May 7, 2013: Up the infamous Hatchouzaka and along the ridge to Temple 45

Today was a short day.  I had planned it that way for a few reasons.  I didn’t know what shape that I would be in after going over Hiwada-touge yesterday or how tough the climb up Hatchou-zaka to Temple 45 would be.  Also, the route to the next temple passed right by my inn and, even if I picked up my stuff and continued on, I would only have been able to go a few kilometres to the next inn, otherwise the next one was over 10 km away, which I knew would have been too far.  If I had tried for that inn, it would have messed up my distances for the next couple of days, too.  I decided that it made no sense to pack everything up just to walk about 3 km more.

Walking the henro isn’t just as simple as walking.  You have to plan your walking in advance and reserve inns ahead.  It can be a complicated business.

Breakfast was more traditional, well-made, and just as tasty as supper.


For the curious, breakfast included from top left to right:  a sort of egg salad with slices of cucumber, a tomato wedge, and a couple of grapes, simmered mountain vegetables with sesame seeds, tofu garnished with shaved flakes of dried bonito fish and green onion (eaten with soy sauce), some green jelly thing (which I did not eat), three kinds of pickled/stewed vegetables (also not eaten), a package of nori seaweed strips (eaten with rice), a little bottle of Yakult (a sort of digestive nutrition drink, which is gross), and a partially-dried fish (filleted, tail still attached) on a grill.  The blue thing which the flame is emanating from is like soft wax and burns up in just the time needed to cook whatever is on the grill.

From bottom left to right:  either a raw or soft-boiled egg (probably raw – you are supposed to crack it over steaming-hot rice and the heat from the rice cooks it, but since no one serves rice this hot anymore, I’ve never seen anyone actually eat it that way), pickled daikon and umeboshi (plum), miso soup, and rice

Apart from the egg salad dish and the Yakult bio-drink, this is a very traditional breakfast.

Thus fueled, I set off for Temple 45.


It was a lovely morning for a hike.  I left my backpack in my room and just crammed everything that I needed into my white shoulder bag.  There was a store and a restaurant on the map on the road after the descent from Temple 45, so all I needed was a snack and a drink.  (This came in very handy, as it would turn out.)

I didn’t notice the difference in weight that much without my backpack.  Perhaps I was just so used to it that the extra weight was a part of me?  (That, or I was so tired that my body felt heavier, making up for the lack of the weight of the backpack…)

Hatchou-zaka Inn is right on the road that is the way to Temple 45.  I just continued on from there and just after the bend, the henro trail diverges off to the right onto an earthen trail through forest and farmland.


Once again, there were those stone/cement posts that were designed to resemble stone lanterns along the trail.  A couple even had trinkets left in the cutout portion near the top.

Just like in the areas leading up to yesterday’s hike over Hiwada-touge pass, there are wooden signs along the trail to direct henro.  They also point out other landmarks and attractions, such as Furusato-mura park and campground, which I had just passed on my way from the inn this morning.

A word to the wise:  the main part of the posts say “Shikoku no michi” which is not the same as the henro trail.  In most cases, they overlap, but Shikoku no michi is part of a national system of trails for hiking.  These posts are helpful as guides, but they can lead you off the henro path if you rely on them exclusively and stop watching for henro signs.

Each region of Japan has their own Something-or-other-no-michi.  Hiroshima was part of the Chugoku region, so when I went hiking, I often saw the Chugoku-no-michi sign posts along the way.  One henro whom I met said that these trails were wonderful – you could hike them for days and never see a city.  He said that there were guidebooks that you could buy, especially for the Tokai one (the area including Nagoya and Tokyo) which listed the whole trail system and points near public transportation where you could enter and exit the trail if you just wanted to do day hikes.  I thought that that sounded like a fabulous idea but, alas, I was on my way out of Japan and would not have time to try it.  Maybe one day…


The henro trail ran through a variety of woodlands and right by houses and fields, tucked into pie-shaped lands cut out from forest.  Along one forested section, who did I run into but the cheery Kurokawa-san from yesterday!  We had said our farewells and good wishes yesterday at Temple 44, not expecting to meet again.  However, this section of the trail between Temples 44 and 45 overlaps so he was going back from Temple 45 to catch a bus in Kumo-kougen while I was heading the opposite way out.

This resulted in another photo of me on the trail.



The henro trail finally meanders into a single-lane gravel road.



From there, you follow the henro sign that takes you off of the road just at a small clearing.





The clearing is the official start of the infamous Hatchouzaka climb.  





Last time I did a partial henro walk, I met Hagiwara-san, who runs the string of zenkonyado huts underneath the rail line between Temple 27 and 28.  He sat me down, handed me a stub of a red pencil, and told me to make notes in my map book as he told me where to go and where not to go, which inns to avoid and which places you can camp or sleep outside with relative safety and ease, and which paths are better than others (if there is a choice).  His motto was generally “why work so hard climbing over mountains when you can take the road?”.

