The 88 temple pilgrimage around Shikoku Japan has been a popular routes for Shingon Buddhism pilgrims for hundreds to over a thousand years, and recently a travel theme for Shikoku Japan. The history began in the early 8th century (804) when a Buddhist monk named Kūkai (空海) travelled to China (now Xian) to acquire teachings of Escoteric Bhuddhism from Huiguo, one of two Buddhist masters who was a favorite student of the legendary Amoghavajra from India.
Kūkai (空海) returned to Japan and started to practice Escoteric Buddhism. He was favored by Emperor Junna, the 53rd Emperor Japan, at the time and the term Shingon-Shū (真言宗 Mantra School) was officially coined. In 816, Kūkai established his first monastery, Kongobu-ji in Mount Kōya (高野山), which is part of the UNESCO Pilgrimage Route in Japan. In 823, To-ji in Kyoto was presented to Kukai and was declared an Esoteric temple that would perform official rites for the state. Shingon Buddhism (真言宗) became very popular for the next several hundred years.
Kūkai or Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師) was born in Kagawa prefecture Japan. When he was young, he travelled around Shikoku, practicing in caves, mountains and forests. He was enlightened in a cave along the coast of Kochi, south of Shikoku Japan. There was a saying that his name “Kukai” meaning “Sky.Sea” was what he saw inside the cave.
There are lots of stories about Kukai as you travel around Shikoku. The 88 temples were identified to have association with Kukai. Even though you may not be a pilgrim of Escoteric Buddhism, you will still visit some of the 88 temples because many are historical sites and recommended as tourist attractions.