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The Bando 33 Kannon Route

This route is called in Japanese the Bando Sanjusan Kasho (坂東三十三箇所), or the "33 places (sacred to Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva) in the Bando (Kanto) region."

"Bando" is Kanto (関東), the area of eastern Japan centering on Tokyo. The pilgrimage covering the 33 sites--if one were to travel it sequentially (which I did not)--would run over 800 miles (1300 kilometers) or so, through seven of Japan's 47 prefectures. These are: Kanagawa (9 temples); Saitama (4); Tokyo (1); Gunma (2); Tochigi (3); Ibaraki (6); and Chiba (6 + 1 bangai).

"History": Tradition ascribes the founding of the pilgrimage to Minamoto no Yoritomo who, not coincidentally, was the founder and the first shogun of the bakufu (military government) centered in Kamakura. As you'll see in a moment, the pilgrimage starts in Kamakura, and ends a short boat ride away.

Whether it was Yoritomo himself, or perhaps his son Sanetomo, or even someone later, it was likely that the circuit served as a way of identifying and consolidating power in the Bando region, considered in those days the "wild, wild east." The name bando indicates that the area was east of a constantly-shifting barrier that defined (for some) the limits of the more civilized western portion of Japan (Saigoku) as opposed to the "barbaric" east. Without doubt, the samurai of the east were a rough lot, and not a few of the Bando temples were situated not far from their seats of power.

The Saigoku circuit predates the Bando by over a century--historically but not legendarily speaking--having been founded perhaps around 1100, and may have served as a model for the eastern route. Incidentally, another tradition credits the same Emperor Kazan who legendarily founded the Saigoku circuit with founding this one as well.

Yoritomo came to power in 1192; the first historical mention of a pilgrim treading the circuit was just over four decades later, in 1234. It doesn't seem to have become popular, though, until at least two and a half centuries or so after that, in the 1470s.

However, with the fall of the last shogunate (the Tokugawa, in 1868) and the reassertion of the Emperor's power, Buddhism came into disfavor and Shinto, which considered the Emperor a god, once again took the top spot. A number of temples on the Bando circuit fell into ruin, but today all have been restored .

The Route: It starts with four temples in the Kamakura area [#1-4], perhaps the most furukusai (literally "stinking of age") place in Japan outside of Kyoto, but one which has escaped much of Kyoto's urban development.  Kamakura is in southern Kanagawa Prefecture. The pilgrimage moves on to four more sites in western Kanagawa [#5-8], and then skips over Tokyo Prefecture to some precious rural temples in Saitama Prefecture [#9-12]. It returns to a single temple in ultra-modern Tokyo Prefecture [#13], Senso-ji, which I considered to be my "home temple" when I lived there. Next, erratically, back to eastern Kanagawa Prefecture for another one [#14]. Skipping through Tokyo and Saitama again, it picks up two temples in rural Gunma Prefecture [#15-16] and four in equally rural Tochigi Prefecture [#17-20]. The pilgrimage then becomes quite orderly: north to south down Ibaraki Prefecture for six more [#21-26]. (These last three provinces host some of the most untouched temples I have ever seen, with mountain caves and ancient burial mounds along the way.) The circuit then continues more or less in the same direction to the southern tip of Chiba Prefecture for the final seven [#27-33] plus one bangai [unnumbered "extra" temple] near #27. Temple Number 33 is at a logical jumping-off point for one to take the Kanaya-to-Kurihama ferry for a return to Kamakura, thus closing the circle.

My Approach: As with the Saigoku circuit, I visited these in no particular order. But because I lived within day-trip distance of all of them, I didn't have to make such concerted campaigns. Thus, instead of six hectic trips south, I took 18 or 19 leisurely trips. (The confusion in number is because I think that the final two days were actually one trip, with an overnight stay at a friend's place--I really can't remember. See my Disclaimer for more.) Anyway, there were no hotels involved; I slept comfortably on my own futon every night (a luxury that was to change radically later that year).

