Translated by Lester Somera
A Once-In-A-Lifetime Visit To Kagawa's Kotohira Shrine
Written by 羅大明
Situated high above Kotohira, a town in Kagawa's Nakatado district, Kotohira Shrine is a famous sightseeing spot. Challenge the 1368 steps on your way to the summit.
The sky spreads out high above, and the air is crisp and cool. This autumn season is the perfect time to enjoy watching the leaves make their annual shift from green to red, orange and gold. If you want to enjoy the foliage in the Shikoku region, we recommend going to Kotohira, a town in Kagawa Prefecture.
When you visit Kotohira to look at the foliage, please drop by Kotohira Shrine, a place that many Japanese people want to visit at least once in their lifetimes. Once you’ve conquered the 1368 steps leading up to the shrine, gaze out onto the vast expanse of the Sanuki Plain!
Kotohira Shrine - Surrounded by Lush Greenery
Most of the people who visit Kotohira come to pay respects at Kotohira Shrine, located 521 meters above sea level. Also known as Konpira Shrine or Konpira-san, it is the head shrine of all Kotohira Shrines in Japan, and the shrine is said to bless travelers and ensure their safe journeys. During the Edo period, the shrine was so beloved by Japanese people that it was considered a place everyone should go at least once. It is also famous for its exceptionally long road to the top. There are 1368 steps separating the start of the path from Izutama Shrine at the summit, making visits to Kotohira Shrine a test of both physical stamina and spiritual devotion.
Go by Rail to Get to Kotohira
To go to Kotohira, you can either take the JR Line from Takamatsu Station to Kotohira Station, or the Kotohira Railway (the “Kotoden”) from Takamatsu Chikko Station to Kotoden Kotohira Station. The trip takes about forty minutes to an hour. This time, we took the Kotoden. If you go by Kotoden, a bargain one-day unlimited pass is available for 1230 yen. If you use this pass, you can get a tiny discount on the round trip route (1240 yen from Takamatsu Chikko to Kotoden Kotohira), and also use the pass to travel freely between Takamatsu and Kotohira.
Get off at Kotoden Kotohira Station, head through the giant torii gate in front, and cross over the bridge. This is the start of the road to Kotohira Shrine.
Stroll Through the Atmospheric Shrine Road
You have to pass through the shrine road to get to Kotohira Shrine. This road has a distinctive Japanese atmosphere. There are stores and dining establishments of all different shapes and sizes, with udon shops, restaurants, and souvenir shops all lined up on both sides of the street. You will arrive at the front gate to the shrine premises while you’re still finishing the snack you bought. Many of the souvenir shops loan out walking sticks, so you can freely take advantage of the offer and just return your stick on your way down.
Photo by juson.tw
What should you do if you get too tired? You can hop in a palanquin at the shrine road entrance and ride up the mountain. Carried by two transporters, you can ascend and descend in comfort. However, the palanquin only goes up to the large main gate, so you’ll have to walk the rest of the way under your own power.
Set Off for the Main Shrine Building
Of course, the final goal at Kotohira is to say a prayer at the actual Kotohira Shrine. However, that’s easier said than done, and many people only make it to the main shrine building, 785 steps from the bottom. While there are no shops once you pass through the large gate, the clear trills of sparrows echo through the clean, quiet air, and the atmosphere in the Shinto shrine feels stately and dignified.
There are five candy vendors known as Go-nin-byaku-sho (“the five farmers”), with special permission to trade on the shrine premises. Once you see their stalls, you have officially set foot in the holy territory of Kotohira Shrine. The vendors, who specialize in Kamiyoame candy, are the only people allowed to sell things on the property. They were awarded this permission because their ancestors once made great contributions to the rituals at the shrine. All other shops are only allowed to operate on the road leading to the main gate, or in the shopping street going up the mountain.
Along the road, you will find “Konpira dog” figures. In the Edo era, when walking was the only mode of transportation available, traveling to Kotohira Shrine from afar was very difficult. That is how it became a custom to send a Konpira dog to visit the shrine, in place of its master. A small bag would be hung from the dog’s neck, containing a kifuda (a wooden tag), a monetary offering and travel expenses. Travelers on their way to the shrine would lead the dog part of the way, then pass it on to another traveler. Once the dog safely arrived at the shrine, its mission was complete.
There are several small Konpira dog figures placed around the premises. These are made to honor the memories of the dogs who came to the shrine in place of their masters. Take a fortune from the back of one of the dogs and forecast your own fortune!
Lucky yellow charms (800 yen) and smiling face charms (500 yen) were sold at the main shrine for a limited time. Inspired by the pure and innocent grins of child pilgrims to Kotohira Shrine, the red, white and blue smiling face charms were created by the chief of the shrine, Yasutsugu Kotooka. Just looking at these talismans will bring you courage and happiness!
Gaze Out Onto the Sanuki Plain from the Main Shrine
From the viewing platform adjacent to the main shrine, you can see the Sanuki Plain. Once you see the picturesque scenery of the Seto Ohashi Bridge and Sanuki Fuji, you will feel that your laborious climb has been rewarded. If you’ve still got more stamina remaining, head to the back of the shrine and keep going! Once you make it to the 1368th step, you can get an even better view from the top!
Best Spots to See the Fall Foliage
Photo by juson.tw
If you want to talk about the best spots to check out the fall foliage in Kagawa, Kotohira Shrine is at the top of the list. The mountains turn red in mid-November, and everywhere you turn on the shrine road, the trees are a colorful jumble of red, orange, green and gold. You’ll have to stop and take a closer look when you see that beautiful scenery.
Photo by Naoki Sato
The sight of scattering yellow leaves really drives home the feeling that autumn has arrived.
Kotohira Shrine’s fall festival is held every year on November 11th. If you visit at this time, you can watch a procession of priests, shrine maidens and dancers as they make their way up to the shrine. At the main shrine, they will perform a Sanuki-style customary dance and the traditional Dance of Eight Maidens.
Enjoy Kotohira Shrine!
Kotohira is not just a place to learn about history and savor a good bowl of udon. When autumn rolls around, Kotohira Shrine is the perfect spot to go hiking, and you’ll never get bored of the amazing scenery.
Are you ready to embark on a journey of more than a thousand steps?