Day 14: Kotohira, Zentsuji, Marugame and Saijo

Stairs up Konpirasan
Saturday, 19 July 2014

Bicycles, stairs, temple and shrine today!

We were leaving Takamatsu by train for Saijo, and on the way we planned to hire bikes to explore Konpirasan Shrine and Zentsuji Temple.

A few years ago we visited Yamadera Temple, which is famous for having a 1000 stone step approach.

Well, Konpirasan has even more with a knee shattering total of 1368 steps!

Street in kotohira leading up to Konpirasan
As for Zentsuji, it's the largest temple of the of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage and is noted for being the birth place of Kōbō Daishi and for containing a dark passage under the main temple building.

So, practicalities first: After waking we had a free breakfast at Toyoko Inn and then caught early morning train to Marugame City where we stashed our luggage in a locker and then wandered outside to a small stall near the station to hire a bicycle each.

After yesterday’s great success we made sure to get the electronic assistance again!

The rental was for the whole day, as long as we returned before closing. This bike had a much higher capacity battery; enough to hopefully last the whole day.

Our first destination was Kompirasan Shrine which is located in the town of Kotohira, about a thirteen kilometre ride away.

I channelled some Japanese bike riding skills by using my phone to look up the route on google maps while riding.

I was successful though it will still be a while before I can add an umbrella to the mix.

Anyway, we actually had a few scary legs along some narrow roads but otherwise were able to ride most of the way on a wide footpath beside a main road.

Asahi Shrine with elaborate wood carvings
Along the way we came across a McDonalds and stopped so Kate could take her coffee hit.

Our bikes had little self-contained locking mechanisms so we could secure them while away. The lock only stopped the back wheel rolling but this is sufficient in Japan as theft is relatively rare.

While Kate had a coffee I think I got some strawberry drink, though it was pretty watery so I didn't enjoy it too much.

After our brief break we hit the relatively flat road again and continued to use the electronic assist to keep up a good pace.

We arrived at the town of Kotohira at around 11:00am and, after a bit of initial directional confusion, rode up the touristy shop lined hill and stashed our bikes with a bunch of others at the bottom of the stairs.

Now, again, about the stairs!!

There's even more steps here than Yamadera!!

1368 in fact!

Kompirasan is a Shinto shrine dedicated to sailors and seafaring as is thought to be around 2,000 years old, with a foundation date sometime in the first century.

There are actually a few Konpirasan shrines located around Japan, but this one is the biggest.

It was very hot and humid day but we battled up the endless stains. I had caught a cold recently so I was having a particularly hard time of it.

After a huge slog we reached the Daimon or Great Gate- this formerly marks the entrance to the shrine.

After another few hundred steps we reached the Asahi Shrine, which was built in 1837 and is nice big wooden building with elaborate decorations carved into its unpainted wood.

After another huge amount of climbing, countless steps (785) and about an hour we reached the main shrine.

There was a lot of buildings here around a square containing some rest chairs and massive blocks of ice!

The ice was so people could touch and be near it to help cool down!

It was pretty cool!

We had a look in the buildings and were surprised to find a submarine! I guess because it is a seafaring shrine. It was tiny but big enough for at least one person. Interesting.

Small shrine at inner shrine complex
There was a good view from here out over the towns, mountains and countryside.

Even though we had climbed for so long we were still only half way apparently!


So, we climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed some more up another 583 steps (but who's counting) and then finally reached the Inner Shrine.

The Inner Shrine was a small complex of buildings from which we had a fantastic view down over Shikoku. It was much better than the view below!

We could see lots of mountains that really just popped out of the countryside. One of them looked like a mini Mt Fuji.

After a bit of a rest up here it was time to return.

On way back down we were surprised to see a couple of people being carried up the stairs on chairs!

Apparently you can pay 5300 yen to be carried up to the main hall!

Seems quite cheap!

I know I would not do that for a share of 5300 yen (I wouldn’t pay that much either though). I wonder if they have a weight limit.

Anyway, by the time we’d reached the bottom it was time for lunch!

One of the food specialities in the area is Sanuki Udon so we picked one of the many restaurants spruiking these noodles.