Hatchouzaka was one of those places that I was supposed to avoid.  I could have continued along that gravel road right and arrived at Temple 45 with no problem.  However, to be quite honest, I would rather struggle over a mountain pass than take a roadway any day.

Hatchouzaka is infamous in how steep a climb it is, however, and legitimately so.  In only 600 m of trail, you go up 160 m of altitude.  That’s a steeper grade than most staircases.  However, I wanted to try it.  As I said, it was a beautiful day for hiking, I had a short day (only 15 km for the whole day), and the soreness and stiffness in my right foot and ankle usually went away after a hike.

So, up I went!




Signs hanging at the entrance to the climb:



White sign with red characters:  Henro-michi

Wooden sign with and black characters:  Jibun no peesu wo mamorou  (Keep to your own pace)

The wooden sign held invaluable wisdom for this slope.  It’s only 600 m long, but rushing up it will wear you out for the rest of the hike to Temple 45.  (There is just over 2 more kilometres to go to the temple once you reach the top of Hatchouzaka.)


It was a lovely hike, and no where near as crazy as I had heard.  I figure that other hikes in mountains over my years in Japan have adjusted my perspective.




Suddenly, there was a light at the end of the slope!


Could that be it already??


Sure, enough, it was!  I had cleared Hatchouzaka!


(For reference, it took me less than 20 minutes without rushing.)

Hatchouzaka was not an easy climb but the trail was good and, after all of the mountains and passes that have come before it, it’s not so terrible in comparison.  I would not recommend it during or immediately after heavy rainfall, especially for the descent.

Fall tsubaki (camellia) blossoms, walking sticks left behind, and colourful messages to congratulate henro and give them energy for the next couple of kilometres to the temple itself:



Old, worn stone markers:





The largest stone marker says (南無)遍照金剛 (namu) henjou kongou on it.  This is part of a Buddhist prayer or invocation of a Buddhist saint or deity.  For example, when you pray to Kobo-Daishi, you say namu Daishi henjou kongou.  For Jizou-bosatsu, it would be namu Jizou bosatsu.

There is a story behind this stone marker.

To get from Uchiko and the other side of the mountains that border the present-day town of Kumo-kougen, there are two main mountain passes:  Nousou-touge and Hiwada-touge.  (There is also a car route as a third option, but that is a recent addition.)  The two run parallel to each other, Nousou-touge being just slightly north of Hiwada-touge.  Nousou-togue runs down to the roads north of the main part of the town and bypasses Temple 44 while Hiwada-touge runs into a route that goes straight through town and by Temple 44.

The point at which these two routes meet is here at Hatchouzaka.  There used to be a chaya  (tea and snack house) here, too, which makes sense if it is a major intersection for travellers.

I asked people along the henro route about which route was more commonly used.  The general consensus seemed to be “whichever one suited them” and it seemed that both were well-used, although Hiwada-touge may have been used a little more, due to more inns being along that route.

The question of which is the “true” henro route is not a new one.  In 1748, the people of Nanatori Village put up this stone marker, to prove that their route was the true one, unequivocally, period, so there.   Their route was the northern one that included Nousou-touge and ran through Maki-no-tani.

Maybe I’ll try that one next time (although I loved Hiwada-touge so much, but, then again, it is often never as good as the first time).


The hike to Temple 45 hugged the edge of the mountainside most of the way.  You wouldn’t want to trip on paths like this:


That would be a long way down.

This afforded you fantastic view, unobstructed by forest:



It was along a section like this that my phone rang.  I was surprised as I didn’t expect to have reception at that point and I wasn’t expecting anyone to call me.  It turned out to be my father calling from Canada.  Apparently, he had been on a big car hunt for me for the last couple or months (or more – winter can be boring in my hometown in Canada) and had found me the perfect car and needed to talk to me about it in detail right now.

The suddenness of this sent me reeling.  (I had told him more than once to hold off on this until I got back to Canada, but he does love looking at cars.)  I eventually cut him off as this kind of in-depth conversation was not something that I wanted to have while walking along a ridge on a mountain.  I promised to call him back once I reached the temple.

There were a few ups and downs along the trail, but it was a fairly easy hike.


I love walking on ridges like this:



More stone lantern-type posts:



Evergreens with just the very tops still covered in branches:



Take this bit very carefully:



Close to Temple 45, the path winds back into the forest.

The aftermath of a tree falling in a forest:



The last stretch up to the temple is downhill.  It is not very steep but it follows a meandering path through the forest.  Statues of Fudou-myou-ou and associated deities line the path, making it a pilgrimage itself.




