**Update** Read all about my amazing experience of walking the Chichibu 34 Kannon Temple pilgrimage here. Very much recommended if you’re looking for a unique experience for your trip to Japan! **End update**.
Before you read on, note that there is now a free Android app in both English and Japanese to guide you through the Chichibu 34 Kannon Temple pilgrimage, the app is packed with loads of information and details of the temples. You need really need it this! See also here.
Next time I’m in Japan, I am thinking of walking the 34 Fudasho Kannon temples pilgrimage in Chichibu which is located at an easy distance from Tokyo or Saitama. I’m not religious but I have to admit that I’m a bit fascinated by Buddhism ever since enjoying a temple stay in Mt Koya and I do think that meditation does help me to face everyday life and enhances my photography.
In preparation of that 100km (63 miles) walk, I started with making a map of all the temples .
To summarize the most important points: There is an Android App in English for this pilgrimage and there is a book in English available from several of the temples. It is probably best to pick it up from Temple 13 which is located close to the train stations in the middle of Chichibu if arriving by train. There is a tourist information office just outside the train station where you can pick up the map and bus information related to the pilgrimage. The signs along the walking route are small, and can easily be missed. They are about 15cm wide and 30cm tall, and are placed at knee height on walls and posts. The signs for the automobiles are a meter wide and two meters high, and are easier to see but they do not always follow the roads most suited for walking.
From other sources I gathered this information: Make sure to buy a 納経帳 (nōkyōchō) stamp book from the first temple that you visit to collect temple seals that you can get for a small fee.
The CHICHIBU: Japan’s Hidden Treasure Tuttle Guide (Revised Edition) by Sumiko Enbutsu dedicates the whole first section to the pilgrimage (about 100 pages) and contains thorough descriptions of the temples, the routes (including maps) and other noteworthy details of other sights along the way, and is a pleasure to read.
If you cannot find the Tuttle Guide, don’t worry, you can pick up “A Brief Guide to Chichibu” by Geoffrey Tudor at the one of the temples (where I got it for free) or possibly at the Chichibu tourist information. and this book is even more useful during the pilgrimage than the Tuttle Guide.
To get started, visit the tourist information at the Chichibu Seibu station. After you collect all the information at the tourist information, make your way to Temple #1. Temple #1 is 15 minutes by taxi from Chichibu Seibu station or take a Seibu bus from the Chichibu Seibu station (bus stop 2) and alight at the Fuda Sho Ichi-ban stop. I took the bus and asked the driver for the Fuda Sho Ichi-ban stop and he told me when to get off. At Temple #1 you can buy your 納経帳 (nōkyōchō) stamp book (recommended, it makes a perfect souvenir) and the traditional pilgrim clothes. I didn’t buy the clothes and walked the pilgrimage in my normal clothes but next time I will buy the sleeveless jacket, the bag, the conical hat and especially the pilgrim staff.
One final recommendation for those considering walking the pilgrimage or visiting Chichibu: You ought to combine it with a temple stay at nearby Taiyoji temple. I did the pilgrimage and the temple stay during the same trip and loved it, just loved it!