Here, you will find general information on different types of lodgings along the Shikoku Pilgrimage. The comprehensive map on this website pinpoints various lodging locations that may be hard to find or highly recommended, along with some useful information. However, you may also find lodging information or reserve on websites such as Rakuten Travel, Booking.com, and Agoda, especially when you are in a larger city. In more remote regions, the most common way to make reservations is by phone. Also, if the minshuku or ryokan is off the path of the pilgrimage trail, you might be able to ask for a ride to and from the place.
Minshuku (民宿) & Ryokan (旅館)
Minshuku are family-operated, traditional-Japanese style bed and breakfast. Most are farmhouses located in small towns and countryside villages, and each will only have a few rooms. Prices are almost always per person, instead of per room, and typically cost ¥5,000 or more per night. A great majority of them only accept cash for payment. For foreigners, they are a great place to experience the Japanese lifestyle. A typical room comes with tatami (bamboo mat) flooring, a small table, futon bedings, yukata (Japanese bath robes), and perhaps even a small TV. Sitting, eating, and sleeping are all done on the floor.
Almost all minshuku come with meal options, which costs about another ¥1,000-¥3,000, depending on whether you choose the one meal plan (一食付き) or two meal plan (二食付き). Of course, if their prices list meal options only, you can always "downgrade" to accommodation only (素泊まり) without meals. Dinners are usually between 6-7pm, and breakfast is usally around 6-7am. At dinner and breakfast, an authentic, guests enjoy a traditional Japanese meal together in a communal dining room. Because these meals were huge and rice refills are unlimited, I always ended up with a food baby at the end of the day at a minshuku or ryokan. As the meals require extensive preparation, you should provide notice ahead of time (at least 4-5 hours early) if you will be eating there, or if you will be arriving late. If the prices list options for only without meals and two meals included, you may request for one meal only, and they will adjust the price for you. This happens often to pilgrims as it is common to start walking before the designated breakfast time. Most minshuku also provide free laundry facilities or services. On the other hand, please be aware that many of the minshuku in Shikoku don't have wifi.
Ryokan are also a form of traditioanl accomodation, but they tend to be operated on a larger scale than minshuku. Price ranges are similar to minshuku, about ¥5,000 or more per person per night. Although many ryokan also provide meal options, they are usually less strict about dinner and breakfast time. This means you may request to have your meals delivered at a time that suits your schedule. However, like minshuku, you should nonetheless call ahead to let them know if you will be late.
You must take your shoes off when entering minshuku and ryokan rooms. If you are unsure when to take your shoes off, a good rule of thumb is that if you see tatami (bamboo mats) or if you have to step up upon entering a house or building, take your shoes off. In Japan, you should never step on tatami or step into someone's home with your shoes on, unless asked otherwise. ThisRocket News 24 article, does a very good job explaining ryokan etiquette with fun illustrations.
Bathing is traditionally a social activity in Japan, and many prefer larger, communal baths over private bathrooms. Most minshuku and ryokan will either have one private bathroom that guests will take turns using or a public bath area. Public bath areas in Japan are gender-separated, so be sure to recognize the different kanji male (男) and female (女).
Temple Lodging (Shukubō/宿坊)
Some temples offer ryokan-style lodging to the public within temple grounds, and are similarly priced to minshuku or ryokan, but not all of them provide meal options. The meals are vegetarian (shōjin ryōri), and you may sometimes be invited to watch or partake in daily prayers and rituals. You may book ahead of time by calling the temple, or simply as a temple staff when you go to receive your stamp, although the latter might be risky at popular temples. Like minshuku and ryokan, the temples typically only accept cash payments. The rooms are very similar to minshuku and ryokan as well.
In bigger cities, many hotels operate as business hotels that cater to those on a business trip seeking budget accomodations. Prices range from ¥3,000-¥6,000 depending on your proximity to the downtown area, and you can often make reservations online. The rooms are typically very small, with just enough space for you to walk around the bed and use the bathroom, but they are often kept very clean. Basic amenities such as towels, soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, razors, and shower caps are normally provided. Some rooms will come with a television, telephone, refrigerator, or coffee maker.
Compared to minshuku and ryokan, hotels more often come with private bathrooms and internet connection. Wifi is not always available, but you can connect to the internet via LAN cable. In some cases, you might have to go down to the lobby or pay a fee to use their wifi. Most hotels and business hotels will have vending machines and coin-operated laundry facilities on certain floors. Otherwise, you can also ask the front desk if they provide laundry delivery services to nearby laundromats. In addition, many hotels provide postal services at the front desk, so if you need to mail anything back home, this could be a good option.
