Welcome to the Virtual Shikoku Pilgrimage Project

Project Summary

Project team members working on the Virtual Shikoku Pilgrimage project travelled to Japan and the island of Shikoku in May 2019 to research aspects of the pilgrimage through visits to archives and places related to the life of Kukai, and to experience a portion of the Shikoku pilgrimage itself. Faculty mentors and students explored the history and cultural significance of the pilgrimage while in Japan, and shared experiences with other pilgrims, local residents, and the priests and temple workers. The students' individual research projects focused on both content development for the virtual platform and development of design elements and technical functionality based on their experiences in the real landscapes of Shikoku.

Since the completion of the research trip to Japan, the project team members have been working on the design and development of a Virtual Shikoku Pilgrimage technical prototype, which will be presented at the upcoming ASIANetwork Annual Conference.The first protoptype focuses on the first three temples in the 88-temple Shikoku pilgrimage, with the project continuing as a multi-year effort to expand the Virtual Shikoku Pilgrimage platform to eventually include the entire pilgrimage.

Each temple will be recreated digitally as a virtual place and then digital stories will be embedded within the temples through multimedia elements, such as text, audio, and video. Samples of the these multimedia features were collected during the research trip to Japan, and are being used to develop the first digital stories for Temples 1-3 in the pilgrimage
- Dr. Bergeron and Dr. Green.

Abroad Experience

The students of Coastal Carolina University embarked on an adventure to study the temples of Shikoku, while there they discovered information and artwork by collecting photos, videos, and interviews. Experiencing the culture and the customary ways of the temples where they could buy and wear the white robes that they temple is known for, lit candles in front of the main hall and even getting to chat the Heart Sutra in front of both halls. As Shikoku is known for the eighty-eight temples within the four regions they learned and recognized the thirteen different buddhas as the buddhas represented something different as each temple. While on tour you can explore hot springs, culture, and even the islands regional delicacies which include items such as handmade noodles in Kagawa and citrus fruits in Ehime.

Background

The Shikoku Pilgrimage and its temples and other associated sacred and cultural features are recognized as an important part of the heritage of Buddhism and of Japan. Pilgrims from many parts of the world travel to Japan and the island of Shikoku to participate in the pilgrimage, and discussions related to the nomination of the pilgrimage for UNESCO World Heritage status have been underway for some time.The 88 temple pilgrimage is undertaken in honor of the famous 9th century Buddhist priest Kukai, known by the honorific title Kobo Daishi (Great Master who Propagated the Buddha's Teachings). Kukai was from Shikoku and many of the events in his life leading him to enlightenment are memorialized at the 88 temples of the pilgrimage. Pilgrims typically think of themselves as emulating these events and thereby becoming a part of Kukai's life, spiritual progress, and legacy. Pilgrims often form deep bonds with one another over their common experiences. Residents of Shikoku and visitors to the island frequently give alms to the pilgrims as living embodiments of Kukai, whom they also say appears along the route in times of need.

Shikoku Pilgrimage

Shikoku itself is an honor to experience as the influences of Kobo Daishi is felt in every part of the land and tour. The tour consists of eighty-eight temples in four different regions known as Kochi, Tokushima, Kagawa, and Ehime on the fourth largest island in Japan. Kobo Daishi took place in the years 774 to 835 as you experience the sacred traces of the sacred monk Kobo Daishi. Because of his influence 1,200 years ago Buddhism because a popular part of Japan where his influence even created the Japanese alphabet, calligraphy, and engineering. As you embark on the journey around Shikoku island you can feel his presence with his statues on the trails for protection of the travelers. The people who live among Shikoku are proud of their love and how they people the guest who come to the island. Shikoku means "four provinces" as the Awa, Tosa, Iyo, and Sanuki reformed during the Meiji period. As the pilgrimages have played important roles in the religious practices that take part in Japan since the Heian period. One thing that most people might not know about the pilgrimage is that is it considered lucky to travel the temples backward.

Virtual Shikoku Pilgrimage Project

The Virtual Shikoku Pilgrimage project is focused on the design and development of a prototype immersive virtual landscape exploration platform that will digitally recreate the well-known Buddhist pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan that honors the famous 9th century Buddhist priest Kukai.

One of the most interesting challenges that we will explore during our research visit to Shikoku and throughout the project work will be the question of how to digitally represent both the elements of each temple and the surrounding landscape and the experience of being there, as there are many ways for pilgrims to traverse the pilgrimage and many ways to experience each temple itself. The digital representation of places and the intangible cultural meaning that permeates them has been the focus of a growing body of literature in a number of fields, including geography, history, archaeology, and other disciplines that work with cultural heritage.

The virtual platform framework that will be utilized in the proposed Virtual Shikoku Pilgrimage project has been developed by Dr. Bergeron through previous work focused on ancient Delphi, Greece and the plantation landscapes of the South Carolina Lowcountry (Flaten et al. 2014; Bergeron 2017, 2018). This platform leverages the Unity3D platform, a widely-used and popular development tool for 3D immersive environments and state-of-the-art video games. Dr. Bergeron's ongoing Virtual Hampton project has focused on the design and development of this platform and the associated embedded multimedia that present the stories of Hampton Plantation's history and cultural landscapes.

The Virtual Hampton platform will serve as the technological framework for the Virtual Shikoku Pilgrimage, with the initial prototype being developed for Temples 1, 2, and 3 of the pilgrimage, in order to capture the linking landscape as well as the structures and grounds of each of these temples. Once the virtual landscape elements are completed, multimedia elements that will be collected during the project team’s time in Japan, such as video and photos of places along the pilgrimage, talks with pilgrims and local residents, and other media will be integrated into spatial vignettes that will be embedded within the virtual platform.