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Goin’ Japanesque!

Saigoku Sanjusansho: Pilgrimage to 33 Temples and World Heritage Sites

What is Pilgrimage?

Pilgrimage means visiting a group of sacred places but in Japan, it sometimes means visiting a group of shrines and temples to offer prayers. Also, pilgrimage in Japan usually indicates visiting holy places of the specific, limited regions, rather than visiting only one sacred place. The famous Saigoku Sanjusansho (literally translates as 33 places of the western country) is one of such limited regions for pilgrimage.


The region covers a wide range of area across 7 prefectures; Wakayama, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara, Shiga and Gifu.


The Oldest Place of Pilgrimage

Writer’s Photo

Saigoku Sanjusansho is said to be Japan’s oldest place of pilgrimage. It was originally started by Saint Tokudo of Nagatani Temple in 718 and even though they established a sacred place of Kannon as instructed by Enma Daio, a judge of the afterlife, they could not gain religious faith from the people. Later in 988, Cloister Emperor Kazan ordered the Sanjusansho Pilgrimage and the practice of pilgrimage became widely known.


Why Visit Temples and Shrines?

The purpose of pilgrimage to temples and shrines varies for person to person, for example, to pray for health and to find yourself. There are many who want to be soothed by praying to the 33 Kanzeon Bosatsu Images. In recent years, the number of overseas tourists visiting Japan who are incorporating pilgrimage as one of their sightseeing plans is increasing.


Filled with Temples of World Heritage

Saigoku Sanjusansho includes many temples of World Heritage and has lots of interesting points to see. It’s worth visiting for a sightseeing purpose as well.

1. Mt. Otonami Kiyomizu-dera Temple (World Heritage, Kyoto)

The 16th sacred place (Writer’s Photo)

2. Mt. Nachi Seiganto-ji Temple (World Heritage, Wakayama)

The 1st sacred place,

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3. Mt. Miyuki Daigo-ji Temple (World Heritage, Kyoto)

The 15th sacred place,

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4. Katsuo-ji Temple (Osaka)

The 23rd sacred place (Writer’s Photo)

Writer’s Photo

Katsuo-ji Temple is known as “Daruma Dera” (Daruma Doll Temple).


How many days does it take to complete the pilgrimage?

It takes about 10 to 12 days by your personal car. If you use public transportation system such as trains and buses, then 15 days would be more than enough to complete the pilgrimage.


Passing the 1300th Anniversary Since Its Introduction

Saigoku Sanjusansho Pilgrimage has a deep history and its 1300th anniversary is upcoming in 2018. The commemorating event will be held starting from 2016 to 2020. There will be many Buddhist statues that are rarely shown to the public as well so if you are visiting Japan during this period, make sure to incorporate the pilgrimage to your itinerary. 


Also, you can purchase a book of stamps at each temple so don’t forget to get one and receive a stamp at each temple. It will make a great souvenir commemorating your visit to Japan.

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