Embarking on a pilgrimage is no small thing. It really does require some preparation if you intend on staying out on the trail and walking the entire thing. The Shikoku Pilgrimage, at this time, is not set up to the extent that the Camino in Spain, or even the Kumano Pilgrimage in Japan, is established. It’s longer. It’s less maintained. It has less amenities. It has fewer trail markers. And, while you might be able to get by with English in Spain to some degree, Japan is a whole different thing. Especially when you are out on the road alone.

While you may find several very nice accounts of pilgrims who have completed the pilgrimage and who celebrate their victories on-line, you will not find many accounts of people who tried and failed miserably. I’ve read and also heard accounts of people who were just overwhelmed by it all, who thought that sleeping rough would be okay, but when faced with the gritty reality that they were sleeping on stone, on concrete, in public toilets, camping on hard-packed earth, having their tent ripped away by winds off the sea, and then having to grind it out the next day and the next, just lost all the feeling that they had when they started out.

This is why I strongly and emphatically recommend that you PLAN your trip carefully. If you are a hardened backpacker and can sleep hanging from a tree, well, I suppose all we can say is, “Good for you, bud.” But, for the majority of people who are not interested or willing or able to do that, to sleep rough, to risk getting bit by a centipede at night (they are huge) in their sleeping bag, and who would like to start the day a bit more settled, like with coffee and WiFi, we can find a better way.

This is why you simply must have a travel agent and travel designer work with you to organize your trip. Don’t be naive and walk a couple days and then get stranded because of a turned ankle or get washed out by autumn typhoon rain. Don’t foolishly sleep in the woods, or in some place that “might be okay”. Don’t risk your health and your peace of mind. Work with a pro.

While you get further away from urban centers, you have some choices in terms of where you can stay. I recommend staying in a Japanese inn, or ryokan. This is great. You can immerse yourself in Japanese culture, maybe chat with the staff and owners, eat local soul food, and sleep in a room that is safe and clean. You might sleep on tatami mats on a futon. You might enjoy a nice calm onsen bath at the end of the day. You might treasure some quiet time sitting in your cotton yukata-robe with a beer or a glass of wine.

Having some space and time to rest and reflect on your experiences of the day is extremely valuable. You have some clean well-lit space to write your thoughts of the day’s events. You can get out your computer and maps and figure out your next steps. You can cool your hot feet that have been pounded by hard earth for a few hours. There are far too many benefits to staying safe and clean, rather than hunker down in a tent in places unknown with plastic bags of things you got at a convenience store.

Contact us at pathwaytojapan@gmail.com so we can connect your plans with a proper Japan travel agency who can help facilitate your adventure. A ryokan inn stay will be a treasure to experience, and since you came all the way to Japan to have a deep Japanese experience it might be a good idea to actually have that happen, rather than isolate yourself in a tent at the side of the road.