This road-tested review is based on a five-week pilgrimage around the island in April and May 2008, a journey completed mostly on foot and supplemented as a result of injury by a bit of hitchhiking. While it may appear in the paragraphs below that I am being unduly critical, it seems to me inevitable that a first edition will have more problems than perfections. So before launching into the former, let me mention a few of the latter.
“Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide” is for walkers. It's not really a how-to book (though it tries), but a collection of color maps of the pilgrimage route. It will be less useful for cyclists and motorists, who will probably want to pick up a Shikoku road atlas. The maps provide an adequate level of detail for non-Japanese reading pilgrims to plan their daily walking and find their way around the island. Walking routes are clearly marked (including alternate nature trails and historic trails) and an adequate number of landmarks are included against which to check navigation. Place names in Japanese also appear on the maps, so even if you can't pronounce the characters, you should be able to match what you see on signs with what appears in the book. Among the landmarks found on most pages are tourist attractions, hotels, convenience stores, restaurants, laundromats, hospitals, banks, post offices, public toilets, government offices, and police and fire stations (though lamentably no Net Cafes). The book also features a simplified and easy-to-read map and fare schedule of Shikoku's railway lines, a glossary of Japanese words related to the pilgrimage, two pages of Japanese phrases for daily living, and a pictorial and text description of the Buddhist deities encountered at the 88 temples. I especially appreciated the book's size, perfect for slipping into a cargo-pants pocket.
I wish, though, that it were lighter. The paper stock is great for a photo book, but a bit heavy for walkers, for whom every kilogram counts. Heavy stock requires heavier binding and for this book perhaps the only thing that would stand up to 40-60 days of regular use is stitching. Pages started falling out of my copy within two weeks.
There's also extraneous material that adds to the weight, including introductory essays on the pilgrimage, the island of Shikoku, and Kobo Daishi; sections detailing different ways of doing the pilgrimage (on foot or by car or bus), types of restaurants, public transport, and banking to be found in Japan; annual temperature and precipitation charts; plus a list of what to pack. Presumably you should know all this before you leave for Shikoku. It's not information you need everyday.
The information that you might need, though, is sometimes absent. A list of the sutras chanted at each temple visit is is provided in the Order of Sutra Reading, but there are no English translations. While the maps provide a good sampling of hotels and their telephone numbers, as well as possible camp sites, a list of free housing would have been a useful inclusion. Several temples, including some that are not part of the official 88, provide complimentary lodging to walking pilgrims.
Proofing and editing on the next edition could be tighter. Maps are dotted with typos and instances of mistransliterations of place names (Furuiwaya, for instance, becomes Koiwaya). The system used for marking distances, a set of pins between two points, is not always clear and distances for some sections are not provided. There is on occasion misinformation, such as temples listed as offering lodging which do not (Shosanji #12 and Shiromineji #81). Most vital to a walker is the lack of detail provided in maps of mountain trails. The scale used is so large that the map is essentially useless for helping determine which fork to take on a mountain trail (this was particularly so at Yokomineji #60). Elevation lines are provided, but often no elevations (Shosanji #12 and Unpenji #66). And when multiple routes are available, there is sometimes no suggestion as to which might be preferable (such as those between temples #36 and #37, or between temples #80, #81, and #82).
By dint of having been publishing for a number of years, the Japanese version of the guidebook is more thorough and comprehensive, and if you can read Japanese at all you will find it far more helpful. But even then, the Japanese guidebook is sometimes as incomplete as its English cousin. Neither provides maps for the walk to Koyasan, the pilgrimage's spiritual mecca on the neighboring island of Honshu.
For those who can't read Japanese, “Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide” is your only choice at the moment – and an absolute godsend. It isn't perfect, but it will get the job done. Judicious hikers will when possible verify information from multiple sources before making a decision. This book will give the non-Japanese reading pilgrim a place to start. The authors, translators, editors and publisher are to be commended for bringing this material to a larger audience.
Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide
Tateki Miyazaki, author; David C. Moreton, translator & consultant
Paperback, 192 pages, B6 size
Buyodo Co, Ltd