Free Lodging for Pilgrims
Zenkonyado are free or low-priced lodgings for pilgrims. Many online sources, including the map on this site, provide information on their locations and contact information. Zenkonyado owners do this to support pilgrims on their journeys, and so they will actively reach out and distribute information about other zenkonyado as well. You can always ask locals if there are any zenkonyado in town. However, many zenkonyado do not allow pilgrims to stay more than one night in order to prevent homeless people from taking advantage of them. If possible, you should make a courtesy call beforehand to make sure you can stay the night. This should be treated as one of the greatest osettai you will receive during your pilgrimage, so you should definitely leave a name slip behind before you leave the next day.
These are lodgings at the temples. Tsuyadō come in many shapes and sizes. Some are within concrete walls, others are wooden huts, and the one at Temple 37 is just a garage. As spaces are limited, you must call ahead of time to reserve a spot before the temple closes at 5pm. You may also be required to check in before 5pm, and check out before a certain time. In general, you may not stay more than one night unless they give special permission. Some temples come with both a tsuyaō and a shukubō, so you'll have the option to pay for lodging if you luck out on getting into the tsuyadō.
As far as I know, except for Temple 66, all other temples strictly enforce single-gender-only rules for their tsuyadō. This means that once a pilgrim reserves their spot at a tsuyadō, no other pilgrim of the opposite gender may stay there for the same night. This was a problem for me from time to time – as most pilgrims were men, I was often rejected when making a reservation at tsuyadō.
Keep in mind that many tsuyaō don't come with normal hotel amenities. They may lack bathing facilities or bedding. If you are not carrying a sleeping bag or tent with you, please refer to the map on this site, or call to inquire whether you'll be able to stay overnight with what you have.
In Japan, it is technically illegal to camp outside designated areas. At the same time, however, it is a custom in Shikoku for many pilgrims (including the ones who drive) to sleep overnight outdoors. There are a few things to be aware of if you plan to do this. First, check the weather forecast. Getting rained on isn't a pleasant feeling. This happened to me once when I was sleeping on a bench in a shelted areas. Because the winds were so strong the rain started swooping in in the middle of the night, and my sleeping bag got wet. Second, check to see whether there are sources of water nearby (convenience stores, public restrooms, parks), which you may need at night. Also, be aware of your surroundings. It is not acceptable to be sleeping on the street in a big city, or near areas with high foot traffic. In order to not get mistaken for homeless people, a common practice for pilgrims is to showcase their pilgrim hat either on their tents or anywhere obvious, to indicate that they are pilgrims spending the night there. Lastly, make sure you have a foolproof defense stragety against mosquitoes, which can become a huge problem after the rainy season in early July. Mosquito coils and sprays won't be enough – consider investing in a face net which you can find at sporting goods stores, or use a tent instead.
Michi No Eki (道の駅)
These are government-designated roadside stations found alongside roads and highways. Shikoku has an expansive interconnected network of toll-based expressways that span from east to west and north to south, mostly along coastlines. Beginning in the 1990s, in order to promote mobilization and encourage people to utilize these expressways, the Japanese government initiated a nationwide project to install michi no eki along them. These areas provided free parking, bathroom facilities, telephone services, vending machines, and useful information for travellers. Because their mission is largely to promote local tourism and trade, you will often find unique local meals, snacks, produce, and other merchandise. You can find all michi no eki locations in Shikoku in your guidebook.
However, not all michi no eki are appropriate for pilgrims to spend the night. You should check out information regarding the particular michi no eki beforehand. Factors to consider include its proximity to busy cities or residential areas, whether there is a suitable area for camping nearby or sleeping in a pavilion, and the opening hours of the michi no eki. There may also be signs or notices for henro regarding whether you can sleep there or not. If you are camping in an appropriate area nearby, there shouldn't be a problem with campers using the bathroom facilities at the michi no eki. There were also a few michi no eki where I noticed people spending the night in their cars in the parking lot. That seemed to be a good tell-tale sign that it was all right for me to sleep there. In any case, just make sure you always leave an item out (most often your pilgrim sedge hat) that indicates you are a pilgrim.
Train stations aren't very common around Shikoku compared to the many of the Honshu areas in Japan, but you will be able to locate a few of them near the pilgrimage trail in your guidebook. Each train station comes with benches, restrooms, vending machines, and sometimes electricity. For security reasons, lights will stay on all night. If you are looking to sleep overnight at a train station, first make sure that the doors leading to the indoor facilities are open 24/7. If you are a light sleeper, it is also important to note that trains may continue to run until around midnight and the noise can disturb your sleep.
Parks and Pilgrim Rest Areas
There are often pavilions and benches in parks and rest areas designated to pilgrims. Many of the locals in Shikoku are very supportive of individuals undertaking the pilgrimage, so sleeping in a sleeping bag in a park or rest area isn't shunned upon. Just make sure you leave your sedge hat out so that passerby will know that you are a pilgrim. If you are unsure, ask a local whether it is okay to stay the night at a particular spot. However, it is best to avoid sleeping in parks in larger cities like Tokushima or Matsuyama.
