Back Gate to Iwayaji Temple Shikoku Japan

The Back Gate to Iwayaji in Japan hidden in a forest forgotten by the modern world.

I’m not the type of person to have favorites. Whether they are movies, places, people, authors or anything else. My tastes and my boredom levels change too quickly to push any one place above another. But when I was asked by the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Carnival to write about my favorite place in the world, I knew immediately where it was, the back side of Iwayaji Temple on Shikoku Japan.

A Little Background

Iwayaji Temple is the 45th temple on the Pilgrimage to the 88 Buddhist Temples of Shikoku, located in Ehime Prefecture. The pilgrimage, covering 1,200-1,400 kilometers depending on who you believe, is Japan’s most famous and visited pilgrimage. Still going strong after more than 1,000 years, legend attributes the pilgrimage to the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi who was born and gained enlightenment on the Island of Shikoku. Not satisfied with just enlightenment, he also created the Japanese kana writing system, visited China, and hobnobbed with royalty. Trust me, that’s a lot back in the 8th Century.

The real development of the pilgrimage is more complicated as it evolved after Kobo Daishi’s death and his followers tried to retrace in his physical and mental footstep. More traditional localized holy sites, complete with mountain ascetics  (yamabushi) and Shinto shamans, where incorporated into the larger pilgrimage that rings the island of Shikoku and passes though 4 of the most remote and untouched prefectures in Japan.

Buddha and Jizo Statues in Shikoku Japan, Iwayaji Temple 45

Beautiful Buddha Statues line the path. The smaller Jizo statues are the most popular Bodhisattva statue in Japan and grace tens of thousands of roads as Jizo-san is said to help and protect travelers.

Legend says the location was donated to Kobo Daishi  by a mysterious female recluse named Hokke-Sennin. He built the temple on the mountain, considered a holy place by those seeking enlightenment in the cliff’s caves, and carved and enshrined a Buddha image deep in a cave so that the whole mountain would be worshiped.

Still with me? Here’s why…

Shrine beind Iwayaji Temple 45 Shikoku Japan

Mystical shrine surrounded by enormous trees.

Shikoku (and the pilgrimage) is one of my favorite places in the world, but its the path behind the Iwayaji Temple that holds the coveted number 1 in my heart. Every year about 150,000 people make the pilgrimage and probably countless more visit Iwayaji as a stand alone temple. However, most of those making the journey to this remote mountain temple built into a spectacular cliff arrive by car, bus or bike.  They park their cars and walk the steep stone steps to the front cliff and main temple along a beautiful river. What they don’t usually see is the beauty that lies behind the temple.

There is a second way to approach the temple along the ancient walking pilgrim route that crests the mountain behind the temple. The trail delivers the walker from a pristine wooded ridge line path into an ancient moss green forest with enormous cypress trees and age worn shrines and religious carvings. The forest is dark, damp and its enormity and silence creates an atmosphere were a Buddha or Shinto god could easily pop out from behind the next corner. It is also along this path that I came to a sudden realization about my life, where I want to be and what I love to do. This journey, my second walking pilgrimage around Shikoku, is the topic of my current book project on the Shikoku Pilgrimage and how my current lifestyle began (feel free to spread the word) ;) .

Not a week goes by that I don’t think about the path leading to Temple 45 and the effect it’s had on my life. I dream of going back, if for nothing more than to spend some time in that magical forest empty of humanity but full of gods, demons, enlightenment and bright green moss.

Henro path leading to Iyawaji Temple 45 Shikoku

I know, its a beautiful path...that's what I've been trying to tell you!

What is your favorite place? Describe what you love about it and let us know how to get there!

Blogsherpa Travel CarnivalThis post is part of the Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Travel Blog Carnival hosted this time by Sophie over at Sophies’s World. The Carnival is hosted every two weeks by a BlogSherpa member. The topic this time is Your Favorite Place. I hosted one here earlier on Todd’s Wanderings about Travel Safety.

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33 Responses to “Iwayaji Temple Japan- My Favorite Place in the World”

  1. Rod WaltersNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve written about Iwayaji and most of the other pilgrimage temples in Ehime. Iwaya-ji was one of my favourites too, but I didn’t make it to the path that Todd introduces here. Nearby Taiho-ji is also wonderful (

  2. maxmajorNo Gravatar says:

    I am interested in this pilgrimage. I’m having trouble finding a guide book. I’ve heard Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide is a good one. Does anyone know where I can get a guide book or have any resources to recommend?