The plastic receptacles are not for trash but for osame-fuda slips like the ones used at the temples on the 88-Temple Pilgrimage.  All pilgrimages in Japan, large or small, use those slips, although it is up to the individual pilgrimage as to whether or not they buy them, fill them out, and put them in the box at each site.

This really was a pilgrimage of its own.  There were people who were stopping to pray, place coins as offering, and put in ofuda slips, and so forth at each statue.

Just before you reach Temple 45, there is an imposing statue of Fudou-myou-ou.


There’s that namu again on the red banners:  Namu Fudou-Myou-Ou


Can you feel the evil being driven out of you, running in fear from Fudou-myou-ou’s fearsome glare, its tail between its legs?  (Seriously, that’s his job – a former demon himself, converted to serve and protect the Buddha, he drives out evil.)



The base is made up of tiles with the characters for the hannya-shingyou (heart sutra) on them.  If you look closely, you can see the names of the donors on them as well.


Fudou-myou-ou guards the entrance to the temple via the seri-wari-iwa – the huge crack in the wall that serious pilgrims can climb through directly to the temple.  There is a chain that runs down the rock face to help those so inclined to try, but there is also a sign that warns people to take it seriously – you can get stuck or hurt.


It sounded like a neat idea but it looked rather narrow near the top and there was no way that I was going to try.




It is said that this crack in the rock was made by Houge-Sennin (the female Immortal who founded this place for spiritual training) while demonstrating his power to Kobo-Daishi.  The quasi-Shinto-Buddhist deity, Shiroyama-Daigongen is worshiped at the peak.  Since long ago, the site has been used for spiritual training in the mountains and from the peak of the mountain (at the top of the climb through the split rock, on a good day, you can see all the way to (Mt.) Ishizuchi-san, one of the highest peaks on Shikoku and also a very sacred peak.  (I climbed that the fall before this pilgrimage.  It was fantastic.)

For those interested, you have to ask for the key to the gate at the temple office.  You climb up a series of three climbs, all with rope or chains, then up a long ladder to the small altar at the peak.  Again, do this at your own risk and don’t try it in bad weather.  (They probably won’t even give you the key.)

Opting to continue along the trail, I soon arrived at the rear temple gate:


Although, I suppose in the olden days, this was the main entrance.


Temple 45:  Iwaya-ji   第45番札所 岩屋寺  Iwaya-ji, the Temple of the Stone Roof 

The most commonly photographed Hondou, main temple, with the pock-marked stone “roof” in the background:



I don’t know what the holes are – birds’ nests?  Odd forms or erosion?


The Daishi-dou hall:


I had heard great things about Temple 45 and, while it was impressive, the grounds were crowded up against the rock face and thus very limited in scope.

You can climb up that ladder to the right of the temple.  There is a ledge with a small shrine to either Shiroyama-Gongen or the Immortal Houge-Sennin.  (I can’t remember which one it is.)


The ledge is very narrow so only a few people can be up there at the same time.  The ladder also looked rickety so I didn’t bother to wait for my turn to go.

View of the surrounding peaks from the Daishi-dou:


After visiting the Hondou and Dashi-dou halls, I headed down the steps to the next level where the office and the washrooms are.  Their roofs are visible in the above photo.  (The washrooms were bio-toilets and were very nice, but there was a definite cold draft on certain parts when you were sitting on the toilets!)

Beside the office, there was a hall that was built right into the rock face.  There was a Fudou-myou-ou and a Jizou-bosatsu statue at the entrance and then a long, dark tunnel extending into the mountainside to the left.  It looked like you bought Jizou-sama charms (for stillborn or aborted babies or children that had passed away) then went through the tunnel to a shrine at the end.  There was a railing in the middle but it ended shortly as the tunnel grew narrower.  Some tunnels become so narrow that you have to crawl along to squeeze through them to the shrine at the end.  Some of them have height, weight, and mobility limits since you can get stuck if you are too big or lack physical ability to move freely on your own.  The tunnel was wet and fell into complete darkness so I turned back.  I didn’t know what I was getting into and I did not want to get stuck.

Farther along past the washrooms, there were signs about the construction of a new Kokuzou-bosatsu hall.  The photos of it looked very impressive.

As I said, due to the temple buildings being built into the mountainside, there wasn’t much to see beyond the temples themselves.  (It was lovely, but once you’ve seen the buildings, that’s about it.)