Here then, year by year, are the trips and the goals achieved.

In 1999--and several times before that, in fact before the idea of "pilgrimage" even entered my mind--I visited Hase-dera [#4] in Kamakura on both May 2 (during Golden Week) and again on December 25 (and numerous times thereafter). It may well be my favorite temple in all of Japan. In September, I went up to Tochigi Prefecture to see two temples [#19 and 20], and in December (after November's trips to the Saigoku circuit) I made four more trips, seeing three temples around Kamakura [#1, 2, and 3], the one in Tokyo near my house [#13], one at Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture [#18], and another in Kanagawa Prefecture, this time at Odawara [#5].
[In order: Trip 1: #4; Trip 2: #19 and 20; Trip 3: #1, 2, and 3; Trip 4: #13; Trip 5: #18; Trip 6: #5]

In 2000, I really started pursuing these temples in earnest. In mid-January, I started out in Saitama Prefecture [#12], then in mid-February saw three in Chiba Prefecture [#29, 30, and 33]. In early March I saw one in Ibaraki Prefecture [#22], and in mid-March, on two separate trips, I saw three more in Kanagawa Prefecture [#6, 7, and 8] and three more in Chiba Prefecture [#27, 28, and a bangai]. Golden Week was spent in Wakayama, Nara, and Osaka for the Saigoku circuit; in late August I was back in Kanagawa for my ninth and final temple in that prefecture [#14]. In October I knocked off two in Ibaraki Prefecture [#23 and 24]; in late November I was back down in Kansai for the Saigoku circuit.
[In order: Trip 7: #12; Trip 8: #29, 30, and 33; Trip 9: #22; Trip 10: #7, 8, and 6; Trip 11: #28, 27, and a bangai; Trip 12: #14; Trip 13: #23 and 24]

January and April/May of 2001 led me to the Saigoku circuit again (and that's when I finished it); but in June and July I focused on completing the Bando. In late June I spent a day in Gunma Prefecture [#15 and 16] and the next day in Saitama Prefecture [#9, 10, and 11]. July found me in Tochigi Prefecture one day [#17] and Chiba Prefecture the next [#31 and 32]. A week later I finished up in Ibaraki Prefecture two days in a row (perhaps staying with a friend?) [#25, 26, and 21].
[In order: Trip 14: #15 and 16; Trip 15: #9, 11, and 10; Trip 16: #17; Trip 17: #31 and 32; Trip 18: #26 and 25; Trip 19: #21]

And that, as they say, was that.

See "A Pilgrim's Progress" for details of what, where, and when.

"Kannon," of course, is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, called Guanyin in Chinese and Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit. Each of the 33 temples on the circuit-- as well as the three "extras" (called bangai 番外 or "outside of the numbering")--is dedicated to Kannon, with a figure of him/her (it's complicated) on the main altar. You can read more about him/her on the Kannon page.