  3. natoNo Gravatar says:

    Todd… :) 大宝寺 to 岩屋時 … what can you say. どうもありがとう、トッドさん。 すごいね。 とってもきれい

  4. LaurelNo Gravatar says:

    I love discovering off the beaten paths places that are so close to popular places. It looks beautiful and very peaceful and I’m curious to read your book.
    Laurel´s recent [type] ..Why I’m Afraid to Have Surgery in Germany

  5. zanNo Gravatar says:

    I haven’t seen enough of the world, but the moment my favourite place is here:

  6. zanNo Gravatar says:

    I haven’t seen that much of the world so at the moment my favourite place is this:

    however I would love to see Japan!

  7. Donna HullNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve visited Japan only briefly. It’s one country that’s high on my list to return and explore. The path behind the temple is just my kind of place. What a peaceful memory to keep hold close.
    Donna Hull´s recent [type] ..Walking on a Glacier

  8. That was such a nice post! I’ve always wished I’d be able to visit Japan some day and now it makes me think i really must make it happen some time soon.
    Indian Bazaars´s recent [type] ..Designing an Indian Mall

  9. Dave and DebNo Gravatar says:

    You have inspired me! I definitely want to do this pilgrimage. It has just shot right to the top of my must do list!

  10. This looks like a Trula amazing spot. I guess its just one of may along the Pilgrimage route…so good you had to do it twice ;-)
    Trans-Americas Journey´s recent [type] ..Bicentennial Fireworks Over the Zócalo – Mexico City- Mexico

  11. Ah, it’s on the island of Shikoku – all the more interesting.

    Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu – I remember learning them.

    Japan is a beautiful country and never more so than in its countryside.
    David @ Quillcards´s recent [type] ..‘Pearls Of Wisdom’ In Buddhist Sacred Relics

  12. Beautiful and the place looks so perfect nestled in nature. Sadly when I used to work and live in Japan, I never did venture to places like these. Most of my time was spent at Pachinko Parlors…. sigh…

    David @ Malaysia Asia´s recent [type] ..Rebak Island Resort in Langkawi

  13. NancieNo Gravatar says:

    Todd, this looks amazing. I’ve read other posts about your pilgrimage and it sounds totally intriguing.
    Nancie´s recent [type] ..Through the Sandbox Lens 13 &8212 Tokyo&8217s Ginza at Night

  14. NorbertNo Gravatar says:

    wow! this pilgrimage looks really interesting and an experience on itself. Plus, the path looks really peaceful. Now I wonder, what is my favorite place in the world? hmmm… I definitely know my tops, but #1… that’s really hard to pick.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Yeah, I had a hard time as well. I think it was more the experience than the place…but being a beautiful place its nice to have it close to my heart. So, where is your favorite place?

      • NorbertNo Gravatar says:

        Well, I have Krabi, Thailand very close to my heart. I had such a great time there that still brings many good memories and warm feelings.

        But, recently I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Walking through the Andes has been one of the most challenging but most peaceful and rewarding experiences of my life. So, that could be my #1… but I’m still nesting the feelings for that place, since I did it just two weeks ago.

  15. Way the path sounds like such an amazing experience. It’s hard to pick a favourite but I can see why this would be yours.
    Ayngelina Brogan´s recent [type] ..12 things I hate about traveling

  16. EarlNo Gravatar says:

    Looks and sounds incredible indeed!

    I just spent some time thinking about my favorite place and I can’t come up with one place at all. That’s not an easy thing to do. Just drop me absolutely anywhere in India and I’m as happy and intrigued as can be :)
    Earl´s recent [type] ..A Quick Word About Pre-Trip Planning

  17. AnthonyNo Gravatar says:

    That Pilgrimage sounds amazing. I find it fascinating that walking in the out doors along certain stretches of land can be life changing. I think it is the time spent with “self” that gives you time for self reflection and real honesty. Great Post!
    Anthony´s recent [type] ..Friday Food Photo Chicken Cashew Nut

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      HI Anthony, thanks. Yeah, walking and being forced to spend time with yourself and in your own head really does help allow your true passions to bubble to the surface. It can be a bit of a struggle though!

  18. SlavaNo Gravatar says:

    Wow! That path blows my mind. Awesome!
    Slava´s recent [type] ..The Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

  19. Ron WasselNo Gravatar says:

    The path is endless Todo!!!!!

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