5 Ise Jingū, Nōsatsu Kai and Indulgences: Pilgrims in Tokugawa Japan Viewed by Two Swedish Travellers

In: Religious Transformation in Modern Asia


Japan has a long tradition of pilgrimages to Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and other sacred sites. The writings of two Western observers, Olof Eriksson Willman (1624?-1673) and Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828), both of whom visited Japan as VOC employees, in 1651-1652 and 1775-1776 respectively, provide several examples of what they found remarkable about the pilgrims they encountered on the Tōkaidō and elsewhere. Their reactions to manifestations of an unfamiliar religion depended on their different backgrounds and the time in which they lived. Whereas Willman saw idolaters and devil worshippers, Thunberg regarded the Japanese faithful in a more tolerant light, influenced as he was by the Enlightenment in Europe. What strikes a contemporary observer about pilgrims today? The French sociologist Muriel Jolivet, who herself completed the pilgrimage to the eighty-eight temples in Shikoku associated with Kōbō Daishi, has provided insights into the mentality of today´s pilgrims, which does not appear to differ greatly from that of their Tokugawa predecessors.

Religious Transformation in Modern Asia

A Transnational Movement



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