or “How to be a Perfect Pilgrim”

Actually, it's more of a guideline than a rule…

—Bill Murray as "Peter Venkman" in Ghostbusters

Interestingly, the word "henro" in Japanese means both "a pilgrimage" and "a pilgrim". The two meanings tend to be distinguished by referring to the pilgrimage with the honorific お, "o", as in "o-henro". Make of that what you will. There are few real rules, per se, on how to do the o-henro, or to be a henro. One need not start at temple number 1, one need not proceed in a clockwise direction (the movie Shikoku notwithstanding). One need not complete the pilgrimage in a single, uninterrupted effort. However, there are certainly a number of guidelines that the prospective pilgrim would do well to consider.

For starts, there are several items of clothing and accoutrements that it's usual for a pilgrim to wear or take along. Most of these can be picked up in Kyōtō, Ōsaka or at Ryōzenji, temple number 1, in Naruto, which will most likely be the first stop on your henro.

What to Wear

Oiziru — 白衣

The oiziru (or hakui) is a white jacket along the lines of a happi; some pilgrims wear a white vest, frequently with Kōbō Daishi's shingon, the Gohōgō, written on the back. It's also common to wear white pants, although there seem to be more exceptions to this. In Asia, the color white is used at funerals, and the henro is a sort of reincarnation within one's own lifetime, reflecting mikkyō's assurance that reaching enlightenment "in this very life, in this very body" is possible. Some pilgrims, rather than using a nōkyōchō to collect stamps at each temple, have the stamps put on their oiziru as shown here (this seems to cost a little more). The oiziru is probably the one thing you really need to have in order for people to recognize you as a pilgrim.

Henro-kasa (遍路笠)

This is the classic Japanese conical "sedge hat", with some calligraphy on it. On the front is the bonji letter yu, the seed sylable of Miroku Bosatsu (弥勒菩薩). This letter is also said to symbolize Kōbō Daishi, sitting in a lacquered chair, holding a gokōsho in his right hand and a nenju, or Buddhist rosary, in his left. In each of four directions on the top of the hat is written a line of the following poem:

迷故三界 悟故十方空 本来無東西 何処有南北 sangai ni mayō ga yueni jippō kū o satoru ga yueni honrai tōzai nakereba izuku nanboku ari ka Though lost in the three worlds; We cannot know the emptiness of the ten directions. Originally East and West do not exist, So where does North and South exist?

Wagesa (輪袈裟)

The wagesa, a sort of purple stole about two feet long and three inches wide, is the layperson's equivalent of a monk's robes or kesa (袈裟). Temples once had a rule that a person without a wagesa and nenju could not be considered a worshipper. Just as the Buddha wore the same robe for six years, and just as the donning of robes for monks of all traditions symbolizes their dedication to something beyond the mundane, the wagesa symbolizes the pilgrim's dedication to the path.

What to Carry

Kongōtsue (金剛杖)

The kongōtsue is the pilgrim's staff, and is also full of symbolism. First and foremost, it represents the body of Kōbō Daishi, who accompanies all pilgrims on their paths. Since the staff is Kōbō Daishi, it must be treated with reverence and respect. When one has arrived at one's resting place for the night, the foot of the staff is supposed to be washed, just as one would was on's own feet. If the room in which you're staying has a tokonoma, the kongōtsue should be kept there overnight. (It is also said that one shouldn't let the kongōtsue touch the ground when crossing a bridge: this apparently has something to do with Kōbō Daishi's having had to sleep under a bridge at some point, but I haven't gotten the story straight yet...)

The staff has a bell on it, which serves the same purpose as the rings on a shakujō: to warn other living beings of our approach and give them the chance to get out of the way. The bell also acts as an o-mamori (お守り), or protective amulet, to safeguard the pilgrim's path.

There is also bonji calligraphy on the top of the staff, which has four sets of notches, dividing it into five sections. Each section has a bonji letter: from the top to the bottom, they are


These five elements are referred to as the gorintō (五輪塔). In this way, the kongōtsue is effectively presented as a Buddhist stūpa, originally a reliquary housing a relic of the Buddha or other revered teacher. As Buddhism spread, the symbolism of the stūpa broadened and was presented in architecturally and culturally different fashions. The Japanese pagoda is a form of a stūpa. Some kongōtsue also have the Hannya Singyō written on them. Many pilgrims use a brocade cover to protect the top of the kongōtsue (from sweaty hands?) but this doesn't seem to be obligatory.

Zuda-bukuro (ずだ袋)

The zuda-bukuro is a small white bag used to carry the various small items one will need on the henro. These might include a incense, candles, a sūtra book, offertory coins (o-saisen, お賽銭), a goeika (ご詠歌) set (bells for sūtra chanting), a nōkyōchō (納経帳) for collecting stamps at the temples at which one stops, and a supply of osame-fuda (納札), or "name tags", and a nenju, or rosary.

Nōkyōchō (納経帳)

The nōkyōchō (納経帳) is the small notebook (usually Japanese-style, fanfold) in which you collect stamps and calligraphy from the various temples at which you stop and worship on the henro. The ones made specifically for the Shikoku o-henro have a page for each of the 88 temples on the route, as well as one for Kōya-san where it's traditional to begin and/or end your pilgrimage. As noted, some pilgrims collect the stamps on their oiziru rather than in a nōkyōchō.

The origin of the nōkyōchō and the stamps comes from the time of the Tokagawa shōgunate, when travel was highly restricted. These books and stamps, at that time, served as travel documents.

Osame-fuda (納札)

Osame-fuda (納札), sometimes just called "o-fuda", are a pilgrim's "business cards". An osame-fuda is a small strip of paper with a picture of Kōbō Daishi and the phrases 奉納四国八十八ヶ所霊場巡拝, hōnō-shikoku-hachi-jū-hachi-kasho-reijō-junpai, "Dedicated to the Pilgrimage of the Eighty-Eight Sacred Places of the Island of Shikoku" and 同行二人, dōgyō ninin, "Two travelling as one" on it. One writes one's name, address and the date on the back.

Osame-fuda are used mainly in two situations: when one is worshipping and leaves an o-fuda in the hondō and the daishidō of the temple, and when one receives o-settai from someone.

Some pilgrims who have completed the o-henro numerous times use color-coded osame-fuda: if one has done the o-henro four times or fewer, one uses a white osame-fuda; from five to seven, one uses green, from eight to 24, red, from 25 to 49, silver and from 50 to 99, gold. If one has managed to do the o-henro 100 times or more, one uses a brocade osame-fuda.

Nenju (念珠)

Nenju, also called juzu (数珠), are Buddhist rosary beads. A standard nenju has 108 beads, one for each of the "afflicting passions" that bind people to samsara.

The number 108 is derived as follow: Buddhism holds that we have six senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch and conceptualization); to any input from one of those senses, we can have six reactions, finding it desirable, undesirable, neither desirable nor undesirable, painful, pleasurable or neither painful nor pleasurable; any of those reactions can exist in the past, the present or the future. So, six senses times six reactions times three periods of time equals 108.

In addition to the main 108 beads, a nenju will have one or two (depending on the style) larger oyadama (親玉) or "parent beads", as well as four small beads called shitennō (四天王), "the four heavenly kings", which subdivide the nenju but are not counted as part of the 108.

Nenju come in a variety of styles. Zen-style nenju have a single oyadama and a metal ring; Shingon-style nenju have two oyadama and no ring; most nenju have round beads, but Tendai-style nenju have flattened ones. In both the Shingon and Tendai styles, the oyadama have smaller counter beads hanging from them, other styles have only decorative tassels.