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Ryozenji Temple

Tokushima Prefecture’s Ryozenji Temple is the important starting point of the Shikoku Pilgrimage

By Elizabeth Sok

While its one thousand-plus years of history is impressive enough, Tokushima Prefecture’s Ryozenji Temple is the important starting point of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Grab some friends and take your first steps on this 88-stop tour of Buddhist temples on the island of Shikoku.


Ryozenji Temple

Photo by: PIXTA/ papa88 Check out the two-story pagoda on the temple grounds.

While legend says Ryozenji was founded in the eighth century, it was the monk Kukai at the beginning of the next century who would solidify the temple’s place in the country’s spiritual landscape. Kukai established the Shingon sect of Buddhism and developed Mount Koya, a large settlement devoted to the sect’s teachings. Kukai visited Ryozenji and over the course of subsequent centuries, the temple became the starting point of a key Buddhist pilgrimage.

As with many old sites in Japan, this one has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since its founding. Highlights include a small Japanese garden featuring carp and a two-story pagoda enshrining a statue of Gyodai Nyorai who represents the five wisdoms of esoteric Buddhism.

Shikoku Pilgrimage

Ryozenji Temple

Photo by: PIXTA/ hide Opt to dress up in the official outfit for undertaking the pilgrimage.

When you visit Ryozenji, you’ll come across people wearing white robes, a colored cloth around their neck and a sedge hat while carrying a simple wooden walking stick. Wearing traditional pilgrimage clothing, they are at the start of the trail which will take them to 88 temples in all four of Shikoku’s prefectures.

The Shikoku Pilgrimage was historically carried out on foot and can take anywhere from a month or two to complete, but many who undertake this adventure will rely on cars, buses or other forms of transportation. If you can’t complete the whole trek, don’t worry – the first few stops are quite close to Ryozenji and can be reached in an afternoon. Mozen Ichibangai is a shop and information center just outside the temple where you can pick up pilgrim clothes (although these are not necessary to wear) as well as maps and snacks.


While the Shikoku Pilgrimage is the main draw to Ryozenji, there are plenty of other events throughout the year to check out. During the New Year holidays, many locals choose the temple for hatsumode, the first visit to a temple or shrine in the new year. In March, students will descend on the temple to wish for success on their school entrance exams. On the first Sunday in April, Ryozenji holds a trio of events: celebrating the Buddha’s birthday, the aoba festival which honors the fresh greenery emerging in spring and a flower festival.

Things To Know


The temple is free to enter and is open every day from 7 a.m.–5 p.m. 

How To Get There


By train

Get off at JR Bando station on the JR Kotoku Line and walk ten minutes to the temple. 

By car

From the Aizumi IC, take Prefectural Road 1 Itanocho, then Prefectural Road 12 to Naruto City. 

Where To Stay

Grand XIV Naruto The Lodge
  • 182 Kitanadachoorino, Naruto-shi, Tokushima, 771-0376 Japan
  • ¥11,500 - ¥11,500
  • 4.13/5 (456 reviews)
  • 5.2 km
Business Hotel Pocket
  • 207-1 Sasagino, Itano-gun Matsushige-cho, Tokushima, 771-0219 Japan
  • ¥4,950 - ¥6,600
  • 3.72/5 (385 reviews)
  • 8.4 km

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