Capstone Thesis – Shikoku Henro

A map of the island’s temples, from the guidebook, ‘Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide’ by Buyodo Co. Ltd

Over the summer of 2015, I wrote my Capstone (undergraduate thesis) for a BA in Art History, on the basis of 8 weeks of on-site research I did in 2006, on the Shikoku pilgrimage of Japan. The Shikoku Henro (or pilgrimage) is a 1200km long trail based on the movements of the patron saint of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. Henro (pilgrims) walk an ancient loop that chains 88 temples together, over 4 prefectures and all kinds of terrain: from cities, highways, and farmland to beaches, flood plains, and remote mountain passes. This Capstone paper presents the pilgrimage in a hybrid format: part personal narrative, part methodological exploration.

Presented as an Art History Capstone project, this paper hopes to explore a number of modal factors at work in the application of methodological questions to a subject of material culture. While using a more strictly academic approach may generate some insights and demonstrate a general facility with the primary tools of the field, I will argue that in employing a more personal, even narrative, voice, not only can I meet the challenge of contributing something that expresses a sufficiently critical approach, but also show that useful and necessary perspectives can be lost when we limit ourselves to the formal language and expository prose favored by modern scholarship and accepted discursive modalities.

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