Sanuki used to be the name of the region and this time of noodle is one of Japan's three most famous types and is supposed to be firm and chewy.

Interestingly the wheat used to make it is imported these days from Australia.

As it's a cheap hearty meal it wasn't too expensive. I had crumbed chicken or fish with mine. I can't remember what Kate got. Our noodles were cold and came with dipping sauce and Bonito flakes.

They were good!

Though personally I'm not the biggest fan of bonito flakes.

After lunch we rode to Zentsuji Temple which was on the way back. This is one of the Temples of the 88 temple pilgrimage. Temple number 75 to be specific and I also did read that it’s the largest and one of the best.

Historically the town is noted for being the birth place of Kōbō Daishi (Kūkai) who was the founder of Shingon or "True Word" school of Buddhism.

Apparently he was also the inventor of hiragana and katakana, which are the Japanese syllabaries (or alphabets).

The Iroha Poem, which uses each kana symbol only once, and was/is used for ordering the kana, is also attributed to him.

One of the main features of Zetsuji is a large, five story, forty three metre tall pagoda, which we took a look at after finding a place outside the complex to stash our bikes.

The main temple building had an underground passage and we paid a small fee to enter!

It was under the main platform and was pitch black inside, like being inside a cave. It was also very twisty and we had to put out hands on the wall to feel a path. Thanks to all the turns the route was really quite long- about 100m I think, so were in the dark for quite a while.

At one point we came to what felt like a bit of an opening, where something lit up and we heard some speakers play some religious stuff with accompanying flashing lights.

After that experience we then continued on to the exit.

The walk underneath was interesting and I recommend doing it if you are in the area. I thought it was fun, though you’re actually supposed to use the time to reflect on yourself and purify your spirit of evil thought.

It was still a really hot day, so the next event involved the purchasing of some more shaved ice. The vendor I bought it from was a bit dodgy, but the ice looked alright, though I refused the unappetising soggy canned fruit that was offered as a topping.

After a bit of a rest with the shaved ice it was time to make our way back to Marugame.

But we did see it at least
Once again I used google maps, however this time it took us back through a maze of tiny back streets and paths that wound their way between houses and tiny rice fields.

It was really quite interesting and fun.

The most famous attraction in Marugame is a nearby castle on top of a hill, however as it was getting late and we were tired we decided to skip this in favour of returning our bikes and visiting the nearby modern art museum.

This was quite a shame as it's actually one of only 12 origional castles left in Japan.

The Mimoca Art Museum is located right next to the train station and has an interesting exterior designed by Taniguchi Yoshio.

We paid around 1000 yen each to enter, but unfortunately soon discovered that the exterior was by far the most interesting part!

There didn’t seem to be much going on inside, and the exhibits were pretty plain.

We usually enjoy art museums, especially modern art, quite a bit, but this left us completely disappointed.

Perhaps the current temporary exhibit just didn’t appeal to our interests- I think it was something about fashion.

Anyway, after the museum we collected our luggage and caught a train to Iyo-Saijo, which is the main station in Saijo and the nearest major town to Mount Ishizuchi.

Saijo Urban Hotel

Saijo is a small town and we stayed at the Saijo Urban Hotel which was a decent business hotel located just across the road from the station.

There wasn’t many food options around so we just got dinner and some snacks for tomorrow from a Family Mart.


Kate. Lost. The Japan book.


She thinks she left it at the Family Mart and we had a look but it was never seen again.

Thankfully we had a digital copy on our phones so we got by alright the rest of the trip. It might actually be a better way of doing things in the future.

Finally, regarding Saijo, at night there was a cool temple or something lit up on the mountain we could see from our hotel. I'm not sure what the deal with that was.

Speaking of mountains, the aforementioned Ishizuchi Mountain means stone hammer mountain which is apt as that’s exactly what the rocky summit looks like. The Ishizuchi is one of the Seven Holy Mountains, and is the tallest in Shikoku with a height of 1982 metres.

The mountain is most well-known for featuring a series of steep sections where climbers can pull themselves up using heavy metal chains.

Our plan for tomorrow is to climb Mount Ishizuchi, and then continue to make our way around Shikoku to Matsuyama!

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