You will come across a few designated campsites along the pilgrim trail, but if you are determined to camp out frequently, you will often find yourself wondering whether a particular spot is suitable for setting up a tent. It is difficult to say what circumstances create an amicable environment for camping out. The most I can say is, you should just exercise commonse sense. It is obviously not appropriate to set up a tent in big cities, but it is okay to do so in certain train stations in small towns. Areas that are open to the public can actually be private areas, so you will have to ask for permission to sleep in a tent near someone's house or in a rice field. Under any circumstance, you might still be asked to leave by a police at the end of the day, so it may be safe to have a plan B for when that happens.
Campers should also be aware that wild boars and a poisonous snake called musashi can be found in Shikoku. I won't go into the details here, but I would advise you to do some research on this before heading out. There will also be signs along the trail warning pilgrims and traveller that there are wild animals in the area.
A note to women: While Japan has incredibly low crime rates and Shikoku is regarded as one of the safest places in Japan, many locals nonetheless strongly advise against women sleeping outdoors on their own. Whenever I slept outdoors, I always had one or more pilgrim friends whom I met along the way to spend the night with me. If I walked alone, I would always opt for paid lodging to be safe.
Shinto Shrines & Roadside Temples
It is possible to find unattended Shinto shrines and temples that are suitable for spending the night. Some will even have tatami and futons for pilgrims. These are nonetheless still places of worship, so please make sure that you keep the place as clean and tidy as when you found it. You should not step inside without taking your shoes off. There are also some that are locked, and you may have to obtain the key from a nearby family or shop to spent the night there. This seems to be a great option for women, as you can sleep assured that you are in a locked, secured space. In addition, these shrines most likely won't come with a restroom. If having a restroom for the night is important to you, you will have to do some research on restroom facilities nearby or on the way before you arrive at the shrine. Specifically, find out if there is a convenience store, michi no eki, hot spring, or park within about 1-2km.
Restrooms & Bathing
Restrooms are plentiful in Shikoku. Even as a woman (as it is harder to just turn nature into my personal bathroom), there were only one occasion where I had to ask a clinic and another occasion where I had to ask a resident if I could use their bathroom. Public facilities like parks, michi no eki, and government buildings will have restrooms open to the public.
If you are sleeping outdoors, it can be difficult to take a shower. I met a pilgrim who enjoyed bathing in rivers and streams every now and then, and other times would use wet wipes to clean himself. I also successfully "took a shower" by washing myself with water with bar soap from the sink in a public restroom, since there was a drain on the ground. The ultimate experience though, is to have an onsen (hot spring) nearby. They typically cost only about ¥400-¥800 and are a unique way to emerge yourself in the Japanese lifestyle. Even if you are staying at a hotel, minshuku or ryokan, I would still recommend that you check out a few of the famous onsen in Shikoku.
Most pilgrims seem to only bring about 3 changes of clothing, as laundromats are plentiful in the cities and many minshuku and ryokan have washing machines. Some washing machines at your place of accomodation are free, while some can cost up to ¥400. Locations of laundromats can be found in the guidebook. If you don't mind, you can also handwash your clothing at public restrooms. Washing your clothes in streams and rivers should be avoided. First, using detergent in rivers is not environmentally friendly. Second, it can be dangerous to walk on rocks and vegetation around waters, and snakes and leeches tend to be around as well. Some pilgrims bring their own detergent for this reason, but I used soap provided in the restrooms when I did this a few times during the trip.
One thing that a lot of minshuku and ryokan are lacking is a dryer. For this reason, it is wise to invest in clothing materials that dry quickly. If there is a heater or air conditioning in your room, you can hang your clothing next to it overnight. As you will probably be constantly on the go during the pilgrimage, it would be difficult to dry your clothes under the sun. However, there were two occasions where I had to spread my pilgrim robe over my backpack as I walked so that it could dry.
A great number of minshuku and ryokan don't allow online reservations. Some of them might not even appear on Google searches. For more suburban or rural areas, your guidebook will be more reliable for you to find lodging options. The guidebook also contains all addresses and phone numbers of places of accomodation. The majority of my reservations were made by phone call. If your mobile phone is not able to make calls within Japan, you may be able to find phone booths nears roads or post offices. Click here for a list of useful phrases to make a reservation (because none of the minshuku or ryokan personel I've met spoke any English).
Important note on cancellations: It is somewhat rude and extremely unusual for Japanese people to cancel their reservations, especially reservations for minshuku or ryokan, where the food ingredients are purchased early in the day and meal preparations can take several hours. As the number of foreign pilgrims increase, it has become more common for minshuku and ryokan owners to receive cancellation requests. For this reason, I strongly advise pilgrims to avoid cancelling last minute. If you know you will be unable to reach your anticipated destination for the night, consider taking public transportation or getting a ride from the minshuku or ryokan owner, then returning to that point the next morning to begin your walk.