This Blog is going to attempt to compare some aspects of the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francias) in Spain and the 88 temple pilgrimage in Shikoku. Of course, this is just my opinion only, and I am no sort of authority on either pilgrimage; I’ve just walked both and these are my observations. This was written in response to a message I received from David Moreton, asking my opinion on these topics: accommodation, # of walkers, Osettai/culture of helping and safety. The Osettai/cultural of helping section is quite long and will be part 2.
The accommodation situation is quite different between the 2:
In Shikoku, there seems to be more variety, from tsuyados/zenkonyado (free accommodation), to guesthouses/hostels, minshuku, ryokan and business hotels in the bigger cities-plus the random super sento! In general, if you want to stay in a room every night in Shikoku , it is going to be more expensive than Spain. It’s also a little bit more difficult to find in Shikoku than in Spain; specifically if you can’t read/speak Japanese well.
There is also just less frequency of accommodation in Japan than Spain (outside of the cities). There are some places in Shikoku, with no accommodation for 20-25 kms along the trail. That never happens in Spain, I would say there is accommodation every 5-10 kms along the trail.
Again the accommodation is cheaper in Spain in general, albeit with no food included (usually). At some of the places, usually the donation places, they will do a common dinner, but over all, pretty rare. There are quite a few donation only places (3-5 euros expected), and the “albergues” are between 5-10 euros, per person. It is almost always bunk beds, usually with quite a few in the room, with no privacy. The facilities vary vastly, with some being very nice and some being quite bad-bed bugs are also an issue (not for us thank the lord.) There is almost always a common kitchen to use and sometimes the albergues are housed in old churches or monasteries and have tons of atmosphere.
The other option in Spain are the casa rurals, which are pretty much B&B sort of places. They run 35-50 euros a night (for the room) and usually include breakfast. They are a bit less frequent than the albergues, but are very easy to find and commonplace. We walked with quite a few people who were using these exclusively. The large cities have the full range of accommodation.
Of course, in Shikoku, many people also camp, it is quite accepted; in Spain not so much. I’m sure some people were doing it, but i would say less than 5% of the people walking were camping. Seems like more of the cyclists were camping though.
# of walkers:
In Spain, there are SO many people walking, ~200,000 a year and growing, not to mention the bikers. There are some stretches where you don’t see too many people, but in general, you are never out of sight of other pilgrims. In Shikoku, you could go days without seeing another O-henro, especially if you are not staying at O-henro minshuku/ryokan.
Trail marking/literature (in English)
The trail marking in Spain is very very good and thorough. The only semi-hairy parts are in the 5 large cities, but you are never too far from the omnipresent red arrows. Of course the Shikoku pilgrimage (I feel) is marked well enough, and quite a bit of work goes into this and seems to be improving year to year.
The guidebooks/websites/forums on the camino are way way way better than anything we have for the 88 temple pilgrimage. Of course, our 88 temple route guide is a god send, and more than adequate for completing the pilgrimage, but it is only one. There are probably over 30 guidebooks in English for the camino, the web presence is also huge.
Japan is safer, but generally, the Camino is safe. You have to maybe be a bit more wary, but in my 2 times walking it, I have never heard of anyone being robbed. Just in general, Europe is more dangerous than Japan.