, which contributes towards the upkeep of the temple, its gardens and its ancient sculptures. Some temples sell pilgrim's supplies and most sell omamori - amulets made of wood inside a cloth pouch. These cost from 500 yen to 1000 yen each.
An omamori amulet shows Nanendo's octagonal hall and the
five-tiered pagoda of Kofukuji Temple in Nara.
Shop making wall-hangings from pilgrim's books outside Kodoji Temple