I headed down the long, winding path to the parking lot and the road.  The Japanese sites that I had visited all talked about the horribly long set of steps up to the temple – 266 stone steps in all!!  A lot of those sites are meant for people coming by bus or car.  For them, having to climb all the way up after being seated for so long would be rough.  However, after all the climbing that I had done, it felt blissfully easy.  The steps were widely-spaced and there were sections of gradual paved slopes to break up them up.  It was odd, since it is actually a steeper slope than Hatchouzaka – an altitude difference of 230 m over 600 m, as opposed to 160 m of altitude change over the same distance.  Hmm, interesting…



I thought that it was a gorgeous walk.



The main temple gate:



There were a few stalls just past the gate, selling knickknacks and snacks.  I bought a hot daihan-yaki (puck-shaped pastry with a thick pancake-like outer shell with sweet bean paste and yomogi (mugwort) inside) but moved on.  My map had a store and a restaurant listed there and I wanted a proper lunch.

The bridge to the road:


There was supposed to be a turn-off just before the bridge onto the henro trail but I, and other henro that I saw, never found it.  I wanted to cross over anyway, so I just took the road back until I met back up with the henro trail.

There was a small store, but it also sold snacks and knickknacks, along with some local products, but nothing in the way of proper lunch.  There was something that looked like it might have been a restaurant or at least a snack shop, but it was closed.  Perhaps it was because of Golden Week?  Either way, I was stuck with a small bag of crackers for lunch, which I ate in the bus shelter while I talked to my parents.  It was a good thing that I brought that snack!

I picked up another drink and then headed back to my inn.

Houses along the roadway (maybe that little road was the henro trail?):




The vegetable garden that is run by the people at Hatchouzaka Inn:


I remembered the lady who managed it how she likes to look up at the rock where the temple is when she is out in the field.  Sure enough, there it was:


There were a few very pretty rivers along the walk back:




I caught back up with the henro trail at Furu-Iwa-Sou Inn, where most of the henro that I met stayed.  They had baths that non-guests could use for 350 yen, which I had thought about using, but I decided to just keep going and get back early so I could get my laundry done and soak back at my inn.

The turn-off from the road was confusing.  I actually passed it and had to turn back.  Of course, the road would have taken me back to my inn, but I wanted to go through the forest trails if possible.

The henro trail runs through a little park of sorts beside the hotel.  There was a cobblestone path that ran through it and past a Fudou-myou-ou Temple.





There were a few more signs indicating other attractions in the park but I didn’t stop to see them.  I was worried that I might not get back on the trail again!

The trail gradually blended back into the forest and I got to cross a picturesque little stream:



Eventually, the path met up with a gravel road.  Hmm, that looks familiar…


I was back at the base of Hatchouzaka!


I hadn’t taken as many photos in the morning, but I made sure to on my way back.

Here we go!

Along the road…



By the farmer’s fields…




Over some little ups and downs…






The dining room at my inn also functioned as a restaurant during the day.  I thought that a nice, hot bowl of udon sounded fantastic right about then, but, unfortunately, they closed at 2:00 p.m.  The young man at the desk sounded almost panicked about what to do when I said that I hadn’t had lunch and that it was too bad that they were closed.  I quickly assured him that I would be all right so as to relieve him of his ingrained sense of responsibility to do something.  (Don’t ask for things lightly in Japan – people get trapped by the cultural feeling responsible to help, even if there is nothing that they can do!)

I just threw my laundry in and then dug into my emergency supplies of sweet rolls and cookies to tide me over until dinner.  I had returned early so I got permission to hang my laundry out on the lines with the sheets and towels.  It was still sunny and the breeze would dry them nicely.  (Dryers in Japan are not very effective outside of the industrial ones at laundromats.)

Dinner was excellent again.  Tonight, it was just me in the dining room.  The lady who told us about the inn and Hatchouzaka last night was not around and it was just the young man in the kitchen.  He had actually made my supper himself and nervously told me that he hoped that I liked it.

It was definitely not a traditional dinner that you would expect from an inn, never mind a little henro inn.  It was, however, delectable and a welcome change.



From top left:  Chinese fried rice, sweet and sour pork, chilled noodles in broth with sliced cucumber, ham, and egg

On plate in foreground:  lettuce and tomato salad, grilled tomato stuffed with cheese and topped with sauce, and a fruit cup made from the hollowed-out bottom half of an orange

I told him how much that I enjoyed it and I hope he took that to heart.  This inn was so wonderful.  I hope that they do well.

There was also plain white rice along with this.  I was so full but felt bad that they had made the pot of it just for me.  I asked him if I could have some saran wrap to make rice balls for myself for breakfast the next morning.  (I was going back to my pattern of leaving early and eating at my first break of the day.)  He gave me the box and I set to work and made myself a nice little breakfast.


Tomorrow:  a looooong walk down out of my beautiful mountain town (which was far easier than I had feared) and into the outskirts of the Big City – Matsuyama



About Leigh

Amateur Buddhist pilgrim, hiker, and onsen lover.
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