Sugimoto-dera, Temple #1 on the Bando Pilgrimage
The List: Here are the temples in order, with the one bangai added at the end. . Click the linked names to see my post about each temple; the "map" link shows the temple's location on Google Maps.
  1. Sugimoto-dera (杉本寺); Kamakura, Kanagawa (map); visited Saturday, December 18, 1999
  2. Ganden-ji (岩殿寺); Zushi, Kanagawa (map); visited Saturday, December 18, 1999
  3. An'yo-in (安養院); Kamakura, Kanagawa (map); visited Saturday, December 18, 1999
  4. Hase-dera (長谷寺); Kamakura, Kanagawa (map); visited Sunday, May 2, 1999
  5. Shofuku-ji (勝福寺); Odawara, Kanagawa (map); visited Tuesday, December 28, 1999
  6. Hase-dera (長谷寺); Atsugi, Kanagawa (map); visited Sunday, March 19, 2000
  7. Komyo-ji (光明寺); Hiratsuka, Kanagawa (map); visited Sunday, March 19, 2000
  8. Shokoku-ji (星谷寺); Zama, Kanagawa (map); visited Sunday, March 19, 2000
  9. Jiko-ji (慈光寺); Tokigawa, Saitama (map); visited Sunday, June 24, 2001
  10. Shobo-ji (正法寺); Higashimatsuyama, Saitama (map); visited Sunday, June 24, 2001
  11. Anraku-ji (安楽寺); Yoshimi, Saitama (map); visited Sunday, June 24, 2001
  12. Jion-ji (慈恩寺); Saitama, Saitama (map); visited Sunday, January 16, 2000
  13. Senso-ji (浅草寺); Asakusa, Tokyo (map); visited Friday, December 24, 1999
  14. Gumyo-ji (弘明寺); Yokohama, Kanagawa (map); visited Saturday, August 26, 2000
  15. Chokoku-ji (長谷寺); Takasaki, Gunma (map); visited Saturday, June 23, 2001
  16. Mizusawa-dera (水沢寺); Shibukawa, Gunma (map); visited Saturday, June 23, 2001
  17. Mangan-ji (満願寺); Tochigi, Tochigi (map); visited Saturday, July 7, 2001
  18. Chuzen-ji (中禅寺); Nikko, Tochigi (map); visited Monday, December 27, 1999
  19. Oya-ji (大谷寺); Utsunomiya, Tochigi (map); visited Thursday, September 23, 1999
  20. Saimyo-ji (西明寺); Mashiko, Tochigi (map); visited Thursday, September 23, 1999
  21. Nichirin-ji (日輪寺); Daigo, Ibaraki (map); visited Sunday, July 15, 2001
  22. Satake-ji (佐竹寺); Hitachiota, Ibaraki (map); visited Sunday, March 5, 2000
  23. Shofuku-ji (Kanzeonji) (観世音寺); Kasama, Ibaraki (map); visited Sunday, October 8, 2000
  24. Rakuho-ji (楽法寺); Sakuragawa, Ibaraki (map); visited Sunday, October 8, 2000
  25. Omi-do (中禅寺); Tsukuba, Ibaraki (map); visited Saturday, July 14, 2001
  26. Kiyotaki-ji (清滝寺); Tsuchiura, Ibaraki (map); visited Saturday, July 14, 2001
  27. Enpuku-ji (円福寺); Choshi, Chiba (map); visited Monday, March 20, 2000
  28. Ryusho-in (龍正院); Narita, Chiba (map); visited Monday, March 20, 2000
  29. Chiba-dera (千葉寺); Chiba, Chiba (map); visited Sunday, February 13, 2000
  30. Kozo-ji (高蔵寺); Kisarazu, Chiba (map); visited Sunday, February 13, 2000
  31. Kasamori-ji (笠森寺); Chonan, Chiba (map); visited Sunday, July 8, 2001
  32. Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺); Isumi, Chiba (map); visited Sunday, July 8, 2001
  33. Nago-dera (那古寺); Tateyama, Chiba (map); visited Sunday, February 13, 2000
  • Bangai (near #27). Mangan-ji (満願寺); Inubo, Chiba (map); visited Monday, March 20, 2000

Resources: The Wikipedia article entitled "Bando Sanjusankasho" has links to articles on many of these temples, as well as latitude and longitude for each site.

My only guide for most of these journeys was Michael Plastow's Exploring Kanto: Weekend Pilgrimages from Tokyo, published in 1996. I'm sure many other guides are available in English today.

Google Map:

  • Use + /- or mouse wheel to zoom in and out.
  • Click to close the hand to move around.
  • (The two functions above are accomplished with two fingers on mobile devices.)
  • Click the square-with-arrow on the left to open or close the index of sites. (Works better if you zoom in first.)
  • Click the three-dot thingy to share the map with others.
  • Click the "four corners" in the upper right to go to the full map.

Last updated Mar. 12, 2019

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