The Chichibu 34
Kannon Route


This route is called in Japanese the Chichibu Sanjuyon Kasho (秩父三十四箇所), or the "34 places (sacred to Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva) in the Chichibu region."

The 34 temples on the Chichibu route bring the three major circuits--this one, along with the Saigoku and the Bando--up to a total of 100 temples. Unlike those other two routes, however, which cover seven provinces, this one is limited to a single municipality in a beautiful mountainous valley in Saitama Province to the west of Tokyo. Twenty-five of the 34 temples are in Chichibu City proper; six more are in the neighboring town of Yokoze, two in Obano, and one--the last, #34--in Minano.



"History": The Saigoku circuit is unquestionably the grand-daddy of them all, and the Bando is a none-too-distant second. Both of these cover large areas, requiring quite a bit of time and expense to cover (and even more so before the development of modern transportation). Pilgrimage in this case was essentially for the upper classes.

And so, though numbers vary, it seems that by the end of the Edo Period (1868) over 200 smaller circuits--each still containing 33 temples, but more closely spaced--had developed throughout Japan, bringing religious exercise to the masses. (I have done a portion of one such all the way down in Kyushu, about as far away as you can get from Tokyo and still be in historic Japan.)

From what I can gather, the Chichibu circuit was just one among these many smaller routes. It was located not too far from the large population of Edo (Tokyo), and there was no checkpoint for outbound pilgrims (Edo-period travel required government permission, similar to a passport or visa, if one was going far). It was natural, then, that it would rise to greater popularity than many of the others.

The pilgrimage probably originated not terribly long after the Bando, perhaps in the 13th century. However, sometime before 1536, some (as far as I know) unnamed genius hit upon a scheme: Let's add one more temple to the 33, he thought, making our little pilgrimage the "completion" of 100 temples for those who have already finished the two "majors." (33 Saigoku + 33 Bando + 34 Chichibu = the Nihon Hyakku Kannon--the 100 Kannon Temples of Japan.)

It worked. I have trod many paths in Japan, but the Chichibu is the only one of the shorter circuits I have completed, aside from the Edo route in my "hometown" of Tokyo (though I did that in a terribly haphazard way--see here). The Kamakura route is still on my list.



Map adapted from Wikipedia Japan

The Route: The pilgrimage begins just outside of "downtown" Chichibu (the city area had an estimated population of 63,358 in 2016, but the density is only 110 people to the square kilometer) and runs through some of the mountains on the east side of town [1-4]. It continues on into Yokoze Town (population 8,470 in 2016; density 172/km2) [5-10] before veering back into Chichibu proper [11-30], this time looping through the actual downtown and out into the southwestern hinterlands. (Number 30 is well apart from town, and some three-and-a-half miles from #29; things start to get pretty spread out from here.) The next two [31 and 32] are in the mountains of Ogano Town (pop. 11,987 in 2016; density 70/km2); #31 is nearly seven miles northwest of #30. The next one [33] is well outside of Chichibu proper, to the west; and the final temple [34] is in Minano Town, with 10,096 people in 2016 (density 158/km2). Incidentally, Tokyo's population density in 2018 was 2,662/km2.



My Approach: The Chichibu area is a relatively brief (two-hour) train ride from my then-home on the other side of Tokyo, making it more practicable for me to sleep at home every night than to stay in hotels. And, as the entire pilgrimage is about 100 kilometers, or 60 miles, it can easily be walked in a few days.  That is exactly what I did; it is the only pilgrimage that I have walked in its entirety the "old-fashioned way" so far.  Why does Chichibu boast 34 temples instead of the usual 33?  Some say it was to "better" the bigger guys.  Others say that, with the one extra, the three pilgrimages together equal 100 temples; indeed, they have come to be known collectively as The Nihon Hyakku Kannon--"the 100 places sacred to Kannon in Japan." The dates and coverage (all in 2001) were:
  • Saturday, July 21: Temples #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
  • Monday, July 23: Temples #13, 15, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
  • Saturday, July 28: Temples #25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30
  • Sunday, July 29: Temple #31
  • Monday, July 30: Temples #32, 33, 34
(I have absolutely no idea why I skipped Sunday the 22nd--maybe dealing with blisters?)
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 34 temples on the circuit 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.



