The Kumano within the Southern Wakayama Prefecture ended up becoming a large center for pilgrims and adherents of Shugendo Sect during Heina Period. Some other significantly important pilgrimages at the time were to Mt. Koya, Hasedera (Kyoto) and Shitenno-ji (Osaka) (Swanson & Chilson 2006). Between 160 and 1868 AD, during the Edo Period, the number of persons making pilgrimages to Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples increased rapidly, particularly to the Kotohira Shrine, the Ise Shrine, the 88 Shikoku temples, Zenkoji (Nagano), Mt. Fuji (Shizuoka), and the Kiso Ontake (Nagoya) (Reynolds 2001; Covell 2005). One phenomenon during Edo Era was the special pilgrimage to Ise-Jingu Shrine, known as Okage Mairi. The tradition of Okage Mairi has continued to be unabated even the contemporary Japanese society, with approximately 6 million people paying a visit to Ise Jingu Shrines per annum. Perhaps behind the phenomenon lies some nostalgic past: Resurgent interest in the region and some desire for a temporary escape from the over-crowded urban settings (Alisal, Ackermann, Dolores 2007). Pilgrimage and Development of Buddhism The history of pilgrimage in Japan could be traced back to the early years, at least by the era of Nara, between 7610-794 AD. The pilgrimages flourished during the initial day, through Heian era (947-1185). At the time, the aristocrats and the imperial family were the most active pilgrims (Kaempfer 1995). During the latter days of the ninth century, the imperial family members took some interest in the religious visits to various shrines in the country and the temples that existed outside Japanese capital of Kyoto. From the late tenth century, the custom became adopted by the aristocrats, to a certain...
The development of pilgrimages within Japanese society could greatly be conditioned to geographical, cultural, religious or topographical factors. There were there primary types of pilgrimages among the Japanese: Pilgrimage to the sacred mountains, pilgrimage to the shrines and temples based on the enshrined divinities and pilgrims to the sacred places, which are based on special powers of charismatic persons such as Buddha. The pilgrimages to the sacred mountains were founded on Buddhist notion of jiriki, self power, an idea that made those who are self strong via ascetic practices. Buddhists believed that there was a need of training for one to obtain some special powers, which were acquired through regular visits to the holy mountains. The non-Buddhists specialists like the healers, the ascetics and the shamans as well as the greater public also acquired the special powers.
During the Middle Ages (twelfth and eleventh) aristocrats believed in pilgrimages to the sacred mountains to help them experience Pure Land while they were still living. Moreover, it was believed that kami of the mountains were manifestations of the Buddhists divinities; they were merely special ascetics, and would be guided by the aristocrats within the region. By the nineteenth century, there were more that 17,000 senior guides that were familiar with the sacred mountains. Even as the aristocracy and courtship declined during the initial days of Tokugawa era, there was a novel phenomenon emerging in already existing mountain pilgrimage beliefs. There were four major pilgrimage sites that had been recommended by Buddha.