Pilgrim’s vest (hakui)

During the Edo period, travel was highly restricted as a means of ensuring peace and maintaining the social status quo. As a result, few Japanese ever ventured far from their place of birth. Travel was allowed, however, for religious pilgrimages, and as a result these became popular, although it was tacitly understood that many actually used the pilgrimage as an excuse for a rare taste of adventure or pleasure.

This hakui (meaning ‘white garment’) bears stamps from the Kansai Pilgrimage Cycle (Saikaku Junrei), which consists of thirty-three temples in Wakayama, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Shiga, and Gifu prefectures. Pilgrims wore plain jackets to identify their purpose. In time, the custom of receiving a stamp from each of the thirty-three temples developed. Down the center back is written Namu Daishi Henjō Kongō, an honorific for Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon (True Word) Buddhism. This mid-century hakui (also commonly known as ohenro [pilgrimage]), is fairly standardized, but older hakui are very flavorful and have unusual and sometimes flamboyant markings.

Above is the stamp for Kiyomizudera. The stamp on the right indicates that Kiyomizu is twenty-fifth on the circuit; on the left is the Kiyomizu name. The middle stamp depicts the flaming jewel of Buddhism atop a lotus, with a Sanskrit letter in the center. This is the Kiyomizu in Hyogo prefecture; the famed Kiyomizu in Kyoto is sixteenth on the circuit.

Below is Anaoji, twenty-first on the list. (JI and TERA or DERA are alternate readings for the word temple.)

Below is the stamp for Rokkakuji. Rokkaku means six-sided, and in reference to that the flaming jewel is enclosed in a six-sided frame.

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