Shimpuku-ji, the heavily-"decorated" Temple #2 on the Chichibu Pilgrimage

The List: Here are the temples in order. Click the linked names to see my post about each temple; the "map" link (to be added soon!) shows the temple's location on Google Maps.
  1. Shimabu-ji (四万部寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  2. Shimpuku-ji (真福寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  3. Josen-ji (常泉寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  4. Kinsho-ji (金昌寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  5. Choko-ji (Goka-do) (長興寺); Yokoze, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  6. Boku'un-ji (ト雲寺); Yokoze, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  7. Hocho-ji (法長寺); Yokoze, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  8. Saizen-ji (西善寺); Yokoze, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  9. Akechi-ji (明智寺); Yokoze, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  10. Daiji-ji (大慈寺); Yokoze, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  11. Joraku-ji (常楽寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  12. Nosaka-ji (野坂寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 21, 2001
  13. Jigen-ji (慈眼寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  14. Imamiya-bo (今宮坊); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  15. Shorin-ji (少林寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  16. Saiko-ji (西光寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  17. Jorin-ji (定林寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  18. Godo-ji (神門寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  19. Ryuseki-ji (龍石寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  20. Iwanoue-do (岩ノ上堂); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  21. Kannon-ji (観音寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  22. Doji-do (童子堂); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  23. Ongaku-ji (音楽寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  24. Hosen-ji (法泉寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 23, 2001
  25. Kyusho-ji (久昌寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 28, 2001
  26. En'yu-ji (円融寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 28, 2001
  27. Daien-ji (大淵寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 28, 2001
  28. Hashidate-do (橋立堂); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 28, 2001
  29. Chosen-in (長泉院); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 28, 2001
  30. Houn-ji (法雲寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Saturday, July 28, 2001
  31. Kannon-in (観音院); Ogano, Saitama (map); visited Sunday, July 29, 2001
  32. Hosho-ji (法性寺); Ogano, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 30, 2001
  33. Kikusui-ji (菊水寺); Chichibu, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 30, 2001
  34. Suisen-ji (水潜寺); Minano, Saitama (map); visited Monday, July 30, 2001



Resources: The Wikipedia article entitled "Chichibu 34 Kannon Sanctuary" has latitude and longitude for each site.

My only guide for these journeys was Sumiko Enbutsu's Chichibu: Japan's Hidden Treasure, published in 1990 (but revised in 1999, and now available on Kindle). I'm sure many other guides are available in English today.

Ms. Enbutsu's guide contains itineraries at the end of each chapter that give travel and visit times. In response to a query in the comments, I have typed them up and uploaded them as a Word document in my Drive. You can access them here.



Google Map:

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Last updated July 25, 2019

3 comments:

  1. Hey there,

    I'll be in Chichibu in October attempting to visit temples 1-24 in two days, same as you. My chief concern is that the last time I tried something similar - the Shichifukujin Meguri in Kamakura back in December 2017 - I only managed to get halfway before I ran out of light. According to Google Maps, the distance I walked should have taken about an hour, but in reality it took me all day. It also predicts that Chichibu 1-24 should take about four hours' walk a day.

    So I wanted to ask, how easy is it actually to do the first twenty-four temples in two days? How early did you start? How fast did you walk? How long did you get to stop at each temple?

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Belthazar.

      I did the walk at the end of July, when the days are quite a bit longer than October. So I think it's going to be a squeeze.

      I'm afraid my records from 2001 are pretty crappy. What you see above is about as close as i can get. But Sumiko Enbutsui, in her Chichibu: Japan's Hidden Treasure, gives some fairly solid walking and visiting times. Just for you, I have typed them out as a Word doc, and uploaded them to my Drive. The link has been added above for others to access, too.

      Incidentally, I did commute from Tokyo, as she recommends (I was living there at the time). Staying in Chichibu could add quite a bit of walking time to your day.

      Sorry I couldn't be more helpful! Let me know if you have any problems accessing it, or if there's anything else I can do.

      James

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    2. Thanks for that info. I actually bought that book on my Kindle a few days ago based on your suggestion, and I did notice her suggested schedule with precise timetable, so I'm thinking perhaps it might be possible for me to follow along with that, and perhaps return at some future date to complete (or at least continue) the route. (And/or stay in one of the many ryokan she suggests.)

      I will be staying in Chichibu, but in my opinion that just means I don't have to get up before dawn for the train - I'd probably still start the walk at about the same time. Maybe a little earlier. =)

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